Friday, November 13, 2020

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Week 9: 1982 - 1984)

 The World in 1982:

Film in 1982:

Blade Runner  (USA: Ridley Scott, 1982) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Misunderstood when it first hit theaters, the influence of Ridley Scott's mysterious, neo-noir Blade Runner has deepened with time. A visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forced by the police Boss (M. Emmet Walsh) to continue his old job as Replicant Hunter. His assignment: eliminate four escaped Replicants from the colonies who have returned to Earth. Before starting the job, Deckard goes to the Tyrell Corporation and he meets Rachel (Sean Young), a Replicant girl he falls in love with." MB: I am a huge SF nerd, but I have demands for the genre that are rarely met. This film exceeds my desire for intelligent SF that pushes us to think about the human condition in new and profound ways. The source novel Philip K. Dick's  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is a masterpiece and a great example of how he uses his fiction to question how we perceive our realities (and how some try to control our varying perceptions). Ridley Scott pulls off the impossible and makes an imagistic narrative that equals the book's power without losing the story. The noirish visual aesthetic was so powerful, it influenced generations of future filmmakers and entered into the DNA of the SF genre.  The recent surprise sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is also worth checking out and if you watch the first, you are welcome to watch the second and write a response. There are five versions of the 1982 film, I would recommend the Director Cut or Final Cut. I would classify this film as a great philosophical film on "what it means to be human."]

The Draughtsman's Contract (UK: Peter Greenaway, 1982) [BFI: "Peter Greenaway became a director of international status with this witty, stylised, erotic country house murder mystery. In an apparently idyllic 17th century Wiltshire, an ambitious draughtsman is commissioned by the wife of an aristocrat to produce twelve drawings of her husband's estate and negotiates terms to include sexual favours from his employer. But when a corpse is dragged from the moat, the draughtsman's drawings may reveal more than he realised. Extravagant costumes, a twisting plot, elegantly barbed dialogue and a mesmerising score by Michael Nyman make the film a treat for ear, eye and mind. Peter Greenaway, who worked closely with the BFI for the release of this DVD and who has written the sleeve notes, comments: "Should an artist draw what he sees or draw what he knows? Sight and knowledge are not at all the same thing. Seeing and believing. Just because you have eyes does not mean you can see." MB: Peter Greenaway brings his practice of and fascination with art to the forefront of this delicious period drama/mystery. Brilliant set pieces and witty dialogue.]

Fitzcarraldo (West Germany/Peru: Werner Herzog, 1982)  [Rotten Tomatoes: "With a production as audacious as the feat it's depicting, Fitzcarraldo comes by its awe-inspiring spectacle honestly, even when it declines to examine the darker implications of its hero's dream. Opera-loving European Brian Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) lives in a small Peruvian city. Better known as Fitzcarraldo, this foreigner is obsessed with building an opera house in his town and decides that to make his dream a reality he needs to make a killing in the rubber business. In order to become a successful rubber baron, Fitzcarraldo hatches an elaborate plan that calls for a particularly impressive feat -- bringing a massive boat over a mountain with the help of a band of natives." MB: Herzog is a person who tries to live his ambitions out fully and to make this film he decided to actually carry a full size ship over a jungle mountain. Legendary film for that feat alone. The making of the film was documented in the 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams .]

Forbidden Zone (USA: Richard Elfman, 1982) ["Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo tour the kinky realm of little King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) and his queen (Susan Tyrrell)." MB: Yes, that Oingo Boingo, this film is not high art, or even in good taste, but it is infused with crazy energy, wild creativity, and an insane narrative. It grew out of the experiemental theatrical troupe that led to the formation of the band. A true cult film! It was a huge hit when I screened it for the Cult Film Series at Al's Bar. Caveat: Definitely a product of its time and it uses some stereotypical imagery - it seems that these are inspired by the underground comics of the 1960s. Tagline: "Keep telling yourself, it is only a movie."]

The Thing (USA: John Carpenter, 1982) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects. In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell) and the camp doctor (Richard Dysart) lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one." MB: One of the greatest body horror films of all time. When I saw this in my sold out local theater as a 17 year old with a dozen friends I was still terrified and at times the intensity made me feel like my face was melting ;) Groundbreaking special effects for the time that I think still hold up (although I may be too biased). Also one of the great existential films. Remade in the 21st Century, but I never checked it out because I would only be disappointed. Tagline: "Man is the warmest place to hide."]

