Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Mike Gebert ""

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Mike Gebert

Michael Gebert is a Chicago food writer and the proprietor of NitrateVille.com, a discussion site devoted to silent and classic film, and the podcast NitrateVille Radio, which talks to archivists, collectors, authors and others in the world of classic film.
On Twitter @NitrateVille.

Behind the Door (1919)
If you were a movie nerd kid in the pre-video or early video days, it was a common experience to read about a film in obsessive detail (in Famous Monsters of Filmland or the like), in a sense to experience it, long before you ever got the chance to actually see it (and possibly be disappointed by the reality).

I relived that a little this year with Behind the Door (1919), a WWI revenge drama whose gruesome climax I’d known for 35 years from Kevin Brownlow’s book The War, The West and The Wilderness. The film itself played out more lyrically than I expected, a bittersweet tale of lost love… and then it got darker, and darker, and led to the E.C. Comics horror climax that had made my 15-year-old jaw drop described in print. No disappointment.
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The Man I Married (1940)
The sort of thing you catch almost by accident on TCM, with stars I’d typically pass by (Joan Bennett, Francis Lederer, Lloyd Nolan), but perfectly competent at its mission—to educate the prewar public on the Nazi menace. Bennett marries German national Lederer, goes home with him to see edelweiss and beer gardens, then learns what’s really going on there. You could mock the tidy backlot recreation of things like Kristallnacht, but it’s got some sharp and sardonic twists to it, and it gets the job done in 77 brisk minutes.
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Saloon Bar (1940)
The British label Network has been putting out sets of early films from the Ealing studio, full of incidental pleasures of Brit life as they hurry through familiar plots. This is a cracking good little mystery set in a London pub, but the most fascinating thing about it is learning that there was such a class system to pubs—making it hard for the barmaid to get information on the crime from a pub above her station.
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I Vitelloni (1953)
One of Fellini’s first hits, the sort of thing I should have seen at some point, surely, but never did. Until my teenage son saw and was blown away by La Dolce Vita—just that a movie could do all those things, be about all those things. One of my best movie experiences was just seeing his cinematic horizons expand like that. We watched 8-1/2 next, then I thought we should go back to Fellini’s origins with this movie about “the boys” (or “the bums”) in the small town he escaped from, and it was good to see how good he was so early on. When we saw Lady Bird, I said to him after, “So that’s her I Vitelloni.”
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The Sound of the Mountain (1954)
After a while you get a second sense about things to discover on TCM. You see a title like that on the programming grid and you think, what is it, a Mikio Naruse film or something, based on a novel by a Japanese Nobel prizewinner you never heard of, one of those dramas where the beloved father slowly comes to realize how he's damaged all his kids and everything about his life has been a lie, and there’s nothing for it but to come to Zen acceptance of his failure? A movie that plumbs the depths of human experience, and you never even heard of it till it turned up at 2 am on TCM? Yeah, thought so.
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Freebie and the Bean (1974)
Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man was a big critical success right around the time I became a serious (teen) moviegoer, but I’ve never known exactly what previous work made him a big deal to critics then. After finally seeing this 1974 hit, I’m still not sure—it’s a mess. Yet when James Caan and Alan Arkin do intermittently hit their comic stride, it’s hilarious, and the Wile E. Coyote-esque car chases (staged by Chuck Bail, who would appear in The Stunt Man) are sheer 70s anarchic-WTF filmmaking, absurd fun in a way that today’s grim CGI action-fests will never be.
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