THE SMOKE's 50 FAVORITE FILMS OF THE 90's
Yep - lists. The internet's overflowing with them. "8 Best Pie Flavors from Central America"...you get the idea. But a discussion of notable films from the 90's came up years ago among future 'smoke writers (back in what is now being referred to as "the myspace days"), and we wanted to bring that discussion back. All five participants - John Cribbs, Christopher Funderburg, Ian Loffill, Marcus Pinn and Stu Steimer - were asked to come up with their 75 favorite movies from that long-ago decade: the results were then calculated into one master list of 50. Each film will be written about over the next five weeks as we draw out this self-indulgent entry into the endless abyss of movie lists, classed up thanks to contributions from some of our favorite film writers.
<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'s 41 - 50>>>
<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 36 - 40>>>
<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 31 - 35>>>
<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 26 - 30>>>
<<<CLICK HERE FOR #'S 21 - 25>>>
20. WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (Todd Solondz, 1995)
Todd Solondz always comes to mind when I think about the breakthrough American directors that emerged in the 1990's. And I guess it's kind of interesting considering that even though I salivate like Pavlov's dog every time I hear about a new project of his in the works I think he's only made two (and possibly 3/4) genuinely great movies. On one level or another I have enjoyed, or at least appreciated, every thing he has done since 1998 I even consider the sequence in the dorm room from Life During Wartime to be the best thing Solondz has ever filmed in what was arguably his weakest feature (considering whether or not you count Fear, Anxiety & Depression), but at the same time most of the post-Happiness projects lack something. What that "something" is Im not sure; Storytelling comes close, Palindromes and Life During Wartime feel too abstract and fractured to approach what he was doing in the previous decade. The one possible exception to this is most of Dark Horse which I am not sure how I truly feel about yet (I just watched it the weekend before writing this piece.) It's certainly growing on me even if I feel the last act is almost too bleak even for its own good.
Dark Horse is darker in a lot of ways - in fact, I'd say it's probably the grimmest thing Solondz has ever touched - but there's something about Dollhouse that really strikes a more affecting nerve. Made in 1995, long before the fight against bullying and its cyber-bullying counterparts joined the meme book of causes your fake compassionate and concerned friends "liked" on Facebook in between rounds of mass-spamming you with Farmville invites, the film takes a more-bitter-than-sweet view of adolescence in middle class suburbia. Generally too the "hell in the suburbs" subgenre is pretty played out, and tedious, but Dollhouse really isn't the norm in this case. It's one of the most relatable films about adolescence and growing up I can think of in recent history (maybe Gummo too depending on the area/people you grew up around.)
In retrospect our childhoods are the most carefree times that any of us will experience in our entire lives: we don't have to worry about our shitty jobs or where the money is coming to pay the rent next month, we generally aren't plagued with back pain and symptoms of schizophrenia usually do not develop in an individual until they are in their mid-to-late 20's. Yet it's also a period of time that is sickeningly fetishized into something that it never was for most people, at least for those not blessed with the best looks and type-A personalities though we can take some joy in the ultimate future misery of the former party: the segue into maturity will be a much harder one once their looks begin to show the slightest residue of wear and they start getting told "no" for the first time in their lives unable to cope with minor rejection hard, HARD meth use will surely follow. If you're that middle child the one who lacks ambition and direction or does not have the lips of your peers welded to your ass then those formative years are kind of awkward, shitty and lonely. Most of us are the middle child, and I generally look at anyone who claims they had a "happy childhood" with a certain amount of suspicion, or at least assume they are delusional (how the hell can you make a blanket statement like that to begin with?)
Solondz often gets criticized for his coldness and alleged lack of caring for his characters. I may understand that based on a few of the later films, but Dawn "Wienerdog" Wiener is a pretty realistic representation of this malaise of youth, far away from being a pastiche of stock Screenwriting 101 dimensions, but instead she's crafted with blunt honesty that a lesser writer would have been quick to attach a synthetic and trite sympathy to. Dawn of course is a victim of her world, but she is presented realistically without any of the canned afterschool special hamminess that one could come to expect for a film largely about bullying and a person's maltreatment from peer and family alike. The urgency to have "likable" characters in a piece of fiction is a misnomer. I don't even know what the word means, and to create any kind of realistic dimension one has to show humans for what they generally are kind of lost, easily manipulated by their environments, and willing to initiate callousness to others to gain acceptance when they really want it the most. Dawn treats her only friend, one who is further on the fringes of the outside than she is, like shit. She has the attention of someone but it's from the wrong person. Sympathy is a horrible word, at least in this case, it reflects pity and condescension. Dawn is somewhere and someone we have all been at one point or another, maybe not directly but at the very least tacitly. If she seems emotional and naοve with anger, misguided or pronounced, it's because she is, because she's in the 7th grade. It's all a part of the process of growing up. You might not be a childhood sociopath, but you were probably a dick to someone, and you'll probably carry on with that into your teenage and adult years.
