Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - James David Patrick ""

Friday, January 6, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong habit of obsessive movie watching. His current project, #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project can be found at thejamesbondsocialmediaproject.com. Find him on twitter at @007hertzrumble.
2016 was just a weird year. Start to finish I never felt I had a handle on the year that was. Looking back at my favorite new watches gives me a fixed point of reference. Everything else drifts a little bit further away, at least for a moment or two, as I focus on the movies that defined my year in movie watching. I plucked only a couple of these films from the abyss of forgotten cinema - and both of those as a result of my attendance at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. So it wasn't that I did the plucking, I just chose to be present for said plucking. The rest of my picks are rather known entities for which I finally made time on my schedule. Still, if you haven't seen them - they're new to you. If you have seen them, nod your head, smile and pretend to be interested. I'll be rather brief.

Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindo, 1968) 
Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko, the Japanese title for Kuroneko takes the prize for most literal name of a transcendent piece of cinema. (I assume.) The literal English translation, "A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove," paints a very precise picture. Kaneto Shindo's film showcases bamboo groves and black cats, oftentimes in the same image and beautifully rendered. Truth in advertisement.

Of course, such precision fails to convey nuance beyond the light and shadow. Even without nuance, however, Kuroneko is a beautiful film. A collection of stills from the film could populate an entire gallery installation.


The term "elegiac" resonated while watching Kuroneko. The word itself rolls off the tongue and inspires non-specific romantic pining, sort of like whispering "Hector Elizondo." Literally "elegiac" means an expression of sorrow for something now past, which perfectly reflects the lost paradise of the wronged women, undead, and preying upon the flesh of the samurai that wronged them.


Whether you're spellbound by the imagery or wrapped up in the vengeance of the these women, Kuroneko casts a timeless spell. Conservation of language. The visual poetry of the black and white image. Revenge and honor. Love and death. The shattered sanctuary of home.

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Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975) 
I've grown weary of the argument that Dario Argento is a lesser director because he emphasizes style over substance. The giallo film relies on such a strict set of identifying characteristics that creativity and excellence within these constraints often manifests in the form of camera angles, color, light and shadow, and inventive slasher setpieces. No matter the intelligence of the narrative, story takes a backseat to visual panache. If you're someone who watches a giallo film and laments a lack of a proper narrative in the face of stylistic artistry, maybe the genre just isn't for you.

Deep Red excels precisely because Argento forces his inventive camerawork to the foreground. He lingers on interesting gothic architecture, dark city streets, unsettling imagery. During his scenes of murder, rapid editing, point-of-view and tracking shots, and blazing colors (usually hypercolor red) tell stories within stories.


In his early masterworks, Argento combines these artificial elements of cinema - the sights and sounds, the cinematic language of the slasher - into a nightmarish synesthesia. In Deep Red (and some of his other films as well - Tenebrae comes to mind), Argento poses questions concerning perception and reality. Within Deep Red the question must be answered by the main character - what has he witnessed? - but Argento has also directed this question at the audience.


Cinema, as an artificial medium, offers us the ability to explore these questions every time we turn on a film. Argento places the perception vs. reality dynamic front and center. He directs dreamlike films, filled with loose logic and visual and aural connectivity. Red herrings, misdirection come part and parcel with a genre-style whose focus and mystery must remain, by nature, on the identity of the killer.


Having finally watched Deep Red, I'm humbled. I'll have to retire my old "Opera is the second best Argento" unpopular opinion. It's unpopular because it's a load of bollocks. While Deep Red could not unseat my obsession with Suspiria, I have to award the film my highest new-watch recommendation. Argento's 1975 film proves to be a master class is gothic suspense that transcends the genre. There's so much more going on in Deep Red than just a slight case of murder. Time to grapple with my own misperceived reality.

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Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (Roy Del Ruth, 1934) 
One of the underdog stories of the 2016 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. This little screwball Bulldog Drummond caper had folks talking throughout the four-day event. And luckily for me, TCM chose to hold a second screening due to its popularity.

I've seen many of the Bulldog Drummond films. I had interest in seeing this more hard-to-find entry in the series but the first screening of Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back conflicted with Carl Reiner's appearance with Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. It just wasn't an option.