Born in Flames (USA: Lizzie Borden, 1983) [Criterion: "The film that rocked the foundations of the 1980s underground, this postpunk provocation is a DIY fantasia of female rebellion set in America ten years after a social-democratic cultural revolution. When Adelaide Norris (Jean Satterfield), the black revolutionary founder of the Woman’s Army, is mysteriously killed, a diverse coalition of women—across all lines of race, class, and sexual orientation—emerges to blow the system apart. Filmed guerrilla style on the streets of pre-gentrification New York, BORN IN FLAMES is a Molotov cocktail of feminist futurism that’s both an essential document of its time and radically ahead of it." MB: Filmed as if it is a documentary cover the action and activities of the participants in the female rebellion. I found it fascinating, challenging and important. As recent events during the Trump administration have demonstrated, this is just as important now.]

The Outsiders (USA: Francis Ford Coppola, 1983) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A teen gang in rural Oklahoma, the Greasers are perpetually at odds with the Socials, a rival group. When Greasers Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny (Ralph Macchio) get into a brawl that ends in the death of a Social member, the boys are forced to go into hiding. Soon Ponyboy and Johnny, along with the intense Dallas (Matt Dillon) and their other Greaser buddies, must contend with the consequences of their violent lives. While some Greasers try to achieve redemption, others meet tragic ends." MB: Based upon S.E. Hinton's beloved young adult novel of the same name written when she was junior in high school. I read the book twice as a youth and it informed the thinking of a few friends (the stratified groups of Socs and Greasers). We clearly knew which group we would belong to. An entertaining adaptation full of future film stars at the beginning of their careers.]

Scarface (USA: Brian De Palma, 1983) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Director Brian De Palma and star Al Pacino take it to the limit in this stylized, ultra-violent and eminently quotable gangster epic that walks a thin white line between moral drama and celebratory excess. After getting a green card in exchange for assassinating a Cuban government official, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) stakes a claim on the drug trade in Miami. Viciously murdering anyone who stands in his way, Tony eventually becomes the biggest drug lord in the state, controlling nearly all the cocaine that comes through Miami. But increased pressure from the police, wars with Colombian drug cartels and his own drug-fueled paranoia serve to fuel the flames of his eventual downfall." MB: One of the best 20th Century gangster films, written by Oliver Stone, the film seems to be a loud howl at the excesses of Reagan-era America's rapacious re-interpretation of the American Dream. Unfortunately a film like this that is so intense and over-the-top can instead inspire others to fetishize and aspire to be just like Tony Montana.]

Suburbia (USA: Penelope Spheeris, 1983) [Rotten Tomatoes: "An overwhelming sense of despair impels a teenager to leave his suburban home and join up with a group of punk rockers. Nathan Rabin: "It still shows enormous empathy and sensitivity in capturing the angst and alienation of American youth, making it seem both rooted in a specific time and place and strangely timeless." Geoff Andrew: "A justifiably angry film, fast and full of violent action, though there's plenty of humour too; and the lack of originality is amply compensated for by its manifest sincerity." MB: Directed by Penelope Spheeris who made the punk documentary Decline of the Western Civilization (1981) so we know she is working from a place of experiential knowledge about these disaffected & alienated punk street kids. Not all that far from what I was experiencing as an 18 year old.]

Videodrome (Canada: David Cronenberg, 1983) [Criterion: "When Max Renn goes looking for edgy new shows for his sleazy cable TV station, he stumbles across the pirate broadcast of a hyperviolent torture show called Videodrome. As he struggles to unearth the origins of the program, he embarks on a hallucinatory journey into a shadow world of right-wing conspiracies, sadomasochistic sex games, and bodily transformation. Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry in one of her first film roles, Videodrome is one of writer/director David Cronenberg’s most original and provocative works, fusing social commentary with shocking elements of sex and violence. With groundbreaking special effects makeup by Academy Award®-winner Rick Baker, Videodrome has come to be regarded as one of the most influential and mind-bending science fiction films of the 1980s." MB: Another provocative and disturbing body horror film that looks at how mediated technology (in this case video/tv, but we could easily think of social media now) can affect both our physical and psychic well-being, if not completely transform both. Truly radical in its implications, the provocative psycho-sexual aspects of this film are also pertinent to a contemporary society chained to their devices and increasingly reliant on technology for a large part of their social lives. To add to the affect on my 18 year old brain when I saw it in the theaters, the film featured Debbie Harry, who as the singer of Blondie, was a sex symbol for my generation.]

