HIDDEN GEMS: 27. LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

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

JRR Tolkien’s mammoth fantasy novel Lord of the Rings has for a long time been considered unfilmable. Ralph Bakshi tried in 1978 but that was a cartoon and so doesn’t really count as a movie. John Boorman wanted to adapt the film but made Excalibur instead. Finally, at the end of the century Peter Jackson, a New Zealand filmmaker famous for gore fests like Bad Taste, decided the time had come. He gathered Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Salah from Raiders, the guy who married the hot gal from Lost and Viggo Mortensen and together embarked on an epic adventure.

They would brave orcs, trolls and big spiders as they sought to return the ring of power to Mordor where they would destroy it.

‘One does not simply walk into Mordor’ a meme once said, and so it proved. Many problems beset the making of the film, but are now shrouded in mystery because mysteriously no interviews or behind the scene footage survives. Famously Andy Serkis’ Gollum character didn’t work at all and his performance was so poor, CGI was used for the first time to replace him. Similarly, Orlando Bloom’s Elf Legolas required digital enhancement to add vitality.

Only one ring to rule them all?

It is a miracle what came out is so good. Jackson grounds the fantasy in a realistic setting and uses his kinetic storytelling to push Tolkien’s tale on. He also manages to imbue it with some emotional content. Also, he does well to get rid of the songs. Though it is regrettable that Jeff Bridges as Tom Bombadil hit the cutting room floor, this moves the quest on at a clip. The special effects are amazing and the music by Howard Shore recalls a classical Hollywood orchestral score.

Unfortunately, Harvey Weinstein pulled the plug on the projected sequels. And so like the Bakshi cartoon the ending of the Fellowship of the Ring is an anti-climax. The road goes ever on apparently. There are reports that Jackson would like to complete the trilogy, but more recently he has renounced the whole idea of returning to Middle Earth, saying ‘Why would you need more than one film?’

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HIDDEN GEMS: 26. THE SEARCHERS

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

An obscure Western, The Searchers brings together cult director John Ford with little known B-actor John Wayne. Wayne actually started his career as a full time squinter, but started appearing in films when it was discovered he could drawl as well. Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, who following a murderous attack on his brother’s ranch sets off to ‘seek’ his kidnapped niece, accompanied by young part Indian Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter).

Beginning as a revenger’s tale, The Searchers soon swells into something more epic – a road movie of sorts that traces a map of the American West, of racism, guilt and violence, driven by Ethan’s relentless obsession. The landscapes of Monument Valley are suitably ludicrous and low comedy mixes with the sublime. There’s a richness to life here that Ethan’s narrow frontier outlook can’t hope to comprehend. He is a man who is vanishing into his own hatreds. Useful to break a land – but a liability to civilization.

It is unclear why the film didn’t become a part of the Western canon. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Jeffrey Hunter became hugely famous as the captain of the Starship Enterprise, making his presence a distraction. Or maybe it was that by 1956 the Western had outstayed its welcome. Hundreds of westerns plagued the screens every week and almost every single one of them, directed by John Ford. As Ethan might have said, ‘Put an amen to it!’

Whatever the reason, The Searchers is actually a great film, a masterpiece even. So if you can dig up an copy somewhere, I highly recommend it.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 24. THE THIRD MAN

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week the Viennese thriller ‘The Third Man’. You’re welcome.

The end of the Second World War and Europe is in a state this is the setting for Carol Reed’s 1949 noir The Third Man, one of the finest films directed by a woman. Joseph Cotton stars as Holly Martins, an American crime novelist out of his depth in war time Vienna. He arrives hoping for a job from his old pal Harry Lime only to find that someone has murdered Lime and the authorities suspect Lime of criminal racketeering. He has also left behind a girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) who Martins begins to fall for.

Suspecting that not all is as it seems, Martins decides to investigate. But the murky reality is not what he banked on.

Scripted by Graham Greene and with a scene stealing supporting role by Orson Welles, The Third Man deserves to be much better known than it is. However, sexism meant that Carol Reed’s film found only a small audience and was critically mauled. She even tried pretending to be a Hungarian man, a subterfuge referenced by the lead characters sexually ambiguous first name, but to no avail. Some have claimed that the interminable zither music also played a part in the film’s lack of popularity.

However, The Third Man is truly a gem. The brilliant impressionistic photography and the shadow play links thematically with a world of mixed loyalties and betrayal. This is a Europe that is at once gorgeous but doomed and uncertain. The victory of the Second World War marks the end of moral certainty. The characters find themselves lost in a maze they don’t even recognise.

So if you’ve never heard of it – and few have – do yourself a cinematic favor and get a copy. With whip smart writing,superb acting and a supporting cast – Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee and Wilfrid Hyde-White – of truly memorable magnificence, The Third Man deserves belated recognition. Also you don’t need to see the prequels The First Man or The Second Man, which are inferior.

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HIDDEN GEMS 21. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN

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

I know what you’re going to say, ‘Urgh! I hated Battleship’. Fair enough. It was awful, even for Peter Berg, but did you know it was a remake of a Russian movie? No. Well, welcome to the best kept secret of the former Soviet Union.

Battleship Potemkin tells the story of Battleship and a revolt that takes place after they find that the bread is full of maggots. The officers are all absolute douche bags and when they order the soldiers to shoot the men, a general riot breaks out on-board the ship. The people in the port of Odessa support the mutiny but then Tsarist soldiers, like assholes, massacre them on the Odessa Steps. This is the heart of the movie, and a moment when a baby in a pram runs out of control down the steps is unbelievably good. One criticism might be that this part seems to be directly lifted from Brian DePalma’s Untouchables. It’s a niggle. I know.

