Thursday, November 5, 2020

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Week 8: 1978 - 1981)

 The World in 1978:

Film in 1978:

Animal House (USA: John Landis, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "The talents of director John Landis and Saturday Night Live's irrepressible John Belushi conspired to create a rambunctious, subversive college comedy that continues to resonate. The talents of director John Landis and Saturday Night Live's irrepressible John Belushi conspired to create a rambunctious, subversive college comedy that continues to resonate." MB: A legendary, raunchy college comedy that set the benchmark for this genre and as far as I know still rules it. The actors all truly inhabit their roles in a way that should be admired even if they are not reaching for the typical thespian heights of high drama. As a working class kid that was rarely talked to about possibly going to college, when I saw it in a theater at 13 it was probably the first time I thought that maybe I should go to college ;) The class warfare of the university administration protected elite frats on the outcasts of Delta House, who then respond with even more fury, certainly spoke to me. As during this year I would lose my religion, start developing an anti-authoritarian attitude, and was going through puberty, it no doubt played a role in my attitude. I have seen this many times!] 

Blue Collar (USA: Paul Schraeder, 1978) [Roger Ebert: "It is an angry, radical movie about the vise that traps workers between big industry and big labor. It's also an enormously entertaining movie." Rotten Tomatoes: "When Detroit autoworkers Zeke Brown (Richard Pryor), Jerry Bartowski (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey James (Yaphet Kotto) decide to rob their own union, they are initially disappointed by the relatively small haul. However, upon closer inspection, the three amateur thieves discover that they have made off with something potentially much more valuable than money: the union's ledger, filled with bogus figures and links to organized crime. Should they blackmail the union or go to the authorities?" MB: Great tagline: "The American Dream, if you are rich you can buy it, if you are anything else you have to fight for it."]

Days of Heaven (USA: Terence Malick, 1978) [Criterion: "One-of-a-kind filmmaker-philosopher Terrence Malick has created some of the most visually arresting films of the twentieth century, and his glorious period tragedy Days of Heaven, featuring Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Almendros, stands out among them. In 1910, a Chicago steelworker (Richard Gere) accidentally kills his supervisor, and he, his girlfriend (Brooke Adams), and his little sister (Linda Manz) flee to the Texas panhandle, where they find work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer (Sam Shepard). A love triangle, a swarm of locusts, a hellish fire—Malick captures it all with dreamlike authenticity, creating a timeless American idyll that is also a gritty evocation of turn-of-the-century labor." MB: Brilliant use of the golden hour to create painterly landscape scenery and to portray the rhythms of collective labor.]

The Deer Hunter (USA: Michael Cimino, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "In 1968, Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), lifelong friends from a working-class Pennsylvania steel town, prepare to ship out overseas following Steven's elaborate wedding and one final group hunting trip. In Vietnam, their dreams of military honor are quickly shattered by the inhumanities of war; even those who survive are haunted by the experience, as is Nick's hometown sweetheart, Linda (Meryl Streep)." Ed Travis: "The depiction of Vietnam, and then the subsequent aftermath in the third act of the film, is more potent and visceral because we feel the impact of the war on an entire community, not just on the three men we follow there." MB: Michael Cimino's film, along with Apocalypse Now (1979), singled a changing viewpoint about the American empire's war on Vietnam.]

Halloween (USA: John Carpenter, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Scary, suspenseful, and viscerally thrilling, Halloween set the standard for modern horror films. On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith's Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims." MB: This film scared me senseless as a 13 yr old, and it still gets to me. For me the most horrific part is the beginning and the rest of the cruelties/horrors are ripples of that initial misogynistic violence. A low-budget, sleeper hit, it made back a phenomenal 100 times its original budget of $500,000. It initiated a hugely successful series and countless imitators with diminishing returns and then was rebooted in the 21st Century by horror/shock rocker and director Rob Zombie (I haven't seen them). The soundtrack is very effective, when I was a teenager if someone imitated the musical refrain while we were walking at night it would freak people out.]