A Nightmare on Elm Street (USA: Wes Craven, 1984) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Wes Craven's intelligent premise, combined with the horrifying visual appearance of Freddy Krueger, still causes nightmares to this day. In Wes Craven's classic slasher film, several Midwestern teenagers fall prey to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a disfigured midnight mangler who preys on the teenagers in their dreams -- which, in turn, kills them in reality. After investigating the phenomenon, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) begins to suspect that a dark secret kept by her and her friends' parents may be the key to unraveling the mystery, but can Nancy and her boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp) solve the puzzle before it's too late?" MB: I first saw this when I walked out of a terrible film and slipped blindly into a neighboring screening room and this was playing right at this moment - quite a dramatic introduction to the soon-to-be-iconic Freddy Krueger. This film spawned an industry of sequels and reboots.]

Blood Simple (USA: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1984) [Criterion: "Joel and Ethan Coen’s career-long darkly comic road trip through misfit America began with this razor-sharp, hard-boiled neonoir set somewhere in Texas, where a sleazy bar owner releases a torrent of violence with one murderous thought. Actor M. Emmet Walsh looms over the proceedings as a slippery private eye with a yellow suit, a cowboy hat, and no moral compass, and Frances McDormand’s cunning debut performance set her on the road to stardom. The tight scripting and inventive style that have marked the Coens’ work for decades are all here in their first film, in which cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld abandons black-and-white chiaroscuro for neon signs and jukebox colors that combine with Carter Burwell’s haunting score to lurid and thrilling effect. Blending elements from pulp fiction and low-budget horror flicks, Blood Simple reinvented the film noir for a new generation, marking the arrival of a filmmaking ensemble that would transform the American independent cinema scene." MB: Perfect description, I agree completely! The Coen Brothers are master storytellers and they always have benefited from brilliant performances (as they do in this film).]

The Company of Wolves (UK: Neil Jordan, 1984) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Wolves and werewolves lurk throughout the dreams of young Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson), who imagines that she must journey through a dark forest to live with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury). When Rosaleen meets a rugged hunter in the woods, she discovers that she has an animal-like attraction to him, leading to a macabre turn of events. The lupine-centric film also features stories within the main tale, told by both Rosaleen and her grandma, all of which have a supernatural bent." MB: Neil Jordan's film is adapted from Angela Carter's subversive collection of short stories The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) that reinterpret and re-conceive the common tropes of Western fantasy tales centering around feminine coming-of-age and sexuality. The structure of the film is made to replicate that of a loosely themed short story collection.]

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Japan: Hiyao Miyazaki, 1984) ["Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict has devastated much of the world's ecosystem, the few surviving humans live in scattered semi-hospitable environments within what has become a "toxic jungle." Young Nausicaä lives in the arid Valley of the Wind and can communicate with the massive insects that populate the dangerous jungle. Under the guidance of the pensive veteran warrior, Lord Yupa, Nausicaä works to bring peace back to the ravaged planet." MB: Early Miyazaki animated feature in which we can see his primary themes of environmentalism/animism, strong/courageous young female characters, fantastical elements in the struggle between nature & civilization (chaos & order), mythic creatures and meditations on causes/effects of peace & conflict.]

Repo Man (USA: Alex Cox, 1984) [Criterion: "A quintessential cult film of the 1980s, Alex Cox’s singular sci-fi comedy stars the always captivating Harry Dean Stanton as a weathered repo man in a desolate Los Angeles, and Emilio Estevez as the nihilistic middle-class punk he takes under his wing. The job becomes more than either of them bargained for when they get involved in repossessing a mysterious—and otherworldly—Chevy Malibu with a hefty reward attached to it. Featuring the ultimate early eighties L.A. punk soundtrack, this grungily hilarious odyssey is also a politically trenchant take on President Reagan’s domestic and foreign policies." MB: Alex Cox makes the ultimate punk film in this genre mash-up loaded with good music and quotable dialogue!]

1 comment: