The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

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To view The Decline of Western Civilization click here.

To view The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III click here.

It was in January of 2001 while I was talking to Ozzy Osbourne about David Bradley’s They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968) that I first met Penelope Spheeris. She and Ozzy were doing press interviews at a posh hotel in honor of her Sundance screening for We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n Roll (2001), her documentary about the ’99 Ozzfest Tour. I talked with Ozzy first, Penelope second. The contrast in demeanor could not have been starker. Ozzy was amiable but absent-minded, all twitches and trembles. Penelope was sharp as a razor and extremely relaxed. I should have used my short time with Penelope to dig up details on Ozzfest, but instead found myself talking mostly about her The Decline of Western Civilization documentary trilogy. Of the first two (the original and Part III can currently be seen on FilmStruck), Marc Maron in his podcast with Penelope Spheeris told the director: “You captured the essence of punk, and the essence of what killed it.” [...MORE]

Just Some Guys from Jersey

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To view Eddie and the Cruisers click here.

In the past week or so, my illustrious peers at StreamLine have written with knowledge and insight about international classics like Mon Oncle (1958), rare foreign films such as Black Jesus (1968), and key films by notable auteurs Douglas Sirk and Richard Lester. But, not me. Today, I am writing about Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)—make that happily writing about Eddie and the Cruisers.

I didn’t realize how much I adored Hollywood movies from the 1980s until I taught a section on them in one of my classes last spring. I discovered that it is an era as distinct as the ones before and after, with specific characteristics and genres associated with it. And, it serves as a transition from the serious content and experimentation of the Film School Generation to the wholesale corporatization of Hollywood by the early 1990s. One of the characteristics that I like most about some of the films of this era is the interest in mythic protagonists who are larger than life, including action heroes, genre archetypes or self-aware characters. The title character from Eddie and the Cruisers, which is currently streaming on FilmStruck, falls into that category.

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Let’s Go Crazy with Betty Blue (1986)

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To view Betty Blue click here.

We might have a few NSFW films lurking around here at FilmStruck (1974′s Sweet Movie springs to mind right off the bat), but for my money, nothing you could watch here at this moment combines the beautiful and the shocking in quite the same way as Betty Blue (1986). An intense and visually striking saga of amour fou, this was the third film by the remarkably unprolific Jean-Jacques Beineix, still most famous on these shores for one of the biggest crossover art house French films ever, Diva (1981). Since then he’s been a cinematic mad scientist of sorts (with only six narrative features to his credit so far), and this would be the only film of his to get American distribution of any kind in theaters. [...MORE]

Shore Leave: Querelle (1982)

QUERELLE (1982)

To view Querelle click here.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder passed away on the morning of June 10, 1982, three weeks into the editing of his final feature Querelle. The New York Times reported that, “a video-cassette machine that he had been using was still running at 5 A.M., Munich time, when Miss Lorenz [Julie Lorenz, his roommate and editor] discovered his body.” He died of an overdose of sleeping pills and cocaine – he had long been pushing his body to extremes while shooting some 45 features in 15 years. Querelle is not a summation or a final statement, as Fassbinder was constantly shifting, poking and exploring his stylistic palette. New paths emerged within every film, and Querelle is just another fork in the road before his heart gave out, but it is a feverishly beautiful one. Querelle is a free adaptation of Jean Genet’s 1947 novel Querelle of Brest, about a dope-dealing seaman involved in a murder while on shore leave, while grappling with his repressed and newly emerging homosexual desires. Frankly erotic and garishly artificial, shot on horizonless soundstages and bathed in orange and blue filtered light, it is both ridiculous and sublime.

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Spies Among Us: Another Country (1984)

ANOTHER COUNTRY (1984) To view Another Country click here.

