Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Allan Mott ""

Friday, February 21, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Allan Mott

If Allan Mott had been born in 1920, he would have ended up more famous than Mickey Rooney. And would have been even harder to work with. You can google his name and find a bunch of stuff. Some movie related. Some not. Some not even about him, but other people also named Allan Mott. Tweet him @HouseofGlib and Letterboxd him @VanityFear or check out whatever you find on his site, VanityFear.com.


1. Student Affairs (1987, Chuck Vincent)
It’s time for everyone to start talking about Chuck Vincent, whose non-XXX directing career careened from softcore 80s sword and sandal Warrior Queen to softcore thrillers like Deranged and Bedroom Eyes II, but is most well-known for his long list of softcore sex comedies like Slammer Girls, Sexpot and New York’s Finest.

Despite his making 55 films in 19 years (frequently jumping back and forth from porn to mainstream) you seldom hear his name or films mentioned in even the most “I’m-gonna-wow-you-with-the-obscurity-of-my-favourites” circles (with perhaps only Hollywood Hot Tubs leaping up into the conversation every now and then). And this should change, because Vincent’s films are far more interesting than his non-reputation in the cult zeitgeist would suggest. As my friend, Paul Freitag-Fey (@Dekkoparsnip2 and one of the few people I know to have spent any time writing about Vincent), has discussed on Daily Grindhouse, Vincent’s work stands out because he was gay man who made films that primarily existed so straight men could masturbate. And this tension between Vincent’s own camp sensibility and the standard requirements of the genre resulted in films that seemed oddly unsatisfying when they were made, but completely unique and fascinating today.

Out of all of his sex comedies, Student Affairs stands out because it’s the most overtly autobiographical. While its poster suggests another in a long line of 80s Porky’s rip-offs, it is in fact a comedy about the making of an 80s Porky’s rip-off and though Vincent manages to work in all the prerequisite nudity, it still comes across as his own personal variation on Truffaut’s Day For Night.

This itself is not completely unique. Mark Griffiths did a very similar thing a year earlier with his very underrated sequel, Hardbodies 2, which eschewed the douchey rapiness of the original in favour of a plot about the making of the sequel to that douchey rapey first movie. But the fact that Vincent pretty much spent every day of his life for two decades on a movie set fills Student Affairs with an insight that should delight anyone who is a fan of low budget exploitation filmmaking.


2. Fathom (1967, Leslie H. Martinson)
In 2019, inspired by friends who’ve curated film series for our local revival theatre, I decided to propose doing one dedicated to the films of Raquel Welch. And the best part of having it accepted was that it required me to explore her entire filmography.

And, despite the fact that it was directed by Leslie H. Martinson and written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr, the two men responsible for 1966’s Batman: The Movie (which I would happily argue ranks among the best comedies of that decade) one of the films I saw for the first time as a result of this task was the completely charming spy caper farce, Fathom.

Rather than have Welch portray a femme fatale or experienced secret agent, Semple’s script casts her as world champion skydiver Fathom Harvill (who--beating Heath Ledger’s Joker by decades--offers multiple conflicting explanations for her unique name). And it’s her skill with a parachute that ensnares her in a cold war plot that twists and turns every few minutes or so.

While those who turn their noses up at films that clearly betray the year they were made (which is a really fucking weird reason to dislike a movie, but you do you) will watch aghast at Fathom’s unapologetic 1967-ness, anyone who truly digs the period will delight in its excesses and its staunch refusal to portray its title character as either a helpless victim or a Bondian superwoman, but instead as an everyday person who just happens to be really good at jumping out airplanes.

The fact that she also wears bikinis better than any other person in film history helps too.
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3. Krush Groove (1985, Michael Schultz)
I got to see Krush Groove in a theatre in 2019 because my friend Ramneek Tung is curating a series dedicated to classics of Hip Hop cinema. And while I was certainly aware of this (very loose) biopic depicting the early years of Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, I like to think that fate kept it away from me long enough to first experience it in the best way possible.

Like a lot of musical biographies, it’s less interested in the actual details of how Simmons (renamed Russell Walker and played by Blair Underwood) and Rick Rubin (playing himself, but only identified by his first name) made stars out of Run DMC, LL Cool J and The Fat Boys, when all it needs is the slimmest of possible narratives to string together a series of musical numbers.

But they’re really great musical numbers! Not only featuring the acts mentioned above, but also--and most importantly--Sheila E., who is adorable, sexy and so game to play and have fun that I came away genuinely confused that Hollywood didn’t make a serious effort to turn her into a legit movie star (her cameo in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane being the best those lazy bums could apparently handle).

Needless to say, I bought the soundtrack album the next day and urge everyone who hasn’t caught up with it to give it a chance (even if fate doesn’t allow you to experience it the same way I did).
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4. Cluny Brown (1946, Ernst Lubitsch)
Despite the fact that he ranks high on my list of all-time favourite filmmakers, I have yet to see every movie Lubitsch touched simply because the delight that comes from experiencing his films for the first time is so wonderful I’ve deliberately held back from mainlining them all at once.

So, when Criterion released Cluny Brown this year, I bought it blind, knowing only that many ranked it as one of his lesser efforts and not up to the level of his all time classics.

But the thing is, when your all time classics rank among the greatest films ever made, that sets a pretty high bar. The only possible reason anyone could ever regard Cluny Brown as a disappointment is by directly comparing it to the likes of To Be or Not to Be or Heaven Can Wait. Compared to virtually everything else, it’s an utter delight that--like all of Lubitsch’s movies--feels as fresh and relevant now as the day it was made.

