Jack Criddle is a filmmaker, cinephile, photographer record collector, and cat guy, based in the Berkshires of Western Mass. Check him out on www.jackcriddle.com, or on Instagram at
Real Life (1979, Albert Brooks)
One mini-major event for Netflix subscribers this year was Albert Brooks’ complete directorial catalogue being made available for streaming. His debut feature is a hysterical satire of documentary filmmaking and journalistic ethics (or the lack thereof.). Brooks, playing a neurotic, sociopathic, funhouse mirror version of himself, psychologically tortures ‘normal, everyday family man’ Charles Grodin and clan in a doomed PBS ‘An American Family’-type program. Hilarity ensues.
The Killers (1964, Don Siegel)
In this sun-drenched, proto-Tarantino hitman picture (adapted from Ernest Hemingway’s short story) suits, shades, silencers, and brilliant hard-boiled dialogue are the order of the day. Seen-it-all-except-for-this Lee Marvin, and a young and terrifying Clu Gulager take it upon themselves to find out why their target, race car driver John Cassavettes, just ‘stood there and took it,’ which unravels the characters’ tangled web. Ronald Regan, who by then was trying to transition out of acting and focus on his political career, comes across as both totally miscast but also perfectly cast as a mafia boss turned real estate developer.
Hangover Square (1945, John Brahm)
This Victorian London-set, Fox backlot horrornoir finds Lairg Cregar’s composer torn between the class-defined realms of classical music, as represented Faye Marlowe’s squeaky-clean, aristocrat’s daughter, and popular, music-hall songs, as symbolized by Linda Darnell’s lusty saloon singer. He also experiences black-outs and memory lapses when he hears dissonant notes, during which times, the bodies always seem to stack up. The film’s made-up mental condition is a metaphor for the turmoil of the self-torturing artist. Heavy-set, closeted actor Cregar, who sought respectable leading roles but was typecast as heavies and psychopaths, seems to channel his personal life’s frustrations into the role, all of which are amplified by Bernard Herrmann’s bombastic score.
Heartworn Highways (1976, James Szalapski )
A totally invaluable portrait of the “Outlaw Country” scene in the mid-70’s in Texas and Tennessee. Director Szalapski (a marketing and special effects man who worked on Ladyhawke, Xanadu, and the iconic Alien trailer) opted to spotlight the guys who weren’t household names, playing up their workaday lives as singers and songwriters. Guy Clark, whose “L.A. Freeway” opens the film, makes guitars in his home, with assistance from a very young-looking Steve Earle. Townes Van Zandt goofs for the camera, and later brings an elderly neighbor of his to tears with a rendition of ‘Waitin’ Around to Die.’ The Charlie Daniels Band fills a high school gynmasium, and David Allan Coe holds court at the Tennessee State Prison, where he had previously been an inmate. Rodney Crowell, Barefoot Jerry, Steve Young and more are featured in this exquisite depiction of time and place
A Star Is Born (1954, George Cukor)
One of those classic films I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t seen until just recently, and an unmitigated masterpiece. It’s as damning a film about fame, celebrity, and the Hollywood machine as Sunset Boulevard - maybe even more so, in the way that Cukor unflinchingly empathizes with his broken, self-destructive characters, whereas Wilder maintains a little bit more ironic distance. Judy Garland rises from chorus girl to screen icon during her marriage to James Mason’s fading matinee idol, whose career fizzles and burns while hers ignites. The movie’s troubled production, re-cutting, and later reconstruction only serves to empathize its theme of the soul-deadness lurking beneath the Technicolor sheen. If you know anyone who says they don’t like musicals, or who used to think they didn’t before seeing La-La Land, hit ‘em with this.