Rupert Pupkin Speaks: January 2019 ""

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Evan Purchell

Evan lives in Austin and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd. His gay film history Instagram project was recently featured in Artforum’s Best of 2018 issue.

City of Lost Souls (1983, dir. Rosa von Praunheim)
There is no single movie that I’ve evangelized and tried to push on more people this year than this, German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim’s raucous new wave musical starring a cast of queer cult icons in self-imposed exile in West Berlin, including Jayne County, Joaquin La Habana, Tara O’Hara, and Angie Stardust. It’s easy to get lost in von Praunheim’s filmography -- over 90 directorial credits! 50 years! -- but CITY is perhaps the one film encompasses all of his disparate sensibilities, freely mixing fiction with documentary; outrageous kitsch with transgressive provocation, all with a sincere desire to entertain and inform. Oh, and Jayne County gets knocked up by a commie, so there’s that, too.

The Dark Side of Tomorrow (1970, dir. Barbara Peeters)
"An explicit picture!" "The tragedy of today's lonely housewife!" screamed exploitation maverick Harry Novak’s graphic campaign for this, a quietly groundbreaking sensitive lesbian melodrama by first-time directors Barbara Peeters and Jack Deerson. Unlike the previous year’s very similar (if very campy) psychodrama, THAT TENDER TOUCH, I'm not sure which is more surprising: that it doesn't end in death and tragedy or that it's as thoroughly un-exploitative as it is.

The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966, dir. Jess Franco)
It was crazy to finally watch this after having seen so many of Franco's seemingly endless remakes and reconfigurations of it, only to realize just how much of it is actually a reworking of his earlier AWFUL DR. ORLOFF and its (name only) sequel. This is only Franco's fourth horror film, but so much of it feels like a deliberate act of one-upmanship: the nudity and eroticism more brazen, the makeup and gore effects more advanced, and the Daniel White score even noisier and more discordant. Most of all, it's even funnier and more referential, with Franco and co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière dropping references to Bresson, Irma Vep, and even Dr. Orloff himself into their Cornell Woolrich by-way-of Al Pereira pulp confection. Plus, it has the best nightclub sequence in a filmography that’s littered with them.
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Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973, dir. Andy Milligan)
What's so immediately striking about Andy Milligan's final stab at sexploitation is just how gay it is, set mostly in recognizable queer spaces and with a cast of characters that seem pulled straight off of Christopher Street. As much as I love films like SEEDS and BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS, there’s a real low-key hangout vibe here that I can’t get enough of, with Andy’s little handheld 16mm camera capturing scenes that feel so natural that they could pass for outtakes from a film like THE QUEEN. I refuse to believe that the lead female role -- a self-described hustler who hopes to leave the streets behind by making it with a WASP from Staten Island -- wasn’t originally written as a man.

Garage Sale (1976, dir. Norman Yonemoto)
If there’s any sort of a running theme to this list, it’s films that double as documents of the scenes and communities that created them. That’s the most true of GARAGE SALE, a panoramic send-up of Los Angeles and its various subcultures that’s as brainy as it is silly. Shot and released right in the middle of director Norman Yonemoto’s transition from gay adult features (including the great anti-war Brothers, notable for featuring Penelope Spheeris in a supporting role) to the experimental video work that he’s most known for, GARAGE SALE feels like the cult midnight movie that never was, satirizing everything from LA billboards to the leather scene and the bougie art world, all with an exaggerated wink from star, ex-Cockette Goldie Glitters. Things I wasn’t expecting to see here, but did: bondage demonstrations from leather pioneer Jim-Ed Thompson; tapdance cooking lessons; a cameo from Oscar streaker and artist, Bob Opel; a (fake!) microwaved cat.

Hangover Square (1945, dir. John Brahm)
A haunting portrait of compulsion and regret that’s made even more so by its central would-be starmaking performance from Laird Cregar, the closeted character actor whose amphetamine-fuelled crash diet killed him shortly before the release of the film. Kind of perfect, and also featuring both one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores.
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Hollywood 90028 (1973, dir. Christina Hornisher)
Director Christina Hornisher’s sole feature sits somewhere at the intersection of LA PLAYS ITSELF and BLUE MONEY as one of the quintessential portraits of the grimier side of Hollywood in the early ‘70s. We've all seen this sort of story before -- man and woman come to Hollywood to make it big, wind up selling themselves and making dirty pictures instead -- but what makes this so fascinating is the way she constructs it, combining sleazy exploitation fodder with avant-garde filmmaking techniques to both flesh out her vague narrative and make it feel crushingly claustrophobic. I still can’t believe this hasn’t been released on DVD or blu-ray. Look for it under the title INSANITY.

