In the last decade Laird has worked for movie theatres and video stores, including the wonderful Scarecrow Video where he still can be found from time to time, and when not making making music for friends' comedy videos, he works for a film and comic book archive. He also started the Our Movie Is Like That Movie blog conceived with Tommy Swenson (Badass Digest/Alamo Drafthouse) about those wonderful movies that gleefully and shamelessly wear their influences on their sleeves. He's written reviews for a few local publications and for the Scarecrow Video blog, where his proudest achievements are the list of Inglourious Basterds references and the Klaus Kinski gallery.
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In Pierot le Fou Sam Fuller has the often cited quote: “Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word: emotion.” That one word could just as easily be, “Napoleon.” Abel Gance’s once lost and, therefore, under seen and under appreciated historic epic is as all encompassing a cinematic experience as one could ever wish for. In the snowball fight sequence alone Gance invents shaky-cam action and perfects the now all too common biopic cliché “event that the viewers will recognize as important in shaping the famous person the child will eventually become.” In other sections the camera is attached to a swinging pendulum or mounted to firing cannons. Images are cut, juxtaposed, and double exposed like 20s avante-garde cinema, yet here they are in the service of an epic, but otherwise traditional narrative. Radical style aside, it’s also an extremely entertaining ride, even at the nearly 6 hours at which the most complete cut clocks in. The passion, obsession, and palpable sense of destiny drew me in and made me want to stand and scream the Marseilles at the top of my lungs as the screen tripled in size for the grandest, most cinematic finale I have ever seen. In one word: spectacle. The story of Gance’s rise and fall and film historian Kevin Brownlow’s restoration of Napoleon are epic tales of their own. Hopefully increased attention will generate more screenings in the US and an eventual home video release of the longest cut(s). I was lucky enough to see this in an art deco movie palace with a live symphony orchestra, surrounded by some of my best friends in the world, so your mileage may vary. In any case, I would not be surprised if this one creeps into more “top 10 of all time” lists as it becomes more accessible.
This unrelentingly bleak British television production documents its doomed characters with the cold eyes of a procedural in the tense moments leading up to a nuclear war. Some people go about their daily lives, while others futilely attempt to follow bureaucratically delineated, step-by-step defense measures for surviving a nuclear attack. Spoiler: they’re all fucked anyway. If you’re willing to invest in the drama, the grueling post-nuclear apocalypse half of the movie has the ability to ruin your day or maybe even your week. Make it a triple feature with its American equivalent, The Day After and When the Wind Blows, and you will learn to start worrying about the bomb.
These Are The Damned (1963)
Watch it cold if you can, because even slight descriptions could take away the fun of watching it spiral away from any conventional genre you may try and peg it as falling under. A more sci-fi approach to dealing with nuclear neurosis than Threads, this Hammer produced, Joseph Losey directed, Oliver Reed starring oddity, ostensibly about “dangerous youth,” slow burns its way to a shocking conclusion. Anti-war, anti-institution, anti-establishment, pro-youth drama is rarely this entertaining and populist. No hippie dogma or counter-culture chic here, just young Oliver Reed at his most intense and a paranoid, cynical world view. Won’t somebody please think of the children!
Deep End (1970)
A teenager takes a job at a bath house, becomes obsessed with his sexy co-worker, eats a bunch of hot dogs while walking around a red light district, and learns a few harsh lessons about sex and adult relationships. It’s tragic and funny, like watching someone’s awkward transformation from child to sexually aware adult in fast forward, like seeing the thin line between puppy love and creepy, sexual obsession ignorantly crossed…basically, like being a teenager. Shot with a mix of styles and a colorful palette, and probably a huge influence on Wes Anderson (if it wasn’t, there’s certainly a similarity in use of color and choice of theme).
Conspirators of Pleasure (1996)
Czech director Jan Svankmajer’s feature length declaration of Bart Simpson’s co-opted mantra, “if it feels good, do it!” Different people are shown in vignettes practicing absurd fetishistic rituals that are all “sensual” in a very literal…uh… sense. The way Svankmajer films fluids and textures, especially with exaggerated sound effects, is ludicrously evocative. The dipping of an eyebrow brush into a bottle of eyeliner looks and sounds wet. He’s really a master at making tactile that which you can only see and hear. I wouldn’t call this an “art” film, though. Surreal comedy, yes, unless you don’t think a woman getting off by having fish nibble her toes is funny. It’s weird, but by the end the various transgressors seem more sweet and human than perverse or threatening.
