The Soft Skin (Truffaut, 1964)

Here’s a recent piece covering another gem from Francois Truffaut, one of my favorite directors of all time. The Soft Skin is a deceptively dark melodrama, almost pitch black in its skewering of French institutions like marriage, academia, and politics. I reviewed it for the film’s week-long theatrical run at New York City’s Film Forum from March 11-17. If you live in or around NYC, I highly recommend checking it out.

Basil Dearden’s London Underground

This is why I love this job. Criterion has a great thing going with their bare-bones Eclipse line, and after introducing the masses to documentarian Allan King last year, they’ve released four excellent films by British genre auteur Basil Dearden, and I had the pleasure of reviewing the set for Slant. His London Underground films only span from 1959-1962, but this short time period in Dearden’s career produced an output of stunning thematic weight and stylistic tenacity. My favorite of the bunch is Victim, from 1961, a brilliant expose on bigotry and homophobia, but each film is worth watching.

Red Line 7000 (Hawks, 1965)

Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking with the fine folks running the indispensable website Not Coming to a Theater Near You, a cinephile’s haven where discussion concerning rare, classic, and unpopular films is the status quo. They’ve been kind enough to invite me to join this fabulously talented group of writers, and I look forward to doing them justice.

My debut review of Howard Hawks’ Red Line 7000 is now online, and look for two upcoming essays in conjunction with their “31 Days of Horror” series that is now in its 7th year! I feel like this is the start of a beautiful friendship.

“Actuality Dramas” of Allan King (1967-2005)

I had a sort of spiritual awakening watching The Actuality Dramas of Allan King, the new indispensable Criterion Eclipse box set containing five films that represent the wide-ranging scope of the Canadian filmmaker’s epic non-fiction career. Each film displays King’s genuine and generous humanity for human subjects on the fringes of society. King’s is a cinema of watching, waiting, and finally understanding the complexities of subjects like trauma, aging, marriage, and death. When taken as a collective piece of art, these films are nothing short of astounding. My review can be found at Slant Magazine.

Pit and the Pendulum (Corman, 1961)

Kind of bat-shit crazy unlike anything I’ve seen recently. Vincent Price’s facial contortions, the pitch of his screams, and anguish of his tormented  eyes, all create a form of shredded mania, a personal goblin of guilt walled in by Roger Corman’s exaggerated period-piece decor.

The motif of entrapment plays out in gloriously grotesque flashbacks, splintered by dripping hallucinating color, coming to a head in a diabolical torturous finale. The key to Pit and the Pendulum resides in the shifty eyes of the characters, as their sanity jumps off the ledge into a collective place of lucid horror, each responding to one howl then the next, searching for a phantasm that only exists on the inside.

Yet Corman’s adaptation of Poe feels almost lackadaisical structurally, a fleeting acid trip ahead of its time but too stoned to know it. Aside from Price, the wooden cast sheds bark all over, looking on in horror as their various evils manifest themselves in this morphing vision of anguish and revenge. When the hatchet drops, the pit delivers a seething dose of sin, but it’s too bad Price’s mad dog of a character must be put down to restore order. His improvisational torture chamber seems ripe with possibility, narratively of course.

Last Year At Marienbad (Resnais, 1961)

Marienbad

Any serious analysis of Last Year At Marienbad must come after multiple viewings, and since this is my first I can only provide incomplete and rambling thoughts on this strange, hypnotic masterpiece. The tracking shot has never been more mystifying and enigmatic, point of view often becomes purposefully strained and muddled, while the background artifacts take on deeper meaning as they begin to signify the emotional angst of the characters. The way shadows say more than light has never been duplicated in my mind, and this motif goes a long way toward showing Resnais’ early obsession with the fragmentation of time and space. One for the ages, but important in so many different ways for many different people.