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (USA: Philip Kaufman, 1978) [Criterion: "A classic of 1950s science fiction receives a terrifying update for the paranoid, disillusioned 1970s in one of the rare remakes to bring new dimension to the original. One by one, the residents of San Francisco are becoming dronelike shadows of their former selves. As the phenomenon spreads, two Department of Health workers, Matthew (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), uncover the horrifying truth: mysterious pods are cloning humans and destroying the originals. The otherworldly invasion grows with each passing minute, hurling Matthew and Elizabeth into a desperate race to save not only their own lives but all of humanity." MB: Seriously creeped me out when I saw it in the theater and I preferred it to the original (which is good in its own right), probably because of its contemporaneity.]

Up in Smoke (USA: Lou Adler, 1978) [Rotten Tomatoes: "An unemployed pot-smoking slacker and amateur drummer, Anthony Stoner (Tommy Chong) ditches his strict parents and hits the road, eventually meeting kindred spirit Pedro de Pacas (Cheech Marin). While the drug-ingesting duo is soon arrested for possession of marijuana, Anthony and Pedro get released on a technicality, allowing them to continue their many misadventures and ultimately compete in a rock band contest, where they perform the raucous tune "Earache My Eye."" MB: This comedic duo were literally like rock stars and beloved by stoners everywhere (my parents had two albums and they were not stoners). They were at the height of their fame when this came out after four gold record comedy albums. One of the greatest "stoner comedies" and a riotous road trip film.  Stacy Keach as Narcotics Officer Sergeant Stedenko is perfection.  When I saw it in the theater on release, I immediately bought the album afterward and played it endlessly. Their song "Lost Due to Incompetence" should be the official song for 2020.]

Film in 1979:

Alien (USA: Ridley Scott, 1979) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A modern classic, Alien blends science fiction, horror and bleak poetry into a seamless whole. In deep space, the crew of the commercial starship Nostromo is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. The terror begins when the crew encounters a nest of eggs inside the alien ship. An organism from inside an egg leaps out and attaches itself to one of the crew, causing him to fall into a coma." MB: "In space no one can hear you scream." A SF film on the surface, it is also one of the most powerful and terrifying body horror films (up there with John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing). I had read the adapted novel beforehand and still it made me jump at times. Visionary film production which incorporated the surreal/nightmarish biomechanical art of H.R. Giger  for the design of the creature. Also bold for its serious bad ass female action hero, very rare for its time. The second film Aliens (1986) is a rare excellent sequel!]

All That Jazz (USA: Bob Fosse, 1979) [Criterion: "The preternaturally gifted director and choreographer Bob Fosse turned the camera on his own life for this madly imaginative, self-excoriating musical masterpiece. Roy Scheider gives the performance of his career as Joe Gideon, whose exhausting work schedule—mounting a Broadway production by day and editing his latest movie by night—and routine of amphetamines, booze, and sex are putting his health at serious risk. Fosse burrows into Gideon’s (and his own) mind, rendering his interior world as phantasmagoric spectacle. Assembled with visionary editing that makes dance come alive on-screen as never before, and overflowing with sublime footwork by the likes of Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, and Ben Vereen, All That Jazz pushes the musical genre to personal depths and virtuosic aesthetic heights." MB: "To be on the wire is life, the rest is waiting." When I saw this as a 14 year old I was confused and distanced, I just didn't have the life experience to understand this dazzingly important and intellectual film about the nature of creativity and our inevitable mortality. Filled with some of the most memorable dance scenes ever.]

