Sunday, February 10, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - David Hall

David Hall is a film obsessive, writer and blogger, based in London. He directed a short film in 2008 - a personal tribute to 1970s English rural horror called The Initiation - and his most recent writing can be found at the archive EatSleepLiveFilm site.






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Eleven films (listed in year order), all new discoveries for me in 2012, from the sublime to the silly to the sublimely silly. For these marvels I have to thank various knowledgeable/insane friends as well as the many amazing screenings and repertory nights that take place on a regular basis at film clubs all across London. At times it feels like you can watch a new discovery in some part of town every single night if you have the time (and cash). For anyone who thinks they have tired of, or exhausted, movies the city continues to offer boundless possibilities.



Gone To Earth (1950)
Or Powell and Pressberger’s Big Fat Shropshire Wedding. After watching this glorious oddity from the Archers, I couldn’t help but wonder; did P&P know just how weird their own films were? An arcane fantasia of a Britain that never-was with messed-up sexual politics, absurdly lurid romantic shenanigans, bad songs, even worse accents and wild woman Jennifer Jones driving all the men (none more so than Jones-obsessed producer David O’Selznick) wild with desire. A feverish derangement.



Two For The Road (1967)
Moments of incredible clarity and wisdom jostle alongside Dick Lester ‘Knack’-style swinging silliness in Stanley Donen’s make-up/break-up comic drama, which offers a fascinating and melancholy rumination on the institution of marriage and the prisons people create for themselves over a long-term relationship. A brusque Albert Finney brings out a radically different side to Audrey Hepburn; who lets her guard slip in a revelatory performance. The combination of Donen and scriptwriter Frederick Raphael makes for a sparky, remarkably bracing and adult film told in fragmentary, elusive and slippery style. The sweet and the sour of love all in one fizzy 60s cocktail – Henry Mancini’s score is irresistible, Hepburn’s wardrobe (Givenchy) sensational.


A ciascuno il suo – We Still Kill the Old Way (1967)
Director Elio Petri – best known for his later Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion – delivers an earlier meditation on power, corruption and lies as loner professor and ex-communist Gian Maria Volontè uncovers labyrinthine levels of corruption in a Sicilian village when he investigates a double murder. As with so many of these meaty Italian thrillers the threat of violence is constant and palpable, a localised landscape of dread and paranoia. Volontè is as charismatic as ever and there’s a tremendous score by Luis Bacalov. If Lucio Fulci didn’t see this movie in prep for Don’t Torture A Duckling I would be astonished.


Il giorno della civetta – The Day of the Owl (1968)
More violenza, Italian-style. This would make a perfect double bill with Petri’s dish. Director Damiano Damiani’s film (based on a well-regarded novel) is another loner-investigating-shady-goings-on deal with a post-Django Franco Nero uncovering the vice-like stranglehold the Mafiosi wield over practically every aspect of Sicilian society. Damiani’s impressive CV includes the masterful Bullet for the General and the genuinely unhinged Amityville II: The Possession and this powerhouse political thriller is another gem. An incredible cast – including a retina-scorchingly hot Claudia Cardinale and a gruff, no-bullshit Lee J Cobb – keep things watchable even when the movie occasionally meanders. Another deliciously critical and incisive Italian film of this period documenting a nation in a seemingly unending state of moral decay, corroded by corporate greed.


Gamma sango uchu daisakusen – The Green Slime (1968)
An eye-popping, lurid and psychedelic science fantasy from legendary Battle Royale helmer Kinji Fukasaku sees astronauts returning from an asteroid destroying mission (pre-Armageddon but taking mere minutes instead of well over two hours) only to bring back a ship full of electricity-guzzling one-eyed, tentacled beasts. Great fun, with funky set design, and – naturally – much green slime, it also has a groovy theme song and finds time for some futuristic ‘dancing’ during a party sequence before disaster strikes. I caught this as part of an inspired double-bill alongside another spacebug fave IT! The Terror From Beyond Space, regarded as a major influence on Alien.

Both were better than Prometheus.



A New Leaf (1971)
For anyone jaded with the current state of romantic comedy, this sour treat from the still-undervalued Elaine May is an absolute revelation. From a period in US cinema when comedies managed to be both cerebral and goofy, it’s a constant delight. Walter Matthau, the glorious human Droopy, plays silver-spoon recipient Henry Graham who has exhausted his immense wealth and is incapable of fending for himself. Denied any more cash by his childhood guardian. he resolves to marry into money and sets his sites on klutzy heiress (Elaine May, hilarious). Oscillating between mordant drollness and slapstick brevity, this movie’s disappearance from view is baffling to say the least although, like all of May’s work, it has a troubled history. A Criterion release is the least it deserves.


