The couple that plays together stays together. Today’s top-ten list of Facets-related titles comes from a young married couple, Sharon Gissy and Andrew Horton, who share a passion for the movies. Together, they came up with a list of ten films they saw at Facets in 2010, either in the Cinematheque, at Night School, or from Rentals. They provide a sort-of “he said/she said” commentary for a unique approach to the top-ten idea. The image below is from their #2 selection, Lady Terminator. (click for their list)
Sharon: I have to admire Andrezj Zulawski’s intense, unfinished science-fiction film, based on his relative’s Lunar Trilogy of novels, as an insanely ambitious epic like nothing else I’ve ever seen before. Many of its drawbacks are also its strengths. Apparently production on this film was halted at one point by Polish authorities for possible political subversion, and missing footage was filled in by voice-over narration. Somehow this only adds to the convincing and often truly terrifying effect that one really is watching messy and incomprehensible found footage discovered from a video diary recorded in a post-apocalyptic future. In this future, (I think) astronauts from Earth have landed on a distant moon, where residents age at an extremely accelerated rate, and people seem to be driven by a kind of isolated madness, only able to speak in rambling musings about God, life, and death. I have to admit at times (okay, most of the time) I had no idea what was going on in this movie, but as a bizarre artifact of an over-reaching imagination, it’s haunting and unforgettable.
Andrew: Zulawski’s Possession is so awesome, but this was three hours of people screaming at each other. I ended up moving to another room and downloading rare kaiju flicks instead.
9. Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970, dir. Jaromil Jires)
Sharon: A nearly indescribable Czech New Wave film released by Facets, this nightmarish, fairy-tale coming-of-age story focuses on the sexual awakening of young teenager Valerie, who begins to notice strange vampires lurking in her town after one of them steals a pair of her earrings. In a lush blend of fantasy and reality that resembles a dream more than any movie I’ve seen, Valerie’s perceptions about everything around her change as she learns new truths about her family, her community, a local priest, and her own curiosity, all of which mirror adolescent revelations we all have at some point and how beautiful and scary the mere act of growing up can be.
Andrew: Celine and Julie for lightweights (I kid, I kid!). Both Sharon and I got nuttily into Czech New Wave over the past few years; this is sort of the Band of Outsiders of Czech New Wave. Start here, or with Closely Watched Trains. Or, make it a double feature.
8. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, dir. Jacques Rivette)
Sharon: Jacques Rivette’s film about two women who, among other adventures, experience a parallel reality that resembles a haunted-house melodrama when they eat magical pieces of candy, is difficult to describe other than the vague descriptions that many consider it one of the only effective surrealist films, and it plays a lot with the ideas of time, magic, and identity. “Play” is probably the key word for what I love most about this movie, which delights in its free-spirited romps around Paris scenery, cabaret acts, improvisation, and the exploration of a close female friendship between the two central characters that is childlike in its gleeful sense of discovery and wonder.
Andrew: We’ve hauled this fat double-VHS (190 mins.!) home from Facets many times; it’s a crime that there’s still no domestic DVD of it available!
7. Beaches of Agnes (2009, dir. Agnes Varda)
Sharon: Agnes Varda’s autobiography and study of the nature of memory, told through a combination of real-life footage, re-creation, and poetic metaphor, perfectly captures her playful personality and strengths as a filmmaker, from her obsession with odd details to her ability to become distracted and shift focus to the next arresting image in her mind. As Agnes tells personal stories about the death of her husband Jacques Demy, running away and re-naming herself in her youth, and her relationship to the French New Wave, I was continually captivated by the beautiful flashes of memory and its sidetracks, including recurring images of mirrors, beaches, and film itself, always recording and playing back. This was so charming and a perfect capstone to the amazingly informative class I took this year on Agnes Varda at Facets. [Note: Andrew did not see this film.]
6. Season of the Witch (1972, dir. George Romero)
Sharon: With Season of the Witch (aka Hungry Wives), George Romero creates a fascinating character study around a concept rarely touched upon in horror films: the midlife crisis of a middle-aged woman. Through Jan White’s steely portrayal of Joan Mitchell, a bored suburban housewife who turns to black magic after failing to find fulfillment through her family or the ’70s counterculture, Romero builds a subtle but genuine psychological terror about our aching for identity and the fantasies we create of ourselves that can sometimes turn deadly.
Andrew: Sitting perfectly among dreamy, mid-70s female-centric psychological horror movies like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and The Witch Who Came from the Sea, Season of the Witch was probably my favorite discovery of the year.
