The Hula Hoop King

By the time the Coen Brothers released their fourth feature film, Barton Fink (1991), they were quickly becoming the toast of Hollywood, winning various awards and prizes as well as a rapidly growing fan base thanks to the cult appeal of previous films like Blood Simple (1980) and Raising Arizona (1984). Their follow-up feature to Barton Fink was much anticipated but the Coens surprised everyone when their fifth movie turned out to be The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), which was drastically different from anything they had made before.

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Terence Stamp is Timeless

Time travel has been explored in countless science fiction novels and movies over the years but it is not often treated in such an abstract and ethereal manner on screen as it is in Hu-Man, a 1975 French film from director Jerome Laperrousaz. Except for popping up at a few film festivals in the seventies, Hu-Man went missing for years and was assumed to be lost until clips from it appeared in 1998 on the BBC interview series Scene by Scene, hosted by Mark Cousins. Terence Stamp, the star of the film, was the subject of a career retrospective and Cousins was particularly interested in asking Stamp about some of the more challenging and unusual roles in his filmography such as Hu-Man.

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The Case of the Missing Raincoat

The film was released in the U.K. under its original title, YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937).

In one of the more striking opening sequences in Alfred Hitchcock’s entire filmography, a man and woman argue violently in a cliff-top mansion above the sea as a storm is brewing. A quick fade to the following morning reveals the lifeless body of a woman in the surf and the murder weapon nearby – a raincoat belt. A man walking along the dunes is the first person to find the victim and runs to get help. Two women on the beach also discover the body and see the man fleeing the crime scene, assuming the worst. When he returns with the police, he is fingered as the murderer and taken into custody, followed by a montage of newspaper headlines. All of this is accomplished in a brilliantly edited sequence of less than five minutes that not only sets the narrative of Young and Innocent (1937, U.S. release title: The Girl Was Young) in motion but could also serve as a textbook example of Hitchcock’s storyboard approach to moviemaking.

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Salvatore Samperi’s Cuore di Mamma

The late sixties were a time of social and political upheaval on an almost global scale but Italy, in particular, seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Bloody clashes between the police and student demonstrators, bombings and factory worker strikes were on the rise as rival political parties like the DC (Christian Democrats), PRI (Republican party) and PCI (communist party) vied for power. This turbulent time was reflected in some of the edgier, more troubling movies of that period by such major filmmakers as Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers, 1966), Bernardo Bertolucci (Partner, 1968), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Teorema [1968], Porcile [1969]), and Michelangelo Antonioni (Zabriskie Point, 1970). Even more polarizing but less well-known is Cuore di Mamma (Mother’s Heart, 1969) by director Salvatore Samperi, which is much more of an avant-garde provocation than anything else. It was based on a story by Samperi and Sergio Bazzini (Dillinger is Dead) and fashioned into a screenplay by Dacia Maraini (The Future is Woman).

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Lip-Syncing to a Different Tune

In the wake of Heaven’s Gate (1980), the $38 million dollar epic by director Michael Cimino that become one of the most expensive box office disasters in movie history, every studio in Hollywood began to carefully monitor their production costs. This was especially true at MGM, which had recently acquired United Artists, the producer and distributor of Heaven’s Gate. You would think in this financially conservative new climate, created by near-bankruptcy conditions, MGM would have steered clear of producing a risky commercial venture like Pennies From Heaven (1981), based on the critically acclaimed six-part British TV mini-series by Dennis Potter. Yet, despite the odds, the studio took a chance on this dark and disturbing tale of a traveling sheet music salesman who escapes the daily drudgeries of his job and miserable married life through fantastic daydreams set to popular songs.

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