In the early seventies Hollywood studio executives began to realize there was a huge untapped market for films dealing with African-Americans, a situation made obvious by the unexpected success of Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), an action comedy based on the Chester Himes novel about two black cops, Coffin Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) and Gravedigger Jones (Godfrey Cambridge). In the ensuing rush to capture this previously ignored audience, the “blaxploitation” film was born, but the majority of these films were urban crime thrillers like Shaft (1971) and Superfly (1972). Films which attempted to explore racial issues or feature complicated black and white relationships were a rarity but one unique exception was The Landlord (1970), which was virtually ignored by the public when it opened.Continue reading
The exploitation of animals in society and the food industry, in particular, is a problem most consumers don’t want to face or consider but a protest movement against the practice is growing larger every year thanks to hard-hitting documentaries like Myriam Alaux & Victor Schonfeld’s The Animals Film (1981), Shaun Monson’s Earthlings (2005), and Robert Keener’s Food, Inc. (2008) – all of which expose the mass production of animals for food. Tackling the same subject but taking a completely different approach to it is Gunda (2020) by Russian filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky, which dispenses with voice over narration, a music score or any on-camera interviewees. Instead, it focuses a sow named Gunda and her piglets, a few chickens and some cows over a brief period on a farm before they become “products.” The concept may sound uninteresting and tedious but Gunda is not really a traditional documentary by any stretch of the imagination and the result is a completely engrossing, emotional drama with animals as its main characters.
Misery loves company, and if you are anticipating a stressful holiday season due to an unavoidable reunion with family, in-laws or friends you’d rather not see – even if it is only a Zoom meeting – then you may find a kindred spirit among the dysfunctional gathering in Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (French title: Un Conte de Noel).Continue reading
Somehow this one slipped by me. Originally released in 1995, Notes from Underground is Gary Walkow’s indie production of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella was released on DVD in 2004 but I only recently discovered it. Anchored by a riveting performance from Henry Czerny as Underground Man, this is not only an inspired re-staging of the original story for 21st century audiences but proof that Dostoyevsky’s writing and ideas are as relevant now as they were in 1864 when he published the story.Continue reading
What is it about human nature that makes men want to climb the highest mountains, explore unknown regions in search of a rumored paradise or challenge their perceptions of the world in the name of self-discovery? It is this eternal quest that drives the narrative of La Vallée (English title: The Valley, 1972), Barbet Schroeder’s second feature film after More (1969), a drug addiction drama that explores a similar theme of people who go too far in seeking ultimate experiences and sensations. Both films were made at a time when the youth culture of the late sixties was becoming more pessimistic and cynical about the hippie lifestyle. While More is a deep dive into hedonism that has the structure of a traditional drama, The Valley is a stranger affair. It combines ethnographic documentary elements with a loose storyline about a small group of hipster explorers who are intent on discovering an unexplored area on a map of Papua, New Guinea that is marked as a valley obscured by clouds.Continue reading
After recently rewatching I Shot Jesse James on DVD from Criterion’s Eclipse label, I couldn’t get a certain scene out of my head. As you may know, this 1949 film is Samuel Fuller’s directorial debut about Robert Ford, the “dirty little coward” who assassinated the frontier legend in 1882 and the scene that pops out occurs not long after Jesse (played by Reed Hadley) is dead and buried. Ford (John Ireland) begins performing re-enactments of the event on stages for money as he travels around capitalizing on his notoriety. At first, I thought this was just a fantasy from Fuller’s fevered, pulp fiction imagination but after doing some research it appears to be true. Robert Ford really did take his act on the road, billing it as “Outlaws of Missouri,” and, night after night before paying audiences, he would act out that fateful day when he shot Jesse James.Continue reading
Sometimes a film comes along that no marketing department can get a handle on and as a result it just gets tossed out there to fend for itself and to find an audience on its own. That was the case with Deep End, released in 1971 by Paramount Pictures to selected art houses and whatever theaters were willing to book it. I saw the film at the Westhampton Theatre in Richmond, Virginia, which was obviously run by an Anglophile because almost any new British film would play there. Of course, Deep End is only British on the surface. It is set in London but the cast includes British and Germany actors and much of the film was shot in Munich, Germany by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski.Continue reading
When it comes to world famous Irish rock bands, you’d probably be hard pressed to come up with ten. U2 from Dublin is certainly at the top of the heap but who else comes close? Thin Lizzy, The Boomtown Rats, The Cranberries, The Undertones and maybe a few other cult fringe favorites might make the list but the only other contender for the number one spot would have to be The Pogues and they really can’t be classified as simply a rock ‘n’ roll band. Some music critics have classified their music as celtic punk for the way it reinvigorated Irish folk music with an anarchic rebelliousness and politically tinged songs usually performed using traditional instruments like the mandolin, accordion and the tin whistle. Certainly Shane MacGowan, the hellraising singer/songwriter of the group, is as beloved as U2’s Bono and director Julien Temple has put MacGowan front and center in the enthralling documentary portrait, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan (2020).