Every month, A Place for Film brings 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 reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates 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 | Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
I loved Adam Sandler movies when I was a kid. I especially enjoyed Happy Gilmore. As I grew up I learned that, in addition to his comedy, Sandler has good acting chops that he deploys in too few serious movies. One of these movies is Punch-Drunk Love. To prepare for his latest dramatic leading role in the upcoming Safdie Brothers crime film Uncut Gems, I revisited Punch-Drunk Love.
Punch-Drunk Love tells the story of Barry Egan, a repressed small business owner with self-esteem and mental health issues. His life begins to change when he discovers a way to get free frequent flyer miles and tentatively begins a new romance. But he’ll have to fight off the fraudulent owners of a phone sex line and face his fears to find true happiness.
Sandler’s performance as Egan is fearless. He’s unafraid to bring to life a character who is as socially restrained and awkward as his earlier characters such as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore were loud and charismatic. His fearful and occasionally blank personality makes his moments of violence more terrifying and his later triumphs more satisfying. It’s a technically brilliant and emotional performance.
There is a lot more to Punch-Drunk Love than its reputation for containing Sandler’s best performance. It has a brilliant screenplay by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, an unforgettable score by Jon Brion, and an air of delightful strangeness that led me to write “what is this thing” in my notes during one odd moment. But it is also the most enduring evidence that Sandler might be one of the most underrated dramatic actors working today.
Michaela Owens, Editor | Lullaby of Broadway (1951)
Out of the approximately 60 films I’ve watched this month, half of which were new to me, none charmed me as much as Lullaby of Broadway, an adorable musical co-starring Doris Day and Gene Nelson. After Day’s recent passing, I decided to revisit some of her movies and it only served to remind me what a colossal talent we lost. One of her earlier works, Lullaby of Broadway has a plot that is a little hard to summarize in just a few sentences. It’s primarily a musical comedy with a few dramatic notes that are played beautifully by all involved. There’s a particularly heartbreaking scene where Day finds out the truth about someone close to her and all she can do is watch them from the back of a room while silently crying.
Joyous and sweet, Lullaby of Broadway is one of my favorite Day films. The musical numbers are incredible, ably highlighting what a triple threat she was. Whether singing a peppy version of “Just One of Those Things” in a tuxedo, crooning “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” or dancing with a flawless Gene Nelson to “Somebody Loves Me,” Day can do no wrong here. It isn’t hard to see why so many years later people are still crazy about the woman.
Caleb Allison, contributor | Le Mans (1971)
Le Mans barely has a narrative. It barely has any dialogue. No love interest. No traditional conventions. But it is cool – Steve McQueen cool. It is, essentially, a filmed excuse for McQueen to spend every waking moment doing what he loved maybe more than acting: racing. Its characters are not people but racecars. Their names are Ferrari 512 and Porsche 917. Their dialogue is spoken in horsepower and communicated through tears and growls of engines. If you come to terms with these facts then Le Mans is not a conventional failure but an impressionistic masterpiece.
Rational people tried to curb McQueen’s single-minded vision of the film. The prominent director John Sturges was initially asked to direct but left before production ended after failing to convince McQueen to make a more traditional film. It was filmed in part during the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, which takes place, you guessed it, just outside of Le Mans, France, and lasts for, right again, 24 hours. It’s considered one of the most prestigious, grueling, and dangerous events in racing.
The film’s production was no different, replete with artistic disagreements, horrific car wrecks, and bodily injury. A special credit at the end cites David Piper, a British racer, for his sacrifice. After a nasty wreck during shooting Piper lost part of his leg. The film’s gritty realism and its potential for carnage felt at every turn makes Le Mans one of the most sincere racing films of all time. It had to be unconventional because racing, especially for 24 hours straight, is not about sanity or modesty. It’s about finding the limit and then pushing a little bit further without regard for life or limb.
There is one line of dialogue from the King of Cool himself that deserves being repeated. It’s become a racing mantra while capturing the essence of Le Mans: “Racing is life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.” So stop waiting and see Le Mans.
Jack Miller, contributor | Ramrod (1947)
This May, I had the opportunity to make my first visit to Doc Films at the University of Chicago, an excellent repertory space that continues to set itself apart from other movie houses through its adventurous programming and its predilection toward playing 35mm film prints. While there, I was able to see Hotel by the River (2018), the most recent feature by the great South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, as well as Ramrod (1947), an intriguing western item by the underrated auteur André de Toth.
Ramrod is perhaps best remembered today for being one entry within a bizarre genre cycle of psychosexual, Freudian westerns which were briefly in vogue during the late 1940s and early 1950s (see also: The Furies [Anthony Mann, 1950]). This film stars the unforgettable Veronica Lake as a power-hungry cattle baroness who uses an alcoholic rancher (Joel McCrea) to exact revenge on her father. The critic Andrew Sarris seemed to think that De Toth had a kind of specialty and preference for depicting forms of treachery in his films. While this assessment of De Toth’s style is certainly true of his 1959 masterpiece Day of the Outlaw, it became clear to me during this screening that Ramrod is great in spite of, rather than because of, its strangeness. Watching the film on a beautiful print, I gradually became aware of De Toth’s tight formal control of light and space. The movie bares some relation to the kind of gothic noir films which were being produced in Hollywood around the same time, and Russell Harlan’s inky, voluptuous photography lends a kind of shadowy density to De Toth’s claustrophobic mise-en-scène. Ramrod is an underappreciated delight, highly recommended to genre aficionados and auteurist film buffs alike.
Note: the clip below is a scene from the film and not a trailer, which was unavailable.