Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '77 - Allan Mott ""

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Underrated '77 - Allan Mott

Allan Mott recently bought an old copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on vinyl. Not the Beatles album. The movie soundtrack. He was very excited to find it also included a poster of Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees. That about sums it all up. He will probably also get The Beatles version too. Some day. You can tweet your outage to him directly at @HouseofGlib or visit his seldom-updated website, VanityFear.com.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (John Boorman)
One of my favourite film fan party tricks is to make people’s heads explode by telling them I’m not a fan of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. It’s one of those movies that has become so enshrined in the canon that many cannot even fathom how it is even possible not to love it. When asked to defend my outrageous opinion I just shrug and tell the truth—I think it’s boring and takes itself way too seriously (cue more exploding heads). It doesn’t help that as someone who’s only ever stepped into churches for the occasional wedding throughout his life, the thought of demonic possession simply isn’t frightening to me.

And after that, I really go for the contrarian asshole trophy by insisting that as little use as I have for the original is as much as I LOVE John Boorman’s infamous sequel.

Time has actually been a bit kind to The Heretic. It cannot be overestimated how much people hated the movie when it first came out. Collectors of old “Bad Movie” books can dig out their copies of the Medveds’ once-definitive The Golden Turkey Awards and note that in the (snail mail) poll they conducted, it came in second only to Plan 9 From Outer Space for the title of Worst Movie of All Time. These days, though, you seldom even see it on lists of the worst sequels ever made, much less hanging out with the likes of The Room or Birdemic.

But this is less because people have reevaluated its virtues and more because most have just forgotten it even exists. And I think that’s a shame, because I love it for all the reasons it was so loathed when it first came out. It’s totally bonkers and utterly goofy in its own unique way. And it highlights just how silly the first film really is by explicitly showing what Friedkin kept hidden. It’s good dumb fun.

And you know what? Pauline Kael liked it more than the original too, so at least I’m in good contrarian company.
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That’s Carry On! (Gerald Thomas)
That’s Carry On! is a rarity in the feature film world. As ubiquitous as “clip shows” were on network series throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s (they were a great way for showrunners to catch their breath and produce an extra episode for cheap with minimal effort), few producers had the chutzpah to try and get people to pay to see recycled product many had already paid to see once before.

But the quintessentially British Carry On comedy franchise (all directed by Thomas) was always one defined by its chutzpah. Unapologetically sophomoric and broad, it was a series that deliberately strove to feel charmingly disreputable—like a beloved uncle apt to tell a racy joke after he’s had a few drinks. So much so that it can be easy to miss the often surprisingly successful satire hiding behind all the leering innuendo, bad puns and lowbrow farce.

The series had essentially concluded by the time That’s Carry On! was produced—only the (atrocious) softcore parody Carry On Emmannuelle and the attempted 1992 reboot Carry On Columbus would follow—so it actually serves the useful purpose of summing up the series and providing a helpful introduction for newcomers. It was the first film in the franchise I ever saw (aired late night on the CBC) and it definitely succeeded in making me want to see more.
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Viva Knievel! (Gordon Douglas)
Six years ago I reviewed Leigh Montville’s near-definitive Evel Knievel biography for Bookgasm and it’s a great book with one HUGE flaw. Early on in the book Montville spills a lot of ink writing about the making of Evel Knievel, the 1971 biopic starring George Hamilton. It’s a great story, but its inclusion in the book apparently made Montville decide there wasn’t enough room to also talk about the OTHER Evel Knievel movie, so he brings it up and dismisses it in a couple of paragraphs.

Speaking as someone who has seen both films, this is profoundly fucked up. The Hamilton film is bland and forgettable, but Viva Knievel! will stay with me long past the point I have forgotten the names of everyone I love.

I’m honestly shocked that it is only considered a minor camp classic and not one of the canonical giants, such is it amazing lack of shame and chutzpah. Add to that the worst performance by a genuine legend (Gene Kelly, not Knievel) and it’s bad movie nirvana.

To give you just a taste, the film opens with our hero (Knievel as himself, 5000 beers past his prime) sneaking into an orphanage so he can play Santa and deliver toys (of himself) to the kids, one of whom is so inspired by Evel’s daredevil bravery he throws down his crutches and shows how he has taught himself to walk.

And that’s the film at its most elegant and subtle. So, yeah, a whole book deserves to be written about this one film. And someday I may just be the one to write it.
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Joseph Andrews (Tony Richardson)
With Tom Jones in 1963, Tony Richardson spurred the popularity of a cinematic sub-genre people tend not to talk about too much these days—the bawdy historical comedy. Following it’s enormous success, exploitation filmmakers jumped at the chance to class up their productions without skimping on the skin that their box office results depended on.

Which probably explains why Richardson’s return to the genre 14 years later remains largely forgotten today. What he had made seem special and shocking was now old hat and—following the era of porno chic—even quaint.

Still, there’s much to enjoy in Joseph Andrews, which—thanks to Richardson and his talented cast—is a lot more fun than the other films Tom Jones inspired. The highlight, of course, is Ann-Margret’s wickedly hilarious turn as “Lady Booby” (it’s not a subtle film), which isn’t as well-known as her turns in Carnal Knowledge and Tommy, but is certainly just as worth watching.
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Handle with Care (aka Citizens Band, Jonathan Demme)
Jonathan Demme’s Handle with Care is a textbook example of what a great filmmaker can do when handed what might seem to some as an uninspired assignment. Made at the height of the 70s CB radio craze, the film is a classic example of “fadsploitation” turned into genuine art.

In a way, the film serves as a perfect time capsule of a specific moment that presaged our current reality. During it’s brief heyday, CB radio was essentially a precursor to the Internet—a way for strangers to connect and communicate.

The parallels are obvious as the film follows different characters who use their radios the same way people use their phones today. They hookup, fight boredom, chat, argue, broadcast their idiotic racism and pretend to be people they aren’t.

At the centre of it all is Paul LeMat (who would later go on to reteam with Demme for the equally excellent Melvin & Howard), a radio repairman who does his best to keep the emergency frequency free of all the bullshit mentioned above—eventually resorting to vigilantism.


Scripted by Risky Business’ Paul Brickman, Handle often feels like a kinder gentler Altman film than it does like Demme’s 80s comedies, but it retains the heart that ultimately made his work so worthwhile.
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