Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Evan Purchell ""

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)


Bruce Ruble said...

That's great news about the Bressan Project. Any info on when the restored "Passing Strangers" is being released?

Jenni Olson said...

Anyone interested in staying updated on The Bressan Project can keep an eye on the website or come like the Facebook or Twitter pages. Click thru here for more info: