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The Best Movies You (Probably) Never Heard Of

Month

July 2015

Husbands and Wives (1992)

Husbands and Wives (1992).

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Husbands and Wives (1992)

Husbands and Wives

Irrational Man, now in limited release, is the forty-sixth film directed by Woody Allen.  In the last few years he has not only kept up his film-a-year output but he’s also been the subject of an acclaimed PBS documentary, has starred opposite John Turturo in Fading Giglio and wrote the book to an (ultimately unsuccessful) stage musical based on his film Bullets Over Broadway.  Allen is already in pre-production on his forty-seventh film and is also working on a television series for Amazon.  Clearly, age has not withered the Woodman.

On the other hand, Allen received some very unwanted publicity last year when his daughter, Dylan Farrow, wrote an editorial for The New York Times criticizing the Golden Globes for honoring her father and also criticizing many of the actresses who have appeared in his films (Diane Keaton, Scarlett Johansen, Cate Blanchett) for working with Allen.

As you no doubt remember, Woody Allen’s intensely private life was suddenly blown open and put on public display when it was learned that Allen was having an affair with Soon-Yi Previn, the daughter of Allen’s longtime lover and co-star Mia Farrow.  Allen insisted that he was never a father figure to Previn, who was of legal age and that he and Farrow were no longer romantically involved.  Allen and Previn later married, had two children and are still together.  Still, when the scandal broke in 1992 many people felt that Allen had broken a major taboo and in the minds of many became a pariah.  Things got even uglier when Farrow accused Allen of sexually abusing their adopted daughter Dylan.  A police investigation took ensued, which included Allen taking and passing a lie-detector test.  No criminal charges were ever filed against Allen, though he was denied custody and visitation rights with his children.

The point of this article is not to argue the guilt or innocence of Mr. Allen or the rationality of Ms. Farrow.  Whatever you believed happened, or didn’t happen, is up to you.  What I do want to discuss is Husbands and Wives, the film that Allen and Farrow were working on when the scandal broke.  When released in 1992 it was appreciated by critics, although it was impossible for them to analyze the film without  drawing comparisons with what was happening in Allen’s personal life.  Today I feel that with twenty-three years of distance, Husbands and Wives is a film you should see.  It’s not only one of Allen’s best films, it’s one of the best films ever made about the subject of marriage.

In the film, Allen and Farrow play an Upper West Side married couple named Gabe and Judy.  He’s a literary professor at Columbia, she’s a book editor.  They prepare to have dinner with Sally and Jack (Judy Davis and fellow film-director, the late Sydney Pollock), another married couple who live in Riverdale.  When they show up they announce rather casually that they’re splitting up.  This obviously comes as a surprise, particularly to Judy, who actually seems hurt by the news.  After dinner, Gabe and Judy return to home and decide to make love, not because they’re in an amorous mood but more as a gesture to prove to themselves that their own marriage is solid.  This leads to one of the most hilariously unromantic moments in movie history when their plans for coitus are ruined when they get into an argument over using a diaphragm.

As things progress, we learn that Jack has been cheating on his wife for some time, alternating between two different call-girls.  He later hooks up with a flighty aerobics instructor who’s young enough to be his daughter (Lysette Anthony).  When Gabe and Judy meet her, they assume, with some justification, that she’s a floozy.  Jack goes on about how he’s in love with her and that she makes him feel much younger.  Of course this is just his lobito talking.

Meanwhile, Judy sets Sally up with a co-worker from her publishing house (Liam Neeson).  The two of them start dating, but the truth is that Judy has been attracted to him for some time.  In one of the films funniest scenes, Jack returns to the house in Riverdale while Sally is sleeping with Neeson (and not really enjoying it) after his girlfriend embarrasses him at a party.  He confesses that he still loves Judy, even though his girlfriend later walks in after waiting in the car for too long.

Gabe meanwhile begins a flirtation with one of his students (Juliette Lewis).  She has a long history of dating older men.  She’s very bright and sassy and genuinely admires Gabe.  He too begins to have doubts about his marriage.

All of this causes tension for Gabe and Judy, which culminates with the last scene that Allen and Farrow ever appeared in together (and in all likelihood ever will).  The two of them come sit on a couch, discuss the high points of their marriage, then come to the realization that they don’t love each other anymore.  This is not a big dramatic scene like something out of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  It’s rather just the quiet, true to life moment when two people realize that their marriage has no where else to go.

