1970's Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

TSPDT 1,000: Sorcerer (1977)

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I'm going through the list of all the films I have not seen on They Shoot Pictures Don't They.  It is arguably the most comprehensive and varied "best ever" list assembled.  If I have seen a film on the list previously, I will write short thoughts followed by a full review of the unseen film alternating between the top and bottom of the list.  Today's film is from the bottom of the pile, William Friedkin's Sorcerer coming in at 1,000.

Experiencing Sorcerer is akin to being pulled down in an ocean wave, gasping for orientation and control in an environment indifferent to your struggle.  That's exhilarating for me as a challenge to my personal physical limits much like Sorcerer challenges my cognition of what the hell is going on.  Describing Sorcerer afterwards is daunting as I think back on how much storytelling William Friedkin crams into the opening vignettes.

There's the effortless sliding cool of Friedkin's zoom pan from an idyllic poolside to the hotel room of a man assassinated by Nilo (Francisco Rabal), doubled up by the long slow descent of the camera as it follows Nilo's problem-free exit.  Shortly after, a shocking splash of red as Victor's (Bruno Cremer) business partner commits suicide instead of asking for financial help.  Kassem (Amidou), the sole survivor of a carefully planned bombing, gets a ruthless shoot first never ask questions response from the Israeli military.  Then the bruises on the face of a bride and matching wounds on the groom tell the story of domestic violence not seen onscreen as Jackie (Roy Scheider) robs a church during their wedding.  Every one of these setups could have spun into their own film, but Friedkin goes deeper and darker by focusing on capitalist oppression on their personal scales long before seeing the desolation of Sorcerer's setting Porvenir.


Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

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From small town high school dances to trying for the big stage in Los Angeles, Kelly and her rock band move out west in the hopes of making it big.  But Los Angeles has its demons, and the once happy group may become one of them as they're seduced by the allure of pleasure and fame.  Russ Meyer directs Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, with the screenplay written by Roger Ebert, and stars Dolly Read, David Gurian, Edy Williams, and John LaZar.

"Ere this night does wane, you will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!"

In recent times, it feels like any speech or action that is blatantly hurtful or designed to denigrate a specific group gets caught up in the blanket excuse of "satire" when there's the slightest hint of whiplash.  Not that there isn't still good satire being produced, but our world is filled with more groan-inducing observations à la Cinema Sins than the genuinely weird Nathan For You.  Students of successful satire, or those wanting to know what good satire feels like, should give the now-immortal Beyond the Valley of the Dolls a look.

Scripted by Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert) and directed by Russ Meyer, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls seems at first glance to be a film beyond taste.  There's a bevy of nudity, some of which was added later when Meyer learned Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was going to receive an X rating, a thrilling abandon for linear editing, and dialogue like the "black sperm" line which prefaced this writing.  That line encompasses almost everything I love about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it's ridiculously over-the-top (and a sign the speaker should probably seek a doctor), delivered in an equally absurd situation involving a drug trip gone bad, spoken by an unusual outsider to a living Ken doll caricature.

Even before Ebert and Meyer arrived at this moment we've seen a suicide attempt punctuated with cartoon missile sounds, a super cliched soft-focus slow motion prance through the hills, and arguably cinema's funniest sex scene in the back of a Rolls-Royce.  This is the sort of restlessness I usually see with young directors doing their first big film and getting to play with a larger budget.  Meyer was a practiced hand at this unrelenting style without exhausting most of the audience.


Messiah of Evil (1973)

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Point Dune, California is host to an artist's colony and stiff, if helpful, townsfolk.  Arletty arrives at Point Dune looking for her father, and soon discovers there's a whole other side of the town waiting for the arrival of their dark messiah.  Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz wrote the screenplay for and directed Messiah of Evil, which stars Marianna Hill.

My urge to laugh at Messiah of Evil was the most pleasant minute of its run-time.  How could I not?  There's a disheveled man stumbling around in the dark while some cheesy tune singing about messages to the wind and stories to the sea strummed about on the soundtrack.  That urge died as quickly as the unidentified man when he stumbled into pale blue light, under the watchful eye of a stoic girl, who takes advantage of the moment he catches his breath to slice his throat open before the film cut to darkness.

Blue to red, black to white - Messiah of Evil continued working in extreme contrast long after my urge to laugh died.  The tone that kept me terrified throughout is more firmly established in the scene following the excellent misdirection of the opening.  In a blinding hallway, a black figure emerges and starts a monologue about how no one will hear you scream.  Again, potentially cheesy, but the light is so bright that the figure emerges like someone experiencing a reverse near-death experience, and Arletty's (Marianna Hill) scream so piercing that even a nervous chuckle would be cut cold.


Mid-week Anger: Lucifer Rising (1972)

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The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.

THOSE TITLESI've come to the end, for now, of my look at the movies of Kenneth Anger.  In a curious twist I wonder how my reaction to Lucifer Rising might have been if I didn't spend the last couple of months watching Anger's work.  All the elements of Lucifer Rising are assembled from the different elements of style Anger assembled for his earlier movies.  We've got the multicultural imagery akin to Rabbit's Moon, the subtext of Fireworks, the fragmented editing combined with rock star soundtrack of Invocation of my Demon Brother, and an apocalyptic outlook similar to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.

My reaction to Lucifer Rising was like eating a lackluster stew.  I sense all the familiar ingredients and, individually, love them.  But when Anger throws them together in Lucifer Rising my reaction grew from interest to boredom.  This throws me for a bit of a loop since I enjoy so much of what Anger puts into his films and some of the incidental buzz about Lucifer Rising I've gleaned recently made me excited to watch it.


Mid-Week Anger: Rabbit’s Moon Recut (1979)

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Rabbit RecutI'll be brief for this week's Kenneth Anger as it's a recut and rescored edition of Rabbit's Moon.  The previous iteration of Rabbit's Moon immediately became one of my most beloved cinematic experiences not just of Anger's career but of my last few years of watching movies.  This new version isn't without its charm, but the quickened pace and new soundtrack create a sort of live action Looney Tunes experience that I couldn't completely engage with.

Now, reminding me of Looney Tunes is never a bad thing.  It's just that the original Rabbit's Moon struck such a bizarre and wonderful chord with its doo-wop soundtrack, beautifully artificial staging, and multicultural approach to visuals and acting styles.  These things are all still technically present in the new cut but Anger quickens the pace of the story by removing frames and editing out a lot of the ebb and flow of desire from the original cut.