Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Laird Jimenez ""

Friday, January 15, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Laird Jimenez

Laird worked in video stores and film archives and is now a video editor for Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas.
Follow him on Twitter at @Pobrecito and Letterboxd:
http://letterboxd.com/pobrecito/
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THE CONTRACT (aka THE BLOODLETTING) (1971)
Boring English titles (The Contract or The Blood Letting). How about The Wrong Place at the Wrong Crime? This is a great man on the run movie that only blooms in its wickedness as it goes on for 83 way too short minutes. Ever get the feeling everyone is out to get you? This movie may prove stressful. Too bad we lost Claude Mulot to porn, because this movie and The Blood Rose show that he had the chops to be a legendary genre director. A muddy beatdown scene in this is a perfect showcase for his marrying of the brutal with the lyrical.



RIVALS (1972)
This Oedipal coming of age story can't seem to decide whether it's a quirky HAROLD & MAUDE-like comedy or a sleazy exploitation romp, but whatever it is, it's always entertaining. The 1972 New York location photography is worth the sit alone. This is the first film written and directed by Krishna Shah who would later go on to direct HARD ROCK ZOMBIES, further confirming that he's either a madman or a genius (or both).



ON THE YARD (1978) 
This isn't going to be anyone's new favorite movie, or even their new favorite prison movie, but it's an extraordinarily well written and acted chamber drama that snakes around the personal politics and social systems within a prison. If it feels authentic in its details, that's probably because screenwriter Malcolm Braly (adapting his own novel) based it on his time in San Quentin!


SWEET TRASH (1970)
Starts out as some sort of gutter Eugene O'Neil/Clifford Odets/etc play with the trials and travails of a blue collar New York dock worker leisurely intercut with lengthy scenes of graphic nudity. There's a whole lotta boozing and bullshitting, and there's even a screamy fight in a squalid apartment with a baby crying in the background. "We're living in a world of realism. Here's to realism!" the dockworker says after he racks up $6000 in gambling debts to some shady characters who are about to break his fingers. Then things get quirky. The thugs take their orders from a "computer." The mid-level boss who relays the messages from the computer to the thugs lives in a mansion where he surrounds himself with gorgeous, often nude women. At one point two of them are wearing nothing but heels and are screaming, "We're vampires!"
As the dockworker goes on the run and starts drinking himself into a stupor, things get extra dreamy. He encounters an underage-looking prostitute who lives above the merry-go-round at Coney Island ("You get used to the music...Protect me from the rain, daddy!") and a Puerto Rican neighbor woman who takes him on a surreal DT trip through his memories. Strangely arty, well composed stuff for a movie that earlier had an entire strip tease play out.
It never really boils over or goes anywhere extra sensational, but it's kind of impossible for me not to love something so idiosyncratic and slippery. Whether its zigs and zags are the result of vision, economic compromises or simply ineptitude is sort of beyond the point. I love location photography, quirky actors, and the very idea of striving for artistic expression in a field that neither requires nor even welcomes it. As the dock worker's long-time friendzoned ladyfriend says, "Back there in some dried up weeds I found some American Beauties." I guess that's supposed to be an on the nose guide to reading the intent of this story, and damned if ain't kinda true. Oh, also computers suck.
Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome for discovering and restoring this weird piece of American history.



CRAZY JOE (1974)
When Peter Boyle tells you to kiss Fred Williamson's ass, you kiss Fred Williamson's fucking ass.
It was cool seeing this so close to MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE, another post-GODFATHER riff on the mafia in America that follows the tragic-epic arc of an overly eager man backstabbing and murdering his way to a precarious position of power. Whereas MASSACRE is charming with its scruffy, ramshackle personal take on the genre, this movie is a pure classic Hollywood gangster yarn, its low budget and Italian origins only showing up at the seams.
Peter Boyle does a feature length Cagney impersonation, looking cool as hell wearing sunglasses after dark. He shoots a man (gangland style?) in the head in the middle of a crowded restaurant, wipes the gun clean then places it in the dead man's hand. "How about that?" he asks the shocked onlookers, a mile-wide smirk on his face. "One minute he's smiling and enjoying his meal. The next... suicide!" After a major life event gets him into reading philosophy, he asks a guy at a party, "Who do you like more: Sartre or Camus?" What other gangster movie could have that line?!
His right hand men throughout the movie include Rip Torn, Fred Williamson, and Henry Winkler (!). Hervé Villechaize is one of his toughs (!!). His main competition in taking over the New York rackets: Eli Wallach (!!!). These guys are having a great time with their roles, hamming it up whenever they can. A real joy to watch, and a fitting tribute to the great Wallach and Boyle who both passed away in recent years.
The movie makes great use of its New York locations and is one of only a few I've seen (BLACK CAESAR comes to mind) that deals with the co-mingling of Italians and African-Americans in organized crime power struggles. It's also fascinating thinking that this movie, which is based on real people and incidents, came out when the power struggles it depicts were still going on. It's kind of incredible that with its pedigree and quality it hasn't been more widely available or seen. The only thing I can figure is that the handful of well known pop songs on the soundtrack made it un-affordable to re-release.

TWISTED ISSUES (1988)
"Are you god?" - guy trying to buy beer at 7-11 with no I.D.
"Well... Yes...And no." - guy in the alley behind 7-11 listed in the credits as "7-11 Being."


