Lost films and alternative histories

A cultured ape (Zain Rahnat) teaches life lessons in Donn Greer's The Rare Blue Apes of Cannibal Isle (1975)

Film restoration is usually seen as an effort to preserve the canon, but there are vast areas of film history which may be less reputable, but still represent significant aspects of the past century’s most popular art form. In their recent six-disk, ten-movie set Lost Picture Show, Vinegar Syndrome highlight their own efforts to unearth and give new life to cheap, obscure, frequently disreputable examples of movies made far from the mainstream – sex. violence, politics and an occasional talking animal are on display in this ragged, sometimes enlightening, sometimes frustrating collection.

Movies and reality intersect in two recent releases

The sociologist (Flavio Bucci) grasps the metaphysical mystery in Giuliano Montaldo's Closed Circuit (1978)

Our relationship to movies is complex; we know that we’re watching illusions, yet the intellectual and emotional responses we experience are very real. Movies give us access to a seemingly infinite range of experiences which take us out of out immediate lives. Two recent releases delve into this phenomenon in visceral ways — Giuliano Montaldo’s Closed Circuit (1978) addresses the metaphysics of movie watching with humour and suspense, while Charlie Victor Romeo (2013) provides disturbing access to an aspect of real life we might prefer not to think about: the moments during which flight crews try to deal with catastrophic technical failures immediately preceding air crashes.

Fall 2023 viewing, part one

Detective Luigi Mackeroni (Udo Samel) and his cross-dressing partner Babette (Leonard Lansink) face an unusual foe in Martin Walz's Killer Condom (1996)

As always, writing falls behind viewing and I’ve missed mentioning some disks that deserved at least a comment – so here are some quick notes on recent releases from Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome and some smaller labels covering a wide range of genres from spaghetti westerns to East European animation, from low-budget sci-fi to documentary, from comedy to horror to exploitation.

Steve McQueen’s Small Axe (2020): Criterion Blu-ray review

Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) loses herself to the music in Steve McQueen's Lovers Rock (2020)

Small Axe (2020), Steve McQueen’s five-part film series for the BBC, corrects a glaring omission in British film and television’s treatment of the post-war history of social and political struggle and change; while the lives of the working class became increasingly visible in the ’60s and ’70s, issues of race remained largely unaddressed until this belated project created something like a parallel history to go alongside the classic work of filmmakers like Ken Loach and Alan Clarke. Criterion’s three-disk Blu-ray set also includes Uprising (2021), McQueen’s powerful three-part documentary (co-directed by James Rogan) about the New Cross fire and the subsequent Brixton Riots, which gives added context to the stories told in Small Axe.

January releases from Indicator

Santo confronts a smuggler in Joselito Rodríguez' Santo vs Infernal Men (1961)

Indicator start the new year with some impressive Blu-ray sets, including a massive 10-disk tribute to amateur filmmaker Michael J. Murphy whose five-decade career produced three dozen features in multiple genres; a two-disk set of the first two adventures of Mexico’s most famous masked wrestler, Santo, which includes a fascinating history of popular cinema in Mexico; and another two-disk set with three different cuts of Sergio Sollima’s first western, The Big Gundown (1967).

Year End 2022

Marcel and Nana Connie gardening in Dean Fleischer-Camp's Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

It’s that time of year, and as usual coming up with a “best of” list – having seen somewhere around five-hundred movies in 2022 – seems impossible; so here are just a few which remained vivid in my memory, plus an unexpected and charming movie with which I ended a stressful year.

Resurrecting a pre-tax shelter classic: The Rainbow Boys (1973)

Donald Pleasence, Don Calfa and Kate Reid hit the road in search of gold in Gerald Potterton's The Rainbow Boys (1973)

A relatively new label, Canadian International Pictures, has resurrected Gerald Potterton’s light and charming character-based comedy The Rainbow Boys (1973) in a fine Blu-ray edition with substantial extras. Another CIP release showcases Potterton’s National Film Board short The Railrodder (1965), a travelogue starring Buster Keaton towards the end of his life, along with John Spotton’s documentary about the making of the short, Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965), and another NFB travelogue, Eugene Boyko’s Helicopter Canada (1966), made to mark the country’s centennial.

Summer grab-bag, part one

An attempted robbery becomes a bloodbath in Javier Elorrieta's Night of Rage (1985)

As usual, there’s no coherent pattern to what I spend my time watching. In the past few months, I given my overtaxed attention to quite a few movies from the ’70s and ’80s – British sex comedies and cop movies, Italian gialli, French and Spanish thrillers, Chinese martial arts movies and an Australian superhero musical – plus a pair of recent Korean action movies and two ultra-low-budget do-it-yourself movies from the ’90s.

Truffles, a blood-fuelled car, zombies and a family in retreat from the modern world: recent viewing

Team members enforce their ideology off the field in Bill Milling's Wolfpack (1987)

Spanish zombies, rural American zombies, a Korean serial killer, monsters and illicit mindbending drugs, a blood-fuelled car, small-town fascism, an eccentric family in retreat from the modern world, and a man with a truffle-hunting pig – there’s no pattern here in my recent movie-watching other than a restless search for the original and the entertaining.

Blasts from the past

Late summer viewing: more short takes

Reading early film history

DUNE page update

The Pemini Organisation on Blu-ray from Indicator

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