Monday, March 4, 2013

Top ten: 040313

Network: No one ever speaks as eloquently as these characters, regardless of education and class position. The reason you don't care is that these highly literate speeches are being delivered by one of the best casts ever assembled. Now add an accurate prediction of the future of public media and corporate volatility that felt fresh thirty years after release and you have satire that kills.

Night of the Living Dead: Made for about five dollars with local theatre and tv commercial cast and crew, Night rewrote the zombie movie by removing the magic and just presenting the threat. The living dead. Yes, but also ourselves who will be joining them. As powerful and important to American independent cinema as anything by Cassavettes or Brakhage.


Deep Red: While this wasn't Argento's final giallo it remains the point to which he took the still youthful crime genre to heights of design and plot contrivance clearly indicated by the originals by Bava et al in the 60s. It's a kind of apotheosis. David Hemmings plays a British composer working in Rome who witnesses a horrific murder and runs to the crime scene. He is too late but he is committed to solving the crime. Teaming up with crime journalist played by Daria Niccolodi he goes on an ever more intriguing journey into mystery. A mix of Elizabethan invention (I can only think of one case in an Argento movie in which someone is killed with a bullet; mostly its blades or glass shards or whatever you don't want to see lying around the house used fatally) and high baroque style with the lights off, Deep Red is a masterpiece.

Eraserhead: Worlds from daydreams are often pleasant places and those created in attempts to mask the real life fears of their protagonists characteristically involve a redemption narrative arc. Until Eraserhead you had to go to someone like Tarkovsky or Jodorowski for alternatives to this, individualist auteurs from the DNA up. With Eraserhead this lonely stage had one more figure and appropriately he, like they, didn't look like any of the others.

The Eye: Took a currently popular meme from the massive American hit The Sixth Sense and outdid it by making it scarier AND providing so much new material and different narrative currents that it - bizarrely - was one of the first American remakes of an Asian horror hit in the 2000s. Angelica Lee carries the weight of a difficult role that requires her to not quite see what we can and still feel it. I used to dislike the big Hollywood action movie ending but repeat views showed me a lot more in the silent coda than I'd first noticed. The output of the Pang brothers has been patchy but they always put something in there that has never occured to their audiences before.

Trust: The '90s indy boom was by no means the last time American movies could have literary qualities that were neither dusty nor overwhimsical but solid and rewarding but this was the era were this quality could be expected. Like everything it was waterlogged by copying error by its final act but this from its peaks of achievement blended an antisentimentality with carefully observed behaviour and some of the hardest edged intellectual dialogue imaginable in context. And it was funny and when it wasn't funny it was poignant. Actually, Trust was as good as the era's best song lyrics.

The Haunting: Any film that could make us listen intently to Julie Harris rather than look at Claire Bloom has something. As always, wrap your scares around tragedy and no one will resent you for the time taken in unpacking. Citizen Kane and Val Lewton alumnus, Robert Wise would go on to The Sound of Music and more beyond that but this is like a childhood present I need to have around.

Audition: Begins like a slightly iffy rom com but turns into your life's worst dental appointment. From dodgy to edgy before you know it. This is how to make a crazy stalker movie without the morally timorous endings of things like Fatal Attraction or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. No one in this film gets away scott free. When I saw it at the Lumiere while still a new release the audience of the small cinema looked at each other as the lights came up as though making sure we'd all gone through the same thing.

Rollerball: In the future there will be no wars but there will be rollerball. This clever satire on the corporatisation of sport (along with the rest of society) and the commodification of its stars (top dog Jonathon E comes home after a particular victory to find a fresh new trophy wife almost wrapped in a bow with a card from the company. Also, what a great action movie. This is what the 70s could do without a single ironic wink.

Stalker: This wish story is as earthy as a folktale but as refined and weird as a sci-fi or religious story. A great literary adaptation as it forms a companion to rather than a cinematic masking of the source novel (see also Naked Lunch). Tarkovsky once suggested that he, like Robert Bresson, didn't not emulate the world through film but created his own. And Stalker, like Eraserhead or Mouchette gives the sense of witnessing someone else's dream as it is happening.

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