Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Twelve

So I've seen this Meme on a number of film-centric blogs over the past few weeks. I think it may have originated here, and the idea is that its passed on by participants, like some sort of virus, but lets face it, nobody is ever going to pass it on to me. So what I'm doing is infecting myself, jamming a great syringe full of infection right into my thigh so that I can play. Because I like the idea.

Which is, basically:

Come up with a list of 12 movies you have not seen. Films you most ardently wish to see. "Holy Grail" films, if you like. Films which have eluded you for whatever reason over the years. Its better if they're unavailable in the UK on dvd (wanting to see "Stepbrothers" but having missed it in cinemas will not suffice) but not essential, so if its some Chabrol film thats available in a boxset then thats cool with me. If you can't come up with 12, then do 5 or 10 or whatever. A number with a good cosmic feel. If you want to do records or games or comics or whatever instead, I guess thats cool too. But movies is better.

Here is an edited list of the original rules. Edited by me, because since I haven't been officially tagged I figure I can do what I like:

1. You must not have seen any of the films on your list, either in theatres or on video.

2. The films on your list should not be available on Lovefilm (this will be the criteria for "availability" since it's too hard to track down what's available where, to who, etc.)

3. You can organize the list however you want, in themed couplets like Piper's original list, or just as twelve semi-random films.

4. Tag five people to keep the meme going.

So, I'm tagging the few people who read this blog with blogs themselves who I've actually met in the real world:Monsterwork, Beezer, Ross, Davey and JamesinSeoul. Get thinking, dawgs. I'll give you a week or two to comply.

Anyway, my list:

1. Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank)

Legendary doesn't begin to describe it. Frank's, erm, frank tour documentary follows the Rolling Stones on a famously debauched American tour in 1972 in support of "Exile on Main Street". It was their first US tour since Altamont, and the aura of barely contained evil and chaos they carried with them had not dissipated. Frank shot the film verite-style, distributing cameras throughout the band's massive travelling entourage so that there are scenes never captured before or since: Keith Richards shooting up, groupies acting as one would expect, parties, boredom...the band, understandably, were shocked by their portrayal and the film was slapped with a court order which means that, to this day, it can only be screened in the presence of the director. Hence its "holy grail" status. Bootlegs exist. They turn up on eBay, overpriced and of varying quality. I saw one in a record shop in Paris years ago, but didn't realise how rare such sightings would be. There are usually a couple of scenes on Youtube. It was shown at the Tate last year, with Frank in attendance, but tickets were £25. I've read Robert Greenfield's brilliant insider account of that tour; "A Journey through America with the Rolling Stones", which hints at the epic scale of, well, everything about the enterprise. The Stones were the biggest band on earth at the time, with their own fascinating mythology, and the book captures it well. Apparently the film is even better. The title comes from Mick Jagger's proposed kiss-off single submitted to Decca (who buried it) in the late 60s, the chorus of which goes "Where can I get my cock sucked/ Where I get my ass fucked/ I may not be good-looking/ But I know where to put it, everytime." Could have been the greatest Number 1 single of all time...

2. Let It Be (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970)

In the context of this list, this is something of a companion piece to Number 1. Its the film on this list I really can't believe I haven't seen. The Beatles, making their final album, falling apart, bitching at one another, Yoko and Linda in the shadows, beards all over the place, a handful of classic tunes, all of it captured by an unblinkered camera in the corner...I'm pre-sold. I will love it. But its devilishly difficult to get hold of. Bootlegs, yes, they're all over eBay. VHS copies used to be a staple of second-hand record shops. But its official DVD release, mooted every year for much of the last half-decade, has never come about. Maybe because Paul McCartney and Yoko (and even Ringo Starr) are ambivalent at best about the film. But its an important document, dammit. Some day it will come out. Then I will see it. Someday.

3. Lanton Mills (Terrence Malick, 1969)

Malick is probably my favourite living filmmaker, by which I mean that he is the one whose work I anticipate most fervently. I think he's a genius, and each of his four films seems a masterpiece to me, which is an unparalleled strike rate among the Directors I most admire. "Lanton Mills" is a seventeen-minute comedy he made as a student, starring Harry Dean Stanton and Warren Oates, among others. Malick himself is one of the others. Reportedly a messy comedy-Western following two cowboys on their way to rob a bank, it was photographed by Caleb Deschanel with a score by Malick. It never received an "official" release, playing only through College Film Societies in the US. Malick subsequently donated a copy to his alma mater, the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. You can go there and watch it in the library on VHS. It cannot be borrowed or copied. It will most likely never be released on dvd. Malick's reputation as cinema's Salinger is sealed. What is most intriguing is the thought that its a comedy. A Malick comedy!