Kamikaze Hearts (1986, dir. Juliet Bashore)
A fake documentary about a real couple making fake movies with real sex and with real drug use, Juliet Bashore’s only feature plays with the form just as much as it does with performance and identity, painting a portrait of a self-destructing relationship that’s as complex and contradictory as its charismatic stars, Sharon Mitchell and Tigr. Also recommended: the essential oral history from the Rialto Report.
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Passing Strangers (1974, dir. Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.)
I could’ve easily put any of Bressan’s films on this list (and they’re all worth tracking down), but his debut is a bit special to me for two reasons: for being one of the first great cinematic gay love stories and for being nearly impossible to find, only briefly released on video in the 80s and completely unavailable on the internet. Released within weeks of Christopher Larkin’s similar, but more mainstream, A VERY NATURAL THING, Bressan’s debut distinguishes itself through its unabashedly earnest attempt at romance, a slew of technical and narrative tricks, and its portrait of San Francisco in the early 70s -- including scenes shot at communal homes, bookstore arcades, porno theaters, up and down Polk St., and a finale shot at one of the city’s first Liberation Day parades. His follow-up, FORBIDDEN LETTERS, is perhaps the more accomplished film, but there’s something about this that’s both so indelibly of its time and far ahead of it. Let’s hope that the Bressan Project’s forthcoming restoration will finally bring it the recognition it deserves.

Personal Problems (1980, dir. Bill Gunn)
Bill Gunn’s experimental soap will probably make it onto a lot of these lists, and for good reason.

The use of video as a medium is crucial here, giving Ishmael Reed's scripted melodrama a sense of in-the-moment documentary realism and allowing for Gunn’s actors to have all the time they need to improvise off of it, inhabiting the lives of these humdrum characters who are just trying to get by one day at a time. There's a sense of discovery and experimentation to Gunn's use of the format here that I love, using lighting that causes the image to smear and ghost and zooming in so close on a lake that the picture turns into static. Beautiful.
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Simone Barbès or Virtue (1980, dir. Marie-Claude Treilhou)
The debut feature from French director Marie-Claude Treilhou is a small wonder, a real-time document of little more than the end of an uneventful night out in Paris. Recalling one of Rohmer’s microdramas in its compactness and emotional wallop, Treilhou follows the magnetic Ingrid Bourgoin through three discrete scenes -- the end of a night shift at the porno theater she works at, a trip to a lesbian bar, and a drive home with a stranger -- each stylistically and tonally different, but combining to create a patchwork portrait of urban alienation and a flippant commentary on patriarchal control that’s never anything less than totally entertaining and quietly affecting.
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Sparkles Tavern (1985, dir. Curt McDowell)
It took Curt McDowell nearly a decade to find the funding to edit his story of “hiding things from your parents and them hiding things from you,” and even then, it only played a couple of dates in Seattle, LA, and San Francisco before his death from AIDS-related illness in 1987. It’s a shame because the film is one of his best, a tender fantasy re-writing of the parental acceptance that he and his sister never got; a warmly melodramatic epic of sexual repression and the secret lives, fake identities, and the fear of rejection that it causes.Though missing the sort of irresistible genre hook that made his earlier THUNDERCRACK! an underground sensation, it’s a film that deserves just as much attention.


Twelve More:

The Devil’s Cleavage (1975, dir. George Kuchar)

Fuego (1969, dir. Armando Bo)

The Killing Kind (1973, dir. Curtis Harrington)

Legend of the Mountain (1979, dir. King Hu)

Lurkers (1988, dir. Roberta Findlay)

Nitrate Kisses (1992, dir. Barbara Hammer)

Outrageous! (1977, dir. Richard Benner)

Race d’Ep! (1979, dir. Lionel Soukaz)

Remember My Name (1978, dir. Alan Rudolph)

Salomé (1922, dir. Charles Bryant and Alla Nazimova)

Through the Looking Glass (1976, dir. Jonas Middleton)

Tongues Untied (1989, dir. Marlon Riggs)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a movie obsessed, all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (https://twitter.com/wixpix), tumblr (http://seanwicks.tumblr.com/) facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WicksFlicks), and letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/wixpix/).

