Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ex-Video Store Employee Picks - Jack Criddle

Jack Criddle is a filmmaker, video editor and cinephile based in Brooklyn. His senior thesis film at City College was a short biographical documentary about 1930’s sleaze director Dwain Esper. He has since produced promotional videos for the Massachussetts Museum of Contemporary Art and stained glass artist Debora Coombs. Some of his work can be seen here: http://www.vimeo.com/jackcriddle


 “I worked for roughly a year at the small, independent video store Cinema Nolita, at 178 Mulberry Street in Manhattan. A cozy and inviting little island of cinephillia if there ever was one, with tapes grouped by country of origin and alphabetized according to director’s surname. Eleonore Hendricks (‘Daddy Longlegs,’ ‘A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints’ actress) worked there, and Abel Ferrara used to pop in often to hunt for out-of-print Italian Neorealist tapes. A group of sharp-looking movie fanatics could almost always be found hanging out on the couches and chairs by the window, bringing with them their lunch from one of Soho’s nearby takeout places, and discussing their favorite Sam Fuller or Harmony Korine films. 

 Unfortunately, like so many other video-rental places in New York, Cinema Nolita fell victim to dwindling customers due to the rise of Netflix and the ongoing gentrification of Soho and Little Italy. It closed its doors for the last time in 2009. But it was a great time while it lasted. Here are some of the selections from my Employee Picks section."


 Ravenous (1999, Antonia Bird)
My high school friends and I considered this something of a secret handshake movie. I’m not sure if it’s that well known, but it should be. It’s a wonderfully, blackly comic horror-western film. The relationship between Robert Carlyle’s dandyish cannibal and Guy Pearce’s tortured, cowardly hero soldier is similar to that of Lestat and Louis in ‘Interview with the Vampire,’ although this film is funnier and bloodier, with killings set to zany fiddle music. My first day of working at Cinema Nolita, I made a point of finding this DVD and putting it with my Employee Picks.


 The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, Frank Tashlin)
Maybe my favorite comic musical – maybe. Jayne Mansfield is hilarious and gorgeous. Tom Ewell, the schubby guy from ‘The Seven Year Itch,’ is a great straight man, and Edmond O’Brien is clearly having a great time sending up his tough-guy persona. (And singing. Yeeowch.) The movie works as both a send-up of and a tribute to early rock and roll – director Tashlin allegedly didn’t care for the ‘kids’ music,’ but his background as a Looney Tunes animator perfectly suited him to orchestrate the visual gags and rapid-fire comedy to compliment performances from Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran and others.


 The Flesh Eaters (1964, Jack Curtis)
I really love horror movies from the early sixties, when filmmakers started pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in terms of sex and violence. The genre moved away from the gothic fairytales of the Universal model, and later, the atom age’s fear of commies, bombs, and giant monsters, into territory a lot more gritty, strange, and morally murky. Jack Curtis was best known as the voice actor who played Racer X and Inspector Detector on ‘Speed Racer.’ This was the only film he directed, which is a damn shame. A bickering assortment of characters crash on a desert island where escape seems to be impossible due to the titular creatures in the water. The budget of this film wouldn’t cover the catering tab of a movie today, yet it has a relentlessly eerie aesthetic and a Sartre’s ‘No Exit’ atmosphere that is hard to shake.


 Blast of Silence (1961, Alan Barron)
Criterion released this title some time back, but before then it was something of a lost film. I saw it at Anthology Film Archives shortly after moving to New York in 2006, and was delighted to discover that Cinema Nolita had a bootleg copy they had most likely acquired from a grey-market internet dealer. The central character is a miserable hitman who is forced to spend a few days in New York during the Christmas season as he waits for his target. I highly recommend it as cinematic therapy to anyone who has a hard time getting into the spirit of Yuletide cheer.


Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003, Joe Dante)
I’m not at all trying to be pretentious or contrarian when I say that Joe Dante is an American Godard – one of our greatest subversive, cinephillic genius directors, and it’s too bad that we don’t appreciate him as such. His ultimate tribute to the characters who inspired so much of his work is a self-reflexive treat for movie lovers – almost a family-friendly ‘Inglourious Basterds.’ Dante can’t resist biting the hand that feeds him here, as a good chunk of the movie skewers Big Hollywood’s commercialization and commodification of the Looney Tunes. There is also a fight in Area 51 between Bugs, Daffy, Robby the Robot, a Dalek, and Edgar Ulmer’s Man from Planet X, and a chase through the paintings in the Louvre that is worthy of anything produced by Termite Terrace.



 Dillinger (1973, John Milius)
One of the best things you can do to acquire social clout amongst the trendy, indie video store crowd is turn them on to a film they hadn’t heard of, made by or starring someone they champion. Case in point, Warren Oates, every cinephile’s favorite actor, in the greatest ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ knockoff ever made. Oates was usually wonderfully subdued and introspective in films like ‘Two-Lane Blacktop,’ and ‘Alfredo Garcia.’ Here he is gloriously manic and over-the-top. Ben Johnson is also great as G-Man Melvin Pervis, and the films Ken Burns-on-steroids, musical photo montages, by Braverman Productions Inc., inspired me in my own documentary work.

1 comment:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

The Girl Can't Help It is pretty good, if a bit split-personality. The rock music has nothing to do with the story, but it's really good music, so it's worth it.

Blast of Silence is pretty good too.

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