Introducing The Ramones

There was a time in the 1970s when film distributors were able to test-market their more offbeat offerings as “Midnight Movies” for adventurous moviegoers. Sometimes these developed into cult phenomenas like El Topo (1971), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), or Eraserhead (1976). Sometimes they failed to find any audience at all like Pelvis (aka All Dressed Up in Rubber with No Place to Go, 1977) or Elevator Girls in Bondage (1972). Arriving at the tail end of the Midnight Movie craze, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) fell somewhere between these two extremes.

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Mondo Man

Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi are generally acknowledged as the “Godfathers of Mondo” and took a sensationalist approach to documentaries that revelled in bizarre and shocking cultural practices around the world. Mondo Cane (A Dog’s Life, 1962) was their wildly popular debut film and it spawned a new genre that included their later work Women of the World (1963), Mondo Cane 2 (1963), Africa Addio aka Africa: Blood and Guts (1966) and Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971), a critically reviled and polarizing account of the origins of the American slave trade that was filmed as a you-are-there dramatization. What is usually left out of the Jacopetti-Prosperi backstory are the contributions of Paolo Cavara, who co-directed and co-wrote Mondo Cane and Women of the World with Jacopetti. He broke off his association with the other two filmmakers after their second collaboration and went solo with two more Mondo films (Malamondo [1964], Witchdoctor in Tails [1966]) before turning his camera on a fictionalized version of himself in The Wild Eye (L’occhio Selvaggio, 1967), an unforgiving portrait of a ruthless Mondo filmmaker that should be better known today.

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Face Time

Edie Sedgwick in one of the famous Andy Warhol Screen Tests

For most people the films of Andy Warhol were more fun to read about then to actually watch. In the case of films such as the 485-minute Empire (1964) or Sleep (1963), at 321 minutes, it’s hard to imagine someone watching these in their entirety in one sitting. I don’t even think Warhol expected viewers to watch these in real time but to wander in and out of the screenings like you would at a video installation. But even at revivals of the most popular and infamous Warhol titles such as The Chelsea Girls (1966) and Lonesome Cowboys (1968), you can bet on numerous walkouts during the screenings, not from outrage but boredom or disinterest. At the other end of the scale, however, are the short, silent black and white films he made when he was first experimenting with the medium and his Screen Test series shows a brilliance of concept and execution that could easily turn naysayers into converts.

Predator on the Prowl

Hammer Studios, home to vampires, werewolves, mummies, Quatermass Xperiments, pirates….and child molesters? In 1960, the British film production company (originally founded in 1934), ventured into decidedly new territory from their usual formulaic mix of horror films, suspense thrillers and costume adventures. Never Take Candy from a Stranger (known as Never Take Sweets from a Stranger in the the U.K.) was Hammer’s attempt at a serious adult drama that addressed a controversial topic most major studios wouldn’t touch at that time.      

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Fritz Lang’s Two-Part Indian Epic

The film industry is rife with tales about directors who struggled and failed to bring their dream projects to the screen and the subject would make a fascinating, behind-the-scenes non-fiction book about the precarious nature of moviemaking. Among the more famous examples are Orson Welles, who pitched a film version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to RKO executives, who instead chose Welles’ second idea, Citizen Kane,  Josef von Sternberg’s ambitious 1937 production of I, Claudius, which was started but never completed due to disagreements between the director and Charles Laughton plus the injury of leading lady Merle Oberon in a car accident, and Robert Altman, who wanted to make a film version of the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body and had even cast it but died before production could begin. Yet, for all the films-that-might-have-been, there are many examples of directors who finally succeeded in making their passion projects and one of them is Fritz Lang. His lifelong desire to make a film of the 1917 novel, The Indian Tomb, written by his former wife Thea Von Harbou, was finally realized in the late 1950s when he started production on a lavish movie adaptation that would be released in two parts as The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, both 1959.

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Mister Total Irreverence

Among most Fields’ enthusiasts, The Bank Dick is considered one of his best films, right up there with It’s a Gift (1934). It’s also the only film in which Fields enjoyed full creative control and it would be his last. His final starring role in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) was an unhappy experience and turned into one long battle with the Universal top brass over scripting and censorship issues. 

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French Twists

Marina (Romy Schneider) and Claude (Gabriele Tinti) have a violent argument after leaving an inn in the French countryside. A pistol is fired, Claude roughs up his girlfriend and the couple speed off in a convertible. The car leaves the main road and races along the cliffs of the Brittany coastline until it plunges over a ledge into the sea below with Claude at the wheel. Among the hillside rocks, we see Marina, who miraculously escaped from the car and is the only witness at the scene. All of this unfolds under the opening credits of Qui? (1970), a rarely seen French film which offers some odd twists and turns in its brisk 73-minute running time (In some regions it was released under the title The Sensuous Assassin, which is completely misleading in regards to the actual storyline).

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Those Men and Women in White

What could be a more ideal setting than a hospital to explore countless dramatic scenarios, character relationships and potentially hot-button topical issues that affect both the public and the medical community? With each decade new variations on the medical drama formula emerge and one of the most successful films in this genre in the early sixties was The Interns (1962).  

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He Blowed Up Real Good!

Remember Big Jim McBob (Joe Flaherty) and Billy Sol Hurok (John Candy) as the hayseed hosts of “Farm Report” on the legendary SCTV comedy series? These farmer-turned-film-reviewers loved movies where people and things blew up and eventually their hog report turned into a talk show where they blew up famous celebrities every week like Meryl Streep, The Village People, Brooke Shields, singer Neil Sedaka or Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie. Well, these guys would love Rod Steiger in Hennessy (1975) because he blows up real good!     

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Through the Eyes of a Child

Roberto Rossellini’s Roma, Citta Aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945) is generally acknowledged as the film that ushered in the neorealism movement and set the tone and style for the postwar Italian films that followed. But the roots of neorealism can be traced back to Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) and Vittorio De Sica’s The Children Are Watching Us (1944, I bambini ci guardano), both of which were filmed in 1942 but encountered distribution problems upon their release in the fall of 1942 when the war finally came to Italy and the bombings began. Ossessione was also the victim of Fascist censorship which reduced the film to less than half of its original running time and for years it was denied distribution in the U.S. due to an infringement of copyright (it was an uncredited adaptation of the James M. Cain novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice). The Children Are Watching Us didn’t fare any better during its limited release and for years it was a difficult film to see in its original form, even in its own country. 



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