See his Discoveries from Last year here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/02/film-discoveries-of-2017-sean-wicks.html

I had a great film watching run this year. My discoveries potentials list was one of the strongest I have had. Not sure what was in the 2018 water, but it somehow resulted in a great year of watching and discovering. Narrowing down to 10 was rough, but here they are along with a few “honorable mentions”.

VALLEY GIRL (1983; Directed by Martha Coolidge)
Not only is this my #1 discovery for 2018, but the Shout Select collector’s edition Blu-ray is also my top disc release (single title) for the year!

I have no idea how this movie has eluded me for so long, but thanks to the Shout Select release and a member of the Shout staff who cites this as one of her favorite films, a great wrong has finally been righted.

We’ve seen this story told in many different forms, but this one has an accessible feel to it that most of those others lack. She (Deborah Foreman) comes from a family of (I guess you’d call them) hippies who give her space and run a health food restaurant, and is surrounded by a circle of button down, middle class yuppie friends and families. He (Nicolas Cage) is a punk rocker-type not from the other side of the tracks, but from the other side of the hill – Hollywood. He gets dragged to a party with the oh-so-familiar refrain (at least if you’ve ever lived in L.A.) of “I don’t want to go to the valley”, but while there he meets Foreman and gets beat up by her yuppie friends in the process. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend (a real jerk) is messing around with one of her friends while the mother chaperoning the party is hitting on one of her daughter’s friends. This is one messed up group of people.

The pair end up liking each other, but peer pressure kicks in and she sends him packing – or does she? You’ll have to watch to find out. This love letter to L.A. (you’ll see a lot of great places that are no longer with us) is so charming and much smarter than you think it is you’ll be pleasantly caught off-guard by your reaction to it. I couldn’t wait to see it again, and dive into the usual array of spectacular extras on the Shout Blu-ray.

What really got to me is how normal all the characters are. She’s well-off, but not obnoxiously so like say in CLUELESS as she lives in a normal, middle-class house and not a Beverly Hills mansion. He’s rough around the edges, but not a complete degenerate or poor guy, just a dude with different tastes. She has way more to overcome than he does from the shallow people that think she could do better, but thanks to a great 80’s soundtrack, love will conquer all. Even the surrounding characters are dealing with their own insecurities in a realistic way. These feel like real L.A. teens and not pre-fabricated CW types who have all the benefits of a lush and unattainable (for most) lifestyle.

If you haven’t seen this, I suggest you do so immediately and can’t recommend that Blu-ray release enough. If you read this and buy it, I’ll say ‘you’re welcome’ now.
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VOLUNTEERS (1985; Directed by Nicholas Meyer)
The day I viewed VOLUNTEERS was a very good day for me. I had just watched VALLEY GIRL, and the DVD for this had arrived for me at the library. It’s one of those Tom Hanks films that had been on my watch list since my video store days of the late 80s, but just hadn’t gotten around to. A very random mention by one of the Pure Cinema Podcast hosts reminded me that I should pick it up, and I was not disappointed.

With that mention, that host had stated that he missed ‘80’s Tom Hanks’ before the Oscars and the prestige, when Hanks was making very funny comedies. VOLUNTEERS has Hanks as a rich, entitled college graduate with a bad gambling habit. When his Father won’t help him out of a jam with his bookies, he takes a friend’s place on a plane headed for Thailand as a member of the peace corp. Of course, he has no idea what he’s gotten himself into, but soon changes his ways when he meets Rita Wilson, the future real Mrs. Tom Hanks. He also comes across a very 80s John Candy as Tom Tuttle from Tacoma Washington. Candy is just doing his usual schtick here, but does it ever work and made me miss his talent a lot. He of course is a clueless schlub who gets brainwashed by communists. That my friends, is something to behold.

VOLUNTEERS is like an 80s comedy version of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. The Peace Corp is building a bridge and different factions – smugglers, the army, communists – all want a piece of the action. Hanks uses his charm and without doing a complete and unbelievable character makeover, comes around in his thinking.

This is an extremely funny picture from the director of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (among other films) that is truly charming and deserves to be discovered in the Tom Hanks filmography. Oh, and special mention for the James Horner score.
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THESE THREE (1936; Directed by William Wyler)
I own THE CHILDREN’S HOUR (Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn and James Garner) on Blu-ray, and have seen the picture a few times. THESE THREE clearly came first, but I saw it after. Although it has a similar story, it still impacted me thanks to the performances by Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea. The two pictures are very much the same, but the different take on the reasons the plot happens set each picture apart as unique. Based on the same play, the 1961 CHILDREN’S HOUR follows the love triangle more faithfully to the original material. But THESE THREE was made in 1936, so some changes are understandable given the release year.

