New Weird America: Something Wild (1986)

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To view Something Wild click here.

Something Wild (1986) is a road movie with a penchant for detours, keeping its eyes on the side roads and rest stops instead of the highway in front of it. A shapeshifting romantic-comic thriller, it adjusts its tone to the landscape, paying as a romcom in NYC, a chase film in Pennsylvania and a horror movie in Stony Brook. The only thing that ties together the film are the rest stops and delis the movie’s increasingly unhinged characters stop into for snacks, robberies, and a break from the world outside. Each location provides more subcultures for the insatiable eye of director Jonathan Demme to explore, whether it’s the tiny liquor store manager with a giant pipe or a duo of style conscious old thrift store biddies, Demme imbues every scene with indelible personalities, making the film a kind of American oddball panorama in which two star-crossed lovers keep criss-crossing through.

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Double Noir: Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945)

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To view Laura click here.

To view Fallen Angel click here.

In retrospect, Otto Preminger has never been included in the pantheon of iconic Golden Age directors—Ford, Hitchcock, Welles, Hawks, Wilder, Capra. Sometimes, his career is covered in film history texts, largely because of his work in the 1950s. Preminger’s career ended with a few disappointing and strange choices (Skidoo, really?), which perhaps accounts for a fading reputation even in his lifetime. It’s time to embrace the dictatorial director with the bald pate—despite Skidoo (1968)! FilmStruck is offering “Early Otto,” a selection of films from his studio years. For today’s post, I suggest a perfect Preminger double feature; next week, I will follow through with a broader discussion of his work.

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Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead (1977) Directed by David Lynch Shown: Jack Nance

To view Eraserhead click here.

What do John Waters, Stanley Kubrick, H.R. Giger, and The Pixies all have in common? For starters, they all share a very high regard for a feature film whose script was only 22 pages long and which took five years to make: David Lynch’s directorial debut, Eraserhead (1977). My own fascination with this famous midnight movie touches on my job as a film exhibitor because it serves to remind me how small and independent exhibitors can have a big impact on film culture when they champion a particular title. In the case of Eraserhead, it was the Cinema Village in New York that first ran it for a year as a midnight feature. This was followed by exceptionally long runs (the likes of which nowadays are unheard of) at the New York’s Waverly Cinema, then the San Francisco Roxie Theater. And this followed by an even longer three year stint at the Los Angeles’s Nuart Theatre. [...MORE]

Filling in for History: Gary Cooper and The Pride of the Yankees (’42)

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To view The Pride of the Yankees click here.

Lou, what else can I say, except that it was a sad day in the life of everybody who knew you when you came into my hotel room that day in Detroit and told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team. My God, man, you were never that.Joe McCarthy, New York Yankees’ manager, 1939

In June of 1939, New York Yankees’ beloved first baseman, Lou Gehrig, announced his retirement from baseball. The idea that the Yankees would lose Gehrig, affectionately nicknamed “The Iron Horse,” a moniker honoring his unwavering dedication to his team, fans and the sport, was unfathomable. In many ways, Gehrig was the heart and soul of the team, and by extension all of baseball. By all accounts, he was an all-around decent, upstanding guy, and a damn good ballplayer, too. Over the course of his fourteen years with the Yankees, Gehrig appeared in 2,130 consecutive games, breaking the previous record set by famed shortstop Everett Scott (1,307 games), in 1933. (This record would stand until 1995 when Cal Ripken Jr., the current record holder, surpassed Gehrig’s impressive feat.) And throughout those games, Gehrig played through broken bones and concussions, aching muscles and fevers. Nothing stopped him. He was the ideal baseball player, and every manager’s dream, with a perfect combination of talent, strength and humility. Quitting was not in this man’s vocabulary, and his perseverance was an inspiration. Even with a “slump,” beginning during the 1938 season, an inevitability in even the best baseball player’s career, Gehrig pushed himself even harder. And despite growing fatigue and a noticeable change in his legendary strong, left-handed swing, Gehrig maintained his poise and leadership on the team, while his teammates and fans remained hopeful of a triumphant return to form for The Iron Horse. But Gehrig’s strength and work ethic were no match for the deadly disease which was silently, but quickly destroying his body.

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Moorland Suspense: A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)

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To view A Cottage on Dartmoor click here.

“The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its bosom you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but on the other hand, you are conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of prehistoric people. On all sides of you as you walk are the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves and the huge monoliths which are supposed to have marked their temples. As you look at their grey stone huts against the scarred hillsides you leave your own age behind you, and if you were to see a skin-clad, hairy man crawl out from the low door, fitting a flint-tipped arrow on to the string of his bow, you would feel that the presence there was more natural than your own.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

I thought of these lines from The Hound of the Baskervilles (my favorite of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels) while watching A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929). Anthony Asquith’s silent film begins with the introduction of a wild looking man (Uno Henning) as he scampers like a scared rabbit across the English moors. He is clad in a frayed prison uniform and a mop of untamed hair rests uneasily on his head. As his feral eyes searched the bleak landscape I began to wonder: Was he hunting something or was he being hunted?