Top Line (1988)
I love finding movies that are either unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or that express their makers’ identity in a unique manner. I also love tracing family trees in movies that are highly referential or derivative. Folks who get into auteur theory will look at how their chosen director expresses him/herself through an established genre. After the 70s, certain blockbusters movies became very specific subgenres all onto themselves (Jaws, Star Wars, etc). So, what a better test for unique expression than to see how a director or a group of directors from a specific country handle extremely familiar material? Top Line is the best Cold War Indiana Jones/Terminator/Alien knock-off directed by an Italian you’ll ever see. And yet with all those familiar touchstones, or perhaps because there’s so many of them, it’s unlike any other movie.
Years of hearing this movie maligned and my disinterest in most things “vampire” prevented me from seeing this sooner. I kind of wish I had (and not just because there’s an incredibly attractive and, for much of her screen time, very naked actress in it): It’s not at all the train wreck you’d think it would be based on some descriptions, and it’s more of a throwback to British sci-fi like Queen of Blood or the Quatermass stories than anything remotely traditional vampire. It’s paranoid and apocalyptic; a body snatcher lark with mind-blowing horror effects, non-chalant sadism, and an ensemble of talented character actors, some of whom explode before the movie’s over.
Nuits Rouge (1974)
I was inspired to watch this by Holy Motors citation of Franju in general and (maybe) a specific nod to the red-hooded menace who wreaks havoc on a very artificial, set-bound stand-in for Paris in Nuits Rouges. I was not expecting to find such a thrilling masterpiece of European crime cinema. Franju assembles a “best of” list of elements from European crime and American action serials in the way one might assemble a “supercut.” There are numerous break-ins to steal priceless objects, hidden doorways, a secret society that guards a treasure, zombie assassins, and masked henchmen toiling away for a master-of-disguise supervillain whose identity is so liquid he is only ever referred to as the “man without a face.” I’m almost jumping up and down just thinking about how awesome this movie is. The plot is so convoluted and scene/mood changes are so abrupt that the experience is not unlike having a dream. On the extra features of the DVD I watched, the writer calls this glut of homage “gentle parody” and has some very pragmatic explanations for the odd pace. The results of happy accident or not, this dry, French cousin to Italy’s campy, action-packed Diabolik is one I will come back to hoping for a similar viewing experience. Viva supervillains!
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
This has to be the best American, anti-war movie (Come and See, would be my pick for the best). The structure is more like HBO’s Band of Brothers than other war movies in that it follows a large group of soldiers, but the “main characters” are only slowly isolated from the pack throughout the course of the film. Plus, it’s fairly episodic: the story is broken out into sequences that follow each other chronologically, but not necessarily dramatically. There’s no action or adventure: the fighting is spectacularly filmed, but as a chaotic mess of explosions, death and terror. So powerful are the images and ideas that you could take many of the sequences and show them alone as short films. You’ll immediately see the influence on contemporary war movies, and if you’re human, you’ll probably wish that nobody ever did, or ever will, have to fight in a war.
Jack the Giant Killer (1962)
Insanely entertaining children’s fantasy with wonderful costumes, cool Harryhausen-esque stop-motion animation, and myriad other analog delights. The humor is goofy, but some of the monsters and phantasms are pretty creepy. This is the kind of light, breezy fantasy delight that fed into Star Wars (it’s about a farm-boy who finds himself on an adventure to save a princess), was extremely common in the past, but is apparently impossible to recreate now as it is neither based on an existing property nor the beginning of a franchise, nor 3 hours of the most expensive effects money can buy. It’s just fun.
Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966)
George Kuchar’s self referential short represents everything that is wonderful about his art. It’s lightly perverse, deadpan comedic, exaggeratedly melodramatic, and focuses on a very confused, troubled character. He beats David Lynch by nearly 20 years in using a noticeably fake bird in an extremely emotional scene, obliterating the line between sincerity and artifice. Nobody made movies like the Kuchars.
The Movie Orgy (1968)
Joe Dante’s sliced and diced clip reel is a whirlwind of campy movies and pop culture detritus that preempts similar pop culture remix endeavors such as TV Carnage and Everything is Terrible. It was ever changing as he toured it around college towns (under the sponsorship of Schlitz ) throughout the late 60s and early 70s. It was suggested that viewers could come and go while it played, but I sat through the entire 4 and half hour cut that survives, loving every second of it.
Bullet for the General
Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
More recent stuff I saw this year for the first time and loved:
House of Pleasures (2011)
The Woman (2011)
Great stuff I saw thanks to recommendations:
Siege (thanks to Paul Corupe’s list of VHS Gems -http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2012/08/vhs-gems-guest-post-paul-corupe.html)
Appointment with Fear (thanks to Dan Budnik’s list of 2011 discoveries at Bleeding Skull http://www.bleedingskull.com/features/dan11.html)
Burn Witch Burn (thanks to @dissolvedpet on Twitter)
War of the Gargantuas (1966)
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