The Best Movie You’ve Never Seen?
When was the last time I forged a list post? Seems like a long time ago, at least way back in the chilly depths of winter. The publication of a new interesting sounding book has got the cinephile community all a chatter, as author Robert K. Elder has interviewed thirty-five filmmakers, movers and shakers and asked them to identify one best ‘neglected’ or ‘overlooked’ film for inclusion into a fun sounding film discussion book. Debating the relative merits of the list and the inevitable argumentative framing of some of the texts as ‘obscure’ or underappreciated (c’mon, A Man For All Seasons is a well-known Oscar winner surely?) has been raging over the past few days, ever since the project was highlighted in the worlds most popular film cast Filmspotting which you can source here. There is nothing we cinephiles like more than a list we can tear into, and ever since last years Sight & Sound poll controversy has settled it feels like the right time to stir things back up, to indulge in mock battles and belittle each others scope and breadth of the medium of the movies, all in a very gentlemanly well-spirited fashion of jocularity of course you understand.
I’ll admit I was also disappointed at the near total lack of female directors out of the 35 or indeed many ‘people of colour’ if I can use that rather odd phrase, I know the pool from which to draw these opinions from is somewhat smaller than Male White Dude directors, but surely Charles Burnett or John Singleton, a Lynne Ramsey or Andrea Arnold could have been approached? I dunno, maybe Elder did spread his net wider than the dominant demographic, but I doubt it. Anyway out of the list I’ve seen 22 and have heard of 29 which isn’t a bad ratio for so-called deeply cult and obscured fare, hell I may even have reviewed a few of ’em here on the blog which I think cements some level of credible cinephile credentials, whilst others like Who’ll Stop The Rain? (AKA Dog Soliders) and Ugetsu Monogatari (Mizoguschi’s most famous film so again not really an obscure film, such an odd choice) have at least merited passing mentions. So I thought we’d have a look at a mix of those I’ve seen or not, some which I admire or not, purely in an instinctive, potpuorri sort of way for a fairly lazy blog post which will server as a prelude to a whole panoply of BFI visits I have planned over the next fortnight – six films, including one of the strangest double bills I’ve yet mustered, and I have to slot in Before Midnight somewhere as well which is getting ‘one of the films of the year’ level reportage. But for now let’s get started with a few drinks;
Under The Volcano (1984) – This was quite a shock, despite being a big John Huston fan and even having read of biography on him around a decade ago I’d never heard of this, poured during this retrospectively interesting twilight phase of his career (see also the strange Wise Blood) which begin back in the 1940’s with the The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, The African Queen, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and other numerous classics. This is sweating in its entirety on YouTube but I think I’ll rent the disk and give this a proper viewing, just from the write-up it sounds like an ideal Peckinpah companion piece to the likes of Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia or The Getaway. Which takes us nicely from an authorial standpoint to this;
After Dark My Sweet (1990)- I do pride myself on my credentials when it comes to Film Noir and Neo-Noir, so yes I have heard and indeed seen this James Foley adaption of a nasty little Jim Thompson bruiser. Of the later cycle of lipstick smeared femme fatales, stupid & sleazy con-men, urban spiritual malaise and the greedy moral abyss of post-war capitalism this is one of the best, alongside the likes of The Last Seduction, One False Move or The Grifters.
Fearless (1993) – I’ve mentioned this before, one of the great unrated films of the 1990’s, with a career defining turn from Bridges despite his more visible turns in Starman, Liebowski and more recently True Grit. It’s interesting that Richard Kelly selected this as it shares something of an ambivalent and conflicted central character as his initial smash Donnie Darko, not to mention a plane crash serving as the inciting incident. After the patchy successes of 2010’s The Way Back Weir’s career seems to have returned to hibernation, a shame as I guess we’ll never see that Pattern Recognition adaption now. To be fair whilst it’s a great Gibson it already feels a decade out of date….
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) – I’d have opted for the shiver inducing Clownhouse myself if we’re going to reach for the Coulrophobia weapon, the subsequent sordid history of that film’s director alone is a terrifying thought. Killer Klowns however has its own devoted breed of fucked up fans, like other 1980’s horror fare – The Ghoulies, Gremlins, Street Trash, Basket Case, Reanimator – you do get some films which are indistinctly subversive of the genre and society which bred them, hence the seizure by some rabid fans – its only (un)natural. It’s not one of my favourites and I don’t remember a great deal of it to be honest but I’ll give it another whirl of the carousel for old times sake, I’m hoping it has something of a lurking dreadful sense of dark humor plastered underneath that elongated face paint and rainbow of colourful costumes…..
