I’m behind schedule. Ideally this post drops the first week of the new month. The TCM Film Festival happened, and I had to write some features to put food on the table. And if I’m being honest I still have some of that writing to do but I’m avoiding it so I’m on here writing posts for free. You know how it goes.
Speaking of TCMFF, this month’s First Watch Club will not include ANY films I viewed for the first time at the festival. (I already covered them here.) Instead, these five picks are going to come straight from the garden variety home viewings from April of 2018. The benefit here is that you’ll get another edition of First Watch Club in only a couple of weeks. Huzzah!
First-Watch Cinema Club: April 2018
#5. Remote Control (Jeff Lieberman, 1988)
If you’re a child of the video store-era, Remote Control will carry extra resonance. This is Lieberman’s indie-film commentary on 1950’s sci-fi by way of 1980’s kitsch. Intriguing Videodrome/TerrorVision ideas tossed about without a lot of cohesion.
Kevin Dillon’s an interesting actor but I’ve always found him best as part of an ensemble. Deborah Goodrich might be the best thing going for for the film — which is generally true for just about any film in which Deborah Goodrich appears. Jennifer Tilly gets offed in the first 15, which is a mistake. Obviously. Because if you cast a Tilly — any Tilly — you need to keep that Tilly around for the duration.
Nostalgia for 1988 rental shops will ferry this into the hearts of a specific generation, but others might be nonplussed. Of course, I belong to this particular generation so Remote Control scratched a whole bunch of those 80’s itches.
#4. The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950)
There are certain films, based on the time they were made and the nature of the narrative, in which our anti-heroes cannot and will not survive. We know this from the beginning based on extratextual information. Yet, still we cling to the hope that just this once our good-natured bad guy (Sterling Hayden in this instance) gets away, undermining the system, shaking the oppressive “bad guys must be punished” production code stipulation to the core.
Soderbergh feels Asphalt Jungle in his loins when he directs a heist movie. It feels as if the film has infiltrated and transformed his DNA. He recognizes how much the audience wants that catharsis, despite the good-people-doing-bad-things conflict of interest, and because of the era in which he directs, he’s allowed to make that movie. Huston must punish his evildoers in the name of righteousness. So it goes.
I can love Asphalt Jungle and I can still wish for hope.
#3. The Black Pirate (Albert Parker, 1926)
Fairbanks doing what he does best.
The most impressive part about The Black Pirate is that these pirates are true, merciless big screen monsters. The brutality is always just off-screen, but the aftermath leaves no doubt as to what just occurred. This sets the film apart from most of these early swashbucklers, hell, really any swashbuckler.
Take the following scene for example: a captured privateer swallows a ring to keep it from the pirate captain — the captain has his musclebound heavy “fetch” it by slicing the man open. The heavy returns covered in 2-strip Technicolor red and cleaning his knife.
I’m coming around to this notion that this Fairbanks fellow was a true entertainer. I’m just a century behind the curve. After also recently viewing The Mark of Zorro (1920) for the first time, the big Fairbanks picture is finally falling into place.
#2. Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939)
Haunting melodrama, supernatural romance — Wuthering Heights turned out to be much more accessible and entertaining than the novel that I can’t seem to finish.
Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon make you feel their pain in your bones. The house becomes an omniscient third party to their labored relationship. The set design and cinematography set the mood, everything else falls into place around it. Olivier’s furrowed brow and Oberon’s eyes.
Thanks to Kristen Lopez for adding this to my original Cinema Shame list. Without her recommendation I likely never would have made the effort — I mean have you read (or tried to read) the book?
#1. California Typewriter (Doug Nichol, 2016)
Passion-filled documentary about the contemporary place of the typewriter and the struggle to keep the dream alive. This film resonated all over this typewriter believer.
I don’t often love a documentary. I’m fairly entertained and solidly informed. California Typewriter, however, moved me as a document to disappearing technology that has been deemed outmoded. I firmly believe that our lives would be richer if we still used typewriters on a daily basis.
I use a typewriter to compose first drafts of articles and stories for the same reasons that Tom Hanks, Sam Shepherd, and David McCullough discuss in this film. Shortly before viewing this film, I learned that all three of my known typewriter repairmen in Pittsburgh had retired within the past two years.
You don’t have to be a typewriter nut to appreciate the message in this film. You just need to be a human that’s lived long enough to see how Digital Age technology has shaped our lives, for better and for worse.