Hopkins and Oberon graduate from college and open a girl’s boarding school in a small town with help from the local, good-looking doctor (McCrae). Oberon and McCrae are in love, but that doesn’t stop Hopkins from harboring her own intimate feelings for the good doctor, unbeknownst to the couple. Problems arise when they punish an obstinate and spoiled brat, who makes up a story of a sordid love triangle going on between the two women and McCrae. The girl bullies her way into making her lies stick, and not only are their school and reputations ruined, but they are humiliated after losing a big court case where the townspeople clap uproariously when the verdict against our protagonists is handed down.

In the play and in the ’61 picture, the two women are accused of being lovers which is the big difference between that and this version. It doesn’t matter though what the accusation is, the lies of one small girl completely ruins the lives of three adults and it will anger you just the same.

The picture is available as a Warner Archive DVD.
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SCHLOCK (1973; Directed by John Landis)
John Landis’ first picture is a sheer delight. It harkens back to the crazy comedies of the 30s, and even back into the silent age as a man-ape being “terrorizes” a small California community. Some great sight gags and hammy jokes (especially from a character named Detective Sgt. Wino) really make this entertaining. What really helps sell it is Rick Baker’s make-up and man-ape costume, and the performance inside by director John Landis. Landis is often heard apologizing for this picture, but as far as I’m concerned, we should be thanking him for it. Thanks to a new Blu-ray disc release from Arrow (with some great features) this film can be re-discovered. I know the Pure Cinema Podcast people would agree with me on this one.
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PARANOIAC (1963; Directed by Freddie Francis)
This picture completely caught me by surprise. Part of a Hammer Horror box set I bought a year or so ago, it was not one of the titles I was excited about but ended up being the best one in the set! It is worth seeking out.

The Ashby family has been hit with tragedy. After he parents died in a plane crash, their son Tony committed suicide leaving his hard-drinking and problem-gambling brother (Oliver Reed), emotionally and mentally fragile sister (Janette Scott) and protective Aunt (Sheila Burrell) to deal with the aftermath. Reed is spoiled beyond belief but seems to be the most stable out of the three, especially when his sister claims to have seen their dead brother Tony, alive. Indeed, it seems that Tony is alive, and his sudden appearance after years of being ‘dead’ throws a monkey wrench into Reed collecting the family inheritance. The Aunt suspects that he’s an imposter, but the sister is overjoyed to have Tony back. Reed just doesn’t seem to care, carrying on with his hard-living lifestyle but there is indeed a lot more going on here than meets the eye – things that I can’t or won’t say because this is one picture you don’t want to have spoiled! The ending alone is something to behold!

Oliver Reed is outstanding in this, and really makes the picture worth watching. There is a crazy shift in the narrative that you won’t see coming. This is one picture that makes you think one thing, but then ends up on a completely different note. The stark black-and-white, widescreen cinematography goes a long way here. Again, part of a Hammer Horror Blu-ray box set from Universal that goes on sale often on Amazon.
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THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT (1964; Directed by George Roy Hill)
The imaginations of two 14-year-old girls run wild as they bond in friendship over a crush on a famous avant-garde pianist (Peter Sellers). Following him around town, their misadventures send Sellers’ Orient into a paranoid frenzy as his liaisons with a married woman keep getting thwarted because of them. While Sellers’ Henry Orient is the central character in the title, the picture really is about the two girls (Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth). Orient is a supporting character victimized by the adventures of the girls in a way that only Peter Sellers could be a victim. Sellers’ minimal screen time is memorable – as usual. But it’s the girls and their home life that is what you end up caring about. The crush on Sellers is more of an escape mechanism than anything else as they are full of life, strong, imaginative and seek out what they want without letting the restraints of their home lives get in the way.

This is a solid picture and a great one to introduce to girls at a young age. Available on Blu-ray Disc from Twilight Time.
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HOLLYWOOD VICE SQUAD (1986; Directed by Penelope Spheeris)
The sleaze of Hollywood is the target of the vice squad in this solid B-picture directed by Penelope Spheeris (WAYNE’S WORLD) and features a great cast that includes Carrie Fisher, Ronny Cox and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler from the 60’s BATMAN series) as a criminal kingpin.

