Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Marcus Pinn ""

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Underrated '97 - Marcus Pinn

Marcus Pinn is the head writer for the film site PINNLAND EMPIRE.
In addition to maintaining his own site, he co-hosts the Zebras In America podcast with film score composer Scott Thorough and is a regular contributor for The Pink Smoke & Wrong Reel.


She's So Lovely (Nick Cassavetes)
This one is kind of bittersweet because while it is an excellent film (probably Nick Cassavetes' best in my opinion), you can tell this isn't the path he wanted to take as a director. I say this because every Nick Cassavetes film that followed has been more “accessible” and commercially viable to mainstream audiences (Which is fine. That isn't a criticism). She's So Lovely was adapted from a script written by Nick’s late legendary father John Cassavetes. It's very much a Nick Cassavetes film (he directed the thing) but it has his father’s scent all over it. John Cassavetes' style is pretty difficult to shake so when She's So Lovely came out, it was almost like Nick was sharing the spotlight with his dad.
Not only was John Cassavetes supposed make this movie with Sean Penn, but Nick's mother Gena Rowlands makes an appearance in the second half which just adds another layer to things given Rowlands was John Cassavetes' most frequent collaborator.
In She's So Lovely we follow the tumultuous relationship between “Eddie” (Sean Penn) & “Maureen” (Robin Wright) over the course of a decade (Eddie accidentally kills a man in a scuffle and is sent to prison for 10 years). Following Eddie's release from jail he sets out to win Maureen back who is now married with three kids (one of these kids happens to be Eddie's). Will Eddie win Maureen back? Or has too much time passed?
Following She's So Lovely Nick Cassavetes would go on to direct projects like Alpha Dog, The Other Woman & The Notebook. I'm certainly not a fan of any of the aforementioned movies but I am a fan of Nick Cassavetes carving out his own path as a filmmaker and not doing what everyone expected him to do which was continue to make movies like his dad. Don't you kind of love that? The son of the “godfather of indie film” is responsible for successful studio features like The Notebook. These are the kinds of movies his dad usually hated but I'm sure he would have respected his son for going against the grain which is what being a Cassavetes is all about.
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Henry Fool (Ha Hartley)
Whether you're a fan of Hal Hartley's work or not, there's no denying that he was one of the most unique voices to emerge from the American independent film scene of the late 80's/early 90's. His influence over the last two decades may not be so obvious to some of you but he still made an impact. Watch how the dialogue is delivered in an early Hal Hartley movie then go watch Clerks. Watch Trust, Simple Men or the film of discussion (Henry Fool) then go watch something by Miranda July (Me & You & Everyone We Know).
In addition to being a quietly influential filmmaker, Hartley has this strange ability to predict the future through his movies. 22 years ago, long before Brooklyn was the hip capital of the world, he made the short film Theory Of Achievement where the opening lines read; I know the neighborhood doesn’t look like much but plenty of people are moving out here to Brooklyn. Writers, painters, filmmakers, rock & roll musicians... later we hear more: New York, Soho, that's all in the past. I mean, an art capital needs to be a place where people can afford to live. Moments later a title card reading "Williamsburg, Brooklyn" flashes on the screen. Williamsburg is incredibly expensive to live nowadays but there was a period where struggling artists flocked to that neighborhood because that's all they could afford.
Every time I watch The Book Of Life (1998) or No Such Thing (2001) it feels as if Hal Hartley knew there was going to be some kind of attack on New York City. The ambiance of both films make you want to brace for something terrible (months after No Such Thing hit the festival circuit the world was devastated by the 9/11 attacks).
Hartley's earlier work like; Trust (1990), Simple Men (1992) & Amateur (1994) touched on how technology always frustrates us no matter how many advancements we make. We adapt far too fast. I mean really - how amazing are iPhones, androids, tablets, and other similar devices yet for some reason we find ourselves saying stuff like: "UGGHH I hate this thing!" or "I wish this had more features" or "I wish this was faster!" In 1997, without actually using terms like nook, kindle or iPhone (the device I used to write this on), Hal Hartley touched on the growth of digital reading in Henry Fool. Hartley may be the first modern filmmaker outside of the science fiction/cyberpunk genre to focus on new forms of reading in the digital age.
But Henry Fool is nowhere near science fiction or cyber-punk. It's a dramedy about a lonely garbageman whose talent for writing poetry are brought out of him by a troubled vagabond by the name of Henry Fool (Henry’s checkered past is explored over a trilogy of films). Henry Fool is arguably a “top 5” Hal Hartley movie that deserves a bigger audience outside diehard Hartley fans.
The success of Hartley's 1997 feature opened the door for a number of opportunities and, like Nick Cassavetes, instead of doing what was expected of him, he made the Francis Ford Coppola/American Zoetrope produced; No Such Thing. I imagine the news of someone like Hartley collaborating with Coppola's production company had some fans worried about the indie director “selling out”. Instead, Hartley kept his integrity, used the resources provided by American Zoetrope and made the most Hal Hartley-esque project imaginable.
