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Month: September 2015

Tunnelvision (1976)

Tunnelvision (1976)

“Tunnelvision is popular because freedom is popular.”

Tunnelvision Poster

Synopsis:
In a dystopian vision of 1985, a congressional committee holds a hearing to discuss an uncensored television station which Americans are staying at home all day to watch.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is generally dismissive of this darkly satirical spoof of public viewing tastes, featuring snippets from shows, previews, and advertisements that futuristic Americans can’t stop watching. He argues that “you’ll never be able to figure out why anyone would stay home to watch this stuff”, given that “it’s hard enough to sit through 67 minutes of it” — but I think his quibble misses the point. Thanks to the film’s strategic framing structure — attendees at the congressional hearing are shown a “representative sample” of clips — we’re privy to mercifully truncated snippets of the channel’s hit-and-miss offerings, just enough to either unhinge or bore us before quickly moving on. Notable highlights include James Bacon in a “funny bit as a movie reviewer”, clearly meant to gently spoof Rogert Ebert (RIP); and an eerily prescient public service announcement in which a cheery woman demonstrates how to utilize a “pollution control box, located at every street corner” while men collapse in real-time on the sidewalk nearby: “This may slow down your trip a little”, she chirps, “but at least you get to your destination alive. Remember, use your pollution control box: it’s a matter of life and breath.” Sadly, this message couldn’t be more salient today.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some spot-on satirical spoofs of the cultural zeitgeist
    Tunnelvision Charlie's Girls
    Tunnelvision Map
    Tunnelvision We Were There
    Tunnelvision Primal Scream
  • James Bacon’s “impersonation” of Roger Ebert
    Tunnelvision Bacon

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended if you enjoy this kind of fare.

Links:

Shock Waves / Death Corps (1977)

Shock Waves / Death Corps (1977)

“There is danger here — danger in the waters.”

Shock Waves Poster

Synopsis:
A touring boat helmed by a testy captain (John Carradine) becomes stranded on an island inhabited by an aging SS officer (Peter Cushing), who tries to warn the passengers (Brooke Adams, Jack Davidson, and D.J. Sidney) and crew (Luke Halpin and Don Stout) to leave before they’re harmed by Nazi zombies lurking in the water.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In what is likely one of his shortest reviews for GFTFF (just six sentences long), Peary writes that while the premise of this “exciting, unexpected treat for horror fans” “isn’t promising”, it’s nonetheless a “well made” “low-budget chiller”. Peary’s sentiment echoes that of many fans, who seem to concur that this film holds a unique grip and possesses a “weird atmosphere that will haunt you for entire days”. Unfortunately, the movie is heavy on atmosphere but short on plot; given that it’s structured as a flashback flick with the sole survivor identified, there’s little actual suspense — and yet, those bespectacled Nazi zombies sure are disturbing nonetheless… The idea of Nazis enduring in superhuman fashion and continuing to wreak random havoc on humanity is an undeniably powerful one. As the Q Network’s James Kendrick writes in his generally positive review, the film “is decidedly creepy and quite clever in masking its limitations and highlighting its strengths.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Haunting imagery of water-logged Nazi zombies
    Shock Waves Zombies2
    Shock Waves Zombies4
    Shock Waves Zombies5
  • Richard Einhorn’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look if this genre is your cup of tea — and it’s of general interest given its cult status.

Links:

Jungle Book (1942)

Jungle Book (1942)

“What is the book of life itself but man’s law with nature?”