Dawn's life is filled with unhappiness and isolation, her mind occasionally slipping off into fantasies of what could be, but never really realized. The last scene paints a bleak glimmer of her future: more of the same, but now just coping with what it will always be like. Adulthood is different, but it doesn't get much different in the end. We slip into arrested development behind cubicle walls and cheap institutionalized furniture wondering why we're even bothering to fight against the temptation to sever the nerves in our frontal lobe with an unraveled paperclip inserted into the left nostril and done so with more tact, care and precision than anything else we have set out to do in our entire lives. We are in control of our own fate and we have no excuse for the way things turned out for us as much as we want to blame it on society or our upbringing we are unjustified in doing so but for whatever reason, fear of risks or change (for the better or worse) we have difficulty breaking through the ceiling. Our potential is there and it never really goes away but instead we just submit to the pressures of the environment like Dawn singing with painful reluctance on the back of that bus. This is hardly cynical.
19. SATANTANGO (1994, Bela Tarr)
For a very long time I considered not putting Satantango on my personal "Best of the 90's" list. Not because of any other reason beyond my own fear and laziness of having to write about it. But I submitted, thinking what was the chance that that would happen? I'm sure most of the contributors to The Pink Smoke probably included it somewhere in their top list, so the likelihood of me having to do a summary of a film I probably admittedly only barely comprehended as a whole would maybe, possibly, not fall on me.
Well, looks like I drew the shortest straw.
So far I went back and re-watched every film I have reviewed for the "Best of the 90's" write-ups. Some were as great as I remember them being, some probably less so, but the one that I am unable to give a fair re-evaluation is Satantango. Having a runtime that equates to about an average workday (roughly seven and a half hours) creates a problem when it comes to general re-watchability, as I generally only have enough time to put down maybe 1-2 movies a week at most. But trust me when I say that I would much rather prefer being subjected to endless black and white tracking shots of mud-strewn countrysides and the interiors of bleak, hapless Hungarian bars than ever having to spend another day at work. Unfortunately I need to generate income...though to be fair, with what I make I would probably be better suited watching Bela Tarr films and developing enough interest in my savings account to live off of by the time I finished watching three in a row. If everyone did the same, we probably wouldn't even be in an economic quagmire right now. No one wants to give away that secret to success and financial stability.
The film's length and pace is demanding but for all those that can appreciate Tarr's aesthetic and purpose it is a journey well worth the travel. Of course it seems the only way you can watch it in as few sittings as possible is if you are kicked in the ass by illness or pain and not feeling up to leaving the couch for the weekend. When I pinched, possibly severed, an apparently important and noticeably painful nerve in my back one Friday afternoon - standing up too fast after taking a violent shit - I felt so peeved about the whole situation. Not like I usually leave the house on weekends, but now I actually had a reason that demanded I stay on the couch. Fortunately I took as much advantage of a sour situation as I could, ultimately watching all of Satantango and about 4 episodes of Berlin Alexanderplatz in a single physically excruciating weekend. Though I consider Berlin Alexanderplatz to be amongst the greatest films ever made and Satantango to not necessarily be Bela Tarr's best (I'd still place Werckmeister Harmonies and possibly Family Nest above it) it was still an experience that I found transfixing and almost hypnotic. Abusing oxycontin and smoking traces of morphine beaded up in shells of liquid gold sitting in abeyance at the bottom of pissbags I found in the hospital dumpster or maybe it was just plain old-fashioned pee surely aided in this divine viewing experience, but I was awestruck even by the opening sequence which I watched in its entirety even before the cocktail began to take its effects. Eight solid minutes of cows grazing in a field. I know, I know. More ridiculous boring arthouse twaddle. But I swear, it's great. Satantango did for farmlife what Solaris did for tunnels. I know that's a highly controversial statement, but I'll risk the fatwa that will surely be executed in my name.