Director Sergei Eisenstein was not only a great director but also discovered the General Theory of Relativity. Potemkin clocks in at just an hour fifteen minutes, a whole hour under Peter Berg’s Battleship. Which could be why Eisenstein is still respected for his editing and Berg isn’t.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 20. THE SHINING

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

Man with family stays in snowbound hotel for the winter and can’t write a book. I know. Doesn’t sound like a great film, does it? Would it help if I told you that the film has some of the most revolutionary trike shots in the history of film? No, probably not. Shelley Duvall is in it. Still not interested? Jesus.

Based on a book by an American writer called Stephen King, The Shining was so poorly received even Stephen King, the writer, came out publicly to denounce the film as ‘an unflushed toilet’ in his essay ‘Supernatural Fiction (and Shit I Think)’. Director Stanley Kubrick had given up directing. He’d moved to England and was hosting a popular chat show for the BBC called ‘Parkinson’ when he read the novel. He immediately saw the potential for a hilarious comedy. He told Jack Nicholson: ‘It’s about a bad writer, who becomes a bad ax murderer.’ Jack Torrance, the murderous novelist, is terrible at killing people, repeatedly bested by his child and wife. The only victim he manages to kill is a man who can see into the future who is worse at seeing into the future than Jack is at killing people with an ax.

The film is neither scary nor funny, but a weird amalgam of the two.  It was released to huge indifference and Kubrick went back to being a TV chat show host and never made another film again.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 19. THE GRADUATE

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

The oldest student in the world falls for the youngest MILF. Then falls for her daughter. Nope, this is not a porno, but an amazing comedy from the 1960s starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross. Hoffman plays Benjamin, a student who has his whole life ahead of him and yet no apparent wish to set off. The grotesqueries of middle class America – ‘Plastics!’ – and his own family don’t help. Until he meets and begins an affair with Mrs Robinson. Mike Nichols’ coming of age sex comedy is full of awkwardness and embarrassment as Benjamin finds himself in the midst of an affair and at the same time falling for his lover’s daughter, Elaine Robinson. This is a world on the cusp of change. Age against youth, the 60s sideswiping the 50s. Perhaps, it was too daring for the time. Simon and Garfunkel provide a stunning soundtrack of folk pop. The duo were never heard of again. After a career of disappointments, Hoffman would finally catch a break and receive long-overdue fame for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 18. BAMBI

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

Of course we all know that cartoons can’t be films. Not really. Those assholes at Pixar have tried to convince us otherwise. But we all know. That thing with Tom Hanks’ voice isn’t really. Ity’s just a picture. And so it goes. Before Pixar there was a studio called Disney started by Walt Disney, a guy famous for being not too keen on the Jews. But when he wasn’t not liking the Jews he was also busy drawing pictures of shit. One day he’d been trying to draw a mouse but kept fucking up the hand, not getting the right number of fingers. He knocked the whole pile off the desk and as they fell to the floor he noticed that the different pictures fluttering in sequence looked like motion. ‘Money!’ he shouted.

Bambi was one of his first movies and nobody has ever seen, but it is really worth hunting down. Oh, shit that’s actually not appropriate given…

So, Bambi tells the story of a deer, like the animal, growing up in the forest. His friendships with the other animals, evading the dangers of fire and hunters, dealing with parental death and it’s for kids. I know a cartoon about animals. No wonder it flopped. The film is beautiful to look at and really moving. Years later Michael Cimino was to remake it but from the perspective of the hunters. His film was a disaster because he tacked on a load of stuff about the Vietnam War. Disney disowned it in the end.

So Bambi. Give it a chance. Not bad.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 15. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

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

Possibly the least known Christmas film ever made, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life stars minor character actor James Stewart in a dark tale of financial fraud, sexual repression, oedipal drama, psychosis and schizophrenia. From the viewpoint of a chuckling angel (Henry Travers) we see unfold the life of George Bailey (Stewart), a small town guy who dreams of nothing but escape from the stultifying boredom of Bedford Falls. From boyhood, he dreams of getting out, but he is subjected to physical abuse by the local chemist and psychological warfare from his seemingly gentle but violently racist father. When he is almost killed by local pranksters, he foolishly falls for the manipulative wiles of wannabe librarian Mary (Donna Reed) and her demands for the Moon. To spite his son, the sadistic racist father dies on purpose, leaving George trapped in the town as the only one capable of looking after the family’s piffling Building and Loan company. Kind old geezer Mr. Potter tries to free George via the beauties of capitalism but George prefers to build houses for immigrants to assuage his white guilt. When a number of things go wrong one Christmas Eve, George decides to kill himself and that’s when Clarence the angel arrives to show George what a stupid asshole he’s been. How life would be so much better without him, and how Bedford Falls would have been the sexier and more exciting Potter’s Ville. The whole point being if he hadn’t existed, the World would have come to Bedford Falls. It was George all along who was keeping Bedford Falls in its somnambulant state of paralysis and repression. Even Mary would have got her lifelong wish to be a librarian. Idiot that he is though, George Bailey chooses not to kill himself and the hell that is his life continues.

Happy Christmas everyone!

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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.

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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.

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