Jungle Book Poster

Synopsis:
A boy (Sabu) raised by wolves in the Indian jungle returns to live with his birth-mother (Rosemary DeCamp) while nurturing an obsession to kill his mortal enemy, a tiger named Shere Khan. Meanwhile, the greedy father (Joseph Calleia) of his sweet girlfriend (Patricia O’Rourke) bullies Mowgli (Sabu) into revealing the location of a lost city of hidden treasure, and joins two partners (John Qualen and Frank Puglia) in seeking it out.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his review of this “popular fantasy-adventure”, directed by Zoltan Korda and based on stories by Rudyard Kipling, Peary writes that he wishes “a little more emphasis were placed on the boy’s trying to reconcile his wild nature with his desire for human companionship, but not even the early Tarzan movies dealt with such themes”. He points out the “excellent use of [live] animals”, and notes that the movie is “excellent family fare, but there are death scenes that may be too strong for some youngsters”. Unfortunately, the storyline itself isn’t particularly compelling; the film’s primary selling point is its visual appeal. Peary points out that it “has some of the finest color you’ll ever see”, and Stuart Galbraith, Jr. notes in his review for DVD Talk that the effect of using “every filmmaking tool available then” — including “glass shots and optical matte paintings, large-scale miniatures, [and] full-size jungle sets” — is “splendid and unique”. (The entire film was shot in Hollywood.) Fans of the 1967 Disney cartoon will likely be curious to check this one out, but otherwise it’s only must-see viewing for fans of the iconic Indian actor Sabu.

Note: This movie is available for free viewing as a public domain title here.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Stunning Technicolor cinematography and sets
    Jungle Book Cinematography1
    Jungle Book Cinematography4
    Jungle Book Cinematography3
    Jungle Book Cinematography2

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Sabu fans.

Links:

Free Woman, A / Summer Lightning (1972)

Free Woman, A / Summer Lightning (1972)

“I’ve been married and now want to begin something new.”

Free Woman Poster

Synopsis:
A woman (Margarethe von Trotta) eager to divorce her husband (Friedhelm Ptok) and find personal fulfillment discovers that life as a single woman is incredibly challenging — from securing a sustainable job to regaining custody of her son to fending off advances from both well-meaning and womanizing men.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary posits that this early major film “to come out of the women’s liberation movement” — about a woman “who divorces her husband but discovers that being unmarried in a male-dominated world does not mean she is ‘free'” — “never really breaks loose”. He argues that because writer-director Volker Schlondorff and von Trotta (his wife and co-screenwriter) have given von Trotta’s character Elisabeth “modest goals”, “her failures don’t seem consequential enough”. I disagree. In “a world where sexist men not only define women, but pass judgment on them”, Elisabeth’s situation as she tries to regain custody rights to her son (who she initially left behind to avoid sending her husband over the edge) is clearly an impossible one: to imply anything other than “that single mothers needn’t all be so defeatist”, as Peary argues, would belie the film’s point, which I believe is to highlight the irony of the film’s (Americanized) title.

Like faulting former slaves for not immediately turning their lives around and becoming successful and happy after years of disenfranchisement, blaming Elisabeth for the challenges she faces as she tries to carve a new life for herself is both insulting and patronizing. Having married early and given up her job to be a housewife and mother, she never had an opportunity to explore her interests, let alone pursue a meaningful career. She certainly has potential and talent (some of the most touching and authentic scenes take place as she ventures forth into singing and dancing lessons), but her downfall lies both in the inherently womanizing society she lives in (her smug, obese, married boss comes on to her matter-of-factly while on a business trip, nearly raping her before he passes out) and in the wrath she invokes by divorcing her husband for no apparent reason: he is vengefully determined to prevent her from gaining custody of their son, and blames her for giving up his dreams of novel-writing to become an editor. Perhaps the famously empowered ending to Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978) was a deliberate “response” to this earlier, more cynically realistic film.

Note: I looked up the meaning of the film’s original German title, and learned that summer lightning refers to “distant sheet lightning without audible thunder, typically occurring on a summer night”. I’m still puzzling through what this implies about the movie’s premise…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Margarethe von Trotta as Elisabeth
    Free Woman von Trotta
  • Sven Nykvist’s cinematography
    Free Woman Cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended if you can find a copy.

Links:

Blood and Roses (1960)

Blood and Roses (1960)

“The Karnsteins are not a naturally happy family.”

Blood and Roses Poster

Synopsis:
During a masquerade ball celebrating the upcoming wedding of her cousin (Mel Ferrer) and his fiancee (Elsa Martinelli), a young woman dressed in the clothing of her vampire-ancestor emerges from a fireworks display believing she has been possessed.

