FIVE FROM THE FIRE #1
john cribbs & christopher funderburg
No more dodging it, John. Here's your first Five from the Fire.
A giant warehouse houses (redundant? you be the judge!) the collected directorial works of five filmmakers. A raging fire breaks out and you have just enough time to save exactly five prints. All of the other films will be entirely lost to history - they even have all of the digital masters at this fucking place. Which five prints do you save? Feel free to pick all five from one filmmaker or one from each fellow or anything in between. Don't be selfish - think of cinema history, for the love of Pete. Or don't. I won't hold it against you. Also, you don't have a lot of time to react- there's a towering inferno before you! Go with your gut reaction, so no checking imdb for their complete resumés or other memory-enhancing skullduggery.
Ready? Any questions? No?! Perfect. Here we go... the directors are:
Richard Fleischer Irving Reis Michelangelo Antonioni
Pupi Avati Wes Craven
What do you save? And what do you have to say for yourself, you David Hemmings-obsessed son of a bitch?
The firemen wrestle me to the ground to stop me from risking my life for another desperate sprint into the curtain of flames. Subdued, I lay on the ground watching the inferno simmer and think back to my sophie's choices from the last wrenching moments...
What a cruel list to start with! I expected a group of my favorite filmmakers and was prepared to choose one film from each master, but this set throws me off. One minute I'm walking home clutching a smooth Orange Julius, the next I see the merciless smoke rising from an awesome blaze. I finish off the Julius and run to the warehouse, and sure enough the entire structure is ablaze. And it's getting hot in there so I better make some snap decisions!
Before even entering the building I know what I'm looking for first. L'Eclisse cannot be allowed to burn under any circumstances. It's Antonioni's best film, and the perfect solo representative of his "Isolation" trilogy. Some historians are gonna get cross I picked it over L'Avventura, but let's get serious here people: it's between La Notte and L'Eclisse - and L'Eclisse is better.
I have to save at least one Fleischer, right? The man's body of work is so vast and versatile: on the one hand, there's not really one title to preserve for future generations that defines "Richard Fleischer," but he worked so many little miracles in so many genres something of his efforts must make the cut. So my mind quickly turns to "Fleischer" and "genius" and the first thing it conjures up is The Narrow Margin. Such an exceptional suspense thriller, so fun and so sexy. It's noir without the unbearable heaviness, Hitchcock without the gimmicks. Yes, The Narrow Margin must survive.
I dump the singed cans on the ground outside the warehouse and fall to my knees. This moment is the hardest. I know I won't be grabbing any more Fleischer's. Honestly, how can I be expected to choose between Bloody Sunday, 10 Rillington Place, Compulsion, Trapped?
I go back in a third time looking for Dance, Girl, Dance. That's Irving Reis, right? I look everywhere to no avail - Funderburg, I thought you said this building housed his entire filmography? Oh wait...Dorothy Arzner directed that one! I guess I'm thinking of Reiss' The Big Street, which also featured Lucille Ball. Yes - here's that one. But underneath it is a beautiful silver canister labeled Enchantment. That one's melodramatic but I like it, and I'm sure film historians will appreciate my saving it for future generations to...
MR. MAJESTYK! I GOTTA SAVE MR. MAJESTYK! Even though the fire hasn't heated the cans containing Reis' lifework, I drop them like hot potatoes, make a Bronson-style dash for an adjoining wall, leap through the window and gather up all three and a half reels depicting a melon farmer pushed to the edge!
Majestyk safely evacuated, I return once more into the flames. I'm trying not to think about all the movies I'm leaving behind, and focus on the task at hand. There are currently two Richard Fleischer movies outside and only one Antonioni. While that doesn't seem unreasonable - Fleischer's work was eclectic while Antonioni's shattered-eros tales bore more than a few visual and thematic similarities. But I've got a soft spot for his later stuff so I decide it's my cinematic duty to save another of the Italian's masterpieces.
Jack, I'm sorry I couldn't save The Passenger...at the end of the day it's probably my favorite Antonioni, too, but the flames were licking at the crate containing the Italian master's later work, I could barely see from the smoke and I didn't want to grab Zabriskie Point by mistake. And Red Desert was right there on top. Red Desert is totally different than L'Eclisse. For one thing Monica Vitti's in color. And she's got red hair. Resolute, I hoist the nearly-pristine print, press it against my chest and try not to think about Richard Harris' awful dubbed voice as I make my way into the fresh air.
I take a quick second to survey my haul. In my mind the loss of Blow-Up is not severe. Let's face it everybody, it's more than a little dated and - in my opinion - is far surpassed by the similiarly-themed Deep Red by Dario Argento (also starring David Hemmings). It doesn't get me down that future generations won't get the Austin Powers-fashion photographer jokes and will miss out on the terrible Yardbirds scene. They got a melon farmer out for revenge to look forward to, what do they care about some egomaniacal ponce watching mimes playing tennis?
As for Craven...interestingly, I don't have a lot of moral hang-ups over leaving those in there. For one thing - they've all been remade! At least one of the remakes is twice as good as the original, which can't be said for the horrendous '80s version of Narrow Margin (my wife Jordie laments the loss of Red Eye...the world of the future will never know the name Jackson Rippner.) New Nightmare is at the back of my head, but how am I gonna justify rescuing that and leaving the original behind? 10 out of 10 film juries would hang me for such self-serving negligence. Given the choice over whether to save an odd curio like The Serpent and the Rainbow or The People Under the Stairs, or leaving them to serve as kindling, thus insuring the complete destruction of Vampire in Brooklyn and Music of the Heart...well, that ain't no choice at all.
So I save Zeder. It's a personal decision, not one I expect anybody to get behind. I figure Italian film lovers will be appreciative enough over the two Antonionis that my favorite Avati can make it out. It's the most impulsive choice, but the one I actually feel the best about. The work of Wes Craven and Irving Reis go up in flames, but one Pupi Avati title still exists!
At my feet are the five films I've managed to liberate from the flames......
L'Eclisse The Narrow Margin Mr. Majestyk
Red Desert Zeder
I stand there for a while waiting to see if some noble fireman carries out a print of Il Grido, or Conan the Destroyer, or The House of Laughing Windows. One of them turns up an antique marble ink holder I'm convinced would've survived the holocaust, but it seems that the rest of the films are lost to history...
The notable loses not mentioned (by name) in your response: A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left, Scream, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing (arguably Adrienne Barbeau's finest moment), The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (Cary Grant completists are swooning), Crack Up, all of Irving Reis' The Saint rip-offs (including the excellently titled The Gay Falcon), 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, La Notte, Mandingo, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Red Sonja.
Incidentally, your picks were virtually identical to mine (don't think I haven't been thinking about my answers since I came up with this list of directors). I would've grabbed 10 Rillington instead of Narrow Margin, but I also definitely would've taken Majestyk and the same two Antonionis (I actually seriously considered taking The Passenger just because I know how much you love it). I haven't seen any Avati films, so I would've pulled out the original Nightmare on Elm Street because it's such a pop cultural touchstone and there needs to be some way to justify my fondness for Robert Englund. And Mangler ain't gonna do it.
Interesting. Would you have gotten them out in the same order?
Obviously the Fleischer was a tough call. I just couldn't live in a world where you tell someone how great Narrow Margin is and they respond "That movie sucks - and usually I love Gene Hackman!" I'd rather spread the legend of this great British crime film that's lost in time...
On a personal note, I really took this experiment seriously despite my flippant tone...recently I've been collecting the novelizations of early "Doctor Who" serials that are gone forever and the idea of losing something that not only represents the blood and sweat of the people behind it but its potential effect on millions of viewers is so depressing. And in the case of certain films it really is as tough as choosing between your own children, isn't it? I wonder which ones the filmmakers themselves would save from the fire.
I figured Nightmare 3 was enough to maintain the legacy of Englund (assuming of course the warehouse contains these auteurs directorial efforts only, not every film they have a credit on)...
Stay tuned: next week will bring another Five from the Fire - with John's choices for the directors and Christopher's picks for the saves.
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