Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jonathan Hertzberg ""

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jonathan Hertzberg

Jonathan Hertzberg is a longtime personal friend of mine and he runs the Obscure One-Sheet Blog:
He has is an avid fan of Danny Peary too by the way which is one of the things we bonded over early on. He is a true seeker of interesting cinema and always manages to find cool stuff.
His lists 2013 and 2014:
Follow him on Instagram here:
Twitter here:
Der Fan aka Trance (1982, Eckhart Schmidt, Blu-ray).  Neue Deutsche Welle in sound and vision, but punk at its core, this extremely dark story of teen obsession set to an incessant German synthpop beat (by Rheingold) may be my favorite cinema discovery of the year.  The last act lives up to its reputation as one of those things that Nigel Tufnel would say "goes all the way to eleven."  That said, resist reading too much about Der Fan before seeing it. Mondo Macabro's handsome Blu-ray does right by the film's stylish New Wave-inspired design and photography, and the disc's cogent text and interview supplements provide invaluable historical context.  Director Schmidt spent many years in the nascent German punk scene, which led to a graphic novel that formed the basis for this film.  Desiree Nosbusch's fearless performance in the title role is a standout of both the "coming-of-age" and "psycho thriller" genres.

Enemy Territory (1987, Peter Manoogian, 35mm).  Sadly unavailable on DVD in any territory, Peter Manoogian's savvy, modestly-budgeted "dirty old New York" urban Western / horror story is one of the last in a line of such films that include Death Wish, The Warriors, Vigilante, and the like. It's written by late film scholar and mystery novelist Stuart Kaminsky, who also includes English dialogue for Once Upon a Time in America among his varied credits. The film depicts the horror experienced by a meek, white insurance salesman when he becomes stuck overnight in a gang-ridden public housing tower and hunted down in Most Dangerous Game fashion.  But, it also has more literal horror elements, particularly the vampire-like gang led by Candyman Tony Todd, which supplement its more basic action thriller narrative.  Produced by Empire, MGM now controls the film's rights. It's up to someone like Kino Lorber or Shout Factory! to revive it on Blu-ray.

A Man to Respect aka The Master Touch (1972, Michele Lupo, Japanese laserdisc rip).  Michele Lupo's poliziottesco film is unfortunately in the public domain, or at the very least treated that way on home video.  Kirk Douglas portrays a master thief, just released from prison and watched carefully by the police, who joins with young acrobat Giuliano Gemma to undertake one more heist.  The  elaborate, skillful heist is an obvious highlight of film, as is an extended car chase that ranks with the best the genre has to offer.  Like a lot of American actors of his generation, Douglas went to Europe in the late '60s and '70s, when he became somewhat out-of-fashion in Hollywood, and the film affords him the kind of anti-hero role that was being filled by younger actors back home.  The film is largely performed by the trio of Douglas, Gemma and Florinda Bolkan, star of so many culty Euro titles of this era.  One cannot mention this film and neglect Ennio Morricone's haunting, atonal score, which contributes so greatly to the dark, downer mood of the film.

I Am Suzanne (1933, Rowland V. Lee, 35mm).  This alternately charming and creepy pre-Code romantic drama is definitely of a piece with the other 1933 Rowland V. Lee picture I've seen, Zoo in Budapest.  Both films star the--sometimes unsettingly--boyish Gene Raymond as emotionally-stunted young men living in bizarre, self-contained environments.  In Zoo, Gene lives and works in the zoo where he has a preternatural relationship with the animals, but isn't so practiced with humans.  In Suzanne, he's a puppeteer in a downtrodden puppet theater, who also isn't so practiced in relationships with flesh and blood humans.  Lilian Harvey is Suzanne, a singing and dancing star in a much more successful theater down the block.  Inevitably, Gene both charms and creeps out Lilian and must make some tough decisions between his puppets and his lady love.  But, I don't mean to trivialize Suzanne or Zoo.  If you're a pre-Code aficionado, you must seek them out, as their special blend of outre, endearing, anti-establishment, naive, and cynical flavors is unique, even in the canon of pre-Code cinema.  It sure would be grand if Fox's MOD program was as prolific and consistent as the Warner Archive...the aforementioned Lee films are just two of many Fox pre-Code titles that have yet to appear on any home video format.

