Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Fat City (1972)
Legendary director John Huston’s career spanned decades, genres, and even continents. But he was at his best when he tackled films related to his passions. One such passion was boxing — he won 22 out of 25 bouts as a light heavyweight when he was younger. This passion helped inform Fat City (1972), a semi-late (he still had multiple successes to look forward to, including Annie) career triumph.
Fat City tells the story of two working class boxers in Stockton, California. The younger of them, Ernie Munger, has never had a fight when the film starts. The other boxer, Billy Tully, is retired and works odd jobs to survive. They become friends as Munger begins his career and Tully tries to stage a comeback.
Huston brings his prior experience as a fighter to bear in the boxing sequences. He doesn’t exclusively shoot inside of the ring, as Scorsese would go on to do in Raging Bull, but his long shots serve to show the beauty and chaos of a boxing ring during a fight. Huston also uses enough tight medium shots and close-ups to make you feel the exhilarating sensation that you get when you are in a boxing ring. (I should know, I’ve been taking boxing lessons since last May.)
But Fat City works so well because its main focus is not on the fight scenes, but on the characters. Huston and screenwriter Leonard Gardner (who adapted his own novel of the same name) make every character fascinating and distinct. My favorites were Oma, Tully’s eccentric girlfriend, and Ruben, a crusty yet sensitive boxing trainer played by a pre-Cheers Nicolas Colasanto. You want to root for everyone, even if they do not fully deserve it.
The film’s characters may not get to the “fat city” — slang for the good life — that they desire, but anybody who checks out this dark and gritty classic will.
Caleb Allison, contributor | Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
“Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia.” This is the simple and obscene order that begins Sam Peckinpah’s story. I first learned of the film in Roger Ebert’s unlikely review, initially calling it “some kind of bizarre masterpiece.” I was expecting the no-holds-barred violence of The Wild Bunch (1969), but was presented with an often tender, deeply saddening, and savage portrait of survival. It’s really a story of love at the end of the line.
Warren Oates plays Bennie, an end-of-the-road piano player in a Mexican brothel, who hears of a bounty put on the head of one Alfredo Garcia. Enlisting the help of a prostitute (Isela Vega), they set out on a deadly and drunken road trip across the Mexican landscape in search of salvation.
The film is commonly referred to as Peckinpah’s most autobiographical. The more you learn about Peckinpah the more he starts to look like Bennie. This becomes clear if you know the dark and constant sunglasses Bennie wears throughout the film, even to sleep in, are actually Peckinpah’s. It’s as if life was just a little too bright for both men. The shades made it just bearable. Peckinpah had a reputation as a cantankerous alcoholic and the film reeks of a kind of drunken clairvoyance. The editing is often violent and jarring, perfectly reflecting the film and its makers’ maladies. This makes it a difficult film to watch, but one you can’t look away from. It is, often literally, a slow-motion car wreck of the most sublime.
Jack Miller, contributor | Rebecca (1940)
Due to the local screenings this month of four key films by Alfred Hitchcock at the IU Cinema and the Buskirk Chumley Theater, I decided that it was as good a time as any to watch and rewatch some of his films on my own in conjunction with these public engagements. One of the revelations of my self-imposed Hitchcock rediscovery period was realizing that I really love the master’s British films, especially Sabotage (1936) and the scandalously neglected Jamaica Inn (1939). Perhaps the most tremendous viewing I had during this marathon, though, was my second viewing of his first American feature, Rebecca (1940), a film that I now regard as one of the director’s two or three finest films. (I think that Vertigo and The Birds would round out my personal top three.)
The auteurist side of me feels somewhat strange about holding Rebecca in such high regard, seeing as the director himself seemed to feel that it was something of a compromised project – the interference of the producer David O. Selznick make it less a “pure Hitchcock” film, and perhaps something more akin to other ’40s studio products. Still, I can’t help it if that’s the way I feel about this indelible and curiously affecting masterpiece. Rebecca is a film about a woman moving through physical spaces which bear the scars of psychic trauma, a film in which the Gothic mansion setting acts as a kind of substitute for the heroine’s psychological interiority. Joan Fontaine’s performance here, as a woman deeply unsure of her station, is shattering because of the degree of empathy and understanding that she brings to the role. It’s a film that so desperately wants to be read, that invites us to get lost in its beautifully shifting textures and positions, but that also mysteriously eludes us in its refusal to be held down by a singular interpretation. I’ll be mulling this one over for a long time to come.