The picture covers a series of individual cases ranging from a young girl chasing her Hollywood dreams and ending up in prostitution, a mob-affiliated illegal gambling outfit and a porn king making BDSM movies using under-aged talent. Fisher shines as a cop trying to make a name for herself in the male dominated world of vice, discovering the BDSM movie-making and seeking to be trusted to make the collar herself.

It’s a down-and-dirty gritty movie that still manages to sneak in some fun moments, like when a cop dressed like Santa tries to entrap a group of prostitutes. Very 80s, but that is part of its charm. As of this writing, it is available on Amazon Prime.
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THE LOCKET (1946; Directed by John Brahm)
Nancy (Gene Lockhart) and John (Gene Raymond) seem like the perfect couple. But as they are about to be married, their ceremony is interrupted by Dr. Blair (Brian Aherne) who unfolds a complex tale of Nancy as a woman with some serious stability issues. She lies, steals and more all thanks to a childhood incident involving a locket (you’ll never guess where the title comes from).

A Noir tale that features Robert Mitchum, but also is told as a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, then gradually unfolds back into present tense at the wedding. This unique format shouldn’t work but completely does and makes for an intriguing psychological journey into this woman’s sordid past.

Yet another Warner Archive DVD release. They are well represented in my list this year.
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THREE O’CLOCK HIGH (1987; Directed by Phil Joanou)
Another Shout Select collector’s edition that that was brought to my attention from the editor of this site. This is another one of those films I kept coming across during my 80s Video store days, but never got around to watching. Better late than never!

This picture revolves around the sacred school tradition that most people have probably had to face – and fear – at some point in their lives. The ‘meet me after school’ fight threat. I know I experienced it several times with bullies making me wait until the end of the day to unleash their fury and fists upon me. I managed to snake out of most of them, and in this case, Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) goes to great – and comical – lengths to do just the same. What makes the picture great is that the bully is an uber-bully, and every move that Mitchell makes just puts him in hotter water with not only the bully, but also with school officials and even the police. The clock is ever present in this dark comedy, ticking down those moments to what is a quite brutal fight with a dude whose criminal reputation would make some hardened criminals cringe in fear.

I have read some negative reviews of this, but I was quite taken by it, and again Shout Select does it justice with an outstanding Blu-ray disc release.
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TIT FOR TAT (1935 – Short; Directed by Charles Rogers)
I end this year’s list (well, this posting at least, I had so many discoveries this year that I may do a follow-up article for my own – neglected – blog) with a Laurel and Hardy short. Fitting, since a bio-pic is about to hit theaters about the legendary comedy duo.

What makes this short so special? Well, it’s not only outrageously funny, but also a sequel. TIT FOR TAT is a follow up to THEM THAR HILLS (1934) which has Laurel and Hardy entertaining the wife of a man who leaves her to get gas for their empty tank. The duo offers her what they think is just water except that a gang of bootleggers chased off by the cops have dumped their moonshine into the well they are drawing from. The three of them get plastered, the husband returns to find his wife drunk and very loose with the two men, and he reacts accordingly.

TIT FOR TAT sees Laurel and Hardy buying a shop that just happens to be next door to one owned by that same husband and wife. The husband recognizes them, thinks they are hitting on his wife, and that turns into a war of escalating comedy as each store owner tries to outdo the other with their vengeance, meanwhile another dude is essentially looting Laurel and Hardy’s unattended shop!

I don’t think I have laughed as hard as I did while watching this. Watching it along with THEM THAR HILLS helps, but it also is effective on its own. It takes great advantage of the comic genius of both Laurel and Hardy as things spiral completely out of control. HIGHLY recommended.
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Honorable Mentions…
GRAY LADY DOWN (1978; Directed by David Greene)
Charlton Heston in a sunken sub that is about to be crushed by the intense water pressure. Solid action-thriller.
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THE BLACK PIRATE (1926; Directed by Albert Parker)
Fairbanks in his signature swashbuckling role. The scene where he glides down a sail using a knife is just as exciting now almost 100 years later as it was then.
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THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1951; Directed by Alexander MacKendrick)
Biting satire from director Alexander MacKendrick (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS) has Alec Guinness inventing a suit that will never wear out and never needs cleaning. It stands to completely ruin the garment industry altogether and will make you think about the economy and the idea of built-in obsolescence that keeps people needing to buy more to keep others employed. Soon to be released in a new Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
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