Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '85 - Jack Criddle ""

Friday, April 17, 2015

Underrated '85 - Jack Criddle

Jack Criddle is a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY and North Adams, MA. His credits include work as a production coordinator on Brendan Canty and Christoph Green’s Wilco Solid Sound Festival film, and as a camera operator on William Paul Smith’s A PORTRAIT OF IZHAR PATKIN. The subjects of his own short documentaries range from Vermont-based stained glass artist Debora Coombs to z-grade 1930’s proto-grindhouse director Dwain Esper. At the rare time’s he finds a free moment, he likes to watch movies.

TAMPOPO (dir. Juzo Itami)
This is my favorite movie of 1985, and my favorite film directed by Juzo Itami, whose work is not as well known as it should be in the US. His best films are wry, feminist social satires about women in the workplace, like the excellent A TAXING WOMAN and MINBO. TAMPOPO is similar in that regard - the main plot concerns Itami’s wife and frequent collaborator Nobuko Minamoto’s mission to open a perfect noodle shop - though it also incorporates magic realism, comic vignettes, spaghetti western references, and an openminded kinkiness and all-encompassing love of food.

VAMPIRES IN HAVANA (dir. Juan Padron)
Juan Padron, Cuba’s best-loved cartoonist, directed this brilliant animated feature. It’s a cartoon spoof of gothic horror and Hollywood gangster movies and a revolutionary political satire with real teeth (no pun intended.) In a universe where vampires have gone public and revealed themselves to humans, corrupt factions of literal capitalist bloodsuckers try to get ahold of a formula that will allow vampires to walk in the sunlight. The young communist hero uses guerrilla radio to give the formula to the people. The film features trumpet music by Cuban jazz giant Arturo Sandoval, and is a must-see for fans of world animation.

EXPLORERS (dir. Joe Dante)
I’ve written on this site and others that Joe Dante is, for me, in the top tier of living directors. His movies are consistently fascinating cultural critiques that borrow from monster movies, cartoons, and baby-boom pop culture, though there is an undercurrent running through his work that warns of the soul-trap caused by nostalgia for its own sake. I don’t want to ruin the twist ending of this film, except to say that it treats said subtext as a main point of focus. EXPLORERS will also always be special to me because I saw it when I was the same age as Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, and the third kid in the film, and I really admired the characters’ DIY spirit, and their not needing permission or help from adults to accomplish their dreams.

LIFEFORCE (dir. Tobe Hooper)
The prevalent school of thought that decrees THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was Tobe Hooper’s lone fluke of a good film seems to be finally starting to dissipate, which, if you ask me, is a good thing. The 80s saw him pushing the envelope and trying on a variety of different stylistic hats, and the best of the bunch was this meta, self-reflexive mashup of Hammeresque horror and body-snatcher sci-fi. Starring a pre-Star Trek Patrick Stewart, scenery-gobbling Steve Railsbeck as the victim of an alien possession, and Mathilda May as a beautiful and always-naked space vampire. The whole thing plays like QUATERMASS AND THE PIT as reimagined by a sex-and--Eerie Magazine-obsessed adolescent male - in other words, my idea of a great night’s viewing.

“LITTLE MUPPET MONSTERS” (created by Jim Henson)
While I’m cheating a little here by including a TV show, but I’d be remiss not to share my most recent bit of pop-cultural archeology from 1985. This short-lived Saturday morning kids’ show featured a trio of child Muppets putting on a TV show from their basement. It had skits from the main Muppets and animated segments, including a Pigs in Space cartoon. Only the first three episodes were completed and aired before the show was cancelled, though the live-action wrap-around segments for 18 episodes were shot. I recently got ahold of a VHS containing three unaired episodes, “Gunko,” “Foo-Foo Phooey” and “Gonzo’s Talent Hunt,” from a former staff writer and I contributed them to the Henson Rarities YouTube channel curated by my Muppet scholar pal Garrett Gilchrist. While the show wasn’t perfect, it still makes for fascinating viewing today - an attempt to meld the imaginative nature of the "Muppet Babies” cartoon with the anarchic energy of the original Muppet Show. 

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