Kind of like a psychedelic skate-punk Wayside School story (if anyone else read those books as a kid), with an ensemble cast of weirdos and an ever shifting focus all set in the peculiar snowglobe universe that is the underground music scene in 1988 Gainseville, Florida (what was I just saying about Florida producing some of the most idiosyncratic exploitation movies... if you can even call this exploitation).
Just immature and abrasive enough to be thoroughly PUNK, but with shot composition and (trés psychedelic) editing that show a maturity in writer/director/editor Charles Pinion that is a few quantum lightyears ahead of his shot-on-video contemporaries. If you're going to light a scene with a flashlight, why try and hide it?! I thought some of the scenes of bands playing went on a bit long, but according to Matt "Dumpster Being" Lynch, this is because the project was initially conceived as a documentary on the Gainseville hardcore scene. Kind of neat that it works as that, a gory no-budget slasher and a cool (but obtuse) piece of self-expression without ever letting one of those elements over power the other. I wish Slacker was more like this.



TRUTH OR DARE?: A CRITICAL MADNESS (1986)
They say the Dutch masters benefited from certain qualities of Dutch light and New York pizza dough is inimitable because of the qualities it derives from the New York City tap water. So what is it about Florida that makes its exploitation output especially numerous and pungent? The same state was setting to some of Doris Wishman and Herschell Gordon Lewis' greatest hits and home to no-budget visionaries such as K. Gordon Murray, William Grefe, and Tim Ritter.
Ritter's Truth or Dare is a backyard slasher that gleefully skips down the road from genre exercise to unpredictable bad taste-a-thon. It's not only competent, but deliberate in a way that shows that Ritter is having fun "going there" in the same way that John Waters is. Some really nasty stuff happens, but it's not for the sake of being "extreme," it's for the sake of being hilarious (at least to people whose sense of humor skews towards the pitch-side of black). As with any slasher, it lives and dies on the strength of its villain and the pursuers. Here we have a gleefully hammy central performance (and a well designed mask) and goofy detectives who are only ever used for comic relief. The spirit of Blood Feast lives on.

Side note: this is why I almost always chose truth. If you really don't want to answer you can lie, but you choose dare and next thing you know you're running naked down the hallway outside your friend's parents' bedroom.

BOOM (1968)
This is probably like nails on a chalkboard to many people, but I love movies that go so far off the pretentious deep end that they come back around to being a curious mix of genuine art and unintended hilarity. Look at this all-star team:
Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Joseph Losey
Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe
Music by John Barry

Movies about mentally unwell people work best for me when I experience a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, a submission to and identification with the crazy headspace in which the main characters find themselves. Trapped on an island in Capri with a flamboyantly dressed Elizabeth Taylor screaming at her servants and recording nonsense dictations over a loudspeaker system is a pretty good way to spend two hours. Marvel as she tosses a portable x-ray machine off a cliff screaming about it being a "baby buggy from Mars!" Split your sides as she fumbles through a phoned in food order in Italian, frustratingly remarking, "These people don't even understand their own language!" when the poor sap on the other end of the line doesn't understand her. Take a shot every time Richard Burton says "boom!" and die smiling.

SECRET CEREMONY (1968)
"Nobody's just a nice old man."
Zonked out Liz Taylor and manic nymphet nightmare girl Mia Farrow reside in a Gothic house of psychotic women that is haunted by the specter of sexual abuse. Eerie, weird, and ethereal. Robert Mitchum says the line, "I wouldn't rape a randy elephant!"

SYMPTOMS (1974)
...may include drowsiness, waking dream states, the creeps, and feelings of uncertainty about how attractive and terrifying the porcelain-faced young woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Donald Pleasance (she's his daughter) is.

PERFUMED NIGHTMARE (1977)
The Engine of Progress is Fueled by The Memories of the Underdeveloped
... would be the title of a dry scholarly paper Kidlat Tahimik might have written when he was utilizing his MBA to work as an economics researcher in Paris. Thankfully, a typhoon was awakened in him, and he became a filmmaker, somewhat on a whim.Perfumed Nightmare, his first film, is a formally unique, playful interrogation of colonialism, globalization and neoliberalism. That description makes it sound dull and didactic, but the movie is anything but. Somewhat defying description, it's an essay film, a free-form memoir, and an avant garde act of provocation all at once. It's charming, inventive, personal, and pointed without succumbing to the pitfalls of most agitprop. It feels like the kind of movie that actually could make someone reconsider the way they think about the world, their culture, or their history unlike so many politicized documentaries that only play in an echo chamber to people who nod and say "mmhmm" when some obvious point is made. It's not surprising that Werner Herzog is a fan of Perfumed Nightmare. You can see its influence on his "documentary" style, particularly in films like Lessons of Darkness and Wild Blue Yonder.
To give an example of the kind of playful but pointed way in Tahimik operates: Playing himself in the movie (as president of the Wernher von Braun fan club) he writes Radio America to ask what the first words of the Apollo moon landing were. As the radio plays back the famous "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" the film focuses on the bare feet of a Filipino boy on exposed tree roots. What did this progress, this bridge between man and the moon, do for this child? What progress is exemplified by "one less street vendor means one more parking space?" There's some ambivalence in all of these critiques, but the overriding idea is that self-determination and cultural memory are paramount, yet constantly threatened by Western capitalism, at home and abroad. I still feel like I'm failing to communicate just how deliberately silly and fun* this movie is, despite its vigorous finger wagging... which in a way is testament to its power as cinema. You'll just have to watch it to get it.

*except for the graphic tribal circumcision scene! Yowch!

THE GOOD HUMOUR MAN (1950)
Extremely silly Frank Tashlin scripted gag-fest about a wrong (ice cream) man, his love interest, a femme fatale, and a gang of Captain Marvel obsessed children. Jack Carson takes Elmer Fudd levels of physical abuse throughout, and an entire school building is destroyed in the 10 minute long climactic chase!

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