Genres:

Review:
Loosely based on the 1872 novella Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, Roger Vadim’s softcore vampire flick with lesbian overtones bears inevitable resemblance to Roy Ward Baker’s later cult adaptation for Hammer Films, The Vampire Lovers (1970). While the visuals in Vadim’s film are impressive (and deserve a digitalized upgrade), the storyline itself is overly simplistic: because we can predict from the beginning what will occur, there’s little narrative tension throughout. Instead, we simply wonder how long this trio of lovers-plus-hanger-on will maintain its tenuous status quo (not for long, it turns out). Ultimately, Blood and Roses will be of most interest — naturally — to fans of vampire flicks, as well as those curious to see Roger Vadim’s early work before his campy space opera Barbarella (1968).

Note: The dialogue about a swordfish and a sardine provides an unexpectedly silly interlude of bawdy humor.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Claude Renoir’s cinematography
    Blood and Roses Cinematography2
    Blood and Roses Cinematography
  • Some memorable imagery
    Blood and Roses Imagery
    Blood and Roses Imagery2
  • Joan Prodromides’ haunting score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its cult status. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Black Girl (1972)

Black Girl (1972)

“A spiritualist told me that a child that wasn’t mine was gonna make me happy one day!”

Black Girl Poster

Synopsis:
An aspiring dancer (Peggy Pettit) is pressured by her bullying sisters (Gloria Edwards and Rhetta Greene) into mistreating a visiting foster sister (Leslie Uggams) who is idolized by their mother (Louise Stubbs).

Genres:

Review:
This hard-hitting family drama — based on a play by J.E. Franklin — is graphically authentic in its representation of family dysfunction spiraling through generations. Full of profanity and cruel mistreatment, it’s a challenging but oddly refreshing viewing experience — much like August: Osage County (2013) (also based on a play). Pettit and her two half-sisters — all high school dropouts, living in a cramped apartment with their mother, grandmother (Claudia McNeil), and grandmother’s boyfriend (Kent Martin) — are deeply embittered by their mother’s overt dismissal of their own potential, and understandably furious that Stubbs turned to foster parenting in an attempt to salvage her own reputation as a supportive mother. Uggams — who’s gone away to a “white person’s college”, and whose own mother (Ruby Dee) had a nervous breakdown — adores “Mama Rose”, but feels conflicted about the effect her own success has had on her foster siblings.

An early interlude involving a visit from Stubbs’ first husband (Brock Peters) — biological father to Edwards and Greene — reveals quite a bit about Stubbs’ history and crushed dreams. He arrives waving $100 bills around, demonstrating his enduring power over the household years after he cheated on Stubbs and left for Detroit; he only half-jokingly withholds money from Pettit, who has borne the burden of different paternity her entire life. To that end, she clearly represents an opportunity to escape — if she can manage the wrath of her envious sisters, who are desperately trying to hold her back along with them. While not a true literary masterpiece like Lorraine Hansbury’s Raisin in the Sun, Black Girl remains worthy viewing for those interested in fearless exploration of family dynamics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Louise Stubbs as Mama Rose
    Black Girl Stubbs
  • Good use of outdoor locales
    Black Girl L.A
  • A hard-hitting script
    Black Girl Script

Must See?
No, though it’s strongly recommended if you can stomach it.

Links:

Spirits of the Dead (1968)

Spirits of the Dead (1968)

“Why am I telling you this? Why did you ask me here? What do you want from me?”

Spirits of the Dead Poster

Synopsis:
Three mean-spirited individuals — Jane Fonda, Alain Delon, and Terence Stamp — meet appropriately grisly endings.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is clearly not a fan of this “disappointing horror anthology for which three Poe tales were adapted by internationally known directors and which starred actors who usually stayed away from the genre”. Roger Vadim helmed the first episode, “Metzengerstein”, starring Jane Fonda as a cruel, “depraved libertine” who secretly covets her humble cousin (played by her real-life brother, Peter — kinky). It seems to exist primarily as an excuse for Fonda to wear yet more “revealing costumes” (after her starring role in Vadim’s Barbarella) while riding horses, staring at tapestries, and engaging in orgies that “must give TV censors fits”; unfortunately, it’s a real snooze. Next is a slightly more compelling but still disappointing episode — directed by Louis Malle — “about a sadist… who keeps seeing his moral counterpart, a lookalike named William Wilson”. Peary argues it is “poorly dubbed, unnecessarily vicious, and, surprisingly, contains no surprises”; its most memorable (if squeamishly disturbing) sequence involves Brigitte Bardot as “a cigar-smoking brunette who loses to the cheating Wilson at cards and must submit to his beating”.

Peary writes that “the most praised episode is Federico Fellini’s ‘Never Bet the Devil Your Head’, starring Terence Stamp as a booze-soaked, self-loathing American actor [Toby Dammit] who has come to Italy to make a moralistic western about redemption”, and “encounters Fellini’s usual array of grotesque movie- and press-types and the devil — a little blonde girl who keeps turning up in creepy settings”. He argues that while Fellini’s story is “too long and self-consciously arty”, “at least its violent ending… is carried out in an original manner”. Most other critics give Fellini’s short film even greater due, with DVD Savant (for instance) noting that “for once, a critique of showbiz goes beyond the obvious representations of phoniness and insincerity, and takes the extra step into insanity.” Indeed, this final episode — a deliciously surreal satire with a relentless pace and consistently jarring imagery — at least partially redeems the entire film. But as a whole, Spirits of the Dead remains an unpleasant outing that is more of a curiosity than essential viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Claude Renoir’s cinematography in “Metzengerstein”
    Spirits of the Dead Cinematography
  • Terence Stamp as Toby Dammit
    Spirits of the Dead Stamp
  • Typically surreal imagery by Fellini
    Spirits of the Dead Fellini2
    Spirits of the Dead Fellini

Must See?
No, though you may be curious to check out the third story.

Links:

Christiane F. (1981)

Christiane F. (1981)

“Look at them: the cooler they are, the more shots they’ve had.”

Christiane F. Poster

Synopsis:
A neglected teen (Natja Brunckhorst) in 1970s Berlin is drawn by her new boyfriend (Thomas Haustein) into a subculture of heroin use and prostitution.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “controversial, grueling film” — “based on actual transcripts” — is “not as exploitative as you might have heard, but just as depressing”. He notes that it is “extremely graphic, unrelenting in its grimness, [and] believable” — and while it’s “obviously not for all tastes”, it “stays in memory”. Despite presenting drug culture as a no-man’s-land of desperation and debasement, the film became (and remains) a cult hit — due in part to an extended cameo concert appearance by David Bowie. What’s most impressive about the film (which is indeed a grueling, over-long viewing experience) is how authentically it portrays the gradual, almost inevitable allure of drugs to young teens seeking social approval and a sense of community. Christiane is a spunky girl, and resists heroin numerous times until she finally decides to “just try it” — first snorting, then injecting, always insisting she won’t let herself lose control, even as she gradually compromises her morals to earn money for drugs. She and her boyfriend — in perhaps the film’s most infamous scene — go through a harrowing withdrawal (rivaling that in Trainspotting), but they immediately relapse, and witness several of their street friends dying. Sadly, the real “Christiane F.” — who outed herself at an early age to help promote the film — remained an addict her entire life, and noted in a 2013 interview that while she was near death due to poor health, she had no plans to change her lifestyle.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Natja Brunckhorst as Christiane
    Christiane F Brunckhorst
  • An appropriately seedy view of drug addiction
    Christiane F Seaminess2
  • Jurgen Knieper’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

Links:

Freud (1962)

Freud (1962)

“Leave to the night what belongs to the night.”

Freud Poster

Synopsis:
Young Sigmund Freud (Montgomery Clift) — mentored by father-figure Dr. Joseph Breuer (Larry Parks) — develops his controversial psychoanalytical theory while caring for a variety of mentally ill patients, including a hysterical woman unable to walk or drink water (Susannah York).

Genres:

Review:
Considered by many to be a flawed if interesting failure, John Huston’s condensed tale of Freud’s evolution as a theorist and practitioner in the nascent field of psychoanalysis tells a surprisingly taut mystery story, one grounded in the ever-elusive search for traumatic origins. Through an exploration of Freud’s interactions with several strategically constructed hysterical patients — interwoven with potent flashbacks from Freud’s own dreams and past — we understand how he came to develop, one insight at a time, his highly controversial theories of repression and neurosis. Because so much has been (and continues to be) learned about psychology and the unconscious, it’s easy to dismiss Freud’s valuable contributions to the early field of psychotherapy; yet Huston’s biopic is less an adulation of Freud (who comes across as appropriately neurotic) than an exploration of how wide-reaching theories evolve and face criticism within a certain era and social milieu.

Grounding the film are strong central performances by Clift and Susannah York, as well as wonderfully atmospheric cinematography (by Douglas Slocombe) and creative direction. The flashback scenes, while occasionally contrived, appropriately convey the panic and confusion often felt in one’s dreams and in the slippery memories of childhood. The literate script, though talky, is surprisingly absorbing; according to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review in The Chicago Reader, the film was actually “scripted mainly by Jean-Paul Sartre”, who “withdrew his name from the project after his second draft — which would have made a much longer film — was radically condensed”. Keeping in mind that biopics can never fully or adequately cover the scope of a famous individual’s life, Freud nonetheless remains a worthy entry in our understanding of this controversial figure.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Montgomery Clift as Freud
    Freud Clift
  • Susannah York as Cecily
    Freud York
  • Highly effective b&w cinematography by Douglas Slocombe
    Freud Cinematography2
    Freud Cinematography1
  • Masterful direction
    Freud Direction2
    Freud Direction
  • A smart script:

    “Hysteria is another name for lying; pity there’s no therapy for that.”
    “Hail Sigmund Freud — the conquering hero of neurosis!”
    “I know why you’re attracted to other people’s madness: because it makes you forget your own!”
    “Angels and saints slay dragons; I’m neither.”

Must See?
Yes, as an unusual and compelling psychological thriller by a master filmmaker.

Categories

Links:

Bride of the Gorilla (1951)

Bride of the Gorilla (1951)

“Aren’t we all slaves?”

Bride of the Gorilla Poster

Synopsis:
A doctor (Tom Conway) and a hot-headed overseer (Raymond Burr) lust after the beautiful wife (Barbara Payton) of a plantation owner (Paul Cavanaugh), while a native servant (Carol Varga) pines for Burr. When Burr arranges to have Cavanaugh killed by a poisonous snake, a local witch (Gisela Werisbek) places a curse on him, complicating his goal of running away with Payton.

Genres:

Review:
The primary reason to check out this Z-grade jungle plantation love quadrangle is Raymond Burr — who, it turns out, had quite a lengthy career before landing his iconic role as TV’s Perry Mason in 1957. Burr is appropriately virile, menacing, and tortured as the beefy hunk Payton longs to run away with. (The poor thing really had no choice in the matter: “A woman buried in a place like this?! You must understand if she gets a bit mixed up.”) The cinematography is effective, and there is some camp value to be found in the pedantically solemn dialogue:

“White people shouldn’t live too long in the jungle. It brings out their bad side — their jealousies, impatience.”
“Every couple isn’t a pair.”
“I, too, am not clever… But I know where to find wisdom.”

But as DVD Savant notes in his review, “anyone who read the script and signed on had to be in denial, or totally unaware that writer-director Curt Siodmak’s bizarre jungle story was a Career Choice of No Return”. Watch White Cargo (1942) instead if you’re in the mood for this kind of steamy exploitation flick.

P.S. Note that Lon Chaney Jr. and Woody Strode hover around the periphery of this film as a police commissioner and his deputy.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Raymond Burr as Barney Chavez
    Bride of Gorilla Burr
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Bride of Gorilla Cinematography

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one unless you’re a diehard Burr fan. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

Links: