Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Samuel B. Prime ""

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a writer, film curator, and archivist based in Los Angeles. He recently served as one of the producers for Etiquette Pictures' Blu-ray of CATCH MY SOUL and also worked on the special features. Otherwise, he deeply admires Dick Cavett's savoir faire and his favorite Sonny Chiba film is Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's perpetually unavailable WOLFGUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE (1975). Find him online at for essays and free streaming movies.

Check out his Discoveries from last year here:

POLICE DOG STORY (Edward L. Cahn, 1961)
From an era where features could clock in at a lean 62 minutes, here is the self-explanatory story of a police dog. Don't miss the conversation two grizzled officers have over coffee and donuts about how dogs are taking all of their jobs or when a clueless newspaperman gets "two-timed by a dog." This picture never rises above a b-level curiosity with an obvious story, but the interstitial stuff is just too weird not to honor because somewhere in the early sixties people actually spent time to create this and bless them for that bizarre collective act.

Dutifully pitched somewhere between a satire of sixties-era Esalen-style health retreats and a stylistically nightmarish solo blaster (first and final feature) directed by Louis Garfinkle, there is nothing else like this movie. For ninety minutes, it is one inexplicable thing after another that begins with a prologue from Satan himself. There is a feel-good pop soundtrack, a slow-motion basketball game, and lots of primal screaming, but this finally goes off the deep end with a late stage LSD freakout and ensuing aquatic sexual jamboree. This screened at Cinefamily back in May 2015. If it doesn't end up on Blu-Ray / DVD soon because of the many minds melted that evening, then there is truly no justice in the world.

BLUE WATER, WHITE DEATH (Peter Gimbel / James Lipscomb, 1971)
It is a miracle that nobody died during the making of this hare-brained shark documentary. There's nothing at all scientific or even sensible about what's going on here, but the premise and execution results in maybe the greatest cinematic essay on man and his relationship with nature. A millionaire adventure seeker, a stills photographer, a folk singer, a husband and wife world championship spearfishing team, and a clueless crew go in search of the elusive Great White Shark. The result is spectacular - stunning footage by way of blind ambition, hubris, and a pocketbook to back up such atypical whims. At one point, co-director Gimbel describes the act of diving in shark-infested waters as a better, healthier high than any club scene he's ever known. He also punches a lot of sharks and calls them "brutes."

For my money, quite possibly the greatest, least discussed, and nearly forgotten film about Los Angeles and its beautifully, tragically endemic culture of twenty-somethings who have abandoned family, friends, and the comforts of home in pursuit of big city dreams. It is a reality that everybody recognizes, but that few would ever openly admit - especially to one another. Life in LA is frequently difficult, at times utterly unmanageable, and by default requires of its denizens a thick skin, an iron constitution, and friends willing to lend a helping hand. The characters in this story lack all three, but most of all the third - with nobody to turn to in their moment(s) of crisis or despair, they turn themselves inside out. This is most clearly seen in Mark (the default protagonist) who even in embracing someone he loves and sees a future with, unknowingly causes her pain. And the final shot will leave you breathless.

This is a made-for-TV movie about Ozark witchcraft directed by Wes Craven, starring Linda Blair and Lee Purcell, and it brought me more pure joy than any other movie I saw this year. It is one of those rare, masterful pictures that doesn't take itself too seriously and yet uses absolutely every element it introduces to produce a supremely satisfying, economical story.

As far as slashers go, this one boasts extremely creative and thoughtful cinematography, a penetrating wit, and some of the best one-liners of the genre. It might just be a perfect film. 

GHOST'S LOVER (Yang Chuan, 1987)
Yang Chuan is my favorite lesser known Shaw Brothers director. His films range from spooky cinema with a sense of humor (SEEDING OF A GHOST) to erotic melodrama (TWISTED LOVE). GHOST'S LOVER falls somewhere satisfactorily in the middle of that spectrum. It is actually much closer to a soap opera than a horror film. Entire scenes are staged with "two faces east"-style diagonal and crisscrossed movements toward the camera, characters in conversation with one another but looking off in the distance. This one is about a woman who gets impregnated by a ghost - and then tries to abort the ghost baby. 

THE CAT (Dominik Graf, 1988)
A pitch perfect two-hour real-time heist flick that puts Michael Mann's HEAT to shame.

PROTOTYPE X29A (Phillip J. Roth, 1992)
A sleepy orange-and-cyan 80s holdover set in dystopian Los Angeles (or just Los Angeles). Heavy on style, one-liners, and explosions, but also kind of boring and lacking a real story. There is something about such sci-fi films that I find irresistible. A cautious recommendation.

JOHNNY 316 (Erick Ifergan, 1998)
A remarkably beautiful, ethereal retelling of the Salome story set in modern Los Angeles. 

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