Apocalypse Now (USA: Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Francis Ford Coppola's haunting, hallucinatory Vietnam War epic is cinema at its most audacious and visionary. In Vietnam in 1970, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes a perilous and increasingly hallucinatory journey upriver to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-promising officer who has reportedly gone completely mad. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, a surfing-obsessed Air Cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), and a crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), Willard travels further and further into the heart of darkness." MB: Coming off the massive financial and award success of the first two Godfather films Coppola sets out to make a passion project film and literally goes off into his own personal Heart of Darkness. This was one of the most powerful cinematic experiences I had as a teen. I was literally blown away and could not quit thinking about the film. I returned to see it a second time in the theater. Something I had never done before. I sought out a copy of Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella The Heart of Darkness which served as inspiration for the film narrative (Conrad's setting was the European brutal colonization in the The Congo River region of Africa). The film features one of the best opening scenes in cinematic history. It is a powerful critique of the insanity of war and imperialist ambitions.]

Life of Brian (UK: Terry Jones, 1979) [Criterion: "After slaying the Arthurian legend in their now classic Holy Grail, the Pythons set their sights on the Greatest Story Ever Told. Blind faith, virgin birth, crucifixion—nothing is sacred in this epic send-up of ancient times, which draws on the cornball biblical blockbusters of the 1950s to lampoon celebrity culture in any era. Criterion has gathered the guilty parties—including John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin—for two commentary tracks as provocative and hilarious as the film itself." MB: A brilliant satire of Christian mythos from the all-time best comedic troupe Monty Python (if you haven't seen their work - check them out on Youtube. Here is one of my favorites from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).]

Quadrophenia (UK: Franc Roddam, 1979) [Criterion: "The Who’s classic rock opera Quadrophenia was the basis for this invigorating coming-of-age movie and depiction of the defiant, drug-fueled mod subculture of early 1960s London. Our antihero is Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a teenager dissatisfied with family, work, and love. He spends his time knocking around with his clothes-obsessed, pill-popping, scooter-driving fellow mods, a group whose antipathy for the motorcycle-riding rockers leads to a climactic riot in Brighton. Director Franc Roddam’s rough-edged film is a quintessential chronicle of youthful rebellion and turmoil, with Pete Townshend’s brilliant songs (including “I’ve Had Enough,” “5:15,” and “Love Reign O’er Me”) providing emotional support, and featuring Sting and Ray Winstone in early roles." MB: Easily one of the all-time best rock musicals and a powerful expression of youthful alienation waking up to the hypocrisies of the world (including rebellions based around culturally manufactured identities). The film and the soundtrack set off a mod revival. I remember large groups of neo-mods whipping around the roads along the beaches of San Diego during my teens.]

Stalker (Soviet Union: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979) [Criterion: "Andrei Tarkovsky’s final Soviet feature is a metaphys­ical journey through an enigmatic postapocalyptic landscape, and a rarefied cinematic experience like no other. A hired guide—the Stalker—leads a writer and a professor into the heart of the Zone, the restricted site of a long-ago disaster, where the three men eventually zero in on the Room, a place rumored to fulfill one’s most deeply held desires. Adapting a science-fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Tarkovsky created an immersive world with a wealth of material detail and a sense of organic atmosphere. A religious allegory, a reflection of contemporaneous political anxieties, a meditation on film itself—Stalker envelops the viewer by opening up a multitude of possible meanings." MB: I remember watching this film as a grad student with two movie-loving friends. We were baked, garrulous, and excited to see this SF masterpiece we had heard about. It was unlike the standard Hollywood SF blockbuster and our altered brains had a difficult time slipping in and out of the narrative. Its strange, alienated, slipstream narrative told through dramatic, powerful, loaded imagery by one of the great directors, stayed with me. I later sought out the Strugatsky Brothers novel on which it was based and watched the film again multiple times (as well as loaned it to others). It is like a great cinematic poem in which you have to quiet your left brain and focus on the powerful imagery that speaks to your right brain. Incredibly rewarding for those that are open to exploring the mysteries of the Zone and don't require a neat bow to tie things up for them.]