“And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

I Vow to Thee, My Country, Sir Cecil Spring Rice & Gustav Holst

In the early 1930s, a group of upper-class British university students were recruited as Soviet spies. Today they’re referred to as the Cambridge Five although it’s likely that their numbers were much larger. At the time that they became Soviet sympathizers, Britain and Russia were still allies but the United Kingdom was facing a monumental crisis. Millions were jobless and the economy was in the throes of a deep depression while imperialism and fascism were on the rise. The Cambridge Five responded by embracing Marxism, championing the working classes and opposing fascism, which was particularly rampant within the privileged social circles they traveled in. But times changed and as WWII erupted the alliance between Britain and the U.S.S.R. began dramatically shifting and morphing according to the winds of war. The spies were eventually found out and between 1950 and 1980 their crimes made headlines. The news stunned the British public and sent shockwaves through the establishment. What compelled these sons of fortune to adopt Marxism and become spies for Russia? Another Country (1984) scrutinizes the autocratic British school system that may, or may not, have motivated their betrayal of king and country. [...MORE]

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

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To view The Times of Harvey Milk click here.

Harvey Milk served only eleven months as the District 5 Supervisor of San Francisco but it can truly be said that his influence will outlive most politicians who have served a lifetime. In those eleven months, Milk got a gay rights ordinance through, successfully blocked the anti-gay teacher Proposition 6 and became a voice for a community that stretched out far beyond his home. In that eleventh month, on November 27, 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by another former city supervisor, Dan White. Milk’s life was over but his voice and message live on.

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Sharp as a Razor: Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980)

DRESSED TO KILL (1980)

To view Dressed to Kill click here.

Today it’s easy to take for granted what a big deal Dressed to Kill was when it opened in early 1980, but I think you could argue that no other film from director Brian De Palma is more important in his filmography. That’s not to say it’s necessarily his best film – after all, you have a heavy slate of masterpieces to choose from – but this is the one that gave birth to the modern erotic thriller, kicked off the wave of unrated director’s cuts on home video decades before it became the norm, drove critics to rip out their hair and charge De Palma with flagrant Hitchcock plagiarism (mainly due to the fact that Hitch died the same year this came out), and familiarized moviegoers with the concept of the body double (a nude stand-in for an actor), which had earlier played a role in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) and become the title of a later De Palma thriller in 1984. [...MORE]

The Man Who Saw the Angel

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To view films within the FilmStruck theme “The Masters: Andrei Tarkovsky” click here.

The May 8th headline from the Film Society Lincoln Center Newsletter read “Stalker Makes Box Office History”. It went on to note how the restored 2K scan of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film released by Janus Films “grossed a record-breaking $20,540 this weekend in its exclusive run at the Walter Read Theater. Not only does this mark the Film Society’s biggest re-release of all time, Stalker also had the second highest per theater average at the overall domestic box office, following Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It would be hard to think of two films that could be further apart in style, theme, form, content or execution, and it gives me, as an arthouse film programmer, hope for the future. With numbers like that, surely some younger folks are buying tickets to see gems from the past and helping to keep cinema’s rich legacy alive. [...MORE]

A Fish Called Wanda (1988): The Greatest Modern Comedy?

FISH CALLED WANDA, A (1988)

To view A Fish Called Wanda click here.

There’s nothing more disappointing than revisiting a film that was considered great at its release, only to discover that it’s horribly dated. Many of the films that I loved as a teenager, particularly ones made in the 1980s and 1990s, don’t hold up some twenty or thirty years later. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) was one these films I loved, and I was afraid it would suffer the same fate as so many of those other films from that period. I’m happy to report that the film not only holds up, but is still one of the funniest, quirkiest comedies ever made.

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Is It Ever Really Easy? Blood Simple (1984)

BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)

It seems hard to believe, but the Coen Brothers made their debut film well over thirty years ago now. In 1984 they put together their own trailer, a trailer for a movie they hadn’t even made, and went about getting the financing to make the film come true. The result was Blood Simple, a crime thriller that was also a showcase for some of the best talent in the movies at that time, talent that, to this day, has never gotten its full due. But it also stands as a testament to how artists change, how they view their work and whether any of it matters in the final analysis.

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