Forget all that, though. At the risk of sounding solipsistic, we've got bigger fish to fry...
FILM FREAK CENTRAL actually crossed the first-decade threshold a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to hold the announcement until I had the stamina to pay a proper tribute.
To mark this occasion, all of us here at FFC--Walter Chaw, Travis Mackenzie Hoover, Alex Jackson, Ian Pugh, and yours truly--have compiled a Top 10 list of our own devising. A new one will surface every couple of days here at the Blog, with mine, the most self-indulgent, coming last. As always, we invite you to critique these lists, suggest alternatives, and just generally do your blog thang.
First up: Alex Jackson with a subject close to my own heart. Take it away, Alex!-Bill Chambers
When it was first on Showtime, my dad recorded Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure for me and caught the end credits of this film, which depicted a British street performer dancing on the boardwalk. I watched this for years before my curiosity got the better of me and I did a reverse-lookup of the title on the Internet Movie Database using the name of one of the cast members. The picture is a breezy but bittersweet coming-of-age story about a sassy teenage girl who rebels against her deadening working-class existence with sex and becomes pregnant by the town's middle-aged projectionist--a friend, as it happens, of her judgmental and overbearing father. Wish You Were Here is very funny, very peppy, and very brutal in a way that doesn't cancel out the funny or the peppy.
It's a little fatty and drags in spots, but who can forget that glue-huffing sequence with little Pixote? Or the last shot at the train tracks? Or the iconic kiss with the prostitute? The fattiness is necessary, in a sense. Given a little room to breathe, sensational material becomes natural, normal, and real. Walter accurately labelled City of God "Quentin Tarantino's Schindler's List." One need only refer back to Pixote for that film's good doppelgänger.
I've been an advocate for Children of the Corn for a while now. To be honest, the script is pretty bad; the dialogue is filled with howlers; there's the it's-just-a-dream-cliché and the woman who gets out of the car when her man told her not to cliché; and everything ends with a big explosion to help out the guys cutting the TV spots. But there's something in the air. Low-budget horror had a different feel in the early-'80s; Children of the Corn lacks the slick sheen you encounter even in films like House of the Dead. This thing is sparse, quiet, and deadening. And it plays on our fears of the Bible Belt very powerfully, more so than any movie I've yet seen. I find Children of the Corn to be much more frightening than Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and I think that can be traced back to the fact that the monsters here are all children. If they're children, what they're doing can't be dismissed as the happenings of one lone band of psychos. It has to run deeper.
It's the first segment of the prestigious anthology New York Stories and is unfortunately the only thing of real value in that film. Life Lessons is as good as anything in the Scorsese canon. I may be revealing my inexperience in saying so, but a sequence where artist Nick Nolte paints on his canvas through a series of rapid dissolves so that it looks like there are several of him working at the same time has to be one of the freshest uses of the cinematic medium I have ever seen. This is a true master at work.
I know that Alan Clarke has gotten a lot of love around these parts and apparently those serious about film have known about him for years. I heard a little bit about Made in Britain from Roger Ebert's near-pan of American History X and from interviews with Gummo director Harmony Korine, who cites Clarke as a major influence. But to be honest, I wasn't really aware of the guy until FFC reviewed a box set of his work. Made in Britain is one of the great juvenile delinquent movies. The script (by David Leland, the writer-director of Wish You Were Here) is brilliant in making the protagonist (Tim Roth) a neo-Nazi. That single decision renders him more morally ambiguous than the working-class heroes who populate a film like Brassed Off and yet more sympathetic than the rebels-without-a-cause who populate our more class-unconscious American films. It's darkly funny, too; I love the moment where the mentally-retarded black kid who gets in trouble because he always follows the crowd participates in a hate crime with Roth.
A very recent discovery for me and I kind of want to get the word out. All the materials seem to be there: a literate script by Paul Schrader; icy, dispassionate direction by Peter Weir; and a flashy but brilliant performance by Harrison Ford. Yet the film never quite caught on like it should've. Believe it or not, the cult that's formed around it on video consists largely of teenage girls lusting after Ford's co-star River Phoenix! The Mosquito Coast has two of my favourite ideas for a movie: the intellectual who argues himself outside of the human race, and the teenage boy who gradually realizes that his father, who had been the centre of the universe as he knows it, is batshit insane. The film is about nothing less than a failed god figure, a notion that has the precisely right blend of the romantic and the cynical. Plus, check out the cameo by the great Butterfly McQueen!
It's the rare film adaptation of a classic novel that does the source material justice, and quite surprisingly most who've seen it tend to agree. If only more people would see it! The filmmakers appear to have read the book and understood Orwell's thesis that the key to maintaining the totalitarian government is in keeping everybody perpetually miserable. The film is wonderfully grungy and hauntingly ugly--and with the great John Hurt as Winston Smith, it avoids making heroes of the patently anti-heroic. Embarrassingly, the story remains topical today. The idea that we shouldn't criticize our government in a time of war is regularly presented sans irony by talk-show pundits who fail to understand that if we don't criticize our government in a time of war, the government can forgo ever being criticized by always being at war!
Other than maybe home movies shot in Super8, I don't believe there is anything I love more in a movie than lip-synching. I never saw the Dennis Potter miniseries this is based on, but from the sounds of things the miniseries likes its characters whereas the feature film (also scripted by Potter) despises them--it really doesn't paint a very optimistic picture of human nature. Pennies from Heaven is sort of an anti-musical, a subversive take on the polluted gender dynamics that populated the Busby Berkeley and Fred and Ginger musicals of the 1930s. When a heart-shaped iris wipe closes out what is unquestionably the rape of Bernadette Peters, the entire genre is violated along with her. This is a work of pure cinema with a heart that is four sizes too small. It uses sarcasm and escapism as a weapon and is nothing short of a masterpiece of audience abuse.
Like The Mosquito Coast, Parents is a film about a kid who discovers that his mother and father, the centre of his universe, are nuts. In fact, they're cannibals--but the movie is also about incest, in a disguised form. It sexualizes cannibalism and Mom and Dad want their boy to be a cannibal like them. Moreover, it's about the fear of disappointing your parents. The kid doesn't overtly reject his parents' values; he's just a kid, he doesn't know what's going on. This important fact helps raise the film above the level of an easy attack on 1950s suburbia and into some sort of gonzo, left-of-centre masterpiece.
The titular Christiane F. is a fifteen-year old girl in Berlin who is a huge David Bowie fan, and to fit in with the older and more sophisticated crowd she tries heroin. (Or "H" as they like to refer to it.) The film is perhaps the most brutal Afterschool Special ever made. Once she's addicted, Christiane gives handjobs to older men to support her habit. She and her boyfriend decide they're going to go cold turkey and fight over one last fix to keep themselves going. We see her nude, vomiting, going through withdrawal, and yet, not only does the actress portraying Christiane (Natja Brunckhorst) actually look fifteen, but the film is also told through a teenager's sensibility: it's naïve, romantic, and a little bit stupid. It even ends with Bowie's "Heroes"! The tone clashes with the images that we're seeing and that seems to be precisely the point. Christiane F. is so authentic from an emotional standpoint that it's jarring and difficult to take.