5. Daisies (1966, dir. Vera Chytilova)
Sharon: Daisies is one of my favorite Facets rentals (and movies) of all time, mainly because it makes avant-garde film and the subversion of all accepted behavior and moral codes so much fun. This is the Vera Chytilova Czech New Wave tale of two bored young women (Marie I and Marie II) who decide that since the world has gone bad, they will, too. What results is a frenetic, nonsensical, and often hilarious string of childish stunts, food consumption and destruction, and spurned potential lovers, bookended by war footage as a moral tale that could be read as feminist or anti-capitalist, but which will always be a fun and completely unique viewing experience.
Andrew: I reject all “deep” readings of this film as intellectual slumming; it’s a hilarious, bouncy, adorable Czech Jackass as two Eastern Bloc chickadees splatter food and break hearts. Love love love.
4. Detour (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer)
Sharon: Detour is a low-budget b-movie that has become a cult classic due to its raw, gritty mood created with very few resources. Tom Neal perfectly plays Al Roberts as a sad, down-on-his-luck loser who makes every bad decision in the book, beginning with dumping a dead body and assuming its identity. Many of the story conventions, like the dreamy flashbacks and improbable turns of luck, lend the film an unnerving possible unreliable narrator angle and add a mysterious ambiguity to the plot.
Andrew: Detour is to David Lynch’s oeuvre as Kurosawa’s filmography is to Star Wars—something from “way back” that makes you realize the whole thing was right there all along, just waiting to be tarted up and repackaged for a modern audience. The apotheosis of “amnesia noir” and my all-time favorite film discovery via a Facets Film School class.
3. Crude (2009, dir. Joe Berlinger)
Sharon: As oil spill stories dominated the media, a packed house turned up in the Cinematheque during the Human Rights Watch festival to watch this documentary made by the masterful Joe Berlinger chronicling a drawn-out legal battle between oil magnate Chevron and the residents of Ecuador’s rainforest. Although there were plenty of provocative, sad images and stories involving struggling oil-covered animals and cases of birth defects and cancer, one of the most tragic stories told is the way giant corporations, using strategically planned moves and an abundance of money, can prolong cases like this almost indefinitely.
Andrew: Like a Michael Moore flick that replaces juvenile stunts with the reality of exhausting and depressing legal maneuvers, Crude is more a story of corporate genocide than a rah-rah greenie pep rally. The timing of its release couldn’t have been more appropriate (and therefore, disheartening).
2. Lady Terminator (1988, dir. H. Tjut Djalil)
Sharon: This Indonesian b-movie-take on The Terminator offers a thrill a minute as a serious anthropologist becomes possessed by an ancient South Seas queen as the result of an ancient curse, turning her into a seductive siren luring men to creative deaths. When the film turns into an action-packed take on the James Cameron original, Barbara Ann Constable’s beauty and icy expression combine with pointless, sleazy gore and explosions to add up to the perfect midnight movie experience at Facets Night School and an inadvertent critique of the big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, which is nowhere near as interesting.
Andrew: I have a particular obsession with what I call “Cargo Cult” cinema – that is, genre or exploitation films made on shoestring budgets in banana republics wherein American blockbuster films are refracted through local mythology and sensibilities and, more often than not, absolutely sublime insanity results (see the Japanese mutant Star Wars clone Message from Space for the queen mother of this concept). Lady Terminator gives James Cameron’s classic shoot-em-up a sex change via South Seas iconography and mythology in a brain-draining stew of magic and gore.
1. The Living Wake (2007, dir. Sol Tryon)
Sharon: Critics have praised Jesse Eisenberg’s nuanced performance in The Social Network this year, but he also shines in this offbeat dark comedy as the straight man to Mike O’Connell’s self-declared genius K. Roth Binew. The Living Wake is a delicate balance of tone and ideas that is somehow pulled off perfectly by a talented cast, hinging on O’Connell’s maniacally happy portrayal of Binew, a relentless optimist who keeps up a thick exterior of dreams about himself to fend off drab reality. As the film chronicles Binew’s final hours riding around an autumnal landscape in a bicycle-pulled rickshaw with Mills, his devoted biographer, inviting people to his living wake, the writers (including O’Connell) cleverly show how we all create stories about our own lives and long for acknowledgement of our accomplishments from those around us. The final result is as deeply moving as it is hilarious, and it was an absolutely uplifting experience to see this with some of the filmmakers, including O’Connell, present in the audience at Facets.
Andrew: Like a lost Lindsay Anderson film (I’m specifically thinking of O Lucky Man!), The Living Wake totally won me over with its manic humor and strangely timeless, autumnal production design. Mike O’Connell comes off like Conan O’Brien playing Candide in a Jeunet/Caro production—pure catnip for a receptive audience.
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