The Original Castaway: Robinson Crusoe (1954)


To view Robinson Crusoe click here.

Luis Buñuel, the controversial and much banned filmmaking genius, has become so associated with the surreal cinema that the idea of him directing a straightforward adventure seems, well, surreal. But in 1952, gaining funding for a joint Spanish and English language production of Robinson Crusoe (it wouldn’t be released until 1954), based on the 18th century novel by Daniel Defoe, Buñuel did just that, although Buñuel the iconoclast was never far out of sight. Starring Dan O’Herlihy in the title role, the movie invents just about every deserted island trope you’ve probably ever heard of (from the novel of course), but along the way, touches on some very controversial subject matter, both reflecting the time the novel was written, the time the movie was made and bigoted notions of the white man’s dominion over the earth.


The Curse of Eternal Life: Cronos (1993)

CRONOS (1993)

Guillermo del Toro was still in his twenties when he wrote and directed Cronos (1993), a horror movie, yes, but also a movie about time and age and what it means to live forever. One might think 29 too young an age to tackle such subjects but when it comes to horror, in particular, and moviemaking, in general, del Toro could easily be the subject of Count Dracula’s famous response to Van Helsing, “For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man.” Since then, del Toro’s reputation has grown and his movies have become blockbusters at the box office but his first one out might still be my favorite.


A Surrealist Anti-Nationalist for All Ages – And All Countries.


Luis Buñuel died in 1983 at 83 of cirrhosis of the liver in a hospital in Mexico City. The Spanish-born filmmaker was famous, in part, for being fearless in his critiques of organized religion and the bourgeoisie. His cinematic career started in 1929 with Un Chien Andalou (aka: An Andalusian Dog), a short film he made with Salvador Dali. Fans of The Pixies probably can’t hear that title without also hearing lead singer Black Francis (now Frank Black) barking out the words to the song “Debaser”: “Got me a movie, I want you to know, slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know, Girl so groovy, I want you to know, Don’t know about you, But I am Un chien andalusia.” This a nod to the famous scene where a cloud cuts across the moon and then a razor seems to cut a woman’s eyeball (it was actually that of a dead calf with bleached fur). Un Chien Andalou ran for eight months in Paris. Things like that happened almost a hundred years ago before Netflix and binge watching.


There Are No Safe Spaces: An Arturo Ripstein Double Feature


Of late, I’ve been exploring the work of director Arturo Ripstein after coming across El castillo de la pureza aka The Castle of Purity (1972) and Foxtrot (1975) streaming on FilmStruck. Ripstein was brought up in Mexico’s thriving post-war film industry by his Polish-Mexican father, a prominent producer who cultivated his son’s cinematic interests. During a screening of Louis Buñuel’s Nazarin (1959) at age 15, Ripstein developed an appreciation of film as art recognizing that movies could illuminate and inform viewers as well as entertain them. He was so impressed by the film’s vision that he reached out to Buñuel who admired Ripstein’s tenacity. Buñuel eventually allowed him to visit the set of The Exterminating Angel (1962), where Ripstein studied the accomplished director’s methods and was inspired to embark on his own filmmaking career. Much like his idol Buñuel, Ripstein’s films are critical of social mores and establishment hypocrisy. He tackles these sensitive subjects with dark humor and a critical eye while encouraging viewers to reconsider their own assumptions and beliefs.


Bold! Noble! Daring! BATWOMAN (1968)


After writing about the 1943 BATMAN serial last week that is currently airing on TCM Saturday mornings (7 AM PST/10 AM EST) I was motivated to revisit one of my favorite Batman spoofs, THE BATWOMAN aka LA MUJER MURCIELAGO (1968). This fun, inventive and outlandish interpretation of the Batman mythos directed by the prolific Mexploitation filmmaker René Cardona, replaces our heroic masked man with a heroic masked woman who solves crimes, rights wrongs and fights for justice in an unjust world.


38th Telluride Film Festival

In case you missed it, the Telluride Film Festival had its 38th bash last Labor Day Weekend, September 2-5. It included the latest films by Aki Kaurismäki, Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Béla Tarr, David Cronenberg, and many more. But the reason I still love Telluride is not because it delivers the newest works from so many talented directors, but because they also focus on the past (showing silent films, archive prints, and various repertory titles), along with some unexpected programming courtesy of guest directors who are given Carte blanche to select anything they like, no matter how esoteric that might be. (This year the guest director was Brazilian composer, singer, guitarist, writer, and political activist Caetano Veloso, who has worked on soundtracks for Michelangelo Antonioni and Pedro Almodóvar). Telluride also eschews the competitive awards-system that drives so many other festivals and has managed to sidestep being mobbed by industry professionals, brand-obsessed sponsors, or party-obsessed socialites. In sum, Telluride has managed to still be that rare festival that bends over backwards to bring obscure 35mm movies while simultaneously providing viewers with cinematic experiences that challenge them to broaden their horizons rather than simply pandering to market whims or popular taste. And, yes, I say that despite the fact that this year its tribute star was George Clooney.  [...MORE]

Parting Thoughts with Director Alex Cox

In my last blog post I transcribed the first half of an informal interview I had with Repo Man director Alex Cox a couple weeks ago. In this second half of that interview we talk about movies he’d select for TCM if he were a guest programmer, what it’s like to work on the other side of the camera, some specific thoughts about Walker (his radical western starring Ed Harris), along with discussing other directors from Jim Jarmusch to John Carpenter. [...MORE]

Sleep Dealer

Sleep Dealer. Did you see it? Probably not. But you should. Do you like Bladerunner? The Matrix? If so, you should check out Sleep Dealer. All three are inspired in their own way. Bladerunner and The Matrix are equal parts smart fun and existential queries. Sleep Dealer is both smart and political. It can’t help but be a bit existential too as, to some extent, that is unavoidable when covering a protagonist’s struggle in the near-future where the question is: how much of your life are you willing to sacrifice to make a better living? [...MORE]

Bad Movies I Love: Kings of the Sun (1963)

Yul Brynner and George Chakiris trying to work out the survival of the fittestIf, like the rest of us peasants, you can’t get enough of ambitious movies set in Mesoamerican times, you might want to check out Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006). I’ve tried to watch that recent movie about three times now, but somewhere around the time that the words “I am Jaguar Paw. This is my forest. And I am not afraid” are spoken, I tend to nod off, even when these lines are spoken in the Yucatec Mayan language. My excessive snoring is the only thing that kept waking me up as Mr. Gibson‘s earnest attempt to dramatize the decline of Mayan civilization unfolded into the expected gore-filled spectacle. But enough of those stabs at historical accuracy in the movies–give me an engrossing, epic-sized if ill-conceived distortion to get me through the dog days of summer.

Happily, I’m here to report that no attacks of narcolepsy occurred while discovering the utterly delightful, nearly unknown Yul Brynner movie, Kings of the Sun (1963) recently. That 108 minute movie, shot in richly textured hues of De Luxe Color, is one of those being aired today, August 26th at 1:30PM EDT on TCM as part of Yul‘s moment in the Summer Under the Stars annual August event. An audacious movie–befitting an American financed re-imagining of the rise of a hypothetical ancient Mayan culture—was crafted with enormous professionalism in every frame, from the gorgeous cinematography of Joseph MacDonald to the rousing score from Elmer Bernstein and a cast of Oscar honorees and an industrious troupe of artists and craftsmen. The only problem is the script, darn it!

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