4. HHH (Olivier Assayas, 1997)

One of my favourite directors makes a documentary about another one of my favourite directors. It seems too beautiful to be true. Assayas was a Cahiers du Cinema critic before he started writing and directing, and he was the guiding force behind the Special issue focusing on New Asian Cinema back before it all became voguish. He had a particular interest in Hong Kong cinema (he would eventually cast Maggie Cheung in "Irma Vep", then marry her) and the New Taiwanese movement, of which Hou Hsiao-hsien was perhaps the most talented director. Assayas is a gifted director in his own right, and his interviews are always fascinating as much for his asides about contemporary film culture as for his reflections on his own work, so I would love to see what he makes of Hou's career and the Taiwanese industry as a whole. He vividly conjured up the sweaty bustle of the urban Orient in "Boarding Gate" and his last film, "Summer Hours", was virtually a tribute to Hou, suggesting this documentary may be something of a atmospheric hagiography. Anything like Chris Marker's essay on Kurosawa would be fine with me...

5. La Luna (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1979)

In 1970, Bertolucci made "Il Conformista", to my mind one of the greatest films ever made. Since then, his career has been an uneven series of missteps and wild leaps, from the occasionally sublime ("Last Tango In Paris", "1900", "The Last Emperor") to the particularly ridiculous ( "Little Buddha", "1900", "Stealing Beauty"). But each of his films contains great, marvelous moments of beauty and ambition. Often followed by a stilted, awful scene which seems directed by somebody else entirely. I haven't seen two of his post 1970 films, 1981's "Tragedia di un uomo ridiculo" and "La Luna", the story of an Opera singer whose battle to reclaim her son from a heroin addiction leads to a flirtation with incest. My interest in it was stimulated by a glowing review in an old 1970s Special issue of Movieline magazine, and my subsequent appreciation of Bertolucci's work has only heightened that interest. The suggestion that it recalls the more overwrought later passages of "Last Tango" only make it sound all the more fascinating. It stars the wonderful Jill Clayburgh, too. It doesn't seem to exist anywhere on dvd. Except in Germany. Believe me, I'm thinking about it.

6. Mickey One (Arthur Penn, 1965)

A reportedly Kafka-esque conspiracy comedy man-on-the-run thriller about a comic fleeing the Mob, starring Warren Beatty, directed by Arthur Penn (a couple of years before their triumph on "Bonnie & Clyde") and with a Jazz score by Stan Getz and photography by Nouvelle Vague cinematographer of choice, Ghislain Cloquet? I'm there. Release it on dvd, I'll buy it sight unseen. No? Beatty was in the zone for much of the late 60s until well into the 1970s (arguably into the 80s and "Ishtar") and Penn was a unique talent who has a formidable back catalogue full of eclectic quality. I just know that even if its terrible, it'll be terrible in an interesting way. The first 10 minutes are on YouTube. I can't bear it. Thats no way to watch a movie.

7. Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1989)

Clarke's TV film depicts a series of assassinations in Northern Ireland. Without a plot or characters. The camera picks out men walking, in streets, parks, corridors. They are shot - brutally, with the disturbing flatness and banality of real violence - and the camera leaves with the assassin. Its mainly a series of intense, lengthy steadicam shots, broken by sudden cutaways to pistols firing and corpses bleeding. I have seen only clips on a documentary, but they were stunning. Gus Van Sant was inspired for his own "Elephant" and so stole both the title and the steadicam.

8. Virus (Kinji Fukasaku, 1980)

This one sounds sort of bad, in a way. Its a big Japanese production (it was the most expensive Japanese film ever at the time) with an International cast of seen-better-days faded stars like Robert Vaughn, Chuck Connors and Glen Ford joining the likes of Sonny Chiba. Its 155 minutes long. It concerns an apocalyptic super-virus that kills 99.9999% of Earth's population. I had no interest in it until a year or so ago, when I read Junot Diaz's fantastic debut novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". That book chronicles the life of a geek - a comic-obsessed, Lord of the Rings quoting geek. But its narrator is a slightly cooler geek and he works in multiple geek references - to Galactus, to Sauron, etc - wittily and lightly. One of the protagonists geek touchstones is "Virus", which he watches obsessively. Which makes him weep. There is no better cheerleader for art than other art, so obviously, I instantly had to see it. Plus its directed by Fukasaku, a talented journeyman on the right project. And - Sonny Chiba!
There is a version available in the UK, but its the butchered, under 2 hour cut. Which will never do.

