five from the fire

funderburg: Joining us for this installment of The Pink Smoke's favorite pretentious thought experiment/goofball children's game, we welcome film critic and unrepentant Major League Soccer aficiondo Leanne Kubicz. Kubicz contributes regularly to Pinnland Empire as well as CutPrintFilm and runs her own blog LMK Film Picks. This is her first piece for the Smoke, which is good for us and even better for you, educated and noble reader.

Here goes: 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. Cinders. Ashes. Soot and embers. 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. We're not fascists, lady. Remember: you don't have a lot of time to react - the place is blazing. You gotta go with your gut reaction...

Wim Wenders
Fred Zinnemann
Mikio Naruse
Harmony Korine
Peter Weir

kubicz: On a frigid, winter evening several years ago, I watched my neighbor's garage burn down. I saw a curious orange glow on the curtains and nosily peeked out to see if they had one of those fire pit contraptions which are so popular with trendy homeowners. When I pulled back the curtain to spy I saw gigantic flames engulfing their garage and two seconds later every firetruck in town showed up to fight it. It was twenty degrees that night and windy; the flames started to reach towards other homes and burned up the electrical lines. The firefighters had to run like hell away from the building when a transformer caught fire and blew up, showering them with flaming debris. In the end, no one was hurt and the fire was stopped from spreading to other homes, but what a sight to see.

The fire couldn't have lasted for more than twenty minutes and then the garage was gone except for one brick wall. Knowing how fast a building can burn up, saving anything from this warehouse is going to be daunting. Plus the whole, I'm not in shape and don't like getting hurt by fire thing so I better hope I can run as fast as those firefighters did, is obviously first in my mind. But who better to send into a fire to save movies than me. I'm out of shape but tiny, so I can crawl out through small spaces. And I never forgot what they taught us as grade schoolers; stop, drop and roll. I think I got this, here's hoping.

The first film I grab is obviously Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders. I mean, come on, you know this has to be saved, the universe wouldn't be right without this film existing in it. Sure Paris, Texas has its charms, Wings of Desire is simply more universal. It's the most life affirming film I've ever watched. If you're ever in a really sad mood, this is the film you need to watch. As Damiel states in the film, live “Now, now, now!”, so I grab the film, tuck it away, and run to the next stack.

For Fred Zinnemann I save From Here to Eternity not so much because I adore it, but for the beach scene. You have to give credit to Zinnemann for directing such an iconic, romantic scene in the days of the production code. That's some powerful, sexy imagery and he used the waves to stand in for a true sex scene. That scene has been copied and spoofed so often, I have to save it or people may not understand all the references to it in other areas. Sorry High Noon and Oklahoma! you're just not as famous, it's been nice knowing you.

I see a huge holding of films by a director I've never heard of named Mikio Naruse. It's bad enough to have a blind spot about a director at my age; having to make a split second decision to save or not save his films during a fire is worse. The titles of his films are evocative and very female-centric (Floating Clouds, Untamed Woman, Autumn Has Already Started, A Woman's Place, etc.) and there are a lot of them, so it makes me think he must have been important, yes I should save one of his films. There aren't enough films about women in general, so I grab a copy of The Stranger Within a Woman to rescue. I like that title, it reminds me of Alice's famous line in Eyes Wide Shut: “If you men only knew.”

Running short on time and oxygen now, so I crouch down to a smaller collection of films by Harmony Korine. I instantly grab Spring Breakers for it is an amazingly weird film and is really pretty. Plus this along with Enter the Void and Only God Forgives are the most visually influentially films of the last decade, so it has to be rescued. The saturated neon moodiness appearing in more mainstream films now wouldn't exist without these films utilizing it first. Also, the Britney Spears piano scene is beyond comprehension; that's the magic of movies right there. You never know what wholly unusual and strange things you are going to witness and Korine served it up big time with this film.

Only one film left to grab and I'm going for the sentimental. The burning and smoky atmosphere in which I find the collection of Peter Weir's films leads me to grab Dead Poet's Society. This was the first 'big kid' film my parents let me watch when I was eleven years old. Sure, looking back it may be a little hackneyed, what with the manipulative dramatics, but you can't deny Robin Williams' excellent performance. He's everyone's dream teacher and produced a role that will always be embraced. I'm not saving this film because of Peter Weir, I'm saving it to preserve Robin Williams' film legacy. 'Oh, Captain, My Captain!' I miss you.

Wings of Desire
From Here to Eternity
The Stranger Within a Woman
Spring Breakers
Dead Poet's Society

funderburg: You managed to save my favorite Naruse! He is indeed an important filmmaker, but his work has always had spotty distribution in the U.S., so there's no easy way to be familiar with him - you really have to deliberately hunt him down if you're interested. His most acclaimed movies are in the vein of Mizoguchi's celebrated "women's films" although far less hysterical and melodramatic - it would be reductive to say Naruse's work splits the difference between Mizoguchi and Ozu, but I'll do it anyway.

