Ariel Schudson has been a passionate woman in film for over 15 years. She holds two Master of the Arts degrees from UCLA- one in Cinema and Media Studies and one in Moving Image Archive Studies. Amongst the things she is most proud of are the film series that she programmed at the New Beverly Cinema, her published film writing (found at www.arielschudson.com , www.sinaphile.wordpress.com and sites like Crave.com, etc) and her current major projects that center on the preservation, archiving and deep study of 16mm TV commercials, advertisements and PSAs. She likes coffee, long walks on the beach, LPP and Kodachrome stock and readable edge codes. Has two adorable cats named Wallach and Eartha Kitten.
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Here is a list of my favorite finds or “discoveries” of 2015. Films that represent why I love what I do as a moving image preservationist. Please enjoy!
1) Private Property – (Leslie Stevens, 1960) – Made for practically zero budget, this film walks a tense tightrope between exploitation, noir and hot, hot, HOT exploration of domesticity and sexuality…of all kinds. I saw the restoration at UCLA’s Festival of Preservation this past year and I am so glad I did! The elements used to create this restored 35mm print were a 35mm acetate composite dupe negative, a 35mm acetate print and a 35mm acetate track negative, and LEMME TELL YOU- it looked amazing. A young and gorgeous Warren Oates has never looked hotter and delivers one of my favorite performances of his (and I’m a huge WO fan). Corey Allen could not be better and Kate Manx (in her debut) is no slouch! I was lucky enough to get an original lobby card of this for my birthday a month after I saw this and I was pleased as punch. Now to find a decent frame!
2) Men In War – (Anthony Mann, 1957) – I’m a huge fan of Anthony Mann. And, for those of you who have read my thoughts on noir or know me personally can attest, Robert Ryan is my Screen Boyfriend For Life. Knowing those things, I knew that this film was going to be good. I just didn’t know how good. The restoration was brilliant! I didn’t know Brian Keith was going to rupture my internals and gut me like he did. This film is utterly unique in its narrative and wartime depictions, and the performances are strong. One of the most significant parts of that screening (and another argument for theatrical viewing) was the crisp and gloriously sharp restored audio track that only a restoration team like Audio Mechanics can provide (and guys- if you see the Audio Mechanics name on a film restoration? You KNOW you have quality).
War movies boom away on a variety of levels, so it is really something to have skilled preservationists work on sound elements and balance levels between gunshots, dialogue, ambient sound and background noise in a film that is almost 60 years old. The restoration itself was likely created from good elements- a 35mm acetate fine grain master and the 35mm acetate copyright print- but the sound design and the visuals were masterful enough to truly keep you in the game. This is an excellent anti-war film, reminding me only of Fuller’s Big Red One in its intensity and questioning power. Aldo Ray is immense. I love this film.
3) Vengeance Is Mine (Shōhei Imamura, 1979) – I’m a sucker for Japanese New Wave films, yakuza films and much of the cinema that was being produced there in the 60s and 70s. I’m also a HUGE sucker for the color film stock that Japanese films used around that time because it looks simply incredible. The brightness of those tones! So I was looking around Hulu’s Criterion section and found something that looked like it would fit that general time-period and standard. It was a blind-pick and I lucked out!! I was familiar with the director, but not this film. I was blownaway: a beautiful and dark serial killer film that makes most US serial killer films look like Candyland, both aesthetically and narratively. I can guarantee that this will be rewatched many more times. This is art and crime and art in crime. SO GOOD.
4) Ladies In Retirement (Charles Vidor, 1941) - I love crime films and cinema oddities that ruminate on women, states of sanity and social mores. This fits in there perfectly and it’s really
5) Synthetic Sin (William Seiter, 1929) – OK. The only thing about this film that is cringe-worthy (and I cringed) was the blackface scene. But once that is over, the remainder of the film is entirely enjoyable. And (as many things from the past) it is something to be negotiated due to acceptability then vs. now. But I still couldn’t get past it. HOWEVER, Colleen Moore is an absolute dream in this and had me laughing out of my seat. I saw this at CineCon and it was one of my favorites. She plays a hardheaded girl who gets herself in trouble with gangsters but…doesn’t really understand the seriousness of her predicament. And that’s far too simplistic of a synopsis. Colleen Moore is amazing. Highly recommend!
6) Desert Fury (Lewis Allen, 1947) – At first, I want to saw that this made my list simply because it was one of the most beautiful prints I saw in the entirety of last year. A supremely gorgeous IB Tech print in top condition at the New Beverly Cinema. But to be honest? It’s a great movie as well. Lizabeth Scott and Burt Lancaster look incredible. Mary Astor’s costumes are beyond delightful. And Wendell Corey, besides being a fascinating commentary on sexuality within the film’s narrative, is swoon-worthy. Watch it!
7) Cry Terror (Andrew L. Stone, 1958) – While this film’s credit states “directed by Andrew Stone,” it’s truly another production by the married team of Andrew and Virginia Stone. They did some pretty awesome work, if you ask me, including Julie (1956) with Doris Day. I was lucky enough to see this at last year’s Film Noir Fest in San Francisco, but you can purchase a copy from the Warner Archive! I highly recommend it. It’s a high-octane noir-thriller with James Mason, Inger Stevens, and Rod Steiger and wonderful performances from Angie Dickinson and Neville Brand. Total keeper!
8) The Sleeping Tiger (Joseph Losey, 1954) - I don't think that Joseph Losey has done ANYTHING that I haven't loved 100%. Especially if it features Dirk Bogarde. A little dirty/raunchy at times and ALL fantastic, Alexis Smith is a winner. So pleased I got to see a 35mm print and boy did I love the mix of sexual innuendo with rock’n’roll London atmosphere. Great British noir by a US director sadly forced out of the country due to the Blacklist.
9) Obsession aka The Hidden Room (Edward Dmytryk, 1949) – This rare British noir is really excellent. It’s claustrophobic and suspenseful just when it should be, causing the right amount of “film stress.” A tale of revenge, unfaithfulness and a wife named Storm, it’s available to rent on Amazon. I suggest you do so. You will not regret it. Sally Gray is wonderful, Robert Newton is chilling and if you’re a dog fan, there is a lovely canine in the film that I got quite attached to.
10) The Champ (King Vidor, 1931) – This film will break your heart. Shatter it into a thousand pieces. If it doesn’t, you don’t have one to break and you should be very concerned. Written by Frances Marion, one of the most prolific and talented women screenwriters of early Hollywood, this film stars Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper and is one of those films that you will always rewatch and always use a whole box of tissues on and be glad that you did. It makes you grateful that cinema exists. If you are interested in Frances Marion, there is a fabulous book on her by Cari Beauchamp called Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. Look into it.