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The Blackout (Abel Ferrara)
Abel Ferrara was churning out movies once a year in the 90's. Sometimes two a year (in 1993 he released Dangerous Game & Body Snatchers, and in 1997 he took part in the anthology film Subway Stories in addition to making The Blackout).
Simply put – The Blackout got swallowed up and sandwiched between too many other movies in Ferrara’s filmography. This is a shame because The Blackout was the genesis of a new style Ferrara adopted that still bleeds over in to his movies today (loose/jumpy story structure and overlapping imagery). This wasn't King Of New York or Bad Lieutenant. The Blackout is a lowkey non-traditional science fiction tale about a man who essentially wakes up to a wonderful life but he isn’t quite sure how he got there.
Others might turn their nose up at the idea of The Blackout being science fiction but it's the kind of modern sci-fi film without all the typical tropes (flying cars, robots, laser guns, etc). Following The Blackout Abel Ferrara would go even deeper in to the science fiction genre by adapting the William Gibson short story; New Rose Hotel.
Maverick filmmakers seem to be the theme in this piece thus far...
Like Hal Hartley, Abel Ferrara was a staple in the American independent film renaissance of the 80’s & 90's. He directed Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant), Chris Penn (The Funeral) & Forest Whitaker (Mary) in their best performances and has never been afraid to step outside of the comfort zone he's commonly associated with (the gritty streets of New York City).
Only in the last decade has he started to get the recognition he deserves. By the late 90's/early00's, he couldn't get a film financed by an American movie studio so he sought out European financing and churned out a series of interesting, unique & original works in a short period of time (Mary, Napoli Napoli Napoli & Go-Go Tales) which eventually got him a second wind in America with 4:44 Last Day On Earth and the criminally underrated Welcome To New York.
What many people also fail to realize is that Ferrara had an additional hill to climb early on in that he started out as a porn director (Ferrara's status in the adult film world wasn't that of Al Goldstein but it's still not common/easy to make the transition from porn to "regular movie"). But that's the beauty of Abel Ferrara. He breaks all the molds and shatters all the clichés of what an American independent filmmaker in his lane is supposed to be. He isn't afraid to experiment and come up with new techniques (like in the case of The Blackout) but he still has no shame in exploring the materialistic & sometimes cliché world of money, sex & drugs.
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The Castle (Michael Haneke)
This TV movie saw the same kind of fate as The Blackout in that it was sandwiched between two of Michael Haneke's most talked-about films at the time in the form of Funny Games (1997) & Code Unknown (2000). The Castle is kind of like the quiet introverted middle child with the two popular extroverted siblings. The fact that this was also a made-for-tv movie didn't help either because at the time of its release, unless you lived in Austria, chances are there was no way for large audiences to see this. But thanks to Kino Lorber, The Castle finally got a proper DVD release a few years ago and has grown a slightly bigger audience (The Castle is also an important artifact within the world of Haneke as it was his last Austrian before moving on to France).
Michael Haneke's cinema is a world of voyeurism, paranoia & sometimes cold people. It only makes sense that he would cross paths with the paranoid, voyeuristic & sometimes cold world of Franz Kafka (The Castle is adapted from the unfinished Kafka story of the same name about a land surveyor who cant seem to do his job due to interference from the quirky locals).
Fans of Bela Tarr (Werkmeister Harmonies), Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) and absurdest dark humor should enjoy this very much.
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Eve's Bayou (Kasi Lemmons)
I know I'm pushing it by calling Eve's Bayou underrated or overlooked. It has maintained a small but strong fanbase over the years. But with the rise of female driven southern gothic tales on both TV & Film, I find it odd that Eve's Bayou doesn't get sited more often as an indirect or direct influence on everything from True Blood to Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled.
You could say there was a Black American film renaissance in the 90's (Jungle Fever, Straight Outta Brooklyn, Watermelon Woman, Daughter’s Of The Dust, Chameleon Street, New Jack City, etc). Eve's Bayou was certainly a cut above most of the films in that group but it kind of had to share the pedestal. In my opinion, Eve’s Bayou stood out because very few Black (female) filmmakers were dipping their toes in to the psychological horror genre.
Samuel Jackson’s presence was also a gift and a curse. Just hear me out...
Eve’s Bayou came out the same year as Jackie Brown which also co-starred Jackson. Naturally the follow-up to the mega-successful Pulp Fiction is going to cast a shadow over Eve’s Bayou along with many other movies that came out that year.
But thanks to the rise of unique Black Female voices on Internet movie blogs and the brave programming at various repertory theaters across the the country, Eve's Bayou has gained a new audience.
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