Allen is of course a huge admirer of the great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, and Husbands and Wives owes quite a bit to Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage.  The latter is a good film to be sure, but also a bit trying in that it’s little more than a filmed play (Bergman later did adapt the film for the stage) and can be a bit dour, great performances by Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson not withstanding.  Yet Allen’s film, in my opinion at least, is more enjoyable because while it captures the heartache that can come from being married, it also sees the humor that can arise from matrimony and infidelity.

Allen claims that “I’ve always wanted to make a movie without any of the niceties of filmmaking”.  In other words, rather than striving for beautiful cinematography and seamless camera movement and editing, Allen wanted to make a film in the rough style of directors like John Cassavetes, to not just remove the fourth wall but to re-erect it behind us so that we’re right in on the action.  Allen takes this a step further by turning Husbands and Wives into a faux documentary.  The entire film is handheld, the cuts are rough and intentionally jumpy, and most of the scenes were shot with whatever available light there was on location.

This style of directing has become pretty common, especially on television shows like Modern Family, Parks and Recreations and especially The Office.  Frankly, I’m not a fan of these shows (the latter I cannot abide), partly because the technique calls attention to itself.  There are times when that is justified, particularly in movies like Ferris Buellers Day Off when he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera directly, or The Blair Witch Project, which is intentionally supposed to be found footage shot by amateurs.

Because Allen makes this film look like a documentary in progress, with noise from the film crew and the occasional interview questions asked, we get the feeling that we’re intruding on people’s lives.  Some found the technique unnerving.  Others found the shaky camera work to be nauseating.  A year later Allen tried the approach again with Manhattan Murder Mystery and it backfired.  As the great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, form follows function.

It would be easy to pigeonhole Husbands and Wives as being anti-marriage, especially with the drama that was unfolding at the time of the films release.  But I don’t think it is.  There’s a brief but important exchange between Blythe Danner and Brian McConnachie, who play Juliette Lewis’ parents.  They note that their thirtieth anniversary is coming up, how happy the past thirty years have been and how they’re looking forward to old age together.

Woody Allen’s films have always played to relatively small audiences, though some of his recent films such as Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine have helped bring some of Allen’s past enthusiasts back into his orbit while winning over some new converts.  If either one true of you then you should definitely give this movie a whirl.

Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970).

Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970)

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When I ask people if they’ve seen Beyond the Valley of the Dolls they often respond that they’ve only seen the “original” Valley of the Dolls, meaning the 1967 film version of the Jaqueline Suzanne novel.  BEYOND the Valley of the Dolls is another animal all together.

Beyond was the brainchild of Russ Meyer, a filmmaker working on the fringes of the system and the father of what we’d probably call the “sexploitation” film.  Meyer grew up in Southern California and was raised by his single mother.  She pawned her engagement ring to buy her son an 8mm film camera and he quickly developed a flair for cinematography.  During World War II he worked as a combat cinematographer.  After the war he became a staff photographer for Playboy.  This lead him directly into his career as “the king of the nudies”, as he became known.

Today we can get all the debauchery we want streamed right to our laptop or tablet.  Not true in the fifties.  Pornography has existed nearly as long as the cinema, of course, but they were strictly underground fare, distributed illegally and shown at smokers and stag parties.

Public exhibition of sexual acts were allowed if the movie had some kind of medical or academic purpose.  In 1945 a producer named Kroger Babb purchased the rights to a “health and hygiene” film called Mom and Dad.  The picture dramatized the life of a young woman as she gets impregnated by a fighter pilot who dies in combat and later has his child.  The film showed footage of an actual child-birth and Babb realized that because the film was “educational” that he could get away with showing female genitalia in public.  So what if it happened to have a baby coming out of it?  At showings Babb hired women to dress up as nurses and hand out sex ed pamphlets in the lobby and only allowed men at certain showings and women at others.  Believe it or not, the film made a fortune!

By the late fifties a new genre known as the “nudie cutie” was invented.  Essentially, these films were mock “naturalist” films depicting nudist colonies and Amazonian women in various stages of undress.  Utterly tame by todays standards, they were none the less exhibited publicly and gave horny men an outlet for voyeuristic intentions.

That’s when Russ Meyer came in with his first, independently produced film, The Immortal Mr. Teas.  Produced in 1959, the films absurd plot centered on a door-to-door salesman named Bill Teas (the actors real name) who, after a trip to the dentist, develops x-ray vision, allowing this Willie Loman/Clark Kent to see all the women he pines for in their birthday suit.  Of course this was pretty silly stuff, but the $24,000 feature ended up making a whopping $4 million upon release!

From then on Russ Meyer made a slew of sexpoitation films that played in drive-ins and grindhouses across the country.  His most famous (and arguably funniest) film was Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill (1965).  The film included some fantastically well endowed beauties but had no actual nudity.  Today it can be shown on broadcast television without any edits.  His other, more explicit pictures included MudhoneyMotorpsycho, Mondo Topless, Vixen! and Harry, Cherry & Raquel.

Sure, Meyer made exploitation films, but they were funny, displaying a great deal of over-the-top, sometimes surreal violence and often awkward, crazy sex acts.  Feminist later grew to champion his films because the women were almost always portrayed as powerful and smart while the men were shown as bumbling fools.  Meyer might well have been the first director to realize the erotic lore that lesbian sex between two beautiful women can be very aesthetically pleasing to the men, popularizing the kind of “girl on girl” action that is now so prevalent in both soft and hardcore erotica.

Meyer was also an excellent craftsman.  He often served as his own cinematographer and editor.  His films were often lushly photographed and his editing style, with quick cuts and staccato rhythms gave his films a unique visual style that would influence the work of many future filmmakers, not to mention music videos and TV commercials.

Of course, exploitation directors rarely get much respect and critics simply ignored his work.  One exception was Roger Ebert, they young film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and future co-host of At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert.  He wrote an article about Meyer for the Wall Street Journal praising the quality of Meyers work and pointing out how profitable his films were.  This was a period when studios were hemorrhaging money on bloated musicals and costume dramas.  Ebert then asked why a Hollywood studio hasn’t asked Meyer to make a film for them.  Eventually, a Hollywood studio would.

20th Century Fox had been saved from receivership thanks to the massive success of The Sound of Music and was also enjoying substantial returns on pictures such as The Planet of the Apes and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  However, the studio was also hemorrhaging money thanks to such box office flops as Doctor Doolittle, Star and Hello Dolly!.  Noting the massive returns on Columbia’s Easy Rider, Fox decided to hire Meyer in hopes of producing their own low-budget/high yield movie.  Meyer agreed and to show his appreciation to Ebert, who he by now had befriended, he hired the young film critic to come on board as a screenwriter.

Apparently Fox originally wanted Meyer to direct a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, which explains the films title.  But Meyer and Ebert quickly deviated from that mission, taking just the basic premise of young women being corrupted by the big bad influences of the big city and turned it into something almost indescribable.

The basic story centers on a female rock trio called The Kelly Affair.  They include drummer guitarist Casey (Cynthia Meyer, Playmate of the month in 1968), drummer Pet (Marcia McBroom) and lead singer Kelly (Dolly Reed) who’s rather dim boyfriend Harris (David Gurian) manages the group.  They decide to head off to Los Angeles in hopes of breaking into the big time.  Casey has an aunt named Suzan (Phyllis Davis) who is a wealthy fashion photographer whom Kelly thinks could help them out.  The whole sequence when they decide to try their luck in the City of Angels is told in one unique minute long montage that not only gives us the information we need in a rapid fire way but also foreshadows some of the craziness that will follow.

Suzan turns out to be really nice.  She offers to not only help Kelly, but she decides to introduce her to “Z Man” Barzell (John LaZar).  Known as “the teen tycoon of rock”, he is a record producer supposedly modeled after Phil Specter (which make the climax of the movie seem rather prophetic).  To be honest, he seems more like a strange, effeminate Roman emperor overseeing a nightly Bacchanalia of sex, drugs and rock and roll.  He introduces Kelly and her friends to an odd assortment of folks that include male gigolos, fashion designers and an oversexed porn actress played by the divine Edy Williams.

Sure enough, Z Man takes the girls under his wing.  He rechristened the group “The Carrie Nation” and they become huge.  This soon leads to all kinds of complications between Kelly and Harris but also with the other girls and their loves.

The plot synopsis may sound cliché but Beyond the Valley of the Dolls quickly veers off into every direction imaginable.  Crazy, surreal, indescribable moments of violence and mayhem are interspersed with sex scenes that are either very funny or genuinely arousing.  While the acting is intentionally over-the-top the quality of the craftsmanship is undeniable.  The film is beautifully photographed and at a time when most directors were emulating the editing style of the French New Wave, Meyer already had his own, rapid fire way of building a visual tapestry that was all his own and positively dazzling.