9. Lola (Jacques Demy, 1959)

I'm a big fan of Demy's beautiful "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964) and "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" (1967), wherein he reinvented the Musical in visually sensational fashion. The fact that he did this without fudging the darkness of his sensibility - the edge of quiet, everyday tragedy - makes him a marvel. "Lola" was his first film, and he reportedly emerged fully-formed, his style already confident and established. Its inspired by Max Ophuls' "Lola Montes" and tells the story of Aimee's cabaret dancer and her various romantic entanglements in Nantes, Demy's hometown. Songs by Michel Legrand. Based on stills, shining black and white photography by Raoul Coutard. And give me Anouk Aimee over Brigitte Bardot or Jeanne Moreau or even Catherine Denueve anyday.

10. The War Lord (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1965)

Charlton Heston! Shouting! Every! Word!
Schaffner directed a couple of classics - "Patton", "The Best Man", "Papillon" and "Planet of the Apes" - and all of those suggest he possessed a steady hand with spectacle but also a good sense of character drama. "The War Lord" follows Heston's 11th Century Norman Knight, who is charged with defending a village on the French coast from Viking Raiders. The trailer on YouTube, apart from featuring a hilariously pompous blurb from Heston himself, makes it look like a schizophrenic blend of hack and slash battle epic and syrupy romance. But Heston with a sword is a good thing (see "El Cid" for proof). And Schaffner, at that time, was gearing up for his golden period. The supporting cast - Guy Stockwell, Richard Boone - can't hurt, either. I've wanted to see it since I read about it at about 13, and I saw it on dvd in Spain a few years ago. And passed. Why, I don't quite recall right now...

11. The Quince Tree Sun (Victor Erice, 1992)

Erice works rarely, and of his work, I've only seen "The Spirit of the Beehive". But that is a poetic and profound masterpiece, and I would watch anything else he was involved with. Especially this semi-documentary, a reportedly meticulous study of painter Antonio Lopez Garcia and his struggle to perfectly capture a true moment of fleeting, natural beauty in his work. It was on an Artificial Eye video years ago, but theres no sign of a DVD...

12. Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969)

I saw "State of Siege", Gavras' 1973 take on Uruguay's Tupamaros urban guerillas when I was in College, and its immediacy and frightening realism blew me away. Ever since then I've wanted to see "Z", the tale of a judge investigating a political assassination in a Greece under a Military Dictatorship. It may be the most canonical film on this list, having won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1970 (it was also nominated for Best Picture) and maintaining a strong critical reputation to this day. Modern conspiracy thrillers are routinely compared to it. It also stars a couple of greats in Yves Montand and Jean Louis Trintignant. All the more puzzling, then, that its so difficult to track down. Copies of the Region 1 dvd are on amazon for £50, suggesting its been deleted. "State of Siege" is similarly elusive. But if you want one of Gavras' so-so American studio pictures from the 1980s, no problem...

An alternative 12 : "Play Dirty" (Andre DeToth, 1969), "Centre Stage" (Stanley Kwan, 1992), "Ghosts...of the Civil Dead" (John Hillcoat, 1969), "The Killing Box" (George Hickenlooper, 1993), "Goldstein" (Philip Kaufman, 1965), "The Red Tent" (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1969), "Lightning Over Water" (Nicholas Ray, 1980), "Serenade" (Anthony Mann, 1956), "Two Weeks In Another Town" (Vincente Minnelli, 1962), "Utu" (Geoff Murphy, 1983), "Pocket Money" (Stuart Rosenberg, 1972), "The Green Room" (Francois Truffaut, 1978)

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Blogger Beezer B said...

Ah sir you exceed yourself. You make me want to watch them all right now. You write about them in the way one talks about food when you're starving. All salivary and panting. Excellent.

I couldn't make 12. I could do 5 or more perhaps and I couldn't do it until next week and they might all be Japanese. In fact they probably will be unless something else springs to mind.

I'll have to include a different Fukasaku so as not to overlap (this is not a problem) but I've wanted to see Virus for years. I remember some Japanese film guide describing it as Fukasaku san trying to see how far he could push the studios before they told him to piss off. It sounds like a long way. I also have a theory that every "most expensive film in Japanese history" ever is worth seeing. Kurosawa had four or five I think and Kwaidan and some of the best sounding WW2 flicks... Yeah, it's a theory.

