Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - David Bax ""

Friday, March 30, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - David Bax

David is co-host of the excellent Battleship Pretension Podcast, which I highly recommend.
http://battleshippretension.com/
https://twitter.com/DaveyPretension

See his Discoveries lists from last couple years too:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2017/02/film-discoveries-of-2016-david-bax.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/03/film-discoveries-of-2015-david-bax.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/02/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2014-david.html

10. Fox and His Friends (1975; Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
In viewing Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends, it’s difficult not to reflect on the man’s volatile status as a gay man who angered conservatives who found him vulgar as well as many in the gay community who saw him as reinforcing negative stereotypes. By way of response, in his life, just as in his performance as Fox, he fascinated by mixing yearning soulfulness with not giving a shit. Fox is a circus performer—a working class drinker and dreamer—who wins the lottery and suddenly finds himself with a new group of friends, well-heeled and sophisticated gay men eager to educate him in the ways of taste and class now that he has the money to afford it. It’s a queer take on Pygmalion but with jagged edges. It’s also no mystery why the film was a source of controversy in 1975, when it was released, particularly among gays. Most of the gay men here are predatory, status-obsessed and shockingly heartless. To modern eyes, it reads more as an attack on the upper class than on homosexuals but it’s all too easy to imagine how someone from a group not oft-represented might feel about such a nasty portrayal. Abhorrent as these men turn out to be, the appeal they hold for Fox is no mystery to the viewer. Fassbinder appeared in many of his own films but Fox may just be his most substantial contribution in front of the camera. You can hardly believe Fassbinder the director was able to harness the power of Fassbinder the actor.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

9. The Boom (1963; Vittorio De Sica)
The Boom is about an ambitious young businessman named Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) who, in an attempt to maintain the high society lifestyle he feels he and his family deserve during Italy’s economic upswing, has brought himself to the brink of financial destruction by amassing a crushing debt of which his wife is completely oblivious. In a fantastically empathetic comedic turn (including some great drunk-acting, a pitfall for even the best in the game), Sordi guides us through his humiliating and risky attempts to keep his head above water, eventually uncovering an answer to all his problems that’s as outlandish as its toll is dire. The Boom hides its satire, sharp as a blood-soaked dagger, beneath a deceptively bright and sunny aesthetic. As De Sica has proven in Bicyle Thieves and elsewhere, he excels at empathy. One’s concept of despair, after all, is relative to one’s standard of comfort. Giovanni may not understand that his problems pale in comparison to those of Thieves‘ Antonio but he does understand that his very concept of himself is being threatened and that is terrifying. De Sica gets that too and, as a result, so do we. De Sica couldn’t have anticipated today’s Boomer/Millennial friction when he had one character, a successful captain of industry, say to Giovanni, “You young people want to make in a year what took us 50.” Then again, maybe it’s just an illustration that such generational complaints aren’t a recent phenomenon (so shut up, Boomers). The Boom is not considered a major work from De. The film’s reach may not rival that of Bicycle Thieves but it may be greater than we’ve given it credit for; Giovanni presenting an investment opportunity as a cover for his need for a quick cash injection happens in a remarkably similar way to Jerry Lundegaard’s pitch in Fargo. What really reaches through time, though, is the length and sharpness of The Boom‘s teeth.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

8. The Outsiders (1967; Juan Ibanez)
Paloma (Julissa) and her husband, Jaime (Enrique Alvarez Felix), are having a bland old time at a cocktail party with some of their fellow Mexico City aristocrats. When everyone leaves to attend a gallery opening, Jaime starts being a total pill (we'll soon see that this is his default mode) and gets them stranded with no ride. An accidental encounter with a band of drunks and ruffians sets their night on a new course. The Outsiders (aka Los Caifanes) is one of those one-crazy-night movies, taking Paloma and Jaime on a series of misadventures that include but are not limited to getting drunk, stealing shit and breaking into a funeral home. More importantly, the night will bring tensions between the bold Paloma and the cautious Jaime to a boil. Director Juan Ibanez juggles tones that range from melancholy to farcical but maintains a danger and menace that makes The Outsiders stand out.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