Penda’s Fen (1974)
Even by the standards of ‘Weyrd England’ output like The Wicker Man this oddity (first broadcast as part of the BBCs ‘play for today’ series) stands apart. In 70s Worcestershire, England, against the backdrop of the Malvern Hills, Alan Clark’s film explores England’s soul and body politic; drawing from tradition, politics, history, art, music and pagan rituals as a young vicar’s son struggles with identity and his own sexuality. As the deeply unsympathetic, Elgar-loving, reactionary God-fearing hero Stephen, Spencer Banks is outstanding and compelling. At odds with his peers and society he becomes haunted by mystical homoerotic visions and a nightly visitation from a demon, all pointing towards the mysterious Penda’s Fen – a place that his progressive, leftist nemesis is convinced is the site of Government experimentation. Clark and cinematographer Michael Williams capture the English countryside in all its gauzy, mystical beauty and despite some crude effects the film belies its TV origins. I’m not sure I entirely understood what is going on all the time but it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve seen this year. Fantastic score too by (naturally) the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.


Kuruizaki sanda rodo – Crazy Thunder Road (1980)
I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about this movie when my friend Helen put it on (Sogo Ishii is a director whose work I’m not at all familiar with) and the sheer force and crude, punk energy it knocked me for six. Set amidst the world of Japanese youth biker gangs in the late 70s, it charts the disintegration of the Maboroshi gang after leader Ken splits to be with sweetheart Noriko. The gang implodes before new leader and loose canon Jin takes them into a new, more thuggish direction and it isn’t long before Ken wants back in. Craziness and violence ensue. A post-apocalyptic, Ballardian leather-boys 50s/70s biker mash-up (!) it’s very difficult to place in any kind of context at all without knowing a fair bit about Japanese society, which is part of its appeal. The closest thing I’ve seen to it would be The Loveless (from two years later) but where Bigelow’s film is all laconic stares and moody plains, Ishi’s is closer to a Manga Scorpio Rising re-imagined by Sam Raimi (Like Evil Dead this was shot on 16mm then blown up to 35mm). A riot.


Stunt Rock (1980)
Like Stunts? Like Rock? Then Stunt Rock is the film for you! Or not. I’m not really sure whether Brian Trenchard-Smith’s folly actually even qualifies as a film. Cocaine cinema of the purest level, it’s an ego-fuelled cross between Spinal Tap and The Stuntman. It follows the wild times enjoyed by legendary Aussie stuntman Grant Page (who as an actor makes a great stuntman) on his travels to LA where he takes a job on US TV, goes to parties, hooks up with a Dutch actress and hangs out with his cousin who is the lead singer of a preposterous pre-Tap LA rock band called SORCERY! (the band Foreigner were originally cast but had to turn it down, a lucky escape). Page mumbles a lot and is a really bad actor although he does some incredible stunts. Monique van de Ven looks embarrassed throughout and, despite their band containing a demon, a magician AND a warlock, Sorcery sound and come across like polite solicitors who play in a rock band at the weekend. It’s evident that Trenchard-Smith (who has made some magnificent cult movies) lost control of this pretty much from the start as it makes no sense whatsoever. That said its incredible nonsense, best enjoyed with refreshments and a group of like-minded lunatics.


Zapped! (1982)
This telekinesis sex-comedy is a work of perverse 80s genius. There are two utterly nonsensical sequences which are completely out of place amidst the typical frat comedy nonsense. One in which a post-'Shining' Scatman Crothers (as a hotdog-obsessed janitor; "I WANT MY SALAMI") gets accidentally high and goes bike riding with Albert Einstein and the other where Baio's new found powers enable him to animate a toy spaceship and fly it into his dog's mouth.
Oh and the ending is basically ‘Carrie’ - except instead of killing all the students Baio makes all the girls clothes fall off. Amazing.


Surf II: The End of the Trilogy (1983)
No film delivered more simple joy to me in 2012. I’m going to stick my neck out and say this is an ingenious teen meta-satire cannily disguised as a moronically brilliant tits & ass fest; the very definition of dumbness as genius. Apparently filmed in 29 days (that long?) all of its budget seems to have gone on licensing two Beach Boys tracks (played in full!). The ‘story’ has king geek Eddie Deezen as a vengeful nerd wreaking revenge on surfers by selling them a mutated Cola (‘Buzz’) which turns them into mutant trash-eating zombies. The dialogue is both inspired (‘Kids, if I need any shit out of you, I'll squeeze your heads!’) and asinine (‘I want you to dust the beach for prints’). A pre-Trancers Biff Manard (Hap Ashby!) has a key role as does Blazing Saddles' Cleavon Little as the fly Principal Daddi-o. And I’m officially in love with Corinne Bohrer who plays Cindy-Lou, the long-suffering girlfriend of douche surfer Eric Stoltz. I’ve shown this film to more people in 2012 than any other and every home should have a copy of it. My new party tape of choice. CAN YOU RELATE?

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