Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Cole Roulain ""

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Underrated '76 - Cole Roulain

Cole co-hosts a podcast with his wife, Ericca Long, called The Magic Lantern in which they discuss the films in their personal canons and their enduring cinematic memories. 

You can find it or contact him in these places:
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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Cassavetes, 1976)
This is my favorite film from 1976 and one of my favorite films, period. Ben Gazzara is thoroughly captivating as Cosmo Vittelli, a man whose ambition won't allow him to accept that he is the very definition of small-timer. He moves from the frying pan to the fire, thanks to a never ending cycle of gambling debt, and finds himself on the hook to perform the titular murder. It's a dingy world full of second-raters and the scene where he auditions a dancer to composer Bo Harwood's "Rainy Fields of Frost and Magic" is one of the most grubby and beautiful things I have ever laid eyes on. Essential.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Carlino. 1976)
This is an uneven, but valuable, adaptation of a novel from Yukio Mishima. I have always been a huge fan of Kris Kristofferson's easy charisma and natural ability to convey a story, and he does a passable job here. The real attraction here, though, is Sarah Miles. She is so smart, wry and real. It's a truly erotic performance, in the headiest, best sense of the word. The disparate threads of the story meet where they often do with Mishima - violence. Until that point, though, it's a peculiarly beautiful film and one that I hope doesn't get lost to cinematic history.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (Pierce, 1976)
This is the high water mark for Charles B. Pierce. It is based on a series of unsolved murders that occurred in Texarkana in 1946 and much like Texarkana has one foot in Texas and one in Arkansas, this film is bizarrely split between terrifying moments and moments of sub-Dukes of Hazzard comic relief. One minute you have a truly disturbing trombone killing and the next minute there are bumbling sheriffs crashing cars into the lake. In the final accounting of things, though, the terror outweighs the wacky hijinks and that scene where the killer arrives at Dawn Wells' screen door actually made me check to make sure my windows were locked.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (Badham, 1976)
One of the greatest, and most unsung, sports movies, this features Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor at the peak of their powers. It chronicles a group of ex-Negro League baseball players that take to the road as a barnstorming team that grows in popularity until it forces a climactic showdown with the team that Williams ditched in the first place. It's a highly entertaining picture, with Williams as charming as ever, Jones as lighthearted as you'll ever seen him and my abiding affection for Richard Pryor is well-documented. It also manages to slyly force you to consider the cost of being a traveling entertainer, constrained by the color line. When it comes to 1976, keep Rocky, give me Bingo Long.

Bound for Glory (Ashby, 1976)
This one ticks all my boxes. I'm a transplanted Okie, so Woody Guthrie is an automatic, Hal Ashby's '70s output is nearly unimpeachable and Haskell Wexler's eye is on the money, as usual. It's a period of American history that is often mishandled, but Ashby, as is his way, finds the basic humanity in these characters and avoids overly romanticizing the Great Depression. David Carradine even works in an odd way. It's probably Ashby's least appreciated from that time frame, but I don't think that's fair. The music is great, the mood is great, the subject is great. The movie is great.

Blood Sucking Freaks (Reed, 1976)
Keeping the tradition of Grand Guignol alive and injecting a healthy dose of sleaze in the process, Blood Sucking Freaks is different for me every time I watch it. Its merits are dubious, I certainly admit, and it is not for everyone. If you are a fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis, but think he's a little too classy sometimes, then you might have a new favorite here. It's such an odd mix of gore, camp and amateurishness. I appreciate that it cares nothing for the audience and makes no concessions to common standards of filmmaking or even common decency. Underrated may not quite be the right way to categorize it, but I am putting it here nonetheless.

Cria Cuervos (Saura, 1976)
I think underrated may be misleading on this one as well, as it is well regarded in certain circles. I put it here mainly because it's a film that I think a lot of mainstream filmgoers might not come across as often as other, more prominent titles from 1976. Ana Torrent had been remarkable in Spirit of the Beehive three years prior, and picked up right where she had left off with another spectacular depiction of the inner life of a child. Being a kid can be tough. You feel like you have no agency. As a way to navigate these trials of youth and the very real specter of death, Ana moves fluidly back and forth between real life and fantasy, ultimately surviving, above all

Master of the Flying Guillotine (Wang, 1976)
No one watches enough Kung Fu! This is a must see for anyone interested in the genre. It has one of the greatest weapons of all time, the titular flying guillotine, wielded by a blind assassin with the greatest eyebrows and most sensitive ears. It has a one armed boxer participating in one of the genres most entertaining tropes - a tournament that functions as an excuse to trot out fighters of all styles, including one with telescoping arms.On top of all that, the soundtrack is full of illicitly used Krautrock. Did you read the things I just wrote? Why are you even still sitting here instead of desperately trying to track down this masterpiece?!

Heart of Glass (Herzog, 1976)
This is one of Werner Herzog's films that often gets overlooked because it is the one film during a particular ten year stretch that did not involve either the savant, Bruno S., or the madman, Klaus Kinski. While it might not quite reach the lofty heights of some of those, it is certainly worth seeking out, for it has a tone like no other. It is the story of an 18th century village that loses one of its master craftsmen and when he dies, the secret to producing a special glass goes with him. As a result, the town soon goes mad. As if this Herzogian premise isn't enough, the majority of the actors perform under hypnosis, so their speech and reactions are marked by a very specific atonal resignation that has to be seen to be fully understood. A fascinating experiment.

The House with Laughing Windows (Avati, 1976)I couldn't very well have Kung Fu and no giallo, could I? That just doesn't seem like me at all. I am awfully fond of this one precisely because it eschews some of the genre trappings that are lazy, easy signifiers. It forgoes some of the stylistic flourishes that are typically associated with giallo to instead focus on sincere aesthetic concerns and fostering a true sense of dread. It's a more sophisticated setup than the usual black-gloved killer of women, as well, with its focus on art, religion, history and regional politics. Don't worry, though. It's still plenty Italian and plenty '70s. It has atmosphere for miles and an uncommon depth that belies it genre roots. Molto bello!

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