Jennifer Jones is pure sunshine as the titular character, a talkative and charming stunner whose ambition to be a plumber like her father is thwarted by the ridiculous sexism of the era. Instead, she’s sent to be a maid at a large estate, where her inability to stay silent and love of wrenches and pipes causes all sorts of shenanigans, but earns her the attention of broke war refugee, Charles Boyer.

Like all of Lubitsch’s work, the magic is all in the execution rather than the story itself. Jones--an actress whose skills have often been questioned despite the Oscar on her mantle--is a total delight and her performance alone makes Spine # 997 a must-have on your Criterion shelf.
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5. Naked Vengeance (1985, Cirio Santiago)
There’s no reason a blatant I Spit On Your Grave rip-off helmed by the Philippine’s most infamous non-teur and led by a Dallas co-star virtually no one remembers should ever make a list like this--yet here it is.

By most standards, Naked Vengeance is not a good film, yet the fact that it maintains a watchable narrative without any hilarious plot holes or continuity errors made it stand out from Santiago’s previous efforts in such a way that I had to applaud it. Cirio even manages to make you feel feelings at certain points! It’s weird, but I’ll take it.

Doesn’t hurt that I’ve had the theme song sung by star Deborah Tranelli (which is played over and over again throughout the whole movie) in my head ever since I popped the Scream Factory Blu-ray into my PS3.
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6. The Fan (1981, Edward Bianchi)
Several years ago I bought a torn and battered one-sheet for The Fan for $5 at a convention, but during that time I never felt compelled to watch the movie itself. All of the reviews I’d read dismissed it as being beneath the dignity of its famous stars and it was clear from his memoir that James Garner (my fave Hollywood leading man) hated that he had anything to do with it.

But then the new Scream Factory Blu-ray came out and I decided it was time to see for myself if it was as terrible as I’d been led to believe.

And, of course it wasn’t.

The Fan isn’t a lost classic, but I think it offers up a lot more than its negligible reputation suggests. While stars Lauren Bacall and James Garner may have been disappointed that the original script’s emphasis on psychological suspense was changed to fulfill more standard slasher beats by hit-hungry producer Robert Stigwood, I think having two legends of that stature in a slasher film resulted in a far more interesting effort than what they actually signed on for.

Commercial director Bianchi shoots the entire film with a style and skill you only rarely see in the slasher films from the period and editor Alan Helm brings the same energy to the film’s Broadway rehearsal scenes (Bacall plays an aging movie star attempting to jumpstart her lagging career with a new stage musical) that he did to All That Jazz, which just happens to be my favourite movie of all time.

Based on the Blu-ray’s extras, The Fan is apparently a cult film in certain sectors of the gay film community and it’s easy to see why. Speaking personally as a straight man with very camp tastes (a fact that will also be relevant to the last film on this list), seeing Bacall croak-sing her way through a hilariously sincere Broadway ballad written by Marvin Hamlish and Tim Rice is enough to make any 80s movie feel special--especially one that fits so uniquely in the slasher oeuvre.
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7. Fatso (1980, Anne Bancroft)
I think the recurring theme of this year’s list is “Films Allan avoided because early in his film fandom he heard they were bad and then they came out on Blu-ray and he watched and liked them.” This definitely applies to Anne Bancroft’s Fatso, which I first heard about in reviews I read in the 80s that dismissed it as sophomoric and juvenile.

In retrospect, those reviewers had to have had their vision clouded by Bancroft’s marriage to the genius king of sophomoric and juvenile, Mel Brooks, to properly assess her first and only film as a writer/director, because the Fatso I watched in 2019 is a very moving film about a very kind and lonely man attempting to find love in a world he (literally) doesn’t fit in.

Star Dom DeLuise eschews his standard schtick and brings real heart and pathos to Dominick DiNapoli, a large man who owns a stationary shop with his caring but overbearing sister, Antoinette (Bancroft). She’s terrified he will meet the same early death as their cousin, so at her urging he struggles to lose weight while he also begins a sweet romance with antique store owner, Lydia (an adorable Candice Azzara).

Fatso occasionally struggles to find the right balance between heart and humour, but it’s the rare film that takes the feelings of real people seriously without feeling the need to simultaneously jump headlong into tragedy. By the end of it, the only sadness I felt was over the fact that Bancroft never followed up on it with another film. Instead of being a footnote, it could have been the beginning of a genuinely great second career.
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8. Boom! (1968, Joseph Losey)
One of the cooler things that happened to me in 2019 was getting to know James Patrick (@007hertzrumble) and being on his Cinema Shame (@CinemaShame) podcast, which is dedicated to exposing movie lovers to classics they really, really should have seen by now.

When James asked me what movie I wanted to see for the first time and discuss on the show, I could have named a lot of very famous classic movies I’ve somehow managed to not sit down for (including Raging Bull, which I’ve owned on DVD for well over a decade now), but instead the first (and only) movie that came to my mind was Boom!--a movie virtually no one (save me) feels any shame for not seeing.

But the thing is, as a massive John Waters’ stan, I’d always wanted to catch up with Boom! ever since I’d read his description of its glorious absurdity, but had never had the opportunity. James sent me a link to a not-crazily priced MOD release and we were on our way.

Wanting to experience the film the same way John and Divine did back in the day, I consumed a pill made out of a plant that was legalized in Canada last year and I watched it with a mixture of confusion and stunned delight. You can listen to the episode to find out what I thought, but I think it says something that I IMMEDIATELY bought the Shout Factory Blu-ray that came out just a few weeks after we recorded, even though I had just bought the DVD less than a month before.
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