Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2020 - Jeffery Berg ""

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Jeffery Berg

Jeffery runs the blog JDB Records - check it out here:

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) & Sud (South) (Chantal Akerman, 1999)
Quarantine was the right atmosphere to watch Jeanne Dielman for the first time. The habitual routines--in their every little detail--shut doors, dishes, food preparation, the look of the apartment itself, I found completely mesmerizing. Perceptive, remarkable direction and writing from Chantal Akerman. Somehow she portrays time, tedium and a woman's life with spare, but meaningful, notes in an arresting way. Interestingly, it figured as a significant reference in Mrs. America--a longform series from '20 that I really enjoyed.

Filmed in the wake of the 1998 murder of James Byrd, Jr., Akerman's Sud (South) travels to Jasper, Texas. There are testimonies from townspeople, lingering shots of the tranquil, insect-buzzing locales. Akerman also shows us parts of James Bryd Jr.'s funeral. Overall, the film feels like an unresolved fragment, a shard of glass--that Akerman couldn't bear to capture such a tragedy wholly.

2. The Cremator (Juraj Herz, 1969)
A classic of Czechoslovakia cinema and ahead of its time, The Cremator is a subversive commentary on the rise of Nazism during the 1930s through the eyes of a funeral director (Rudolf Hrusínský, in a creepy, exceptional performance). Featuring macabre elements and extremely dark comedy, with stunning black & white photography using bizarre angles and point-of-views (the cinematography is by Stanislav Milota), The Cremator is pretty unique. I had not heard of this film or director before watching, so this was not only a first timer for me but also a true discovery.

3. The Queen (Frank Simon, 1968)
Excellent, fascinating document of drag queens gathered for a beauty contest in 1967 New York. I am so grateful for Kino Lorber's restoration of this film and giving it visibility and mainstream availability. Compelling, revealing testimonies from the queens. An iconic Crystal LaBeija scene towards the end drives it all home.

4. Betty Tells Her Story (Liane Brandon, 1972)
This was one of the more unforgettable films I saw this year. In a mere twenty minutes, a woman tells a story of a perfect dress twice--and the two versions of her story are very different. After listening to super-smart Nellie Killian's interview on Bill Ackerman's Supporting Characters podcast, I seeked out Killian's-programmed Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories collection on the Criterion Channel where I found Betty's story. I highly recommend this beautifully curated series if you haven't gotten to it yet (it's still live on Criterion as of this writing). I saw many great, insightful movies / shorts within it.

5. Messiah of Evil (Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz, 1973)
It's always a joy to get to a solid horror film that I haven't seen before and this one ended up delivering in spades. Wearied, Vietnam era-Messiah of Evil follows a young woman who goes to find her missing father at his sea-swept studio. She soon discovers a cult of the undead. Evocative use of a secluded California setting, design and color; out of the darkness, primary colors, including blood-red, emerge in the studio chain swing bed and in a Ralph's grocery, at a gas station). A movie with such an eerie, unearthly, untethered feel. Definitely one I look forward to visiting again.

5. Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958)
Oooh, this Otto Preminger French Riviera-set movie is sure pretty to look at. Despite the CinemaScope and luxurious visuals (and crisp costumes!), it's a fairly modest, intimate tale of morality. Pixie-cut Jean Seberg is indelible. Deborah Kerr's character seems one-note at first, but in retrospect, the actress creates a complex, multifaceted role.

6. Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)
Tough, terse Detour is an enjoyable, bumpy ride (at only 68-minutes!) and Ann Savage lives up to her last name with one of the legendary femme fatale turns.

7. Colossus: The Forbin Project (Joseph Sargent, 1970)
During the summer of '20, I took an online class at The New School on Science Fiction films and it was an incredible experience. Out of the course, there were a slew of great, intriguing movies I watched for the first time including William Cameron Menzies' Things to Come (1936), Godard's Alphaville (1965), Jack Smight's The Illustrated Man (1969), Freddie Francis' The Creeping Flesh (1973), and George A. Romero's underrated Monkey Shines (1988). There is something particularly unnerving and unsettling about Sargent's Colossus: The Forbin Project, a doomsday scenario of technology gone wrong. Slick, polished early '70s Universal Studios cast & crew (Edith Head's costuming is, per usual, brilliant) with very good sets and effects, Colossus remains a timely film about the dangers of dominant technology and America's continued strained global relationships. Like the best films in the sci-fi genre, it's neither too dreary nor pedantic, and there happens to be moments of sly humor dashed in too.

8. The Pit and the Pendulum (Roger Corman, 1961)
In 2020, I was in the mood for Roger Corman / Vincent Price / Edgar Allan Poe movies and this one was a highlight. I loved the satiny, gothic sets and flashy, trippy sense of color and photography (by Floyd Crosby). Price is always great, but particularly sinister and layered here. One worn-out VHS tape from my childhood was Price's Creepy Classics (1987) which featured clips from Pitprominently. It was fun to see them in the movie all these years later--like a completed puzzle.

9. Smithereens (Susan Seidelman, 1982)
Quirky Wren (played well by Susan Berman) jets out of Jersey to NYC with determination to breakout in the punk scene. This is a super-watchable, rough-hewn comedy. I'm a sucker for a New York movie so I was pretty enraptured by seeing the East Village in '82 and all of the locations.

10. The Getaway (Roger Donaldson, 1994)
Glossy, kind of stupid and fun remake of Sam Peckinpah's on-the-lam classic. Even though the '72 movie is undoubtedly superior, I found this one irresistible and Alec Baldwin, Kim Basigner a sexy, charismatic pair. Great use of sun-baked locations and an alluring atmosphere (well-shot by action film cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr.). Ends with Richard Marx's "Now and Forever," which put a smile on my face, taking me back to a song ubiquitous on lite FM radio and in grocery stores of the '90s.

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