1970 ended up being a great year for Fox.  Even though it was the hight of the Vietnam War the studio scored two hits with the Oscar-winning Patton (which, interestingly enough, included combat footage shot by Meyer) and M*A*S*H.  BVD also did extremely well, grossing a whopping $40 million world-wide.  Alas, it was not the kind of movie that a studio wants to brag aboutalthough some critics praised the film for its surrealism and unique sense of humor.  At one point Fox brought Meyer and Ebert back into the fold to direct Who Killed Bambi?, a rock and roll film starring the Sex Pistols.  Filming was cancelled after just one day.

When it was released, BVD received an X-rating.  At the time, all that an X-rating meant was that the film was for adults only.  Many highly acclaimed films of the era, including the Best Picture Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy were rate X upon their initial release.  The MPAA failed to copyright the rating, and soon hard-core pornographers began advertising their films as being “X rated”, despite never having been reviewed by the MPAA.

Meyer went back to independent filmmaking and enjoyed success with Supervixen and Up!.  Unfortunately for Meyer, hardcore erotica was for one brief shining moment going mainstream.  Movies like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and Debbie Does Dallas were attracting the young couples that once flocked to Meyers films.  Russ refused to go hardcore, although his final, hilarious picture Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens pushes the envelope about as far as it can go without showing any actual onscreen penetration.

The simple fact is, Russ Meyers movies are both sexy and funny.  The eighties would give us tons of “tits and ass” comedies like Porky’s and Hot Dog, none of which were terribly funny.  Most premium cable channels provide us with softcore films with simulated sex that frankly looks real fake while sex in mainstream movies, an occassional Fifty Shades of Grey not withstanding, have been all but de-sexed.  It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for Russ Meyers unique brand of movies that were hysterically funny but often madly erotic at the same time.

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990)

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990).

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990)

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When Ludwig Van Beethoven premiered his immortal Ninth Symphony in 1824, many critics were baffled by the choral number “Ode To Joy”, the score’s final movement.  The now completely deaf Beethoven supposedly explained that it was for a future generation.  Sure enough, the Ninth Symphony and particularly “Ode To Joy” are now almost universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest pieces of music ever written and has been performed at the opening of the United Nations, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and of course was the musical obsession of Alex, the anti-hero of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Personally, I feel that this is true of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (aka: Yume, aka Dreams), one of the final films by the great Japanese master Akira Kurosawa.  Kurosawa made his directorial debut in 1943 at the hight of World War II with Shanshiro Sugata.  After the war he emerged as a giant thanks to such masterpieces as Drunken Angel, Rashomon, Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, The Lower Depths, Yojimbo, High and Low and others.  His career hit a snag after his films Red Beard (1965) and Dodesukaden failed at the box office and after he was fired from directing the Japanese sequences in Daryl F. Zanuck’s World War II epic Tora! Tora! Tora!  Kurosawa then attempted suicide, but thankfully survived.  He then went to Russia to film Dersu Uzala (1975), a Japanese/Soviet co-production and his only film made outside of Japan.  Though not a commercial success it did win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film of the year. Kurosawa then enjoyed great international success with his twin samurai epics, Kagamusha and Ran, the later based on King Lear.  Both were warmly received by critics and were major international hits.

As he reached his eighties, Kurosawa entered a late period, producing three films that seemed to reflect on his life and his impending mortality.  Dreams was the first, followed by Rhapsody in August and Madadayo.

Dreams is the first film in which Kurosawa was the sole screenwriter and while he had experimented most triumphantly with narrative structure in Rashomon, telling one story from different perspectives, Dreams was different in that it didn’t tell a single story but rather several.  All of them were based on dreams that Kurosawa claimed to have had himself.

The movie opens with a young boy (Mitsunori Saki) who witnesses a sun shower.  This young dreamer is supposedly a surrogate for Kurosawa himself.  The first thing we see is the gate to a house.  Movie buffs no doubt will recall Rashomon, which also begins with a gate in the rain.  Those who can read Japanese characters will be able to tell that the word above the gate is, in fact, “Kurosawa”.

