cribbs & funderburg

Every day, it seems like there's more being written about fewer films. The internet is an endless expanse of opinioneering, but every blogger seems to be working from the same limited Rolodex. How many times do the virtues of The Godfather need to be extolled? If you love horror movies, do you ever need to read anything else about (the truly excellent, totally brilliant) Halloween or The Evil Dead? How many "Top 10" lists do you need to see recycle the same titles before you realize, "Gosh, maybe I should see The Shining and Casablanca?"

There's a whole universe of movies out there, but you wouldn't know it by perusing critical websites. Look, we love Funny Games (both versions) as much as anybody, but maybe it should be mentioned at some point that The Seventh Continent and Benny's Video are equally interesting films. It's possible some people never tire of reading about standbys like Stranger than Paradise, Breathless and On the Waterfront, but once a week give your palate over to the Pink Smoke and we'll recommend some films that maybe you didn't even realize were thoroughly, totally, 100% worth your attention. At very least, they're not films you'll have already read about 453 times.

jonathan wacks, 1989

~ by john cribbs ~

If you like:
80's Indie films, road movies, great Native American actors, Gary Farmer's giant naked butt.

After recently struggling through the excruciating mess that is The Dark Wind, I treated myself to this much more satisfying Gary Farmer film that I hadn't seen in a long time. Not only is the movie just as charming and well-made as I remember, it now has the benefit of feeling like a precious relic: the kind of film that simply doesn't get made under any circumstances these days. And it's not just because the "Native American fad" of the early-to-mid 90's* that the movie pre-dated went out of style shortly after the release of Disney's Pocahontas; you are just not going to go into a theater tomorrow and come out with the sort of feeling you get after Powwow Highway, that sense that every aspect of modern American society is fucked, but that it's ok. The price of living is crippling, authority heads are apathetic and the Men in Suits are out to destroy everything your culture built up over generations...Powwow Highway acknowledges all this while making a strong case for not losing sight of yourself and sticking up for your own principles (just be careful about who you take your righteous indignation out on - that car radio you thought you got ripped off buying just may end up working perfectly!) Farmer, as an unkempt yet idealistic man of Cheyenne lineage named Philbert Bono, spends the movie slowly re-taking the land of the American West by simply introducing himself to it: every new place he ends up, he commandeers with a confidence of entitlement - his right to exist. At one such stop, he tells an engaging, impassioned (and clearly improvised) folktale of perseverance and bravery, oblivious to the backdrop of a smoke-spewing factory and seemingly endless power lines, locked safely inside his own head. Bullies, corrupt cops, even Philbert's more grounded friend Buddy find they can't take away from him the pride of his heritage and strong connection to the land his ancestors once traveled. This obscure sense of purpose and presence, in the unlikely form of a fat, grinning Reservation outcast, is the lasting vitality of the American Indian.

This, of course, will only become apparent very gradually to activist and troublemaker Buddy Red Crow, who has to get from Montana to New Mexico to help out his sister, an unmarried mother of two who's been arrested on a trumped up possession charge (a distraction to keep Buddy away from some slick corporate con artists trying to squeeze money out of people on the rez.) He enlists the help of Philbert, who has just traded what was in his pocket for a rusty, rundown '64 Buick he dubs Protector the War Pony, to get him there - but Philbert has a few stops to make on the way. Farmer is equal parts mesmerizing and adorable, not to mention endearing when he stops at a diner to order 2 cheeseburgers deluxe, 2 chocolate malts and a cherry pie, prompting the waitress to inquire "Is he going into hibernation?" What other actor, with that kind of bear-like bulk, could pull off tumbling merrily down the slope of a supposedly sacred hill on an enlightenment high? Somehow he never comes off as self-righteous or outright crazy, probably because for a guy who has such reverence for his romanticized Cherokee background, he indulges in every vice of the lower class American citizen: buying a used car, watching T.V., eating junk food. The way he reverently re-folds a giant Hershey's Chocolate bar and leaves it as a tribute atop the Black Hills just makes me so happy. Farmer's performance, along with a smart script and good direction by first-time feature filmmaker Jonathan Wacks** help this sleeper transcend the "naïve, quixotic dumb guy who brings forward-thinking angry guy around to his unique way of thinking road trip" set-up of movies like Scarecrow, Rain Man or...Tommy Boy. It's really special in its own way.

