Doodad Kind of Town

The Other 12-Movie Meme
August 30, 2008, 1:25 pm
Filed under: Billy Wilder, Robert Altman, Woody Allen

I’ve been tagged by Joseph Campanella of CINEMA FIST with a new, 12-movie meme. This, of course, is a new twist on the “original” New Beverly Cinema 12-Movie meme first started by Piper over at Lazy Eye Theatre – and this one comes courtesy of MovieMan0283 at the Dancing Image.

As Joseph notes, this one is “damn difficult.”

The challenge is as follows: “Pick 12 movies that you’ve never seen before, and that are very difficult to find on video.” (More specifically,the films can’t be available on Netflix.)

The difficulty was in finding films I had always wanted to see that weren’t available on DVD; pretty much everything on my ‘want to see’ list is there and waiting for me on Netflix, or very soon will be. I hedged about including Dreyer’s “Day of Wrath” and Visconti’s “Ludwig” since both are being released on DVD within the next six weeks. (Which is well before I’ll probably get around to seeing them.)

So this list does not represent my “Holy Grail” of film experiences. In most cases, I’m curious about – but not passionately interested – in the films I’ve listed. But if I’d rent them on DVD if they were available. Eventually.

In alphabetical order:

1) “Brewster McCloud” – Early Robert Altman – it came right after “M*A*S*H,” although it wasn’t nearly as successful. Bud Cort plays a eccentric loner whose dream is to strap on mechanical wings and fly around inside the Houston Astrodome. Also marks the film debut of Altman regular Shelley Duvall. I wouldn’t give this a film a second thought if Altman’s name weren’t on it But Altman’s too smart and too iconoclastic a filmmaker to have made this as cloyingly quirky as it sounds.

2) “Fedora” – Billy Wilder’s 1978 adaptation of a Tom Tryon novel about a reclusive, aging film actress (Marthe Keller) and the producer who tries to lure her out of retirement (William Holden). It’s hard not to think of Wilder’s earlier classic “Sunset Boulevard” when you hear about this one; I’m interested to know how they compare. “Fedora,” however, was barely released, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it show up on TV. That suggests it may be an utter failure, but I’d like to see for myself.

3) “Girlfriends” – A late ’70s comedy/drama about the friendship between two women – one who pursues her independence and an artistic career and one who opts for traditional marriage. Melanie Mayron (who went on to television’s “ThirtySomething”) plays the independent-minded one. It came out when I was in college, and got a fair bit of attention, but I never got around to seeing it. The director, Claudia Weill, went on to make a romantic comedy with Jill Clayburgh and Michael Douglas (“It’s My Turn,” which I saw and liked), then apparently worked only in television from that point on. I have a feeling that “Girlfriends” may be horribly dated now, but I’d still like to check it out, if only for the late-70s nostalgia it may invoke in me. That it also has Christopher Guest in a feature role only adds to my curiosity.

4) “King Lear” (Jean-Luc Godard’s 1987 version) – Its alternate title is “King Lear: Fear and Loathing,” which evokes Hunter S. Thompson and suggests this may be a sort of “gonzo” experience. And “gonzo” sounds like the right adjective for a film whose cast includes Woody Allen, Molly Ringwald, Burgess Meredith, Godard himself, and stage director Peter Sellars as a character named William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth who is struggling to re-write the Bard’s works from memory after they’re destroyed in the Chernobyl disaster. In other words, this isn’t your high school English teacher’s “King Lear.” Completed in 1987, the film wasn’t actually shown anywhere until 2002, and apparently it’s been around enough to generate some IMDB comments (“aggressively, offensively, violently boring” was my favorite). But it’s nowhere to be found on Netflix.

5) “The Little Drummer Girl” – Long before she got caught in an endless loop of 60-year-old-dingbat roles, Diane Keaton was a formidable actress who frequently played complicated, shrill or difficult women. (Though you’d never know it these days, her range goes far beyond “Annie Hall.”) In this 1984 adaptation of a John Le Carre thriller, Keaton plays an actress with controversial political views on the Israeli/Palestine conflict who get lured into an actual Israeli intelligence mission. (I’m sure any and all similarities to Vanessa Redgrave are entirely coincidental.) What can I tell you, folks? “Mad Money” pushed me over the edge. I need to see some gritty, intelligent work from Keaton again, and this film (which I missed on its initial release) might just do the trick.

6) “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne” – Brian Moore’s novel about a poor Irish spinster – winding down her days in a lonely boarding house room, comforted only by copious amounts of whiskey and some misguided notions about a fellow boarder’s interest in her – is probably the most depressing book I’ve ever read. But I’d gladly brace myself for this sad story again just to see the phenomenal Maggie Smith in the the title role. (Bob Hoskins has a supporting role, but interestingly dominates the film’s poster at left. Go figure.)

7) “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” – I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this; I could be wrong. I have vague memories of a seeing seeing some D. W. Griffith films in my college Introduction to Film course, but don’t recall whether this was one of them. Anyway, it’s from 1912, it’s got Lilian Gish in a major role, and it’s generally thought to be the first gangster film.

8) “The Red Desert” – Over the last year, I’ve been sporadically renting Antonioni films. This is the only one I want to see that isn’t available on Netflix. I don’t even remember what it’s about, but that doesn’t matter. I’ve loved discovering Antonioni’s work so far, and I’m sure this one will be just as challenging, baffling, and ultimately rewarding as the others.

9) “Saint Joan” – Jean Seberg was 18 years old and fresh out of Iowa when she won a national contest to play the title role in Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Shaw’s play. By all accounts, she held her own alongside such estimable talents as John Gielgud, Anton Walbrook, and Richard Widmark. I read “Played Out; the Jean Seberg Story” years ago, and have wanted to see “Saint Joan” ever since, but have had few-to-no opportunities to do so.

10) “So Sad about Gloria” – Ok, this is the wackadoo selection on my list, so bear with me. I remember reading newspaper ads for this 1974 film which promised: “The heartbreak of ‘Love Story.’ ‘The terror of ‘Psycho’.” Since “Love Story” and “Psycho” were two films that loomed very large in my early adolescent experience, I spent a lot of time trying to imagine the one film that could combine the intense emotional drama of both. (Perhaps some young rich Harvard hotshot lost his poor-but-beautiful-and-witty lover to the bullet of serial killer?) But “So Sad about Gloria” – rated “R” and showing in only a couple of theatres in the far-off big city – was out of my reach. God only knows why it popped up in my brain again, but a quick glance at IMDB shows that the people who wrote that intriguing ad copy may not have been familiar with the actual film. It’s a cheap exploitation flick about a recently released mental patient who has dreams of herself committing ax murders. There’s quite a stretch from that plot to the whole “Psycho meets Love Story” concept, but one I’d like to figure out for myself. (Bonus weird fact: the director, Harry Thomason, went on to co-produce the TV series”Designing Women.” That’s quite a stretch, too.)

11) “Those Lips, Those Eyes” – A backstage romantic comedy set in a summer stock theatre and starring Frank Langella, Glynnis O’ Connor (what happened to her?) and Tom Hulce. It’s about people doing musical theatre and it has clips of musical numbers from well-known shows, and that’s about all it takes to get this former community theatre performer interested in seeing it. (Well, that and the fact that it’s got Frank Langella, who was pretty damn handsome at the time. ) It got decent reviews when it was released in 1980, but never made much of a showing in theatres.

12) “Wild Boys of the Road” – An early film by Wiliam Wellman (“Public Enemy,” “Wings”), this Depression drama focuses on a group of teenagers who are forced to become vagabonds, searching for work after family circumstances become desperate. I saw clips of it in a documentary on Wellman shown on TCM, but neglected to record the film when it was shown later that evening. I’d like to get around to seeing it someday.

And now,the final part of the meme is to tag five fellow film bloggers, so I am tagging:

Marilyn at Ferdy on Films
Fox at Tractor Facts
Alexander at Coleman’s Corner in Cinema
Nick Plowman at Fataculture
Daniel at Getafilm