Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - R. Emmet Sweeney ""

Friday, January 8, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - R. Emmet Sweeney

R. Emmet Sweeney writes a weekly column for Movie Morlocks, the official blog of Turner Classic Movies. He also contributes regularly to Film Comment.
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Check out his list from last year (for Movie Morlocks):
And his 2013 list for RPS:
Homunculus (1916)
Directed by Otto Rippert

Test tube baby grows into super-human monster that turns the world into a river of fire! This infernal six-part Germanserial has been restored to an approximation of its original length by the Munich Film Archive. The Homunculus is a frustrated romantic who seeks love but only gets rejection, so he channels his passions into destruction instead. Melancholic, apocalyptic, and a still-vibrant piece of sci-fi and horror history. Hopefully a home video release is forthcoming.

The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932)
Directed by William K. Howard

The apotheosis of the whip pan. This 56-minute Fox pre-code moves with astonishing speed through its story of an accused fiancĂ©e murderer. The proposed killer is Joan Bennett, whose trial outfits are breathlessly reported by radio reporter Zasu Pitts. The camera whips from court to radio to flashbacks to Bennett’s past, connecting everything in a cacophonous whir of motion. Viewed at MoMA’s To Save and Project festival of film preservation.

High Tension (1936)
Directed by Allan Dwan

I don’t know if Allan Dwan ever read the Futurist Manifesto, but High Tension is an exemplar of what Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was celebrating in his incendiary 1909 statement in praise of the industrial age: “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.” And boy does Dwan like to go fast in High Tension (1936), which packs a screwball comedy and a deep sea adventure into its 63 minutes. Of his films from this period, Dwan said, “I’d eliminate stuff that was extraneous and speed up stuff that was written slowly. A writer stretches a story out, and you’ve got to fix it up. Make it move.” High Tension’s narrative moves through telephone wires and underground cables, bringing together the exploits of the swashbuckling cable layer Steve Reardon (Brian Donlevy) and the dime store writer Edith MacNeil (Glenda Farrell) who turns his feats into fiction. The electricity that makes their jobs possible seems to jitter their bodies as they continually break up and smack back into each other across the country. It’s an action-packed ode to wired communication, and is now available for viewing in a very nice looking MOD DVD from Fox Cinema Archives.

The Best of Everything (1959)
Directed by Jean Negulesco

The difficulties of being a woman in the work force, in CinemaScope and DeLuxe color! This gorgeously designed office melodrama, a stated influence on Mad Men, charts the rise of Caroline Bender (Hope Lange) from secretary to editor at the Fabian Publishing Company. Joan Crawford breathes fire as senior editor Amanda Farrow, a cynical survivor of the sexist gauntlet Hope is now traversing. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Visit, or Memories and Confessions (1982)
Directed by Manoel de Oliveira

AKA Manoel de Oliveira’s Cribs. Shot in 1982, Oliveira ordered it not be shown until after his death, which sadly occurred this past April (at the age of 106). The New York Film Festival screening I saw it at was its North American premiere. The film is structured as a tour of Oliveira’s Oporto home, built for him and his wife Maria Isabel (still with us at age 97) after their marriage in 1940. An unseen male and female walk through its environs, comparing the garden trees to guardians and the house as a ship – to these interlocutors it is a shapeshifting landscape occupied by spirits. They hear noises of its previous inhabitants, one of them being Oliveira the friendly ghost, tapping away at his typewriter. He turns in an artificially startled manner toward the camera, as if on an awkward public access show, and tells the story of his life. He screens home movies of his four children, lingers over portraits of his wife, and walks us through the economic failure of his father’s hat factory that put him into debt, leading to the sale of the home. Maria Isabel is only shot outside in the garden, cutting flowers. Asked by an off-screen voice what it is like to be married to a filmmaker, she replies, “it is a life of abnegation”, with a hint of a Mona Lisa smile on her face conveying the years of stresses living with a “man of the cinema”. Manoel has numerous copies of Da Vinci’s masterpiece stashed around the house – perhaps it reminds him of his wife? Though only 72 at the time of shooting, the film seems like a summation, a wrapping up, as he strolls through a Portuguese film studio and reflects on his own insignificance as the roll of film ends, cutting to white screen and the sound of flapping celluloid. He would go on to shoot twenty-five more features.

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