Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in Review: Top 30 Discoveries

In the name of posterity here are my favorite 30 film 'discoveries' of the year. For scale, I watched roughly 200 films this year. I'm not crazy about the idea of ranking such diverse cinematic experiences, so I wouldn't take the numbers too seriously, but the three tiers more or less represent the memorability of these films for me. I've ranked them based on how persistent they are in my thoughts and how much their affective qualities linger within me. And also something or other about shaping my views of cinema. Happy New Year!

1. The Quiet Man + Donovan’s Reef (John Ford, 1952 + 1963)
2. Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947)
3. The Chameleon (John Leslie, 1989)
4. California Company Town (Lee Anne Schmitt, 2008)
5. Seeking the Monkey King (Ken Jacobs, 2011)
6. Sparrow (Johnnie To, 2008)
7. Real (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2013)
8. Duelle (Jacques Rivette, 1976)
9. Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 1946)
10. Manhattan Baby (Lucio Fulci, 1982)

11. Princess Yang Kwei Fei (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1955)
12. The River (Jean Renoir, 1951)
13. Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008)
14. Spies (Fritz Lang, 1928)
15. The Opening of Misty Beethoven (Radley Metzger, 1976)
16. Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese, 1991)
17. God Told Me To (Larry Cohen, 1976)
18. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (Hiyao Miyazaki, 1979)
19. The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)
20. The Mummy (Terence Fisher, 1959)

21. The Yakuza Papers (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973-1974)
22. Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)
23. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974)
24. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949)
25. Matango (Ishiro Honda, 1963)
26. Description of a Struggle (Chris Marker, 1960)
27. Winchester ’73 (Anthony Mann, 1950)
28. A Hero Never Dies (Johnnie To, 1998)
29. Q: The Winged Serpent (Larry Cohen, 1982)
30. I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like (Bill Viola, 1986)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Peaches and Cream (1981)

dir. Robert McCallum (Gary Graver)

From the jump drive inserted into my bluray player I conjured the pulsating images of a compressed AVI file, diligently ripped from a rare VHS tape by a collector. This film is brought to you by the digital monks of The Order of the Low Cultural Texts. PEACHES AND CREAM appears on the screen, sandwiched by two vertical black bars, formatting the square image. The title is a non-sequitur; I can’t recall that it references anything whatsoever other than evoking genitals and fluids. A woman named Sunny, played by Annette Haven, sits on a couch at what looks like a swinger’s party. She’s deep in thought and the next cut makes this a memoryfilm. We’re back on the farm. Its Murnau’s CITY GIRL by way of 70’s Malick, if he used the saccharine theme from LOVE STORY, but only until the drunk stepfather stumbles out and opens his mouth. Fumbling through a performance that recalls film school acting classes: acting tough in scenarios you’ve never experienced but the kind that prestige films adore. It just might have worked too, if not for those damn shot-reverse-shots, which really accentuate the limitations of the performances. Thankfully, this is only a staple of the farm scenes and a much needed stylization emerges in The Big City parts.

The pigtailed Cinderella (Haven) leaves her wicked stepfather for a nice young man in an old pickup truck who takes her to a romantic field where god bless him he can’t fuck to save his life. Through the haze of compression-flattened colors the farm boy slobbers Haven’s nipples. It has the kind of prolongation that suggests the inexperienced hesitation of a first high school fuck. Their bronze skin blends with the golden wheat; their body’s sinewy, muscle striations visible under the toned flesh of their golden bodies, even through the fog of a low quality format transfer. He fumbles with a condom. They make love. A spurt of semen and we fold time back to the present: the swinger party.

A room full of paintings: Picasso for sure, maybe that’s a Wyeth. It looks like CHRISTINA'S WORLD, but without Christina. Perhaps the pixilation acts as a kind of techno-camouflage of the sort found in Hideo Kojima games. Wide-tied business types talk business, deep necklines hint at breasts and it’s still unclear what this function is. The crowd, who I’d thought would be deep in the throes of a group-grope by now, remains seated on sofas and standing against the walls. Cue the casual racism: two black women enter the room (one being the onscreen debut of Sparky Vasc), both tall, thin, greased up, and butt naked. They move to the sound of drums, the kind whose audio file would be titled “tribal dance.” Another trope of the Golden Age, black bodies and rhythmic drums and white audiences watching them move (for further reference catch BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR). They perform for the crowd: gyrating, grinding on each others bodies, rubbing nipples and labia. Like the farmfuckinthewheat their bodies are sinewy; their musculature the real object of desire. Eventually their routine ends and a horny oil executive chases after them, possibly the sire of Will Forte. Their ensuing three way is rapid, cut like an assemblage of coverage and scored to a more cosmopolitan sound of a funk bass line, disco strings, and Pink Floyd synthesizers. All the music sounds vaguely like something I’ve heard before, but can’t quite put my finger on it.

This is where my memory of the memoryfilm fails me—blame the two gin and lime La Croix that I poured down my gullet while my cat Butch and I swayed to the video file’s pulsating rhythms. At some point we learn that Sunny is now a high class call girl – Ah, I remember! First we witness another moment of casual racism as Sunny drives up on a black male pimp assaulting a poor white waif blockaded inside of a telephone booth. You know the scene: “give me my money!” and other top hits of jive stereotypes from the 70s. Order now. The pimp tires and walks off into the night, never to be seen from again, and Sunny takes the Street Walker in. She rescues her by bringing her the fold of a kinder, whiter pimp, a real hipster in the classic definition of the term. A white guy jazz aficionado. A racial poseur. He’s a real character too—next to the oil execs this is starting to feel like a Paul Thomas Anderson film about The Decade: arthouse patience and comic book figures. The meditating jazz pimp takes the Street Walker in after looking over her tits and pontificating about percussion.

We start moving around a lot. Sunny and the Street Walker share an apartment and a bed. We get a brief glimpse of them caressing and going down on each other. We're at a therapists office—a another favorite scenario of Golden Age films, but here there’s a clever twist. After Sunny confesses her attraction to the Street Walker’s dependence on her, the shrink says “gee it’s great to talk about you for a change” and pulls out his cock. She sucks him off and cups the semen in her hand. As it begins to dribble we jump forward again and the memoryfilm begins to play like its missing some scenes; a little connective tissue here and there. Sunny returns to the farm and to the weak acting and clunky shot-reverse-shot blocking. In a frame ripped out of one of those Post-Kubrick linearity obsessives she’s facing off with a smarmy porn producer, bathed in red a la the Sam Fuller Party from PIERROT LE FOU and his latest dirty picture is projected directly behind them. A frame within a frame. As a rule of thumb, the porn within a porn is usually bad, poorly lit mechanical pumping. It's all very meta. She’s on a beach with Jazz Pimp. They go their separate ways. Back at the apartment the Street Walker is working a john, some blond haired Euro type. She tells him how hard his cock is and he seems to like the reassurance. We watch this play out for a moment until Sunny slips in, all covert like, and even lays on the bed without their taking notice. They all fuck and the film ends. The lucid memories, the rescued Street Walker, the oil execs and the jazz pimp, the wicked stepfather died by the way and possibly raped Sunny (it's not clear), they all vanish back into the compressed file like a genie in lamp. Something is missing and I wonder if I pirated the full version. Is this the entire film? The “A+ Golden Age Classic” I was lead to believe? Imperfect memory is an uncertain download. Gaps in the narrative remain, but the brief glimpse of the oil office stands clear. Images that I have seen before.