The Stranger Within a Woman is somewhat off-model for him - it's an overheated thriller from very late in his career. It's also one of the only films based on the work of political activist/crime novelist Edouard Atiyah (Chabrol's similarly excellent and under-seen Just Before Nightfall being the only other major adaptation of his work - both films are based on the same story.) Are you sad that you'll never get to see any of his early short films because they do have excellent titles like Flunky, Work Hard! and The Strength of a Moustache? Do you fear reprisals from fanatics who rate works like When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and Floating Clouds as among the greatest ever produced in Japan's storied cinematic history?

Did you feel any temptation to grab more films by Wenders and Korine (filmmakers who you clearly have an affection for) and forget about saving anything by Zinnemann (whom you clearly don't have any attachment to)? I personally am sad to lose Day of the Jackal, but I'm not sure I could have justified saving any of the kind of staid Hollywood middlebrowosity Zinnemann's work emblematized when The American Friend, Alice in the Cities and Paris, Texas were still out there.

And I love Spring Breakers with all my black and hopeless heart, but isn't it just disposable junk? You even mention a couple movies that would do a fine job carrying on its legacy and we'll always have the real Riff-Raff to carry us in our darkest hours. Plus, isn't "Hanging with Them Dope Boys" worthy of incineration just on its own? Korine definitely has more original work like Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy - there's very little art out in the world even remotely like that stuff. Any regrets on choosing neon-candy-coated sleaze-bag fun over exploitative mud-smeared dirtbag art?

You gave it a good sentimental push but I'd still like to throw Dead Poet's Society back into the fire. In general, my impulse is to celebrate the destruction of Weir's work, but then I remember he directed the amazing Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously and The Cars that Ate Paris. Even Fearless and The Mosquito Coast are pretty good - actually it turns out I'm a Weir fan? If these films are lost I'm not sure Poet's makes that great of a case for a frequently genius filmmaker whose best films are his most over-looked. (Weir's frequent excellence duly acknowledged, The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock can still kiss my ass.)

Any films you always longed to see that are now cinders - regrets for missed opportunities? With a moment of reflection, are you happy with your choices or have you reconsidered? Is there any need for Wings of Desire when the far superior City of Angels exists? Just know: you can't fight the tears that ain't coming or the moment of truth in your lies. Those are things you cannot fight.

kubicz: I have psychic powers! Being as I don't know Naruse, I'm genuinely surprised that I picked your favorite of his films. If the Naruse fan base is upset, I do commiserate, yet there were only 5 selections; I had no other choice. I judged the film by it's title and that decision cannot be undone now. I do wish I had viewed the films that are now smoldering and hope that I haven't damaged Japanese culture too profoundly.

I should have grabbed Paris, Texas over From Here to Eternity, but I wanted to make the general film audience happy. Honestly, I don't care for Frank Sinatra at all (The Machurian Candidate is his only work I can tolerate) yet I didn't want a mob(no pun intended) of rabid Jersey folk coming after me because I let it burn. As a Jersey native, this is what would happen; I know of my people and you don't mess with their icons.

I'm very confident in my decision to save Spring Breakers; I feel no regrets. I had to be selfish at some point. I don't feel it's junk; time will tell if this film is seen as a landmark moment in visual and narrative oddness. The early scenes with the young women partying, frighteningly close to being sexually assaulted and then having them gain power, such as it is, at the end, is important. Korine created a fantasy of female empowerment, in a sideways manner. Shooting up people with machine guns isn't cool; sure is better than being raped at a kegger.

Dead Poet's Society had to be rescued, there's no getting around it. Let's say there is a warehouse fire with Gus Van Sant's complete works; no one in their right mind is going to save Good Will Hunting. If that is lost, Robin William's finest performance is gone too.* I had to rescue Dead Poet's Society on the off-chance that the other film could burn. William's work is too precious to lose, despite Weir's saccharine output.

Overall, I'm satisfied by my choices and would pick the same again. City of Angels should have never been produced. I hope Wenders made mad cash off the story rights, because this version is a stinker. Could Americans not be bothered to read subtitles; is black and white, mixed with color too heady for the general audience? I'll never understand this film travesty. Watch Raising Arizona for a Nick Cage fix and Meg Ryan in French Kiss (a sadly underrated comedy) if you want to see these actors in films that aren't feeble knock-offs.

~ AUGUST 24, 2015 ~

In our professional opinion, you should further seek out the work of Leanne Kubicz - why not start with her pieces on Spring Breakers and Wim Wenders? There is no good reason why not.

* It is the Pink Smoke's official position that World's Greatest Dad is Robin Williams' finest performance.