Michaela Owens, editor | So Goes My Love (1946)
When you’re a classic film fan, there is always that fear that you’ll no longer find new favorites. It’s irrational, we know, but there were only so many old movies made and when you devour as many as you can week after week, you start to wonder if all of those precious “new” discoveries are behind you. It was during one of these ruts when I came upon So Goes My Love, a charming comedy that made my heart flutter instantly just because it starred two of my absolute favorites, Don Ameche and Myrna Loy.
Based on the memoir of inventor Hiram Percy Maxim, the film is kind-of-sort-of-not-really a biopic of Maxim’s parents, Jane Budden and Hiram Stevens Maxim, who was also an inventor. (Fun fact: Hiram Stevens Maxim claimed to have invented the lightbulb and battled Thomas Edison frequently over the patent.) The memoir was comprised of roughly sixty stories about Maxim and his father throughout his youth, and the film emulates this structure, making So Goes My Love a true oddity. It practically refuses to follow the rules of a standard biopic. There are no sudden moments of inspiration. We don’t really see how Hiram Stevens Maxim came up with his inventions. There is no real villain, no sneering competitor, no big stakes (well, no big stakes until the very end). Maxim isn’t some tortured genius or someone who has to hit rock bottom before he can become a Great Man.
Instead, Maxim (Ameche) is an eccentric who finds himself in an unusual courtship with Jane (Loy), a pig farmer’s daughter who has her sights set on finding a rich husband. The film is episodic, with almost every scene illustrating one story in the Maxims’ lives in the late 1800s. So Goes My Love may be the quirkiest biopic classic Hollywood ever produced. With its anecdotal nature, phenomenal leads (including a terrific Bobby Driscoll, aka Disney’s Peter Pan), smart direction, and exquisite costumes and sets, this is a film that deserves to be watched and watched often. Clocking in at a slim 88 minutes, you’ll start to wish that every biopic was as simultaneously fun, heartwarming, and gorgeous as this one.
Note: I couldn’t find a trailer, but here is the first meeting between Ameche and Loy’s characters. It’s not the best quality, and the video shows you the sequence twice, but it gives you a good idea of how the film goes.
David Carter, contributor | Mind Game (2004)
This week’s pick comes courtesy of former IU Cinema House Manager Ben Helmrich.
Masaaki Yuasa has to be one of the most idiosyncratic Japanese animation directors I’ve encountered since I both started watching anime as a child and had a concept of what a director even does. That feels weird to say because to my western brain, most Japanese animation feels idiosyncratic to a point, but I haven’t seen anything quite like this. In 2018 Yuasa was having a sort of “mainstream” discovery over here in the states. The television show he headed up, Devilman: Crybaby, was the talk of the town. He had a family-friendly film called Lu Over the Wall (which is basically “instead of Ponyo of the film Ponyo loving ham, what if she liked…jams?!?”) be released theatrically in a limited capacity. Later that same year his boozy, surreal After Hours-esque tale of youth and female independence Night is Short, Walk on Girl had a one-night engagement (a Fathom Event) and finally his hard-to-find cult oddity Mind Game was aired on American television and given a proper Blu-ray release.
And what an oddity it is. It’s hard to exactly pin down the narrative of this film but basically it revolves around a 20-year-old named Nishi, who’s just kind of drifting through life when he runs into his old crush Myon. They stop into Myon’s fathers restaurant when a Yakuza soccer hoodlum begins to act out and uh…shoots Nishi in the butt which leads Nishi to end up in limbo and…honestly, to say more would be to spoil the ride. What you need to know is that the film is a bonkers display of animation prowess and stream-of-consciousness thinking. It gets allegorical, it gets raunchy, it gets emotional and it gets transcendent. It’s a truly original type of coming-of-age tale about coming of age at a very particular period (from a teenager to a young adult). This isn’t for everybody (seriously, it gets problematic). If you truly want a deep cut I highly recommend giving it a shot, but if you want to ease in a bit, try Lu… or Night is Short… and build up to this one.
Warning: this trailer contains some mature content.