I can't believe you haven't just bitten the bullet with some of these and watched the bootlegs. You're worse than me. The amount of records I've "allways wanted" and could buy on CD or download is ridiculous but most of them I don't touch and keep on waiting for the vinyl to bite my line. Very strange behaviour.

You've really made me want to watch some films though. I brought a wallet of about 100 unwatched DVDs up country with me in May and I've watched precisely one of them (not including any LoTR rewatching, which doesn't count) and I can't even remember what that was.
In fact I have six or seven Sonny Chiba films with me and by god I'm going to watch one tomorrow!

1:10 am  
Blogger David N said...

5 Japanese films sounds like an interesting list to me. Especially if I don't know them.

All really, obscenely expensive films are worth seeing, I think. The excess is interesting of itself, and they're usually bloated in a crazy way on some level. Heavens Gate, Cleopatra, Inchon, Baron Munchausen, Waterworld....

12:23 am  
Blogger Ross said...

I may know of ten that I want to see and aren't readily available, but I doubt it.
All I can manage is Carpenter's Elvis and London After Midnight which I believe is mostly lost now, I think from 1919?
Miike's Zebraman may count as I don't think it's had a US release and the Japanese DVD isn't subtitled.

I could feasibly populate the rest of the list with Miike films but a lot of them I want to see solely because he directed, as opposed to also being interested in the film itself.

Most other films I have seen, or could do if I went and bought/rented them.
My film knowledge is obviously not that extensive.

9:22 pm  
Blogger David N said...

If you start on a list, more will come to you, I'm sure. Its a sort of mental cross-referencing..

10:40 pm  
Blogger Beezer B said...

Oh yeah, another thing about this list of yours. I now have a DEFINITE thing to do in Los Angeles whenever I end up there. Assuming they still have a video player then.
I WILL do this.

1:13 am  
Blogger Beezer B said...

Oh and I didn't watch a film when I said I was going to but I went to throw something on over dinner last night and ended up watching all 5 (feels like) hours of Malcolm X. It was great, as I remembered it. I think I like Spike sticking knives in me so much I'll have to rewatch all his good films again. I think I cried for ten minutes solid at the end of X. Unbelievable knife twisting.

I was remembering an older Jewish kid at school taking my X hat off me on the bus and hanging it out of the window "because Malcolm X was an anti-Semite". Oh how I wished I'd finished the auto-biography before I bought the hat, would've sonned him. (un)Happy times.

1:18 am  
Blogger David N said...

I like Malcolm X until Spike's signature shot, at the end: a character glides along on a dolly with the camera fixed in front of his face. You know the bit. He does it in every film, whether it fits or not. It actually would fit in X but it drags me out of the film every time and fills me with resentment.

For me, Ali does Malcolm X better and more succinctly. But you don't like Michael Mann or whatever, so you're never gonna go for that..

12:08 am  
Blogger Beezer B said...

Nah, I wanted to see it when it was in the cinema. I haven't got round to seeing it out of the cinema. If this one thing I like almost as much as musical biopics, it's boxing biopics.
That shot in X is a bit lame and "the bad Spike Lee" but it's just the one shot and "the good Spike Lee" pops up right after it. It is a lame shot though, we all know he's gonna get it so a "HE'S ABOUT TO GET SHOT!!!!!" scene isn't so necessary.

I don't actively dislike Michael Mann. I can't say I've seen more than a couple of his films. I just don't remember liking any of them particularly. He's not on my "don't see his films" list. In fact almost no-one is on that list. Vincent Gallo. Erm... That's about it. No wait, Sally Potter and whoever directed Contact.

1:52 am  
Blogger David N said...

Sally Potter I can understand. But Buffalo 66 is awesome. And the Brown Bunny is pretty good too. And Robert Zemeckis? Really? This is just based on some hatred of Contact, I'm guessing. Coz you couldn't really hate the man who made Back to the Future, could you?

And Cast Away. I love Cast Away. Every time its on tv I end up watching most of it. He did make Forrest Gump, though.

1:26 am  
Blogger Beezer B said...

Damn was it really Zemeckis? Okay. I take that back. It's just one of the worst films I've ever seen.
My cousin works for Sally Potter. Or used to, I'm not sure he does now. Anyway so I went to about four of her films at screenings and shit and each time they were the worst films I'd seen since the last one.
Prince Vince is not my homeboy.

2:49 pm  

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