Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Jim Reding ""

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Jim Reding

Jim Reding is a writer and film fan based about an hour outside of Nashville. He hasn’t updated his Letterboxd account in years but keeps handwritten notes on everything he watches. His goal for 2020 is reviving his long-abandoned blog. He occasionally Tweets @JimReding2.

2019 was the most challenging year of my life to date. My dad was hospitalized for most of the year, eventually passing away in September. When I could make time for movie watching amidst the chaos, I found myself primarily seeking comfort in old favorites before taking a chance on something new. Still, I made a few exciting discoveries along the way.

The Lineup (1958)
Following a quick, sharply edited pre-title sequence involving a seemingly unmotivated getaway car crash, this Don Siegel directed, Stirling Silliphant scripted crime drama almost grinds to a halt. The first act, featuring two blandly written cops played by Emile Meyer and Marshall Reed, fails to escape the handcuffs of its CBS radio and television police procedural roots. Stick it out, though. It really kicks back into gear once Robert Keith and Eli Wallach appear on the scene as two racketeers out to retrieve some contraband heroin. Keith is the methodical, intellectual Julian, Wallach, the impulsive, violent Dancer (“A psychopath with no inhibitions,” to quote the script).
Filled with excitingly tense violent set pieces, this would make a fantastic double feature with Dirty Harry, another Siegel directed, San Francisco shot crime drama.
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A Scary Time (1960)
Originally commissioned for Unicef, this Shirley Clarke short juxtaposes the pretend horrors of an American Halloween with the real-life horrors of Third World poverty. It's as jarringly manipulative as that synopsis suggests. You flinch at the cuts between boisterous, healthy children, pulling up their masks to reveal toothy smiles, and sickly starving children in tattered clothes with tears running down their cheeks, flies buzzing around their faces. It's also inventively shot and edited. The Halloween sequences stand next to those in E.T. and Don Coscarelli's Kenny and Company as some of the best in American film at capturing the fun of dressing up and heading out for a night full of trick or treating and prank pulling. The non-synch dialogue-probably a necessity- heightens the high-spirited feel.
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Something Wild (1961)
Months after watching it, I feel like I’m still processing Jack Garfein’s complicated study of trauma. I remain mystified by the second half, particularly its ambiguous conclusion, which didn’t work for me on either a naturalistic or symbolic level. Reading up later, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Almost 50 years after its initial release, critics are still divided. Sheila O’Malley praises it in her Criterion essay but places it in the category of films “that resist clarity, that beckon, haunt, persist, nag.”
Regardless of my issues, it’s an undeniably powerful film. I can’t shake it. What sticks with me are the dialogue-free opening, a pair of haunting performances from Carroll Baker as a rape victim suffering from PTSD and Ralph Meeker as the damaged brute who takes her in eventually entrapping her, Eugen Sch├╝fftan’s New York location photography, and the fantastic title sequence by the great Saul Bass.
Note: I learned of Garfein’s death as I was typing this write up, an eerie coincidence.
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Wanda (1970)
In her sole directorial feature, Barbara Loden stars as a directionless drifter who walks away from her husband, loses custody of her kids, and falls into a life of crime with a bank robber played by Michael Higgins. That such a seemingly passive character can be a compelling protagonist is a testament to Loden’s talent and attention to detail both in front of and behind the camera. In an ideal world, this independent feature, inspired by a 1960 New York Daily News article, would have led to a long, storied directorial career. In the real world, it received little attention during its initial U.S. theatrical release and remained largely unavailable for years. Thankfully, the film’s reputation continues to grow following a loving restoration, hopefully ensuring it will never fall out of circulation again.
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Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)
Nearly three and a half hours of a domestic widow-and occasional prostitute's- repetitive daily routine played out in long, often static takes may sound like cinematic melatonin, but if you can get on Chantal Akerman's film's wavelength, it's oddly compelling. Delphine Seyrig is brilliant as the title character, using subtle gestures to convey her slow descent into madness as she cooks, cleans, and shops. Everything is meticulously detailed, creating a fully realized world. Countless repertory series have been programmed around the joy of cooking, but how many films accurately convey the drudgery of planning and preparing a meal for an unappreciative son?
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All That Jazz (1979)
Following multiple heart attacks and open-heart surgery, Bob Fosse channeled his feelings about his mortality into this autobiographical musical. Roy Scheider is the director’s surrogate, the sex-obsessed, alcoholic, Benzedrine popping, chain-smoking, choreographer-director Joe Gideon. In the real world, Gideon consistently pushes himself and those around him to perfect his art, much to the detriment of his personal life and physical health. In his fantasies, he reflects on his life with Angelique, the angel of death played by Jessica Lange.
The subject matter is dark, but the filmmaking is so dazzlingly exuberant, the tone so frequently funny, that it never feels depressing.
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1 comment:

KC said...

Sorry about your dad. May he rest in peace. That Clarke film stuck with me as well, essentially for the same reasons you mentioned. Everything she directs is thoughtfully observed and a bit prickly. She fascinates me.