Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - David Bax ""

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - David Bax

David is co-host of the excellent Battleship Pretension Podcast, which I can't recommend highly enough.

See his Discoveries list from last year too:
10. Evil Eye (1963)
When I mention this film to friends of mine that are hardcore Mario Bava fans, I’m generally met with a bit of a shrug. I can see how this would be considered “lesser” Bava but most of his signature elements are on display. It’s psychologically intense with some grisly violence and a surprisingly healthy dose of comedy. In other words, it’s not for completists only. It’s worth your time.
9. Adua and Her Friends (1960)
This one kind of snuck up on me. On the one hand, it’s a warm and light comic melodrama starring Simone Signoret, Emmanuelle Riva and Marcello Mastroianni. On the other hand, it’s a social-issue picture about prostitutes trying to get out from under the thumb of the mafia and change their lives. Much like the recent Tangerine, though, it insists on presenting its characters as human beings first and representatives of sex work second. You might be surprised, by the end, to realize how much fun you’re having watching it.
8. Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Celebration (1979)
Willie Nelson has hosted a 4th of July country music festival every year since 1973. This film, reportedly made during the second “picnic” but not released until 1979, is full of reminders that before he was America’s favorite avuncular stoner, he and his cohorts and their fans earned the subcategorization of “outlaw country.” Folks get rowdy, the camera operators would appear to have been instructed to seek out every uncovered female breast they could find and, by the end, the film is less about the music and more about marveling at how incredibly drunk Leon Russell is.
7. Excalibur (1981)
Every time I think of Excalibur, I have to remind myself that I actually saw this movie. It wasn’t a dream I had. I ought to be forgiven for the hesitation, though, as the film’s hazy forests and wall-to-wall ADR make for a surreal experience. It’s nearly two and a half hours and it movies at a snail’s pace yet somehow that only adds to its powers of enchantment. It could have been a disaster. Instead, it’s something beautiful.
6. El Vampiro Negro (1953)
El Vampiro Negro is an Argentinean remake of M from 1953. Though it’s not 100% faithful to the source material, it similarly focuses on the urban underbelly. The good guys are burlesque dancers and homeless people. The cops are distrusted. Just like M, it’s both hard-edged and humanistic, with gorgeously inky photography.
5. The Slog Movie (1982)
Director David Markey is probably best known for his Sonic Youth tour documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Ten years earlier, though, he was a 19-year-old punk rocker in Los Angeles editing a fanzine, playing drums in a band, and filming things with his Super 8 camera. The latter resulted in The Slog Movie, an hour-long, breakneck account of the early 80s L.A. hardcore scene. It features interviews with and performance footage of legendary bands like Circle Jerks, TSOL, Fear and Black Flag as well as lesser known groups like Circle One and Red Cross. It also features some shots of a swarm of young punks hanging out at the original Oki-Dog, a treat for fans of the scene and its lore like myself.
4. The 47 Ronin (1941)
Describing this movie makes it sound almost like a prank. Yes, it’s about samurai plotting revenge on the man their master was executed for trying to kill. But it’s also a four hour movie that consists almost entirely of people sitting in rooms talking. The major action set-piece, the raid on the rival master’s home, happens off screen and is relayed when a letter describing the events is read aloud. Somehow, though, it remains riveting. That’s because The 47 Ronin is not really a revenge story at all. It’s about how people in a society where protocol and decorum are inextricably tied to one’s standing, honor and sense of self-worth negotiate their way through their passions and emotions. Every bit of rage, envy, love, abandon, etc. has to be made to fit the boxes prescribed by the culture. It’s more fascinating to watch than any swordfight.
3. State of Siege (1972)
Made just three years after his landmark film, Z, Costra-Gavras’ State of Siege has never enjoyed the reputation of that earlier masterpiece, which happens to be one of my favorites of all time. Maybe it was just too soon and, in many ways, too similar to stand out on its own. State of Siege, inspired by real events that resulted in the death of a U.S. Embassy official in Uruguay only two years before, tells the story of the kidnapping of a somewhat mysterious, fictional U.S. official by revolutionaries and the government’s violent response. This man, whom his captors allege is secretly in the country to train their police in torture and other nefarious practices, may be smug but his is the compelling arrogance of an intelligent man with the strength of his convictions. State of Siege is at its best when it gives its white collar bad guy room to calmly and persuasively present his case, forcing the revolutionaries as well as the audience to check themselves, to make sure their beliefs are held as fast as his.

2. Man of the West (1958)
Anthony Mann's Man of the West bears the marks of the era of its release, that late 1950s/early 1960s window when the Hays code was weakening after Joseph Breen's retirement but before the beginning of the MPAA ratings system. It's not just that there's somewhat explicit material like the threatened sexual assault of Julie London's character. Beyond that, there's a pervasive moral grimness to this story of a reformed criminal (Gary Cooper) tossed back in league with his old gang. Cooper is only the good guy by comparison. The man is a man who has left his past behind by lying about who he is. He hasn't buried the killer he was very deeply and it won't take too much to blow the dirt back off him.
1. Le Pont du Nord (1981)
For the record, I made this list before Jacques Rivette's death. Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord is the story of two women (one recently out of prison and one with an intense focus as well as possible mental illness) who stumble upon what they believe to be a criminal conspiracy that takes them to the far-flung outskirts of Paris in their attempts to uncover it. Le Pont du Nordgives us a way of looking at a city that is a unique mix of the pragmatic and the idiosyncratic. The film presents us with two societally marginalized but dynamic individuals and then forces them to interact with their surroundings by showing us a metropolis composed entirely of public spaces. With the exception of an above-ground commuter train, there are zero interior shots. Rivette detaches the city from the private anchors of homes and workplaces where the average citizen spends most of her time and forces his characters to exist as constant political beings, always members of the populace. Even as Rivette’s Paris takes on a more mythic stature toward the film’s end, its elements remain as commonplace as they are grand. The same can be said for his protagonists. As the two women follow their clues, their quixotic journey takes them to more and more sparsely populated areas. The abandoned lots and half-completed construction sites are aesthetically drab but Marie and Baptiste’s quest imbues them with a sense of magic, literalized at one point in the form of an industrial chute that looks and behaves like a dragon. It may be that these things are only happening in the women’s imaginations as a coping mechanism, as in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. But Rivetter’spresentation suggests otherwise. He mixes the mundane and the mythical like a subtle reverse of Jacques Demy’sDonkey Skin. Despite predominantly employing a handheld, documentary-style aesthetic, he also repeatedly adds in seemingly unrelated shots that swoop around and focus on stone lions in a fountain in a city square. It’s the kind of statuary many of us might pass every day, too clouded by routine to stop and wonder if they might possibly be real.

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