I told myself I wasn't going to do another 70s retrospective.
After all, with 1970 just in the books back in December, that would make six editions of this retrospective series devoted to that one decade - more than any other! It was time to give more love to the 30s, the 40s, the 90s...
But then I went back home for an extended period of time. I saw family. And they all had recommendations. Well, not so much the kind of "You should see this!" recommendations, more like they reference a movie, I said I'd never seen it, they said, "You've never seen it?! You?! Oh, Walter, you got to see this movie!" So I started noting them down and, whether it says something about that year or their age, realized that every single movie they recommended was from 1972! The signs were clear: I must close the gap between 1968-1971 and 1973-1976.
These were the films they recommended:
dir/pr/scr/cin: John Waters
Recommended by my dad's best friend, though apparently it was a hazing ritual for the entire firehouse. The movie's a cult classic, it's the film people talk about when they talk about John Waters and/or Divine, do I need to tell you what this is all about? I myself only knew it by its reputation as the film where Divine eats real dog feces on camera. Guys, nothing can prepare you for actually seeing this! Nothing. I don't care what you've heard, I don't care if you've seen clips, you are not prepared to experience the whole 90-minute extravaganza beginning to end. If you think you'd hate it, you're right; if you think you'd love it, who knows? I both loved and was appalled by it. Thanks, Steve!
dir: Joseph Anthony
pr: Gilbert Pearlman / Paul Roebling / Davis Weinstock II
scr: Horton Foote
cin: Allan Green
Recommended by my mom. Like many a Horton Foote-penned script (this one adapted from a William Faulkner story), it's a slow, pleasantly dull journey whose impact doesn't fully hit 'til after the credits. Robert Duvall plays a loner who takes pity on an ill, pregnant woman one Christmas Eve, takes her in and falls in love with her. That's the long and short of it. It took me three times to get through the whole thing - "oh, it's so slow and boring," - but once I finally watched the whole thing, I couldn't even think of it later without tearing up. It is, I believe, Robert Duvall's first starring role, and he is excellent. You know this, you don't need me to tell you he's devastating without changing his expression, that it's his eyes, the swallow in his throat, that tell you everything. Definitely thought about it more than any of the other movies here, with the exception of Pink Flamingos. Intimate, shot in black-and-white.
dir: Joseph Sargent
pr: Lee Rich
scr: Rod Serling
cin: Edward C. Rosson
Recommended by my mom. Through a series of deaths and mishaps, the President pro tempore of the Senate becomes President of the United States - it just so happens to be James Earl Jones, portraying the first Black POTUS 36 years before Obama took office. The new President has to navigate racist Senators, scheming cabinet wives, radical activists, his own principles, and what's best for the country. As a film, one wishes it was just a shade more polished - in recent years, Jones expressed "misgivings" because it was budgeted and filmed as a teleplay, without the care and attention a theatrical studio film would have ordinarily provided; he's right, amid the complexity of human emotions and political necessity, there is still a level of gravitas that feels untapped. As a performance showcase, Jones is terrific, understated, matched only by Janet MacLachlan as his liberal activist daughter and Georg Stanford Brown as a Black American radical who may or may not have assassinated a South African politician.
The Legend of Boggy Creek
dir/pr/cin: Charles B. Pierce
scr: Earl E. Smith
Recommended by my uncle Armando around a campfire ("I can't believe I saw this in a movie theater - Toxic Avenger, too, man! Crazy shit!"). I will say, my dad also mentioned it back in 2000 when I saw The Blair Witch Project on VHS. Anyway, finally caught up to this cult classic, a pseudo-documentary depicting possible Sasquatch-type sightings in the Arkansas swamps. It's a striking document of local mythologies, the eye-witness accounts of shadows and blurs becoming truth, generations convinced that local legends are true (except for the one hermit who, even for a spread-out rural swamp town, lives "off the grid," who knows that if there were any beasties in the swamp, he would have seen it by now). Fine performances from the local actors, surprisingly catchy songs, incredible sound design that captures nature and unknown horror, gorgeous lo-fi cinematography. This is a winner!
Of course, once I decided to watch 1972, it gave me an opportunity to watch films that had been recommended months, years, decades earlier, by my dad, my professor, and my friends. Movies like:
The Last House on the Left
dir/scr: Wes Craven
pr: Sean S. Cunningham
cin: Victor Hurwitz
Recommended-ish by my dad, who thought it a tough movie, one I should see. And yes, he was right - I winced and squinted, worried that, somehow, the filth would get on me. It's doing its job: amid the amateur performances and clunky comedy, Craven and co. succeed in making a bilious, suffocating experience. An unofficial remake (ripoff?) of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring sees a gang rape, torture, and kill a pair of girls, then seek shelter in a farmhouse just yards away...which just so happens to house one girl's parents. The vengeance that takes place is just as shocking for its content as it is for its perpetrators: you'd never expect this lame, sub-Father Knows Best couple to be capable of such wrath. The only real takeaway, I suppose, is that the world is a cruel and horrible place, and we are all capable of committing monstrous acts of violence against each other. It's a tough sit, almost completely joyless, and one that sticks with you.
dir: Mario Bava
pr: Alfredo Leone
scr: Willibald Eser & Mario Bava, adapted into English by William A. Bairn and Vincent Fotre
cin: Antonio Rinaldi
Part of a Mario Bava boxed set that was first suggested by my professor, then gifted by my best friend. A haunted castle with a curse is being renovated into a hotel, but when the twisted soul of its notorious inhabitant is resurrected, murders and mutilations accumulate. A twist you can see coming a mile away, even though it makes no sense, but why nitpick? The performances are engaging - Elke Sommer and Joseph Cotten headline - the kills are groovy, the castle-hotel plot makes for a great scene with a vending machine, the characters are fleshed out, and there's a centerpiece witchcraft-medium scene that is worth the price of a rental alone! Not a masterpiece, but not the worst way to kill time.
Four Times That Night
dir: Mario Bava
pr: Zeljko Kunkera / Dick Randall (as Claudio Rainis)
scr: Mario Moroni and Charles Ross, dialogue by Guido Leoni, English version by Mario Moroni and Gene Luotto
cin: Antonio Rinaldi
Also part of that Bava set, a comedy with four different versions of a date between two attractive singles. Maybe it's the translation, but the film's alleged conceit of being a Rashomon-like tale of perception doesn't entirely gel with what's happening. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see how in one version, a girl is nearly raped, in another, she's a nymphomaniac, and in reality, they had a really nice time. I don't know why either party would invent such wicked, wicked lies about what seems to be the beginning of a pretty good romance? There is an incredible fantasy sequence that involves a trip to the greatest gay bar I've seen on screen, Orpheus descending into a club full of swingers and lady singers - I wanna go there! Actually, overall the sets and wardrobe are delicious, which helps to make this otherwise frivolous experiment feel worthwhile.
dir: Sydney Pollack
pr: Joe Wizan
scr: John Milius and Edward Anhalt
cin: Duke Callaghan
Recommend by a friend I've known since freshman orientation at FSU. Jeremiah Johnson is a tale told in two acts, complete with Overture, Intermission, Entr'acte, and Exit Music - and is still ten minutes shy of two hours! Robert Redford is Johnson, who in Act One runs off to be alone in the mountains and learns how to live and love in the harsh conditions among the hermits, the wildlife, and the Indigenous Peoples - some accept him as one of their own, while others see nothing to trust in any white man. It's a tough balance to strike, especially in the film's second act. Much of the runtime is tranquil, meditative, a much-needed getaway without actually having to get away. My friends, thank goodness, know what I like.
dir: William Crain
pr: Joseph T. Naar
scr: Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig
cin: Norman T. Herman
My best friend recommended this. An African prince crosses paths with slave-trading Dracula, is turned into a vampire, then resurrected in modern-day Los Angeles a century later, where he sees his long-dead wife reincarnated in Vonetta McGee. William Marshall's tragic performance as the titular character gives weight to the proceedings, underlining the grief, culminating in a heartbreaking finale. The film itself does not always rise to his performance: hero Thalmus Rasulala is able and willing, but just not interesting enough as a character; the low budget betrays itself not just in the makeup, but the dark way in which it's shot; and while I adore the Hues Corporation as much as the next fella, giving them more than one full musical performance feels like filler. The trials and tribulations of drive-in programming. It's still a worthy watch, Marshall's performance must be seen.
dir: George McCowan
pr: George Edwards / Peter Thomas
scr: Robert Hutchison & Robert Blees, story by Robert Hutchison
cin: Mario Tosi
Finally, there's the anti-recommendation, the movie everyone knew and told me to avoid. They were wrong. This Florida horror, shot in the Sunshine State, has Sam Elliott as a stranger who becomes the surprise guest of a wealthy family's annual Fourth of July/birthday party on their panhandle island estate...just in time for the long-abused flora and fauna to rebel against humanity. What's not to love? Elliott is mustacheless, but still a stud. There's a huge ensemble of potential victims to play with and dispose of creatively. The naturally varied game of the setting makes for a new menace in every twig and blade of grass. The titular amphibians prove to be unnerving heralds of doom, with their blank-eyed stares, slimy bodies, and constant croaking. I'm sad I don't own this! My one issue: I'm pretty sure this movie is to blame for the invasive toad species that is now inescapable in most of the state.
Tomorrow, the films I already knew!