HIDDEN GEMS: 14. GOLDFINGER

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.

A British secret agent with a ‘license to kill’. A villainous German with a lust for gold. A beautiful woman with the unlikely moniker, Pussy Galore. I know it sounds like a bad Austin Powers movie, but in actual fact it is an action packed spy film from 1964. This obscure little film is an absolute gem. Starring former Manchester United footballer Sean Connery as James Bond 007, the movie begins with the English superspy blowing up some large tanks of heroin and he then proceeds to get entangling with card cheat and eccentric millionaire Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Frobe. Smelling something fishy, Bond is soon on his tail across Europe, playing golf with him in England before almost being castrated by laser somewhere in the Austrian Alps. A plot emerges to destroy the gold supply of the US and thereby boost Goldfinger’s own holdings. Along the way we meet fiendish henchman Odd Job (Harold Sakata) with his razor sharp bowler hat and the aforementioned Pussy, played by ex-Avenger Honor Blackman, Galore.

The style is cool; the action slickly played with enough wit to belie its own frequent ridiculousness and there is fun to be had all round. Bond is equipped with a series of gadgets by Q, his quartermaster, including a beautiful silver Aston Martin with features including ejector seat and machine guns.  One can only wonder why the James Bond character never quite took on. Perhaps if he had been played by an American – after all by the sixties Britain was obviously a spent power on the world stage and the idea that it would be an English secret agent to save the day beggars belief. Perhaps the nascent feminist movement could no longer stomach the scene in which Bond cures Pussy of her lesbianism via judo and a hay stack. Or perhaps we as a culture just watch something this good and think it’ll never be better. Let’s not go on and on. Let’s stop now we’re at the top of our game.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 13. GREASE

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.

The fifties were an innocent time. Cheerleaders in bobby socks, Rock n’ Rollers in leather jackets and slicked back hair, Summer loving happened some would say too fast and everyone went to school until they were in their mid-thirties. Olivia Newton-John plays Sandy Olsen, an Australian housewife who has come to America to hang out in high school. John Travolta is Danny Zukko, a slightly younger version of the Fonz, who falls for Sandy during a brief holiday romance, only to find her at his school. Unable to connect with her again because of the homo-eroticism of his middle aged man leather gang, Danny spoons around singing and Sandy, befriended by the local girls (less so the acerbically fun Stockard Channing), sings about girl’s nights etc.

There’s a James Dean style dragster race along a dry river bed, a dance contest and a subplot about pregnancy, but we’re all just marking time happily enough until school breaks up once more and we finally can fly off into space on a magical car!

The genius of this little known film – you are more likely to have seen Grease 2 – is its absolute pig-headed determination to not give a shit. It is exuberant fun with a bucket of good tunes, breezy good humor and the sense that youth is wasted on the young, so we’ll be young again too. John Travolta took years to recover from the disappointment of the films commercial and critical failure, only resurfacing in the mid nineties with Broken Arrow.

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HIDDEN GEMS 12. CITY LIGHTS

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, films were made in black and white and no one spoke. These were the famous black and white silent movies. No one knows why they were in black and white and without dialogue but I strongly suspect it was something to do with Europe and an innate sense of artistic superiority, but that is just my feeling. A young London man called Charlie Chaplin made a whole series of these films with very little success. His inability to gain an audience was widely seen as due to his tasteless decision to grow a Hitler mustache and later in life he would have the terrible luck to die on Christmas Day while everyone else were opening their presents.

Before that happened though, he made a film called “City Lights”. Nobody has seen it and very few copies exist today, but it is an absolute treasure and should be slapped to the top of your to watch list, if you should have one. It tells the story of ‘the Tramp’, a strange character dressed a bit like Alex from Clockwork Orange. The city has no place for one like he, he has no money and no apparent occupation, but he has a heart of gold and soon falls in love with a blind flower girl. At the same time he is also befriended by a suicidal millionaire whose life he saves. His new friend however is a terrible drunk and forgets who the tramp is whenever he sobers up.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why would I want to see that? It sounds so depressing!” Well, no it’s actually very, very funny. From the drunken rowdy with his pal to a dance like boxing match with a slugger to win the prize money to help cure the flower girl, there’s a laugh every minute. I don’t know why Chaplin never became more famous. Just watch the scene where he surreptitiously eyes a bronze nude in a shop window unaware of the open hole in the street right behind him. It’s genius and I’ll fight anyone who even tries to deny it. Or at least skip around the ring while you try to chase me.

And here’s the thing, the Tramp doesn’t win that fight. His comic heroism is in the fact that he loses repeatedly yet somehow manages to get up again. His rich friend accuses him of thievery and he is eventually carted off to prison – but not before he has given the girl the money for the operation. When he returns, he is even worse off than before. He was always a tramp but now he looks dreadful. The ending is a moment of glorious emotion, a triumph of sorts but also a defeat as the girl realizes her benefactor is not the rich man she presumed him to be and his love for her meets her pity rather than admiration.

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HIDDEN GEMS 11. VERTIGO

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.

Films about being dizzy were legion in the 1940s and 50s, reflecting a widespread distrust of government and an increasing paranoia about the activities of the Soviet Bloc. Who can forget Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking Whoops-a-Daisy starring Peter Sellers, or Billy Wilder’s hilarious satire I Need to Sit Down, starring Jack Lemmon. In an attempt to bolster his failing reputation – following the little known and underwhelming Read Window – British director Alfred Hitchcock decided to cash in on the trend with Vertigo, a film about a policeman Scottie (played by relative unknown James Stewart) who retires from the force following a dizzy spell during a rooftop chase. Living in San Francisco doesn’t help, nor does a case he takes on as a private investigator involving an old friend’s wife.

Hitchcock’s film is a sun-kissed noir, a convoluted twisting plot taking place in the labyrinthine twists of San Fransisco. Scotty is an empty man filling his empty days with an obsessive pursuit which threatens to consume him entirely. Bernard Hermann’s score is a luscious and hypnotic setting for the story and the acting is superb. Unfortunately, the film was a commercial and critical disaster and is very difficult to get hold of now. Hitchcock went on to make the poorly received Psycho and is now largely forgotten as a film director. If he’s remembered for anything, it’s because he was fat. In this he resembles Orson Welles, a similarly corpulent ghost from the past whose films are unjustly ignored.

The British Film Institute in its recent retrospective of Dizzy Cinema not only neglected Hitchcock’s work but denied that Vertigo even existed and Sight and Sound in its poll of top film critics found the film positioned number one of one hundred films that were considered ‘absolute bullshit’.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 10. ROCKY

HIDDEN GEMS showcases little-known film gems that have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week—”Rocky”

Long before “Raging Bull” made boxing films fashionable, former soft-core porn actor and muscle man Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in “Rocky,” a subtle and fascinating character study released in 1976. Rocky Balboa is a simple but honest man—an updated, working-class version of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Sure, Rocky works as a strong-arm man for the local mobster, but he’s as likely to take pity on you as break your kneecaps. He has a cheerful word for everyone as he roams the neighbourhood, where he is something between a figure of fun and a local legend. Rocky’s also shyly attracted to the quiet girl, Adrian (Talia Shire), at the pet store, and he befriends her oafish, alcoholic, abattoir-working brother Paulie (Burt Young) in order to get close to her. He also boxes, worshipping his hero, Rocky Graziano; but the trainer at the gym, Mick (Burgess Meredith), has moved Rocky’s locker and considers him a washout who once had potential but who blew it with a lack of focus and poor fights. Rocky’s big chance comes, however, when the champion of the world, Apollo Creed—a transparent Muhammad Ali rip-off played by Carl Weathers—has a fight fall through and decides to give a local boy a chance.

Suddenly, the local stumble-bum becomes the hero with everyone wanting a piece of him. Rocky’s dilemma lies not only in facing up to the vastly superior fighter, Creed, but also in maintaining his own integrity and dignity. He accepts Mick’s help, accedes to Paulie’s demands, but remains his own man and doesn’t lose sight of the fact that his goal is no longer to become a great fighter so much as to keep the heart of the woman he loves.

Stallone has never been better, both as a writer and an actor, and it’s a real pity that the film wasn’t a bigger success. It would be nice to see a sequel telling the story of what happens to Rocky Balboa next.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 9. BLADE RUNNER

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week, Blade Runner.

Following his success as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, Harrison Ford decided to try his hand at the old hard-boiled detective genre, but with a twist – setting it in the future! The oddball result was Blade Runner, a critical and commercial disaster which famously provoked Roger Ebert to do his first review where he stuck both thumbs up his ass to signal his contempt.

Ford plays Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter tasked with finding and killing escaped Replicants who have fled the off-world colonies and have come to Los Angeles to meet their dad. However, the Replicants – led by the enigmatic Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) – are both deadly and disconcertingly human, so much so that Deckard finds himself emotional involved with one, the femme fatale Rachel (Sean Young).

Although it’s difficult to get a copy, do try and hunt out an old VHS if you can. Ridley Scott – famous for White Squall and Someone to Watch Over Me – disowned the cinematic version and then his own director’s cut and then his own final cut, and now refuses to talk about the film, having gone on record saying that it ‘is way worse than Prometheus and Prometheus is a shit sandwich.’  The sci-fi noir is a dark compelling and occasionally violent drama. Ford has never been better, nor has Rutger Hauer, or Sean Young, or Daryl Hannah. Nor Ridley Scott. Scott seems utterly unconcerned with genre as such – this is possibly the least camp Science Fiction film available – giving the world he creates a grubby realism of flickering lights and dirty interiors as well as a grandiose dystopian breadth. With or without unicorns, voice over and happy ending, Blade Runner is a strange new world gone old; the last big budget science fiction film made exclusively for grown ups. At least its obscurity means that no one will be dumb enough to try and make a sequel.

For more Hidden Gems Click Here.

HIDDEN GEMS: 8. JAWS

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. This week Jaws.

In Jaws, a sleepy seaside community is terrorized by kids karate chopping fences. Fortunately, a shark turns up. This little known revenge of nature drama sunk without trace when it was first released in 1975, partly because of its ponderously simplistic score by classical guitarist John Williams.
Either Rob Schnieder or Roy Scheider or Rod Steiger plays Chief Brody, a water phobic New York cop new to the job of policing on an island. And yet it falls to him to defend a community not only from the shark but its own venal short-sightedness. Shark Fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) are the unlikely allies who join him to hunt and kill the Great White. The commercial and critical failure of the film condemned promising TV director Steven Spielberg to a lifetime of obscure historical dramas such as 1941, Amistad and Jurassic Park.
The comedy shark – nicknamed Bruce – however was the only cast member to make a real impact and went on to star in a number of sequels, including an appearance (as himself) in Finding Nemo
 

HIDDEN GEMS: 7. STAR WARS

 Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip hrough the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. This week: Star Wars.

In 1977, a brilliant directorial talent filmed an action packed adventure film that appealed to young and old alike, winning plaudits from critics and proving a massive success with the wider public. But aside from Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, there was another film released in 1977 called Star Wars.
Star Wars was a small independent art house film, written and directed by an auteur called George Lucas. It told the beguilingly simple tale of two gay robots facilitating a communist rebellion against an evil empire and inadvertently encouraging incest in the process. Mark Hamill played Luke Skywalker, the farm boy who takes off on a wonderful adventure with the gay robots, a Samurai knight of the round table, a cowboy and his dog to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). As Luke becomes increasingly indoctrinated into the political ideology of resistance, he fails to notice the apparent contradictions of Red rebellion being lead by a member of the royal family and employing terrorist techniques. Only in the finale, and with the Empire apparently defeated, does he realizes in that chilling final shot. The heroes stand with fixed grins as slowly the realization dawns that they are in the middle of a massive Nazi rally.  Although there were talks of possible sequels, George Lucas – arguing that he was a serious artist and not wishing to repeat himself –  went on to make some of the most challenging and beautiful American cinema of the next three decades.

