A Filmmaker in Self-Imposed Exile

In the mid-1970s tourists were being warned by a concerned group of local citizens in New York City to steer clear of the Big Apple via a pamphlet campaign. Crime had risen dramatically since the late sixties, the city was reeling from a number of political and economic crises including a mass garbage workers’ strike, and unemployment was at an all time high, driving many residents to leave for the suburbs. The media began to refer to Manhattan as “Fear City” and actress Shirley MacLaine was quoted as saying NYC was “the Karen Quinlan of cities” (a reference to the teenager who lapsed into a coma in 1975 and lived in a permanent vegetative state for ten years before dying from pneumonia). It was during this period that Belgium filmmaker Chantal Akerman created one of her most personal and acclaimed films during a 1976 visit. News from Home is an autobiography of sorts and the director was no stranger to the city. She had lived there in 1971 but her movie is not a tourist’s view of the city. It shows us the kind of gritty urban environment that Martin Scorsese immortalized in 1976’s Taxi Driver.

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Don’t Mess with a Vietnam Vet

Among the slew of Hollywood movies that followed in the final days of the Vietnam War and used that as the subject, Rolling Thunder (1977) is a fascinating aberration. On the one hand, it flirts with serious issues and societal problems addressed in such post-Vietnam dramas as Coming Home (1978) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) but it is also a violent revenge film that exploits a Vietnam veteran as an avenging angel.

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Irving Lerner Double Feature

Irving who? The name may not be familiar to you but if you are a film noir fan, you might know the titles Murder by Contract (1958) and City of Fear (1959), two low-budget crime dramas, both of which star Vince Edwards. These were the third and fourth films in the filmography of Irving Lerner and the more famous of the two is Murder by Contract, which has often been championed by Martin Scorsese over the years. In recent years it has enjoyed wider exposure due to its release on DVD as well as retrospective screenings at events like the Noir City Film Festival, hosted by film noir expert Eddie Muller.  Murder by Contract is a tautly directed minor masterpiece with an exceptionally chilling performance by Edwards. He plays Claude, a coldly efficient hit man who likes to make a nice clean kill with no mess, no slip-ups, and no surprises due to poor planning – “I wasn’t born this way. I trained myself! I eliminated all personal feeling.” 

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The Video Diaries of a Misanthrope

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. 

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Brain Candy for the Cinephile

The Pervert's Guide to IdeologyFollowing the same format and stylized approach they used in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, director Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph and Joseph Fiennes) and theorist/cultural critic Slovoj Zizek are back with another unorthodox but thoroughly entertaining film critique entitled The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. This time, using a wealth of superbly chosen film clips (The Fall of Berlin,The Searchers, Cabaret, etc.), Zizek demonstrates how the film medium influences the way we think and feel through imagery that reinforces social behavior and conditioning.  Continue reading