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Went the Day Well? (1942): A Special Kind of War Film

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To view Went the Day Well? click here.

It always warms my heart to see how many Ealing Studios films we have stacked around here at FilmStruck. Rivaled perhaps only by Hammer Film Productions, it’s one of the most-loved brand names in British cinema, especially in its native country, and one I’ve happily brought up in the past. Most people associate Ealing with the classic run of comedies that became major international successes (often starring Alec Guinness), but its legacy runs so much deeper than that. One of the very best Ealing films, Went the Day Well? (1942) is a perfect example of how to make a wartime message film that goes so far beyond propaganda and still works like a charm today. [...MORE]

The World’s a Stage: The Golden Coach (1953)

THE GOLDEN COACH, (aka LE CARROSSE D'OR), Anna Magnani, 1953.

To view The Golden Coach click here.

The Golden Coach (1953) begins with a red curtain raising on a stage, the camera pushing in until the edges of the theater disappear and the story proper begins. Jean Renoir’s feature about an Italian theatrical troupe setting up shop in Peru foregrounds its artificiality, a play within the film that is a performance for our benefit. Near the end the troupe’s star actress asks, “where does theater end and life begin?” a question Renoir had been asking since his beginnings in cinema. It is a question without an answer, but indicates the space in which Renoir prefers to operate, within that intersection where playfulness and improvisation meet the social structures that try to contain them. The Golden Coach focuses on Camilla (Anna Magnani), a dynamic stage presence who bewitches three of Peru’s most eligible bachelors, but cannot decide who she ultimately desires. She can only find clarity while on stage, and heartache off of it. So in an extraordinary conclusion, the film makes an argument for perpetual performance, instead of turning your life into art, make art of your life, regardless of the consequences.

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Explosive Terror in The Wages Of Fear (1953)

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To view The Wages of Fear click here.

In The Wages of Fear (1953), based on Georges Arnaud’s novel The Salary of Fear, director Henri-George Clouzot takes an incredibly simple premise and somehow creates over two and a half hours of psychological suspense in one of the greatest thrillers ever made. The Wages of Fear was a defining moment for Clouzot’s career, earning him critical praise and great financial success, which ultimately secured future projects such as his 1955 masterpiece Diabolique starring Simone Signoret and Woman in Chains in 1968. Not only did this film bolster Clouzot’s standing in the industry, it inspired many psychological thrillers to come, including William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977), which was a remake of sorts for The Wages of Fear. (Although Friedkin has previously asserted that Sorcerer is merely an adaptation of Arnaud’s novel, and not a remake of Clouzot’s film.)

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Question Authority: The Ruling Class (1972)

The Ruling Class (1972) Directed by Peter Medak Shown: Peter O'Toole

To view The Ruling Class click here.

If you want a lesson in how awards are inadequate indicators of talent look no further than the case of the late, great Peter O’Toole. Before his death in 2013, O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar 7 times but he lost on every occasion. In 2002, when the British actor was 70-years-old, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally found it in themselves to give O’Toole an Honorary Award for his professional achievements but he wanted no part of it. The proud thespian sent a letter to the Academy reminding them that he was “still in the game and might win the lovely bugger outright” and requested that they “please defer the honor until I am 80.” His children finally convinced him to accept the Honorary Award and you can currently watch his acceptance speech on YouTube.

O’Toole’s speech was short and snappy but also eloquent and deeply touching. I suspect that the working-class lad who had fought long and hard to get onto that stage was thinking of the back rows of the Kodak Theatre and the poor folks at home who could only view the events on TV. To accommodate those of us in the cheap seats he was well-prepared, on point and most of all, entertaining. O’Toole’s professionalism is unsurpassed and to this day it remains one of the most memorable and moving Oscar speeches I’ve seen. It also slyly illustrates how wrong the Academy had been for neglecting the man and his unique talents during the previous 40 years.

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Roger Moore Shows His Dark Side: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, Hildegarde Neil, Roger Moore, 1970

To view The Man Who Haunted Himself click here.

A couple of weeks back I took a look at a neglected but stunning early entry in the career of Basil Dearden, Frieda(1947), and now it’s time to go all the way to the other end of his career with his very last feature film: The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970). Made hot on the heels of Dearden’s rapid-fire cult favorite The Assassination Bureau (1969), this is a stylish and deadly serious little semi-supernatural thriller whose reputation has continued to improve over the years.

Of course it’s also tough to watch this film without looking back at the career of star Roger Moore, who just left us a few months ago. Still three years away from becoming the big screen’s third James Bond with Live and Let Die (1973), he’s often given short shrift as an actor and had quite a bit more range than most people realized. This film is a prime example of Moore playing in a different key than usual – times two, actually, since the entire premise revolves around him believing he has a double. Harold Pelham (Moore), a prominent businessman, is briefly declared dead after a sudden afternoon car crash (the same way Dearden would die a year later, eerily enough). The appearance of two heartbeats when he revives is just the start of an uncanny string of events in which someone who looks just like him is disrupting the lives of his friends and relatives. [...MORE]

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