HIDDEN GEMS: 6. DANSE LASCIVE

Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities.
Loosely based on Georges Arnaud‘s novel Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) which told the tale of four truck drivers and their dangerous mission to transport tankers of nitroglycerine through South America. Emile Ardolino‘s Danse lascive (Dirty Dancing) is the story of a naive Jewish teenager and her dangerous mission to transport a watermelon up a flight of stairs.
Lauded by critics upon it’s original release but flopping at the box-office, Danse Lascive slowly developed an underground cult following with VHS copies changing hands for as much as $1000 but on December 1st2013 it will finally be released on DVD and Blu-Ray as part of the Criterion collection.
 
“It’s probably the most allegorical film of the 1980s,” said New York Times Chief film critic A.O. Scott.

Obviously being set in the summer of 1963 a few months before the Kennedy assassination many writers have suggested that the character of Baby represents America, and her loss of innocence parallels the country’s loss of innocence that terrible November day when JFK was murdered by aliens. Personally I think that’s bullsh*t because between the 15thcentury massacres of the native population to the racial motivated Birmingham Bombings of early 63 you’d struggle to find a single occasion that America had any innocence to lose. In my opinion what Danse Lascive is really about is the post-war relationship between Israel and America. Baby (Israel), is young, unsure of herself but ready to jump in bed with the charismatic and cocksure Johnny Castle (America). At first Castle is the dominant figure in the relationship but as Baby gains more confidence the tables are turned and Castle becomes Baby’s thrall.

The Criterion version is rumored to feature 20 minutes of additional footage including the infamous ‘Argentinian Tango’ scene which was cut from the original due to it’s heavy handed representation of the recent Falklands conflict and overt Argentine bias.
 
Danse Lascive is due for release by Criterion on December 1st 2013.

HIDDEN GEMS: 5. CASABLANCA

Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. This week Casablanca.

Everyone knows Everybody Comes to Rick’s, the hit off Broadway play about a bunch of refugees looking for a way out of a Moroccan city during World War 2. What you might not know is that it was made into a film – called Casablanca –  and although no patch on the original play – it’s not at all bad.

Comedy Irish actor Humphrey Bogart takes the role of Rick on and Ingrid (not Ingmar) Bergman plays Ilsa, his beautiful long lost love and the woman who broke his heart, but has now turned up in his bar looking for an escape route to America with her fugitive freedom fighting husband, Victor somebody.

Many fans of the play might be shocked by some of the liberties Hollywood took with the material, but still you have to admit making the Nazis into the villains of the piece was a bold move, as was killing off the main hero Ugarte (played here by Peter Lorre) so early on in the story. Ultimately, Casablanca can be no more than a curiosity piece that would have been consigned to oblivion if it wasn’t for the interest that Everybody Comes to Rick’s completists have in it. If you can dig up a VHS, it is well worth a gander though most agree the David Soul TV series of 1983 was far superior.

For more Hidden Gems CLICK HERE.

HIDDEN GEMS: 4. PULP FICTION

Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. This week Pulp Fiction.

Don’t let the title put you off, this little known B-film ‘giallo’ Pulp Fiction by reclusive Italian neo-realist director Quentinio Tarantino is well worth seeking out.
Starring a cast of unknowns – Tarantino in one of the rare interviews he has given said he despised Hollywood celebrity – the film tells three inter-related stories of the ‘malavita’ of Los Angeles. Hitman Vince Vega is played with sleazy charm by newcomer John Travolta, whose dialogue was dubbed by Michael J. Fox so thick was his Calabrian accent. Murderous boxer Butch is played by Bruce Willis, a television actor who at the time had a hugely successful career as a recording artist. Now, alas, little seen.
The dialogue fizzes and the plot twists as effectively as Mia Wallace (Uma Furman [sic]) and Vince on the dance floor.
What happened to Tarantino and why he never made another film remain mysteries to this day.

HIDDEN GEMS: 3. THE GODFATHER

Hidden Gems is brings to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week The Godfather. You’re welcome.