The Swimmer (1968) – I smirked when I saw this on the list, this is one of those strangely neglected gems which very rarely comes up for air. A personal project of Burt Lancaster it is the middle-aged companion piece to The Graduate which takes that upper middle-class sun-kissed Connecticut lifestyle and gives it a satirical dunking, with the titular and existential stranded swimmer having no option to reach home other than traversing through the backyard pools of his affluent neighbours.
L’Ange (1983) – I’ll confess this is another new one for me, I guess I just ain’t up to speed with my French experimental avant-garde texts. A time, a place and a requisite mood help to indulge yourself in this type of unorthodox material, but I think you have to keep your horizons broad and digesting such unusual and perhaps challenging feasts does feed the understanding of what can be done with moving images, their collusion with sound and uneasy partnership with the ubiquitous two-dimensional rectangular portal.
Ivans XTC (2000) – I think I may have touched on this before, possibly the most vicious take on Hollywood moral quagmire since Sunset boulevard, it’s certainly got more of a polished razor’s sheen than Altman’s The Player inflicted on the hands that feeds. Directed by Bernard Rose – he of Candyman and Paperhouse cult credentials – this has bitter and arrogant executive Danny Huston, himself a scion of Tinseltown royalty experiencing all his so-called friends and colleagues abandoning him as he contracts a terminal disease. Relentless and unforgiving, you’ll never want to eat lunch in this town again….
Breaking Away (1973) – Growing up with a cycling mad brother it was inevitable that I’d suddenly screech across this, one of the great coming-of-age teenage movies which could possibly be up there with Stand By Me. Funny, poignant, and direct in the telling, it also has one of the all time great jump cut gags which only makes sense if you’ve seen the film and understand the father character, regardless it’s a genius moment of comedy which actor Paul Dooley still gets fans quoting to him on the street. This sepia kissed genre has recently had a minor resurgence with Sundance smash The Kings Of Summer which has just opened in limited screens in the States, of course a certain Man Of Steel has unfortunately annihilated its chances at box office supremacy. Still, that’s one of the films of the year so if you have the means and temperament then support some independent cinema for a change, and monitor your local listings.
The Trial (1962) – It also strikes me as odd having two Welles movies on the list, sure F Is For Fake was notoriously difficult to see prior to the proliferation of the Internet with bootlegs and rare prints being digitally archived, but The Trial was widely available and showed on TV here in the UK a few times, and surely any Welles film would be on the cinemaeastes radar given that he, y’know, directed the widely accepted greatest film of all time from the 1950’s until 2012? In any case this has a curious serendipity as F Is For Fake is screening at the BFI in August which I may attend, before then we have another Welles screening tomorrow so he’s currently on my radar, cinematically speaking. His version of The Trial is a marvelously dense piece, both visually and dramatically, with a wonderfully European flavoured cast (Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider) – which befits its Cold War / Iron Curtain dimensions. An exhaustive documentary on arguably Welles last masterpiece here, I’ll just luxuriate in that deep focus framing seen above in the opening scene.
Trouble In Paradise (1932) – And finally another shameful omission by yours truly. I’ve never really gravitated to the Ernst Lubitsch champagne fizzing film frivolities, like Renoir he’s an early golden era director whose importance and influence I can certainly appreciate – the Rom-Com wouldn’t exist without Lubitsch or the subsequent careers of Preston Sturges and Woody Allen as we know them – but I do find the canyons of history and different cinematic styles, dialogue and social constructions quite difficult to overcome and thus enjoy his films on their own, period specific merits. It’s the arch theatrical acting, the (by our contemporary standards) unfunny gags and the gilded, opulent lives of the bourgeoise which obstruct me in giving a fuck about these privileged numbskulls, during he great depression and the imminent rise of Hitler one assumed they’d have slightly more serious things to worry about – the more things change etc. eh? Nevertheless one strives to widen one’s boundaries and I shall give this a visit and see if Bogdanovich is on the money, but I have to say I have sporadically been revisiting some Renoir such as La Grande Illusion in a similar vein and they really don’t connect at all….