Director Bill Duke uses a mixture of film noir and blaxploitation tropes to explore the political complexities of being Black in the U.S. in Deep Cover (1992), his neon-tinted crime drama about an undercover cop (Laurence Fishburne) infiltrating the West Coast cocaine trade, now released in an extras-loaded 4K restoration by Criterion.
Indicator’s four-disk John Ford at Columbia 1935-1958 box set raises some interesting questions about the nature of auteurism and how the ways in which a filmmaker comes to be defined influence how different films are viewed. Two of the movies in the set – The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) and Gideon’s Day (1958) – tend to be seen as minor and extraneous to Ford’s core body of work, yet both are among his most entertaining even if they don’t advance his familiar thematic preoccupations.
Known as the “father of African cinema”, Ousmane Sembene’s films grapple with issues of identity in the complex social and political conditions of post-colonial Africa. His second feature (and first in colour) Mandabi (1968) is a tragi-comedy about a proud man clinging to an outmoded patriarchal role whose life is upended when a nephew working in France sends him a money order for 25,000 francs.
With volume 3 of their World Cinema Project box sets, Criterion has released another treasure trove of largely unknown (in the West) features spanning five decades and six countries, from the Expressionist horror of Mexico’s Dos Monjes (1934) to the Neo-realist horrors of life on Brazil’s streets in Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1980), with stops in between in Indonesia, Iran, Mauritania and Cuba.
The British have a tendency to indulge in miserablism, a characteristic that filmmakers have been turning into powerful dramatic art for decades. Bryan Forbes’ The Whisperers (1967) and Ray Davies’ Return to Waterloo (1984) approach it from very different directions, but both create powerful portraits of people living depressing lives.
This year’s New Year’s Eve movie binge with my friend Steve spanned from ’50s 3D Red Menace sci-fi to ’70s blaxploitation horror to a political thriller about right-wing apocalyptic political paranoia which, while dating from 1972, suggested the atmosphere of the coming 2020 presidential election year.