The young boy is warned not to go into the forest because this is when the “foxes” have their wedding ceremony and they do not like people seeing them.  The boy disobeys his mother and witnesses the ritual.  These are not actual foxes, as in the animals, but rather spirits who dress in ritualistic costumes and masks and move with a precise, choreographed grace.  When the boy returns he finds out that an angry fox was at the house, leaving a knife so that the boy can kill himself.  His mother tells the boy to go back to the woods and beg for forgiveness, even though foxes are not known for their compassion.  Thankfully, the scene ends on a stunningly beautiful and hopeful image of the boy walking through a lilac filled forest and underneath a rainbow, clearly evoking The Wizard of Oz.

From there we see a whole series of fantastic segments that don’t seem to have a unifying thread.  They are all visually stunning, unusual, absurd, forbidding and at times terrifying, just like real dreams.  In “The Peach Orchard” the young boy sees a procession of kabuki theater “dolls” representing the spirits of the peach trees that were chopped down by the boy’s family.  In “The Blizzard” the young dreamer, now an adult and played by Akira Terao, and his expedition crew are trapped on a glacier.  The protagonist nearly freezes to death and is visited by a strange apparition, one that recalls the medium from Rashomon.  In “The Tunnel” our hero returns from World War II and is visited by the ghosts of his fellow soldiers, all of whom died in battle.  “Crows” features our protagonist in an art gallery, admiring the works of Vincent Van Gogh.  Suddenly he finds himself in a landscape that’s right out of Van Gogh’s paintings and meets the obsessive artist himself, played by fellow film-maker Martin Scorsese in a very effective and intense performance.

The mood turns considerably darker in “Mt. Fuji in Red”, in which a nuclear reactor explodes, possibly bringing about nuclear armageddon.  In “The Weeping Demon” the protagonist walks through a postapocalyptic dreamscape and comes across a mutated human.  The film ends on a very hopeful note with “Village of the Watermills”.  Our hero has stumbled upon an idyllic country village where he meets an old gentleman (Chishū Ryū) who offers some sage advice about life.  “It’s good to be alive” he says.  “It’s very exciting”.  He then prepares for a funeral procession.  Not a dreary procession but a thrilling, music filled celebration of life.

When released, many critics dismissed it as a minor work from the master, complaining that the film was uneven, simplistic and that it didn’t hold a candle to his past masterworks.  For me personally it was my first introduction to the master.  My father, who had greatly enjoyed Ran, rented the movie, telling me that many of my idols (not just Scorsese but also George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, all of whom had a hand in getting Dreams made) considered Kurosawa to be one of the greatest filmmakers in the world. Watching this entrancing film unfold I too became a disciple.  I later familiarized myself with his earlier works and fell in love with them too.  Ikiru is easily one of the most heartbreaking films ever made.  Throne of Blood is one of the best adaptations of a Shakespeare play ever, even if none of the Bards actual words are used.  And of course Seven Samurai is just about the most perfect film ever made, with everything you could possibly want in a movie, be it romance, action, comedy, you name it.

His past work did not diminish my love for Dreams and I later found that I was not alone.  When I went to film school I found that many of my peers, not all of them fellow film students, just movie lovers in general, also loved Dreams and frequently cited it as a movie that changed their lives. Visually, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring movies ever created.  Before becoming a filmmaker Kurosawa studied painting, a fact that is clear in every frame of Dreams.  Despite this artistic background Kurosawa, much like Bergman, Fellini, Welles and other directors of his generation, were reluctant to shoot films in color, believing that black and white was the true medium of the cinema.  Still, when he finally did go color in Dodesukadenthe results were stunning, and so they are in Dreams.

More than anything else, Dreams is a movie that, for my money at least, captures the feeling of nocturnal fantasy better than any film ever made.  There have been many dream sequences in movies, but usually they’re used as a plot device.  Few are really dreamlike. Everyone has a different experience when they dream, of course.  I have heard that most people don’t dream in color, or at least color is not a significant part of their dreams.  That’s not true of me at all.  My dreams are often filled with vibrant, psychedelic color and Dreams is probably the only cinematic work that can match them.  Many is the time that I’ve woken up wishing that I could record the dream or nightmare (I actually enjoy having them) I experienced during my last R.E.M. cycle, only to have the experience fade from my memory as I awake.  The shards of color and sound that stick in my head are sadly very limited.  I would love to some day put these images up on the screen.  Kurosawa already did, knowing full well that a future generation would appreciate it.

Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom (1960).