There have been some great films made about the Mafia. Analyze That, Oscar, Billy Bathgate. It’s impossible to measure the profound effect those classics have had on the genre but way back in the early 70s, a small time director called Francis Ford Coppola was living on stale bread dipped in week old pasta sauce and attempting to make the ultimate mobster movie.
As it turned out,  he accidentally ended up making the most expensive wedding video of all time but you can understand his decision to push the gangster stuff into the background. Brando turned up on set mumbling with his cheeks full of cotton wool after slicing his gums when he put a whole pie in his mouth and forgot to take it off the plate. Then they couldn’t get Redford or Nicholson to play the lead role of Michael so at the last minute Francis grabbed a random hippy called Al Pacino off the street, strategically shaved him and pushed the poor guy in front of a camera.
It’s difficult to find a review of the film online but after days of searching I found one reference in the Maryland Chronicle that describes Pacino’s performance as being like “A girl getting fingered for the first time in the back of her boyfriend’s Buick”. In hindsight that was a little unfair on Al but that one review knocked his confidence and he faded into obscurity. Rumour has it he’s now running a car rental business in the Bahamas.
Anyway, it’s well shot and the soundtrack is catchy enough. It would probably have worked better as a TV movie rather than a full-length feature and it’s a shame Coppola never got to make a sequel. If you’d like to buy a copy it’s only available on VHS but there’s a Facebook Campaign to get it released on DVD. The page only has 13 likes though so you might be waiting a while.

For more Hidden Gems CLICK HERE.

HIDDEN GEMS 2. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. 

2001: a Space Odyssey

I know what you’re thinking: 1. I don’t like historical drama and 2. I hate classical Greek literature about assholes who take twenty odd years to navigate the Mediterranean.

But surprisingly you’d be wrong on both counts. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is actually what they call a ‘Science Fiction’ film which was made in 1968 when 2001 was still in the future!

And it’s in English with no lost Greeks in sight!

Okay, so that’s why not to hate this little known cult treasure but in a world where you can watch Transformers again or Avatar, why waste your time on some old clunk bucket made before CGI was invented. Well, it’s a tough one but here goes.

1. Monkeys: film starts with monkeys and you can’t get much better than that.

2. Soundtrack: not only is the music sublime, there’s the greatest version of ‘Daisy, Daisy, give me an answer do’ ever committed to celluloid.

3. A big mad brick. The story resolves around these big black bricks which basically pop up when Mr.s Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke get bored.

4. ‘Woah shit!’ bit at the end where it just goes disco biscuits all over the screen. The cinematic equivalent of spassing out and not giving a shit.

5. Zero gravity toilet. Stanley Kubrick had a one joke limit on each film and this one’s a ‘cracker’.

So to recap: a big mad brick teaches vegetarian monkeys how to eat meet, accidentally starts the arms race so another mad brick sends a bunch of astronauts to Jupiter where, after mad computer kills all but one, survivor crashes through another mad brick and grows so old he becomes a great big baby.

Magic!

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HIDDEN GEMS: 1. CITIZEN KANE

The first in a news series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. 

1. Citizen Kane
 
Made in 1941, this ‘black and white’ film (as they were known) was the cinematic debut of renowned radio actor Orson Welles.
Although largely forgotten today, Orson Welles was quite the celebrity in his time, not only for his many talents as an actor and director, but also for his uncanny ability of eating all the pies and leaving nothing for his then wife Rita Hayworth.
The film sketches a posthumous portrait [SPOILER ALERT for that] of a Rupert Murdoch like media mogul – based apparently on someone called Hearst – whose rise to power leads to loneliness, obesity and morbid nostalgia. Now this might not sound appealing, but don’t worry, it really is worth a watch.
Why? Well, for one thing it’s told in a jigsaw mess of contradictory narrators as an anonymous reporter seeks the meaning of Kane’s last word ‘Rosebud’. With cameraman Greg Toland, Welles experimented with a whole series of tricks and even today the film looks fresh and original, even though it is undeniably in Black and White.
It might be difficult to get a copy, but if you ever have the chance of seeing it, don’t listen to the naysayers of the lame-stream critical community, give it a chance and you shall be rewarded.