* Several of the actors who would dominate the overcrowded market of Native American films in the 90's pop up here. It's Wes Studi's debut film; his first line - "What are you two soggy fucks up to?" - is one I'm going to have to start incorporating into my standard greeting. Graham Greene has a small but memorable part as a Vietnam vet (although Studi is the real-life vet.) I should also point out that George Harrison will always be my favorite Beatle if only for his producing credits: Life of Brian, Mona Lisa, Withnail & I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising, and Powwow Highway.
** Don't bother following his career after this one - although he was a producer on Repo Man, his two follow-up films were the Ethan Hawke vehicle Mystery Date and inspired-but-flawed Ed and His Dead Mother.

eric rohmer, 1981

~ by christopher funderburg ~

If you like:
Nouvelle Vague hang-out movies, sultry & emotionally complex French women, bona fide dorks.

The first film in Eric Rohmer's "Comedies and Proverbs" series, The Aviator's Wife strikingly stars a bona fide, 191-proof dorkus malorkus in the lead role. It's the story of a young postal clerk who can't quite come to terms with the libertine framework for their relationship laid out by his muckle-mouthed, office-worker girlfriend - the most remarkable thing, though, is that Rohmer actually cast a socially awkward, not especially charming doofus in the role of a socially awkward, not especially charming doofus. Normally, a director errs on the side of casting a normal, charismatic actor and has them play goofy - but Phillippe Marlaud's mouth-breathing, ruddy skin and rigid bearing can't be faked. The authenticity of his waddling manner adds a power and poignancy to a plot that follows his feeble attempts to find emotional satisfaction in relationship where his attractive, selfish girlfriend has all the power. When her married lover shows up after a 3 month absence to truly break off their relationship, the doofus in question stumbles upon their meeting and immediately suspects their affair is back on. The denim-clad dork* follows the titular aviator/adulterer to the park and spies on him with another woman, trying desperately to figure out just how much he should trust his girlfriend and maybe also in the process come to understand why he submits to her liberal terms for their relationship. Along the way, he picks up an adorable sidekick, an ebullient fifteen year-old girl all too happy to get involved in his intrigue. She's a charming, funny character, despite being an intverate liar and frequently downright cruel in her childishly self-confident attempts to puncture our nerd-hero's illusions. Her attempts to trick a couple of tourists into snapping a photo of the unsuspecting aviator/mystery woman duo result in comic gold and the langorous scenes of her interaction with Marlaud soar almost as much as his time with his girlfriend sinks him into a a painful emotional morass.   

Rohmer loved film cycles: the "Six Moral Tales", "The Tales of the Four Seasons", even his historical fictions constitute a linked group; but the "Comedies and Proverbs" remain perhaps his most over-looked cycle. Of those six films, only Pauline at the Beach achieved the same level of critical acclaim and enduring success as his most well-known works like Chloe in the Afternoon, A Tale of Sprintime, My Night at Maud's, Claire's Knee or even a lesser canonized Rohmer work like The Marquise of O. or La Collectionuese. I have no idea why this is, as I would rate three of the Comedies and Proverbs - The Green Ray, The Aviator's Wife and Boyfriends and Girlfriends-  as being as good as anything he ever did. Certainly, the things to dislike about The Aviator's Wife are common to most Rohmer films: the Catholic rigidity that explicitly critiques sexual liberalism as dangerous is present along the toxic women that embody that sentiment. But The Aviator's Wife has a different, sadder take on the notion that Marlaud should really, obviously reject this poisonous Modern Woman. In the "Six Moral Tales," the protagonists all choose a pure, virtuous woman over the object of their desire: what if you were a dork and didn't have the option of a pure, virtuous woman who will treat you right, settle down and get married? What if your very manner and personality leaves you only with the options of "stay and be emotionally abused" or  "suffer loneliness?" The answers to the questions of love and morality are more difficult and less satisfying when you're a ruddy-cheeked dork whose girlfriend won't even let you kiss her goodbye. To mangle a line from La Collectionuese, "Love is easy when you stand six feet tall and have the profile of a hawk." If not, you're screwed. If your adorable new crush has a boyfriend, you're not going to be the lover for whom she insists on making moral exceptions. What do you do then? Go back to your job sorting mail at the post office?

* Sadly, it's only jacket and jeans with a regular button-down shirt and not a true Canadian tuxedo.

~ AUGUST 11, 2012 ~