Peeping Tom (1960)

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Over the years there has been the strange phenomenon of two movies with a very similar subject matter released within a few months of each other.  The most famous example probably happened in 1964 when both Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Fail Safe were released in the same year.  Both films dealt with nuclear warfare, but where as Stanley Kubrick’s Strangelove was a dark comedy, Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe was a deadly serious melodrama.  Both films performed well, though Strangelove was the bigger hit and has gone down in history as the masterpiece of the two.

Other examples include the year 1996 when we had two movies about aliens trying to annihilate the human race – Independence Day and Mars Attacks.  The former was the biggest hit of the year.  The latter tanked at box office.  In 1998 the young Dreamworks studio went head to head with Disney on two major releases.  In the summer Dreamworks released their meteor-about-to-hit-the-earth disaster epic Deep Impact while Disney released their meteor-about-to-hit-the-earth disaster epic a short while later.  That fall the two studios had a similar grudge match with Antz and A Bug’s Life, two CG animated tales about colonies of ants that are saved by their misfit members.  In each case there was enough love to go around, though also in each case the Disney films were much bigger hits.

In 1960 Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho was released in the U.S. and became the biggest hit of the year and has gone down in history as one of the definitive works in the history of cinema.  Two months earlier, Peeping Tom was released in the U.K.  The Michael Powell thriller had some undeniable similarities with Psycho.  Both films had a sexually frustrated psychopath for a protagonist with deep mental scars caused by overbearing parents.  Peeping Tom received scathing reviews and was a box office disaster.  It took two years for the film to find a U.S. distributor who tried marketing it as an exploitation film, only to fail all over again.  Yet as the years have gone on, Peeping Tom has long since developed a cult following and is now considered one of the true masterworks of post-war British cinema.

Michael Powell actually used to work for Hitchock as a still photographer in the late twenties. The two remained friends for the rest of Hitchcocks life.  Later, Powell began a legendary collaboration with fellow director Emeric Pressburger.  Together they directed the classics The 49th Parallel, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman.  All of these films were known for their spectacular use of color (or colour, as it’s spelled in Britain) and the intense passion of the characters.  While most of their films were considered to be escapism, most centered on people with dark obsession.

Powell and Pressburger went their separate ways after the war and with Peeping Tom Powell was free to let the dark undercurrents of his previous work explode onto the surface. The film centers on Mark Lewis (Austrian actor Carl Boehm), a solitary young Londoner who works as a camera assistant at a film studio.  He also derives his income from photographing nude models for the owner of a local newsstand and renting out the flats in the townhouse he inherited from his father.  With him always is a 16mm Bolex camera, which he carries with him for the “documentary” he’s making. At night he prowls the streets of London picking up ladies of the night.  He takes them back to his flat where he impales them on a spike he has mounted on the leg of his tripod, all the while running his camera and photographing their death.

A young woman who rents one of the flats (Anna Massey) takes a shine to the lonely Carl.  Her blind mother, with whom she lives, does not approve.  She suspects that there’s something wrong about Carl and at one point confronts him.  He assures the concerned parent that he will never “film” her daughter.

This was pretty macabre stuff for 1960, as well as pretty racy.  Supposedly Peeping Tom was the first commercial movie in Britain to feature female nudity.  More than anything though, Peeping Tom gets under ones skin.  If Psycho was more scary and suspenseful, Peeping Tom was downright disturbing, especially when we learn about Carl’s father and the “experiments” he performed on him as a boy. Today, Peeping Tom is recognized as a unique and powerful work on it’s own merits and has many fans.  Martin Scorsese, who’s editor Thelma Schoonmaker was once married to Powell, has said that Peeping Tom and Fellini’s 8 1/2 say everything that can be said about filmmaking.  “ captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates”.  Violates, and disturbs us to the very core of our being.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

The Best Movies You (Probably) Never Heard Of

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This weekend we can look forward to the great Sir Ian McKellen assume the role of one of the most beloved characters in British literature, that famous sleuth in the deerstalker hat, Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221-B Baker Street.

As you’ve probably noticed there has been a slew of Holmes related TV and movies lately, from Guy Ritchie’s popular Sherlock Holmes series with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, to the British updating Sherlock to the American updating Elementary.  Clearly the words “public domain” are music to a producers ears.  Sherlock Holmes is one of greatest characters ever created.  Exceedingly intelligent but also reserved, arrogant, rude, and completely obsessed with the mystery at hand.  Any producer can adapt one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, or commission a screenwriter to fabricate their own Holmes adventure.  The character has instant name recognition and they don’t have to pay a dime…

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