Christmas Evil aka You Better Watch Out (1980, Lewis Jackson, Blu-ray).  Here's a truly weird, wonderful, un-classifiable Christmas horror film / character study hybrid, written and directed by Lewis Jackson.  The production design, cinematography, and script give this the feel of
taking place in an indeterminate time period, sometime earlier than its
late '70s production date, and in an effectively artificial, unreal
milieu.  All this contributes to the film feeling more like a fairy-tale than the slasher many
assume it to be.  Jackson made the unusual and rewarding--if financially crippling--choice of importing renowned d.p. Ricardo Aronovich and his crew from overseas to shoot in suburban New Jersey (including my hometown of Montclair!) and New York, and it pays off in giving the film a warm, textured palette that does, as I said, give the film a timeless quality.  Fiona Apple père Brandon Maggart is excellent in the lead role as lonely, emotionally unstable toy factory worker Harry Stadling.

Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey, 35mm).   On my "to see" list for far too long, Harvey's sole feature effort is certainly in the conversation for all-time best in this category.  Harvey develops an consistently creepy atmosphere through the use of expressive black and white photography, evocative locations, and expert use of music.  Rather than the occasionally clunky dialogue between the non-pro performers, it's the scenes of star Candace Hilligoss driving through back country Utah and wandering around the abandoned Saltair Pavilion and the silent face of The Man (Harvey himself), all set to an eerie church organ score, that continue to haunt me.  Veteran industrial filmmaker Harvey proved he had the chops to sustain a narrative and mood for a feature length film and, though he had a long, successful career making industrials and teaching filmmaking, it's too bad this film wasn't initially successful enough to give him the opportunity to make more feature narratives.

Don't Answer the Phone (1980, Robert Hammer, DVD).  One of the quintessential "Dirty Old LA" movies, one-and-done-r Hammer's sleaze-fest is a little bit of a West Coast Maniac, with the late Nicholas Worth giving ole Joe Spinell a run for his money as top of the heap in the woman-hating onscreen psychopath pantheon.  So, it's by no means groundbreaking or high art, but between the vintage LA red light locations, creepy guitar and synth score, and Worth's never uninteresting performance, it'll grab your attention for most of it's 94 minute running time...the only time it drags is when the p.o.v. switches to the two detectives pursuing the murderous Worth, wherein the film feels in performance and style akin to a rudimentary '70s cop show.

Stay as You Are (1978, Alberto Lattuada, Blu-ray).  Lattuada's romantic drama is keenly interested in exploring the beautiful body of a very young Nastassja Kinski and does not disappoint in terms of female nudity, but to its credit it also manages to be a moving mid-life crisis story.  It's no doubt elevated by the performances of Kinski and the great Marcello Mastroianni, who seemed to be able to do this kind of thing in his sleep, and a lovely score by Maestro Morricone.  The May-December romance depicted here would probably not fly today nor would the abundant, unabashed casual nudity, something that marks this as a European drama from 1978 even more than Morricone's "Dance On," an infectious disco number that features throughout the film.

Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Eiichi Yamamoto, DCP).  An X-worthy, psychedelic Japanese animated fantasy film from 1973, it should go without saying that Belladonna will appeal to anyone who digs Fantastic Planet, Wizards, and the like.  In addition to the eye-grabbing visuals, the amazing Masahiko Sato psych score figures prominently in much the same way as Alain Goraguer's for Fantastic PlanetBelladonna is based on Jean Michelet's La Sorciere and shares that work's attack on feudalism and the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, and the oppression these institutions forced on the peasantry, particularly women.  It's been restored in 4K by Cinelicious Pics and should be released sometime this year.

The Story of Marie and Julien (2003, Jacques Rivette, 35mm).  At 150 minutes, Rivette's late-career supernatural romantic drama is, by his standards, rather brisk and penetrable.  Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), who fixes clocks and dabbles in extortion on the side, is reunited with former lover Marie (Emmanuelle Beart), but she is elusive and it's not clear what her intentions are, or if she is still fully in the world of the living, or in some in-between place.  As is often the case in Rivette's oeuvre, the narrative follows a dream logic and seemingly creates its own mythology and rules as it goes along, which can certainly frustrate the uninitiated; having had difficulty myself connecting with several of Rivette's earlier films, this time I was transfixed and affected throughout.  A most pleasant surprise for me and another "discovery of the year."


Ned Merrill said...

Thanks again, Rupe. Always a fun exercise!

Rupert Pupkin said...

Always glad to have your lists sir!