7. The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976; Matt Cimber)
2017 saw the release of the terrific Netflix series GLOW. Interest in the real life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling made me aware of series creator Matt Cimber who, before his TV show, made a run of exploitation movies in the 1970s. One of these is the beautifully garish and enchantingly bizarre The Witch Who Came from the Sea. Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) plays Molly, who is not a witch and did not come from the sea. What she is is an alcoholic who uses drinking to suppress the memories of her childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Too much booze, though, and she's prone to seducing, castrating and then killing men, the more macho the better. That makes The Witch Who Came from the Sea the rare female serial killer movie as well as one of the most offbeat, troubling--yet oddly sensitive, especially given Perkin's committed performance--movies of its era.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

6. Le Trou (1960; Jacques Becker)
Jacques Becker’s 1960 jailbreak thriller Le Trou may very well be the greatest movie ever made about breaking out of prison. Our protagonist is Claude Gaspard (Mark Michel), a soft-spoken, unassuming man awaiting trial for what he claims is a misrepresentation of the series of events that led to his wife being shot in the shoulder. At the story’s genesis, he is reassigned to a new cell due to prison renovations. Now housed with four other men also facing extended sentences, he quickly gains their trust and is let in on a secret. They have a plan for breaking out and being a cellmate means being a co-conspirator. For more than two hours, Becker will keep us glued to the screen by teasing out just how much a part of the team Claude is willing to be. That character setup, simple but rich, is pretty much the entirety of the emotional drama. In most ways, though, Le Trou is primarily a film about plot and process. Claude is let in on the plan right away but, shrewdly, the viewer is not. Thus, the film becomes a puzzle that we get to watch the would-be escapees solve. Apart from Claude, the other four men are played mostly by first time actors, some of whom would go on to full careers and some of whom would never act again, as in the case of Jean Keraudy, who was cast because he was an actual participant in the jailbreak on which the film is based. They are generally good men but we are never allowed to forget that they are criminals, willing to manipulate and lie to get their way when need be.

All of this frames how we view Claude, who may be an innocent tossed into the lion’s den or just another one of them, cunningly angling for self-preservation above all. What’s truly enthralling is that all of this is going on in a movie that is essentially, thrillingly about guys digging holes.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

5. Lisa and the Devil (1973; Mario Bava)
Some of the best movies ever made are horror films and some of the best of those were made by Mario Bava. Most lists of Bava’s best work will include Black Sunday, Black Sabbath and Blood and Black Lace at or near the top. You’ll probably have to scroll down a ways to find 1973’s Lisa and the Devil. I would argue, though, that this lovely, strange, terrifying, phantasmagorical film is ripe for reappraisal. Elke Sommer plays Lisa, a vacationer in Spain who breaks off from her tour group and goes into a little curiosities shop where she sees a man with the exact same face as the fresco of the devil out in the courtyard (Telly Savalas) buying a life-size ventriloquist dummy. So, yeah, Lisa and the Devil is scary pretty much right off the bat. Things only get worse for Lisa when, in her terror at this brief encounter, she gets hopelessly lost in a city that seems to be getting stranger and less populated by the minute. She eventually encounters a wealthy couple and their driver (all also lost) and together they take refuge in an eerie mansion populated by a blind woman, her erratic adult son and a butler with the face of Satan and a collection of life-size ventriloquist dummies. When the chaos finally breaks loose in Lisa and the Devil, the results aren’t pretty. Still, above all, Bava was a classical stylist who understood the value of good narrative pacing. So even as Lisa’s travails in the mansion take on more and more of the rationally illogical nature of true nightmares, the viewer is swept along ever forward by a firm but gentle hand. Sometimes this is comforting until Bava takes advantage of that comfort and the invisible hand suddenly seems to be pushing you, not guiding you, toward something inevitable and monstrous.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