There's much more to it than just this than just cows. In the next seven hour there are 149 more shots to follow. Nine minutes of people eating lunch, and about three solid cumulative hours dedicated to the cinematic power of walking. Some people walk slow, some others even slower still, but they all have one thing in common: they are bipedal figures walking in the opposite direction of the way the camera is facing. I fucking love this shit, it never gets old. I loved it in Alan Clarke's Elephant and I love it in Satantango. Spoiler alert: very few characters get shot in the back of the head in this one. You think it's boring? Fuck off, philistine. This is art I'm talking about. I don't think you would understand.
It is kind of strange how short my attention span is: I can't even keep on topic in a movie review without going into some tangential rant that only very tenuously talks about the film, and does so in a very juvenile and pedestrian way. I can barely make it through a 90-minute film without falling asleep but can somehow become really involved in a film like this one, where scenes average at a length at around 10-12 minutes or more, without a single cut and sometimes sparse camera movements competing with equally sparse dialogue, is telling of the film itself. It takes a lot to recant my memory, especially after two years have gone by since I watched the film in its entirety, but I am pretty sure there are even scenes of paint drying, all filmed in the same stark black and white that I obviously found so very affecting. It's an experience, more justifiable of a "you're either going to love it or hate it" response than most other films that have had that reputation that I felt lukewarm about. It's a difficult film to describe, especially in around a thousand words, and I'm probably too lazy to write much more than that anyways. Tarr manages to capture the mundane, everyday of the lives of his characters and photographs it in such a way that it contradicts itself and feels anything but. Vig Mihiliay's beautiful score only supports this. Parts are bleak, parts are actually filled with quite a bit of humor and grace and when it finally ends you feel both relieved and sad that it's actually come to a close. It's exhausting, in the best ways possible.
18. MR. DEATH: THE RISE AND FALL OF FRED A. LEUCHTER, JR. (1999, Errol Morris)
"This is not a film about how truth and history are up for grabs" - Errol Morris
Here it is, likely the finest masterpiece from a man who only makes masterpieces. And it's all the way down here at stinking #18. The 18th Best Movie of the 90's for a film that's almost certainly one of the 100 best films ever made? I ranked this #4 on my ballot and I suppose it could have been worse: my #2 selection, Jan Svankmajer's Faust didn't even make this list at all. Truthfully, I wouldn't have batted an eye if my #1 and #3 selections also hadn't made the cut - I can accept a certain measure of subjectivity and vote-splitting in these rankings. What I can't accept is anything less than total recognition of a rightfully legendary, art-form-altering filmmaker creating the clearest and most engaging expression of his invaluable, singular vision. Sure, this is a particularly self-involved instance of crying over nothing, but I have to write what I feel: there is no film on this Top 50 list more unacceptable for you to not have seen. This is a film about the big ones, the big themes: the nature of truth, the perishability of history, the possibility of self-knowledge, the role any individual can play in the flow of history, the Holocaust, state-sponsored executions, ethnic division, the effects of smoking 8 packs of cigarettes and drinking 50 cups of coffee a day. Errol Morris finds his perfect subject in the ashen-skinned, creepily affable Fred Leuchter, an electric-chair repairman turned Neo-Nazi pawn. Beginning with a false assumption that because he knows about electric chairs, he should be knowledgeable all instruments of capital punishment from gas chambers to gallows, Leuchter slips down a life-path that ultimately leads him to be recruited be notorious Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel to disprove that the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Birkenau could have actually been used to carry out their horrifying purpose. The sick joke of it all is that Leuchter doesn't even appear to be an Anti-Semite and the mystery of why he did what he did provides the central mystery of the film. Or rather, the mystery of why Leuchter himself thinks he did what he did makes for as intense a journey as piecing together who killed the Dallas cop in The Thin Blue Line.
Errol Morris' persistent theme is "self-deception" and Leuchter's inscrutable psyche provides as rich a proving ground for Morris' ideas about the nature of self and our relationship to the truth as could ever be hoped. He makes for a striking contrast to Zundel, who appearing briefly in news clips comes across as a calculating creep, a conman who cowardly couches his prejudice in junk science and equivocation. Leuchter, on the other hand, isn't driven by any such overtly covert evil. He simply seems oblivious, too caught up in the story of his own life to understand how insane his actions seem to outsiders. Take his desire to create humane killing machines and his jaw-dropping comparisons of his job of making electric chairs to the work of doctors - to Leuchter, they do more or less the same thing, one is trying to keep you alive through the most humane means possible while the other is trying to keep you not alive through the most humane means possible. Same thing, really. Or consider that Leuchter's illegal trip to deface the walls of Auschwitz (to take samples for testing) was done on the same trip as his honeymoon - Morris' original title for the film in fact being Honeymoon in Auschwitz. There are two fascinating questions immediately apparent from considering the material. The first, at what point does Leuchter graduate from "unaware" to "evil?" At what point does the self-deception (to which we all are at times victim) curdle into evil. This is where it becomes important for the film to be a portrait and not an essay - Leuchter's activities taken in abstract can easily be filed under Evil and forgotten, but knowing him as a character, his unassuming everyman qualities, his general goofiness, the total lack of malice in his words and ideas, his too human attraction to be a "somebody" and suddenly become the center of attention while having his credentials and expertise vocally touted, all of these qualities undercut the idea that his actions were "evil" in any meaningful sense of the word. But is it any excuse to have simply been a pawn to evil people? What does it mean for him to have done illegal things in service of a sincere pursuit of scientific truth? The second related issue the film immediately brings to mind is to what extent have I been guilty of the same lack of self-awareness as Leuchter? If Hanna Arndt finds Eichmann to have been a regular man and not a monster and Morris shows us over the course of an hour and half just how irregular such an apparently regular Joe as Leuchter can be, don't we have to consider the possibility that regular Joe's and commonplace everymen might not exist? Are you oblivious like Leuchter? How confident are you of your understanding of the world and yourself? Very? Then does it bother you when Morris and Leuchter have this exchange: "Fred, did you ever consider the possibility you might be wrong?" "I'm well past that."
Morris' goal isn't to disprove Leuchter's worthless, amateurish science (although he does thoroughly in a brief ten-minute tangent.) His goal was not in his words to "prove the sky is blue," to prove the Holocaust in fact did happen. Morris is after something more elusive, in his attempts to analysis the totality of how history assembles itself and how objective truth (which, make no mistake, exists) is constantly under assault by its own temporality and individuals degrading it through their faulty interpretations. History by its nature, does not repeat in circles, regardless of what the adages say. Each moment happens once, never to repeat. Because of time's transience, historical truth must fight to maintain itself - once it passes, history remains only in evidence and memory, in the walls of Birkenau, in the accounts of survivors. The walls of Birkenau crumble and firsthand accounts of what happened there drop away one by one. There is a battle between memory and evidence, between objects and analysis; objects perfectly capable of sending mixed messages and analysis subject to cloudy minds which can't even understand themselves. This does not mean the truth does not exists; Auschwitz was a death camp and the sky is blue. In many ways, the Holocaust deniers are not the problem - no evidence nor memory would have any effect on their beliefs; their position is on the surface without value. It is the true believers of their truth-seeking prowess, those past the point of believing they could possibly be wrong, who cloud the waters of time's river and force us to once again waste our breathe proving the sky blue, perhaps even affecting our perceptions of the truth. When Morris previewed the film for a group of Harvard students, he didn't bother to include footage of the lab technician who did the initial tests on the ill-gotten samples swiftly and brutally debunking Leuchter's findings - again, that wasn't what he was interested in. But several of the Harvard students voiced how shaken the film have left them, explaining that Leuchter's work had created a kernel of doubt in their minds about what really happened at Birkenau and Auschwitz. It shocked Morris, but the incident only further drives home his ideas about history and pathetic defenseless of undisputed truth. In interviews, Morris has puzzled over Leuchter, his motivations for agreeing to do the film, for letting Morris film his wielding lightning in the giant Van deer Grafa generator (he never asked why Morris had him do it), for taking his wife on honeymoon trip that including a quick stop-off to defile a memorial to horror of true evil. Leuchter, the man with the endlessly malleable moral compass, became the most malleable subject for Morris' intensely funny, grotesque, dispiriting, energizing, stunning rumination on the Truth, Evil and how our minds standing in the way of us knowing the difference.
17. POISON (1991, Todd Haynes)
1991 will probably stand as the most important time for gay cinema outside of the isolated periods where directors like Derek Jarman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder were getting recognition for their open and unapologetic exploration of homosexuality. In one year we had Paris Is Burning, My Own Private Idaho, Swoon and Young Soul Rebel followed by The Living End in 1992. These were films made mostly by openly gay directors focusing exclusively on gay stories and issues like discrimination, coming out, transgender culture or taking classic stories like the Loeb & Leopold murders (Swoon) and focusing more on the killers' sexual relationship when other filmmakers shied away from that or taking the writings of William Shakespeare and adding a homosexual twist to it (My Own Private Idaho.) But of all the films to come out of the New Queer Cinema explosion, Poison would probably be considered the all-star of the bunch.
Todd Haynes' melodramatic/dark comedy/horror/mockumentary/noir is split up in three separate stories that may seem unconnected at first but when you look a little a deeper you'll see that they all share a connection...
"Hero" - A PBS style mockumentary about a young boy (Richie) who shot his father and then (literally) flew away leaving behind his mother, the only witness to the events. In the fake documentary we learn about the troubled boy, his dysfunctional home life and why he shot his father through interviews with his mother, neighbors, teachers, classmates, cheesy reenactments and flashbacks. Richie's identity remains pretty mysterious throughout the entire film as we only see one photo of him along with a few flashback scenes where we never see his face.
"Homo" - A prison love story inspired by the writings of Jean Genet about obsession and repressed homosexuality told in a dark melodramatic style with haunting voiceover and a touch of noir. In Homo we follow a tough, intense and introverted prisoner who tries to fight his attraction to one of the new inmates that we later learn played a role in his life when he was younger.
"Horror" - A satirical and dark homage to the B-movie horror films of the 1950's & 60's with a social twist: A scientist captures the human sex drive but accidentally drinks it, turning him into a disease spreading/patient zero-like figure that spreads an unnamed AIDS-like STD all over town.
Much like Lars Von Trier's Europa (also released in 1991) Poison mixes black & white ("Horror") with grainy color ("Homo") along with projections ("Hero") and other experimental techniques. A common misconception about Poison is that the three stories are not connected. Sure, there's plenty of reviews and essays out there on this film where people reach and try to force a connection between "Hero", "Homo" and "Horror" but they're all pretty ridiculous. Even though all three stories are told in a completely different style, tell a different story and the characters stay within their own story and never intertwine or cross paths with one another, everything is connected through the theme of sex and sexuality. In "Hero" not only does Richie walk in on his mother having sex at one point, but the multiple references to spanking could be seen as sexual as well (actually, Richie seemed to enjoy being spanked.) "Homo" is all about sexuality and in "Horror" the mysterious disease is spread when people kiss or have sex. Sounds like a pretty strong connection to me. Poison also shares a similar spiritual connection with Todd Hayne's future work. Richie ("Hero") could easily be Steven in Haynes' follow-up film Dottie Gets Spanked; the repressed gay main character in "Homo" has the same repressions and desires as Christian Bale in Velvet Goldmine and Dennis Quaid in Far From Heaven, and the AIDS allegory in "Horror" clearly influenced Safe. Poison is a great introduction for people who want to delve in to the world of Todd Haynes. All the themes in just about any Todd Haynes film (right up to Mildred Pierce) can be traced back to Poison: spanking, homosexuality (usually among seemingly straight males), disease and adaptations or retelling of pre-existing work. Some things can be traced back even further to Superstar: The Karen Carpenter story like Haynes' use of Barbie dolls or his fascination with rock & roll icons.
Of all of Todd Haynes' work from the 90's Poison is the easiest one to overlook. Between Safe (probably one of the top three films of the decade and one of the most important works on disease, loneliness and emptiness) and a semi-autobiographical film on David Bowie and glam rock (Velvet Goldmine) it's easy for a film like Poison to get overshadowed as time goes on. But recently thanks to retrospectives, books and the growing demand from its fans to be released by the Criterion Collection, Poison has finally started to get the recognition it deserves.
16. SURVIVING DESIRE (1993, Hal Hartley)
I've lived in Poughkeepsie, NY for over two years now, and I've yet to see a young woman serenaded at her window by a four piece pop-rock group while Parker Posey shimmies enthusiastically in the background. No lovestruck individuals that I've witnessed have broken into a spontaneous, musically-unaccompanied dance number with two strangers in any public areas I've frequented. And while the town has a small population of street people, none of them have proposed marriage to me. All of this is pretty unacceptable (well, maybe not the offers of nuptials from derelicts) considering this is where Hal Hartley shot what may be his best film (although maybe not: see #11.) The unpredictably exciting and absurdly frustrating world of the movie doesn't exist here - truth is, Poughkeepsie is undoubtedly as dull as the Lindenhurst, NY neighborhood where Hartley grew up* and location doesn't factor into that wonderful energy found in his first couple films. Surviving Desire is a movie very much of its time (the exciting American Independent explosion era of the early 90's) but not necessarily its place - it's a movie of the mind and heart, and one that means a lot to us here at the 'smoke: Chris wrote a worthy tribute for our Rarely Published (er, Recommended) series and a consensus was reached among voters for this series to include the film despite the fact that it was technically shot for television and runs just over an hour long. There's no time to focus on former crooks seeking redemption, not a nymphomanic nun in sight; there might be a garbage man, but he doesn't write a pornographic poem that upsets the balance of the literary world, and nobody sets off a grenade or shoots someone in Japan. But it might be that the stripped-down narrative and modest production are what make this underrated movie so focused and easy to enjoy - its ideas are cohesive, its philosophy concise and there are plenty of jokes, a formula which people may have forgotten over the years is quintessential if not necessarily archetypical Hartley.
At the center of Hartley's film is a man very much like its director, one who "can't put into action what it is I understand." Like Alyosha, the ostensible hero of The Brothers Karamazov who receives the words of guidance that open the movie ("It's an important paragraph"), he's a romantic idealist who suffers the pitfalls of wisdom in light of experience. For Martin Donovan, reliance on knowledge and "good advice" proves useless in the pursuit of a girl in whom his faith is recklessly invested. An amateur of the less applicable achievements of higher education, charmed by the aesthetic possibilities of writing a novel or receiving a poem but immune to genuine romantic gestures (she even deconstructs music videos to their most technical components), the object of Donovan's desire has conditioned herself to discard fellow human beings in her callous quest "to know." Everything for her is an apathetic experiment: even before the morning after when she denies Donovan any kind of emotional acknowledgement, she's prefiguring his imminent torture following the devastation of losing her. Donovan's response to being rejected is impotent rage and a final plunge into self-pity that has him surrendering to the far spectrum of intellectual inquiry by making a play for the crazy lady who stands on a street corner indiscrimately proposing to anyone who happens to pass by, mumbling about being loved and cherished - peace of mind at the expense of sense and understanding. Donovan's come full circle to realize that knowing isn't enough, that books really don't help and desire doesn't figure into the remote nature of self-fulfilling academia. Unfortunately that's the very problem that haunts Hartley's later work: his worst Godard impression was to bring overtly religious and political concerns to the foreground of his "digital essays" that have become progressively less interested in human emotion and increasingly obsessed with slanty angles. It's one of the great cinematic tragedies moving out of the 90's that Hartley decided not to be entertaining anymore.
But like the characters I'm focusing on the wrong things - let's stick with the positive: this is a fun movie, and one that probably doesn't pop up in a ton of "best" discussions, even in conversations about the director's work (Hartley himself has gone on record as being disappointed with it.) Before residing in glamorous Poughkeepsie, I graduated from SUNY Purchase,** Hartley's alma matter, so it's always been hard for me to tell just how the film world views the Amateur autuer in general much less his perceived "minor" works such as this. From my neck of the woods, he's always been more than a "local boy does good" - Hartley maintained a personal style and philosophy that he never gave up on, for better or worse and perhaps to the detriment of his own career. But Surviving Desire remains as charming as ever, with dialogue as infinitely quotable and enriching as the passages characters read from Karamazov and The Gods Will Have Blood. You've got Martin Donovan at his angriest, his most romantic, his most prone to throw things in frustration or fall helplessly towards the girl he's infatuated with. You have Matt Malloy in his most adorable performance outside of Toothy from Basket Case 2 and Trust's cynical matriarch Merritt Nelson*** reincarnated as a marriage-minded vagrant. For her part Mary Ward, who never worked with Hartley before or after, is really underrated: she nails the dialogue and the character. And although it deals with homelessness, failed relationships and uncertain futures it's one of Hartley's most optimistic movies: there's actually something cleansing about resting your head in the sewer then getting up to face the world fresh. Huh - maybe we do all want a tragedy with a happy ending.
* Pat Benatar also grew up there, which means Lindenhurt at least isn't short on pimp dance-fights.
** Most of the "Homo" section of Poison was shot on the Purchase sound stage.
*** Actually she had changed her name to "Rebecca" for her credit in Surviving Desire and cameo at the end of Henry Fool. Wonder why.
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