Ronald Colman, his mustache and his ways with linguistic articulation are devilishly suave. In fact, I'd wager Ronald Colman's mustache alone could literally charm the pants off you. The twists and clever turns of the detective narrative stand out as comedic highlights in the series. If only more people could watch this film properly, I doubt I'd have to sing its praises as an underrated, underseen jewel of the 1930's detective pictures.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (Lou Adler, 1982) 
I wasn't aware of this film until earlier this year when I was listening to a Jake Fogelnest podcast primarily about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. As Jake and his guest turned the conversation toward The Fabulous Stains and its director Lou Adler, I couldn't believe that I didn't know the film. I would live at the crossroads of 1980's cinema, cult classic, music and Diane Lane if the housing prices were reasonable.

Based on that podcast, I expected something sillier, something campier. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains offers certain pre-Spinal Tap rock-doc elements (probably due to the film's unhinged ambition) but offers up real characters with real problems and almost perfectly captures a punk rock disillusionment brought about by post-industrial suburban America.


The Fabulous Stains isn't a perfect film - but it is a bitter, satirical, real portrait of a few girls searching for an identity in a world that wants to write their story for them. And the efficacy of that portrait - due to Diane Lane's performance in particular - makes up for the film's intermittent bipolarism.

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Whisky Galore! (Alexander Mackendrick, 1949)
Only the Brits could write such a gleeful, cinematic love letter to alcohol dependence and being permanently fall-down stupid drunk. This underappreciated 1949 Ealing comedy based on the novel by Compton MacKenzie concerns the real-life 1941 shipwreck of the SS Politician near the island Eriskay, a 2.7 square mile island just northwest of Scotland.

The islanders are forbidden by British authorities from plundering the shipwreck's cargo - which happens to be a massive payload of whisky. But, of course, they do it anyway through any convoluted means possible. The ultimate showdown happens between a stuffy, steadfast English commander of the local guard and the villagers hustling and shuttling their bottles into ingenious hiding places before the Captain can catch them red-handed.


The entire manic cast sells the isolated, dry-as-a-bone desperation of the islanders, but it's Basil Radford's overzealous Captain Waggett that steals the show. You might recall Radford from The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich as Charters, one-half of the Charters and Caldicott cricket-obsessed duo. I'm not sure why a comedy as universally enjoyable as Whisky Galore! hasn't been made more available - but that's why you go Region Free.

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Private Property (Leslie Stevens, 1960) 
Shot in 1959, over five days, for just under $60,000, the independently produced Private Property had been thought lost until a print turned up a couple years ago. Directed by Leslie Stevens, better known for his prolific TV output, Private Property depicts a plot conceived by two drifters (Corey Allen and Warren Oates - in his first starring role) to seduce and, well... eventually rape a neglected housewife (Kate Manx).

Property is 80 minutes of low-lying and persistent psychological tension. Allen's drifter is unhinged and unpredictable. Oates is immature. And Manx' housewife displays enough pent up sexuality for the entire cast of Desperate Housewives. Stevens overtly channels Hitchcock (and even references him at one point during the film by naming an unseen character "Hitchcock") and succeeds.

20th Century Fox tried to buy the film for distribution in 1960, but the MPAA wouldn't issue a ratings certificate due to the films depravity. It's barely a scandalous trifle by today's standards, but one can certainly see how it might have caused a ruckus.
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The Wanderers (Philip Kaufman, 1979) 
The first movie I watched in 2016 might also have been the best.

A surprisingly complex deconstruction of the 1960's disguised behind a reductionist poodle skirt and leather jacket fantasyland. Philip Kaufman's witty and weighty film presents a bubble-gum worldview consistently interrupted by senseless, visceral violence portending the coming of violent social and moral upheaval.


This is the intersection of Grease, Porky's and The Warriors - but any attempt to label Kaufman's The Wanderers through direct comparison does the film a disservice. It's creatively unencumbered, a product of the artistic freedoms bestowed upon filmmakers of the 1970's. Kaufman and other filmmakers of this period dared to create something more "real" through artificiality and imperfection.

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