4. Private Property (1960; Leslie Stevens)
Even if you didn’t know it going in, there’d be no mistaking Leslie Stevens’ 1960 masterpiece Private Property for anything other than an independent film. There’s something about the way that it unfurls, lingering with its characters—criminals and twisted lonelyhearts—and soaking in its own sickly intoxicating atmosphere, that few if any conventional studio pictures would dare to approach. There’s also the fact that it’s just a flat out nasty piece of work that the mainstream wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Case in point: The plot. Two drifters (Warren Oates as the dim Boots and Corey Allen in a skin-crawling performance as Duke) spot a sexy housewife named Ann (Kate Manx, heartbreakingly melancholy and beguiling; it’s devastating to ponder how much more she could have given us had she not committed suicide four years later) at a gas station. They hold a traveling salesman at knifepoint and force him to follow her to her luxurious home in the hills. Taking up residence as squatters in the empty house next door, Duke comes up with a plot to cajole this woman, Ann, into bed with Boots so the latter can lose his virginity. Basically, then, the movie is the story of a sort of rape heist, most of which consists of people talking to one another and trying to ignore or overlook the danger in the air. Like I said, nasty. Also like I said, talking. For a crime film, Private Property has very little of what one would normally describe as action. Ann spends her days in domestic idyll. The long stretches of time between her husband’s leaving for work and returning are as placid and predictable as the surface of her backyard pool. WithPrivate Property, Stevens suggests it’s that very stillness that allows evil to seep in, overtaking her world before she’s even noticed it’s there.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

3. Stormy Weather (1943; Andrew Stone)
Stormy Weather is a 1943 musical with an all black cast in which Bill Robinson plays a recently returned World War I soldier who seeks out the younger sister (Lena Horne) of his best friend, who was killed in action, and quickly falls in love with her and tours the country as a part of her cabaret act. But very little of that actually matters. Stormy Weather is not a movie that is particularly invested in its plot. Mostly, the story just exists as an excuse to string a bunch of musical numbers together. And what numbers they are! Director Andrew Stone and, hell, pretty much everybody involved exudes a pure and infectious love for music and dance. Each number is vivacious and infectious, culminating in a final tap dance that I've seen and yet still don't quite believe, in which two men vault, roll and slide up, down and all around the entirety of a big city nightclub in perfect unison. Stormy Weather is only 78 minutes long to begin with but it feels much, much shorter than that and leaves you desperate for more.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

2. Street Scene (1931; King Vidor)
Street Scene is, to put it mildly, a revelation. Its reputation as an antecedent to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is established from the opening shots, which quickly make it clear that the film’s New York City setting is a hot and humid one. Ice melts on the sidewalk, a horse swishes at flies, a dog pants, an electric fan does what little it can. Even in my air-conditioned theater seat, I began to feel a bit sticky. Street Scene takes place almost entirely on the front stoop of a Brooklyn apartment building, as working class men and women of various religions, ethnicities and political leanings cross back and forth through one another’s lives (weird sign of the times: some characters are anti-semitic and some aren’t but all of them use the word “kike). Vidor’s cinematic touches, subtle and unsubtle alike, break things up and keep the single location story from becoming too staid. Most notable are the extreme low and high angle shots he employs when folks on the sidewalk converse with those in the windows above. But most elegant are the cutaways that never let you forget this is but one stoop in the midst of many on a busy street. Cars and trains rumble by; strangers embroiled in their own lives come to and from work; time passes. And a movie that is often a conversation between socialist and religious conservative politics becomes a fierce, living thing.
Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

1. Ball of Fire (1941; Howard Hawks)
It's kind of astounding to me that Ball of Fire isn't one of the first movies that comes up when Howard Hawks is mentioned. First off, its star power is off the charts. Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck star (with supporting roles from Dan Duryea and S.Z. Sakall), the story was written by Billy Wilder, the costumes are by Edith Head and the whole thing was shot by Gregg Toland. Secondly, it's just really freaking good. Stanwyck plays Sugarpuss O'Shea, a gangster's moll who uses a chance encounter with a bunch of academics, including Cooper's Professor Bertram Potts, who live together in a mansion and spend all their time writing a new encyclopedia as an excuse to move in with them and hide out from the cops, who want her for questioning. So it's Sister Act with nerds instead of nuns. Stanwyck owns the screen in her usual way and the screenplay, in classic screwball style, is at full sprint from the very beginning, peppered with lively slang like "crabapple Annie" and "What's buzzin', cousin?" Yet it also finds time for moments of melancholy beauty, like one of the professors ruminating about his late wife. It's some of the best work of Hawks' career and deserves to be mentioned as such.

No comments: