five from the fire:
Adam Leon's debut feature Gimme the Loot won the jury prize at the 2012 SxSW film festival, was an official selection at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section and recently received a national theatrical release by IFC Films. It is arguably the most charming film of the year and inarguably one of the best reviewed. Christopher Funderburg asked his old cubicle co-habitant Mr. Leon to sit down for the latest installment of Five from the Fire, the Pink Smoke's enduring thought experiment.
The Set-up: A storage facility houses 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. Which five prints do you save? Feel free to pick all five from one filmmaker or one from each artist or anything in between. Don't be selfish - think of cinema history, for the love of all that is holy. Or don't. I won't hold it against you. Also, you don't have a lot of time to react - the place is blazing. Just go with your gut reaction...
~ ADAM LEON ~
~ interviewed by christopher funderburg ~
THE PINK SMOKE: Ok, so you know the deal: the complete filmographies of five directors are stored in a burning warehouse.
You have just enough time to save five films. But you gotta act quick. Your five directors are:
GEORGE P. COSMATOS
ADAM LEON: Ok, first off, what kind of sick man's warehouse has only these five director's movies? Let’s go through the choices.
Robert Altman is my favorite director or all time, my idol and hero. More on him later.
Leo McCarey is a tough one for me. I'm a big 30's comedy fan but Leo isn't my guy. I guess people love The Awful Truth, but I never got with it. Still, he made Duck Soup - it's a classic, I love me some Marx Brothers. Let's save it.
I've never seen a Rene Clement film. "Oh my god! This asshole has never seen a Rene Clement film!? I can't believe Pink Smoke considers him worthy of answering these questions," you say. Well, at least I'm being honest. I could very easily claim that while Forbidden Games has had the greatest lasting impact on me, it's actually The Walls of Malapaga that most succinctly and effortlessly captures the genius of Clement, featuring arguably Gabin's finest performance. But I'm not saying that because I've never seen those movies.
While we're being honest here, I've never even heard of Shinya Tsukamoto. However, I see he directed a movie called Tetsuo II: Body Hammer as well as a movie called Nightmare Detective 2. I'm interested as to why there are roman numerals for the former but the more standard number version for the latter. I'm more of a keep-it-simple, standard number man myself but Tetsuo II: Body Hammer features both a colon and the words "Body Hammer," which is definitely a bonus. In fact, the only way it could guarantee saving was if it was called Tetsuo II: Body Hammer...The Movie because I'm a sucker for "...The Movie" in movie titles. Still, in spite of its' minor title shortcomings, I'm saving Tetsuo II: Body Hammer.
Now, you may say, "Adam, you've never seen Tetsuo II: Body Hammer and you’re saving that, but you refuse to save any Clement films based on the logic that you haven't seen any of them?" Right, but that's Clement's bad for never making Forbidden Games II: Body Hammer...The Movie.
Nothing against the guy, but I'm not saving any George Cosmatos films. Sorry, Cobra.
Ok, that leaves us with Duck Soup and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, meaning I get to pick three Altman films. I would like to pick five Altman movies, but even though I’m allowed to, it seems a bit too aggressive. So, after much consideration and with all due respect to M.A.S.H., Brewster McCloud, Long Goodbye, Nashville, Popeye, and Gosford Park, here are my three Altman films:
McCabe and Mrs. Miller:
I mean come on, this movie is the best. If you haven't seen it, see it. If you have, you already know. In contrast to the interweaving, multi-storyline approach of Nashville, H.E.A.L.T.H, A Wedding, Short Cuts, etc., the film feels like a fairly straightforward story of two people (one being McCabe, the other...well, yeah), but yet it's populated with a vast amount of fully-formed, deeply human characters that he sets up so economically with subtle, identifiable and charming details (discussions of personal grooming and food orders being my favorites). I really feel like I know everyone in this town, even if they have just passing screen time - a remarkable feat. The only other movie I can think of that pulls this off to this degree is The White Ribbon, but McCabe and Mrs. Miller has the added advantage of being in color. This is a joke, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is barely in color. Brighten it up, Bobby and Vilmos! Ted Turner, get on it.
And along with the characters themselves, the whole world and language of the movie feels so lived in and real. So while it's an Epic Story About America, capital letters required, unlike most other Epic Stories About America, its message and themes always come out of the characters and the setting first. Which is a good thing.
Fun fact: Vincent Canby wrote in his New York Times review that Altman's "intentions keep spoiling the fun of what might have been an uproarious frontier fable," which is like saying the cripple gets in the way of all the potential comedic hijinks in The Best Years Of Our Lives.
When I showed this movie to my girlfriend she said halfway through, "I'm not really sure what he's going for with this one," and I didn't break up with her. That's how much I love my girlfriend.
I just simply don't understand how on earth people don't love this wonderful, charming movie. It features an incredible balancing act of storytelling and tone (that I will admit at times misses) and is such a winning film with so much depth that just gets better with each repeat viewing. Plus Carol Burnett's performance is an absolute classic. I am aware, if befuddled, that people hate it, but A Wedding is fantastic.
You know, I'm changing my mind. I'm saving Nashville as well; it's too great of a film. Sorry Duck Soup - you're out.
McCABE AND MRS. MILLER
TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER
Thanks to Pink Smoke for having me. I'm sure my lack of knowledge and my love of A Wedding will unfortunately guarantee they never have me back.
TPS: Oh come on, you know very well that I'm the least judgmental person on the planet! Good choices (and logic) - just for our reader's sake, here are a few notable films that will be lost to the flames that you touch on: Purple Noon, Is Paris Burning?, Rider on the Rain, Tombstone, An Affair to Remember, The Awful Truth, Make Way for Tomorrow, Ruggles of Red Gap, Going My Way, a ton of Max Davidson shorts (including the excellently-named Should Second Husbands Come First?), Forbidden Games, 3 Women, Secret Honor, The Player, O.C. and Stiggs and Thieves Like Us.
But wait! Before we sign out, I want to hear your justification for leaving out Rambo: First Blood Part II, which has everything that appealed to you about Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, but with an added "Part!"
AL: It's hard to disagree with your First Blood point, especially since it features a "first" and a "Part II." A truly ridiculous title in the best of ways. I guess it's because I have seen it that I don't want to save it. There's a mystery surrounding Tetsuo and an excitement I would have about watching it after saving it.
TPS: Awesome - incidentally, Tetsuo II is probably Tsukamoto's best film. It's either that one, Snake of June or Tetsuo: The Iron Man, so good choice! Once again the importance of giving your film an excellent title is conclusively proven.
Thanks again to Adam Leon. Gimme the Loot is currently playing at theaters around the country and will be available on dvd & streaming this September.
~ SUMMER 2013 ~