1980

——THE ESSENTIALS——

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BAD TIMING: A SENSUAL OBSESSION (Nicolas Roeg)

  Nicolas Roeg has a penchant for playing with time. Things don’t always  happen linearly in his films. Then sometimes they do. If you’re going to practice this kind of time traveling, you better be good at it. In films like DON’T LOOK NOW (1973), Roeg showed that he was brilliant at the craft. In BAD TIMING, he is a master.

BAD TIMING: A SENSUAL OBSESSION is the story of a relationship. And that relationship has a definite beginning  and a definite end. Everything in between is a fascinating exploration of the couple’s ups and downs. There is a mystery at the heart of this relationship and Roeg guides his trio of actors (Art Gurfunkel, Theresa Russell and Harvey Keitel) to a compelling conclusion. To say more would be a disservice to the special nature of this engaging film.

 

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RAGING BULL (Martin Scorsese)

  The Scorsese-DeNiro-Schrader triumvirate scores again. One of, if not the best boxing movie ever. When these get involved, you know you’re gonna get explosive human drama, tight action scenes and themes of self-destruction and redemption. Sounds like an easy formula to follow. Many have copied it. How come only these guys make masterpieces?

 

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THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick)

  And how is it that Stanley Kubrick can venture into a new genre for him (horror), adapting a master at horror in Stephen King, and basically transcend the genre through sheer vision and artistry?

THE SHINING was not overwhelmingly received upon release (which happens often with a Kubrick film), and I confess to having been uncertain myself on first viewing. But as also happens with Kubrick, time has been kind to THE SHINING and it now seems to have found its lasting place in the Kubrick canon.

Much has been said about Kubrick’s true meaning for the film (see the fascinating 2012 documentary ROOM 237 for a look at the alleged “hidden” clues), and I won’t make any attempts at clarification here. I will say that I think there are several meanings in THE SHINING and that Kubrick is an adventurer, exploring them all as he has done with all of his films. And when he gets a hold of a story that sets off his creative juices, the results are extraordinary.

——JEFF’S PICKS——

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ALTERED STATES (Ken Russell)

  Ken Russell is back, and as flamboyant as ever. Screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky and some grumpy critics were unimpressed, but there’s just no pleasing some people. As with the best of all of Russell’s films, there’s a fascinating center at the core of ALTERED STATES, surrounded as it is with all of the trippy psychedelia. ALTERED STATES involves nothing less than the search for the origins of our essential human nature, even pre-consciousness, through the aid of psychotropic drugs. And let’s face it, haven’t we all gone down that road?

William Hurt is effectively earnest, and while some of the special effects may look pretty primitive today, they were never the film’s strong points. ALTERED STATES remains very watchable today, somehow striking a balance between provocative and just plain fun.

 

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AMERICAN GIGOLO (Paul Schrader)

  After notable screenwriting credits, and two films as writer/director (BLUE COLLAR and HARDCORE), Paul Schrader became bankable. Attached to a big-time producer (Jerry Bruckheimer) and a rising star (Richard Gere), Schrader enters the mainstream fray with AMERICAN GIGOLO. A chart-topping song by Blondie (“Call Me”) under the title sequence doesn’t hurt.

But the secret inside this commercial success is that it is a very personal work made by a man with a lot on his mind. AMERICAN GIGOLO explores themes of desire and redemption as a kind of homage to Robert Bresson’s PICPOCKET (1958), right down to the final scene. The film is an example of what the french New Wave critics noted in their re-discovery of Hollywood studio cinema. That is, that good and personal works can and do emerge from commercial (and even sometimes oppressive) conditions.

 

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ATLANTIC CITY (Louis Malle)

Louis Malle has never followed a predictable path as a film-maker and he seems like the only director who could have pulled off this engaging romantic crime drama written by playwright John Guare. Compelling characters abound in a cast headed by Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon and Michel Piccoli. And let’s not forget Robert Goulet!

 

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CRUISING (William Friedkin)

  By 1980, the shine was off the glow around the Young Turks of the New Hollywood. They all had their big-budget flops, or soon would. Spielberg with 1941, Scorsese with NEW YORK, NEW YORK, Bogdanovich with AT LONG LAST LOVE (and everything else he would attempt), Coppola with ONE FROM THE HEART. Even William Friedkin had his SORCERER.

Friedkin’s decision was to dig into his toolbox and stay gutsy. He chose a murder mystery based on a novel (and some recent true events) set in the gay S&M leather-bars of NYC. He had some connections to make it authentic, and the support of producer Jerry Weintraub to help pull it off. Then, he got Al Pacino to sign on. He also walked into a shitstorm from the gay community, sensitive to how gays would be perceived by viewers of the film. Despite Friedkin’s insistence that the film only represents a small sub-culture of gay life, and that he would never attempt to disparage anyone’s sexual orientation (it was Friedkin who had brought  THE BOYS IN THE BAND to the screen ten years before!), gay activists did everything they could to disrupt the film’s location shooting on the streets of New York. There were demonstrations and acts of sabotage, with disruptive bright lights and loud noises that forced a lot of the film to be post-dubbed.

Somehow CRUISING got made, after Friedkin had to scrap footage to get an R rating. (That footage is now lost, destroyed by the studio, according to Friedkin). The result is tough, provocative and at times unsettling. In other words, pure Friedkin. CRUISING tanked at the box-office, but has since come to earn its rightful place as a most watchable cult classic.

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