Caddyshack (USA: Harol Ramis, 1980) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Though unabashedly crude and juvenile, Caddyshack nevertheless scores with its classic slapstick, unforgettable characters, and endlessly quotable dialogue. Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe), a teen down on his luck, works as a caddy at the snob-infested Bushwood Country Club to raise money for his college education. In an attempt to gain votes for a college scholarship reserved for caddies, Noonan volunteers to caddy for a prominent and influential club member (Ted Knight). Meanwhile, Danny struggles to prepare for the high pressure Caddy Day golf tournament while absorbing New Age advice from wealthy golf guru Ty Webb (Chevy Chase)." MB: Low humor done effectively - a hard thing to do. Revived Rodney Dangerfield's career as a wise-cracking jester taking the wind out of the upper classes.]

The Elephant Man (USA: David Lynch, 1980) [Criterion: "With this poignant second feature, David Lynch brought his atmospheric visual and sonic palette to a notorious true story set in Victorian England. When the London surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) meets the freak-show performer John Merrick (John Hurt), who has severe skeletal and soft-tissue deformities, he assumes that he must be intellectually disabled as well. As the two men spend more time together, though, Merrick reveals the intelligence, gentle nature, and profound sense of dignity that lie beneath his shocking appearance, and he and Treves develop a friendship. Shot in gorgeous black and white and boasting a stellar supporting cast that includes Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, and Wendy Hiller, The Elephant Man was nominated for eight Academy Awards, cementing Lynch’s reputation as one of American cinema’s most visionary talents." MB: A powerful humanist film that examines the ordeal and experiences of a unique outsider.]

Heaven's Gate (USA: Michael Cimino, 1980) [Criterion: "A breathtaking depiction of the promise and perils of America’s western expansion, Heaven’s Gate, directed by Michael Cimino, is among Hollywood’s most ambitious and unorthodox epics. Kris Kristofferson brings his weathered sensuality to the role of a Harvard graduate who relocates to Wyoming as a federal marshal; there, he learns of a government-sanctioned plot by cattle barons to kill the area’s European settlers for their land. The resulting battle is based on the bloody real-life Johnson County War of 1892. Also starring Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Walken, Heaven’s Gate is a savage and ravishingly shot take on western movie lore." MB: Cimino's next film after the huge success and awards of The Deer Hunter (1978), is a stunningly beautiful film that seeks to deconstruct the American mythologizing of the Western expansion (invasion/conquest). Released at the beginning of the neo-conservative revolution of Ronald Reagan's presidency, it was career suicide for this talented director. Border keeping critics lined up to ensure that the incredibly expensive (for the time) film tanked in the theaters and ensured that studios never gave him the funding again to make films like these. If I was to guess, it was his focus on the reverberating effects of war/conquest/invasion on the community-at-large (in this one and the previous one).]

Kagemusha (Japan: Akira Kurosawa, 1980) [Criterion: "When a warlord dies, a peasant thief is called upon to impersonate him, and then finds himself haunted by the warlord’s spirit as well as his own ambitions. In his late color masterpiece Kagemusha, Akira Kurosawa returns to the samurai film and to a primary theme of his career—the play between illusion and reality. Sumptuously reconstructing the splendor of feudal Japan and the pageantry of war, Kurosawa creates a historical epic that is also a meditation on the nature of power." MB: A mythic film that demonstrates the legendary director's interest in painting in its many spectacular set pieces. Won the Palme d'or at Cannes.]

Pixote (Brazil: Héctor Babenco, 1980) [Criterion: "With a blend of harsh realism and aching humanity, Héctor Babenco’s international breakout Pixote offers an electrifying look at youth fighting to survive on the bottom rung of Brazilian society, and a stinging indictment of the country’s military dictatorship and police. In a heartbreaking performance, Fernando Ramos da Silva plays a young boy who escapes a nightmarish reformatory only to resort to a life of violent crime, even as he forms a makeshift family with some fellow outcasts."]

Raging Bull (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1980) [Bruce McCabe of the Boston Globe: "This is a masterpiece. It proves that a film can have violent undertones and overtones, but still illuminate and comment upon violence in a moving, poetic and profound way." Xstal on IMDB: "The power of the movie comes from De Niro under the direction of Martin Scorsese, providing a wholly convincing performance of the furious, bitter, bovine pugilist with serious psychological issues. It is one of the truly great performances of that decade, perhaps of all time, nailing the establishment of a character it's genuinely difficult to have any empathy or sympathy with. If you dig deeper, you will not be surprised to find a serial misogynist who married seven times and who beat all of his wives. If this is your type of hero you might like to reconsider how you got there. If De Nero, Scorsese and cinema are your heroes, not too many will disagree with that." MB: A truly brutal examination of a controversial figure in the sport of boxing. Robert DeNiro's portrayal of Jake LeMotta is one of the best immersive acting of all-time. The fight scenes are a tour-de-force representation of the violence of the sport.]

The Shining (UK/USA: Stanley Kubrick, 1980) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Though it deviates from Stephen King's novel, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is a chilling, often baroque journey into madness -- exemplified by an unforgettable turn from Jack Nicholson. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer's block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack's writing goes nowhere and Danny's visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel's dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family." MB: Stephen King, the author of the 1977 source novel, notoriously hates this adaptation. Mr. King clearly understands literary horror, but he definitely doesn't recognize good cinema or the territory of adapting a work. Kubrick takes King's novel and makes it his own in a truly brilliant and visionary way. In all of my archives for films this one has the most varied and extensive range of interpretations and responses. There is a 2012 documentary that examines the wide range of theories about the film and its obsessive fans. Last year Mike Flanagan's adaptation of King's sequel Doctor Sleep (2019) was also impressive (if you watch The Shining and watch Doctor Sleep - you can do a response to both).]

Blow Out (USA: Brian DePalma, 1981) [Criterion: "In the enthralling Blow Out, brilliantly crafted by Brian De Palma, John Travolta gives one of his greatest performances, as a movie sound-effects man who believes he has accidentally recorded a political assassination. He enlists the help of a possible eyewitness to the crime (Carrie’s Nancy Allen), who may be in danger herself, to uncover the truth. With its jolting stylistic flourishes, intricate plot, profoundly felt characterizations, and gritty evocation of early-1980s Philadelphia, Blow Out is an American paranoia thriller unlike any other, as well as a devilish reflection on moviemaking."]

The Evil Dead (USA: Sam Raimi, 1981) [Rotten Tomatoes: This classic low budget horror film combines just the right amount of gore and black humor, giving The Evil Dead an equal amount of thrills and laughs. This classic low budget horror film combines just the right amount of gore and black humor, giving The Evil Dead an equal amount of thrills and laughs." MB: A bold, low-budget debut by Raimi makes every cent count and brims with creativity. Launched Bruce Davidson into cult hero status as the chainsaw wielding, wise ass, Ash. The enduring popularity of this film, and its hero, is evident in the original trilogy, the 21st Century reboots, and the recent TV series (2015 - 2018) Ash vs The Evil Dead]

The Loveless (USA: Kathryn Bigelow, 1981) [IMDB: "Trouble ensues when a motorcycle gang stops in a small southern town while heading to the races at Daytona." MB: This is fun for many reasons: 1) If you are familiar with The Wild One (1953) and its bad boy(s) coming to town cinematic progeny. 2) If you can flow with style over substance (but still some substance). 3) It seems like Robert Mapplethorpe working through a feminine lense (or is that vice versa); or, wait maybe Mapplethorpe working in a strict heterosexual matriarchy making his one chance at mainstream cinema before chucking it and doing the art he wanted.  4) A young Willem Dafoe - perfect for this role... but when doesn't he own his role. 5) The dialogue, hokey at best, but it works so good with the overwrought style 6) The ending.]

Possession (France/West Germany: Andzej Zulawski, 1981) [MUBI: "A spiral staircase movie, a never-ending metaphysical game of cat-and-mouse, a moral aspiration to the Heavens, a “spotlight” on God, a scornful detective movie, a horror movie and frightful, high-octane baroque work—Possession is all of that at once." Tagline: "Beyond the realm of human desire there is a darkness ..." Second Sight Films: "Written and directed by Andrzej Zulawski, Possession is a deeply unsettling experience, aided by the horrific effects of the great Carlo Rambaldi (Deep Red, Close Encounters, Alien). The film, though banned on video, was nominated for a BAFTA and the Palme d'Or and Adgani's astonishing performance earned her Best Actress awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the French Cesars." Daniel Bird: “…Viktor Shklovsky wrote about how the job of the artist was to come up with a device that made the familiar seem strange. The ‘strangeness’ sets our brain a challenge, and the process of dealing with it is engaging – not just on an intellectual level, but an emotional one too… In Possession, Żuławski made a marital breakdown ‘strange’ by showing ‘the horror’ – this was not Scenes from a Marriage – it was something else.” MB: Have you experienced a long passionate, intense relationship with a lover and then watch horrified as the relationship  dissolves/immolates to the point where you can't even understand each other to the point of no-recognition? Then this completely unique and strange film might speak to you. Earlier in this list, I made mention of DeNiro's amazing and committed performance as Jake LeMotta in Raging Bull, I believe Isabelle Adjani goes even further, seeming to me, to often be on the edge of tipping into the abyss. Zulawski has been identified as a purveyor of hysterical excess in his films, with that in mind it might not be your cup-of-tea, but I find him endlessly fascinating. I never walk away from one of his films untouched or unmoved.]

Quest for Fire (Canada/France: Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1981)  [Rotten Tomatoes: "In the prehistoric world, a Cro-Magnon tribe depends on an ever-burning source of fire, which eventually extinguishes. Lacking the knowledge to start a new fire, the tribe sends three warriors (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi) on a quest for more. With the tribe's future at stake, the warriors make their way across a treacherous landscape full of hostile tribes and monstrous beasts. On their journey, they encounter Ika (Rae Dawn Chong), a woman who has the knowledge they seek." MB: A surprisingly intelligent anthropological fantasy about life amongst competing Cro-Magnon tribes. The actors, communicate through gestures and grunts, and somehow that works. It is quite funny at times and also disturbing at others. It has the spectacle of classic epics, but it is also grounded in the immediacy of the quest of the three main characters. Very refreshing when compared to ridiculous films like 10,000 B.C. (2013).]

The Road Warrior (Mad Max II) (Australia: George Miller, 1981) [Rotten Tomatoes: "The Road Warrior is everything a bigger-budgeted Mad Max sequel with should be: bigger, faster, louder, but definitely not dumber. After avenging the death of his wife and young son at the hands of a vicious gang leader, Max (Mel Gibson) drives the post-apocalyptic highways of the Australian outback, fending off attacks from nomadic tribes that prey on outsiders. Falling into an encampment led by the relatively peaceful Pappagallo (Mike Preston), Max at first schemes to steal their oil, but soon becomes the group's reluctant defender against the hulking Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and his ruthless marauders." MB: I had seen the first Mad Max (1979) as a B movie with some forgotten main feature at a drive-in theater. It was poorly distributed and so this second film is the one that made a huge impact in America. It is a stand alone film, the first film is not necessary. As a 16 year old moving into my fully fledged youthful rebellion stage I was entranced by both Max the alienated, loner (although he has the coolest companion dog!), wanderer-warrior and the savage, punkish, neo-tribal, motorized scavengers-villains. If you see this film I would also accept another response on the 21st Century reboot of the series Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - easily one of my favorite films of the 21st Century. Interestingly, the director of these films, is also the creator of the two Babe (1995) films.]

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