Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jack Criddle ""

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jack Criddle

Jack Criddle is a filmmaker/videographer/photographer based in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. His credits include work as a production coordinator on the Wilco concert film EVERY OTHER SUMMER, 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. He can be reached on Twitter and Instagram.
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DREAMS OF THE RAREBIT FIEND: THE FLYING HOUSE (1921)
One of the highlights of this year’s FreshGrass Festival at MASS MoCA was the addition of a new program of bluegrass and roots musicians playing live soundtracks to silent shorts. The best of the bunch was blues virtuoso Mamie Minch’s score to this fantastic Windsor McCay cartoon, based off his surreal newspaper strip. A middle-aged ma-and-pa pair pair fly around the world and to outer space in their house, which is decked out with airplane wings and a propeller. Despite its ten-minute running time, it’s got more fantastic imagery, whimsy and humor than most blockbuster movies of today.
THE DEVIL BAT (1940)
Bit of PRC Pictures’ hokum is one of Bela Lugosi’s better outings with the poverty row studio. This one features a pretty unique plot; Lugosi’s a chemist employed by a dynastic family’s cosmetics company, though he cashed out long ago rather than investing to get a share of the company’s millions. Now, in pursuit of vengeance, he murders the family members by sicking huge (rubber prop) bats that are attracted to his specially-designed aftershave lotion. It’s all pretty silly business, though Lugosi, perhaps projecting his frustrations with the Hollywood studio system into the role, is fabulously menacing.
THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942)
The biggest treat of Film Forum’s Preston Sturges retrospective was seeing this new-to-me screwball affair in a crisp 35mm print. Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert’s recently-separated married couple fight for each other’s affections while they each ward off those of wacky millionaire siblings Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor. Sturges was firing on all cylinders here, flawlessly weaving between rapid-fire screwball dialogue, high farce and slapstick comedy, and sustaining the madcap speed of the middle part of THE LADY EVE for the running time of a whole film. Far and away my favorite of any of this year’s first-time watches.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
The missus and me decided to watch the Bond series in order in preparation for SPECTRE. In doing so, I discovered that Roger Moore wasn’t as bad as everyone makes out, and that although the Craig films are objectively “better,” Pierce Brosnan still feels more like ‘my’ James Bond, due to his entries being the first ones I saw as a youngster. I also discovered that ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is the best in the series, and it’s a shame George Lazenby didn’t make more. Lazenby imbued 007 with a sense of humanness and vulnerability without losing any of the high-concept superheroics. And as for Diana Rigg - the ultimate Bond Girl? More like the Ultimate Woman, full stop.
WATERSHIP DOWN (1978)
An epic tale of survival, brotherhood, and individualism vs. totalitarianism, played out amongst rabbits in the rural south of England. WATERSHIP DOWN was a film I realized I’d seen clips of but not the whole thing, and it really is a singular and incredible work of art. Boasting a creation-myth prologue by the great John Hubley, life-like character animation on gorgeous watercolor backgrounds, and a stark and emotionally frank story, this is quite likely the greatest British animated film of all time.
JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY (1984)
It was good to see Michael Keaton return as a critical darling in last year’s excellent BIRDMAN. I consider him one of the great Renaissance men of comedy and drama, and director Amy Heckling to be one of the most underrated comedy filmmakers. JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY is a loving homage and side-splitting piss-take of 30’s gangster movies that adopts the staging and blocking of early talkie cinema, adding in hilarious performances and Zucker Brothers-style visual gags. I recommend watching it in black and white for the full effect.
BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)
God bless Frank Henenlotter. In addition to being a cinephile’s cinephile, and an exploitation/horror director whose creations hit all the right notes for this blood-and-monsters-loving dorkus, at his heart he’s a brilliant social satirist. This wonderful little film was made between the cult fave BASKET CASE and the feminist neo-classic FRANKENHOOKER (I mean it.) It a powerful but frequently hilarious tale of addiction, illustrated by an abusive relationship between a young man and a hallucination-causing, brain-eating slug-monster.
THE WOMAN CHASER (1999)
I was floored by this obscure gem after reading Kim Morgan’s recommendation and seeing it turn up on Netflix. It’s adapted from a Charles Willeford pulp novel. Patrick Warburton plays a used car salesman and textbook-case sociopath who reinvents himself as a movie director (of what has to be the most misanthropic b-picture ever made, no less.) This film was misunderstood by the few critics who initially saw it, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID-type spoof - it’s in fact a black-hearted but caustically funny noir recreation. I’d say it’s long overdue for rediscovery as as one of the screen’s best portrayals of film directing as megalomania.

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