I've been accused lately of having obscure taste in film. My counter is, a film is only obscure until one sees it. If one lived in Film Nerd circles such as I do, one would not find references to John Frankenheimer or It's Alive! obscure in any way. But what does obscure mean anymore?
There was a time not long ago, when many of the movies that are a few internet clicks away from arriving at our house were completely unavailable. Go back in time a few more years before the VCR, and the availability of films drops even further. The concept of obscure from then is now obsolete.
Back when I was a Baby Film Nerd, we gladly watched grainy 4th generation dubs of Richard Kern films, spent our Top Ramen money on Castro Theater tickets during the noir festivals, and went to Naked Eye Video and Le Video like they were giving away free heroin. Knowing employees of the art house theaters was a great way to support our habits. We timed vacations to LA around showings of Herzog's movies at the Nuart Theater.
These are glorious times for Film Nerds everywhere. Entire back catalogs of the production studios are blindly being issued on DVD. Thousands of films that were either never released on video, or only released once are now for sale through the squarest of retailers. Finding video copies with their original aspect ratios was even more rare, and now a DVD is assumed to be fullscreen. In another ten years, the DVD will most likely become third to On Demand and downloaded films, but for now, it is the first chance for many of us to see the films that were previously only rarely screened during film festivals.
But the "Black Bars" at the top and bottom of Ashton Kutcher movies annoy the casual film watcher. The backlist sections of DVD rental stores are passed over while customers complain the Jim Carrey movie is out. Every once in a while, a one degree to the left of normal movie like American Beauty shows up that's supposed to be shocking, and makes people think they are watching something transgressive. Or a movie full of ethnic clichés like My Big Fat Greek Wedding gets released and is hailed as a gem of independent cinema.
What this tells me is that people still want their garbage. Sure, I watch a lot of cheap films. I'm a sucker for a high school movie with the prom in the third act. I watch any movie with the word "cheerleader" in the title. If it's about the Mafia, con men, or poker players, I'm watching it. But I'm burning off the junk movie calories by exercising with the films of Billy Wilder and Martin Scorsese.
It kills me that people will not only watch emotionally mugging, cliché movies like Million Dollar Baby, but give it awards in these times when movies like Champion, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and The Harder They Fall are all easily viewed, and even movies like Diggstown and Fat City have more to offer than Hillary and Clint Learn About Themselves While Taking A Beating.
Maybe I'm just still mad at Hillary Swank for The Next Karate Kid.
The Best British TV You May Have Missed
Last week, my pick of the week was Only Fools and Horses, the British TV series. Suggestions for other series were emailed in. I have The Kumars at Number 42 in my queue already, but these are some that came in to me that I had seen but really liked.
Aside from all-time greats such as Monty Python's Flying Circus, Absolutely Fabulous, The Young Ones, and The Office, British television constantly creates interesting and original programming. Only the cream of the crop ends up on DVD over here, but even these are little better than obscure entertainment.
Here are some British Shows you may have missed:
Embarrassed by the poor behavior of three priests, the Vatican sends them to a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Think The Young Ones with priests. One's a moron who doesn't believe in Heaven or Hell, another is a barely conscious drunk letch, and the sane one is a constant failure.
Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmundson are roommates who generally hate each other. Most of the comedy revolves around them trying to kill, injure, or maim each other. It looks like a live action cartoon, from the old school violent era of Warner Brothers cartoons.
MI-5 is Britain's version of the CIA. Much like The Sopranos or The Shield, half the show follows the professional life of the agents, while the other half explores the personal life. The agents' lives and relationships are in constant peril, from being killed in the line of duty, or the constant lying to cover one's story breaking up a marriage. It's a well written show with a tight story arc.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams play almost every character in this slice-of-life sketch comedy show. The sketches are highly character driven, and once you see multiple episodes, it's nearly impossible to stop watching.
League of Gentlemen
Each series of this show takes a slightly different angle, but without a doubt, it's the darkest and meanest comedy show on television. On the surface, it appears to be a sketch comedy show, but it's not. There's an overruling narrative that makes it a very weird, unique viewing experience. I can't recommend this one enough.
Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan plays a self centered and ignorant character named Alan Partridge. This show is a talk show parody. The show-within-a-show flails about and bombs horribly, which makes it fun to watch. It's the comedy of disaster.
Pick of The Week: The Sweet Smell of Success
After watching a couple of stinkers, it was great to see a film like this one. Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster out-sleazy each other from start to finish. Curtis plays a sleazy press agent and Lancaster plays a sleazy columnist. They work together, but they despise each other. They toy with the career of a young musician like two cats fighting over a half dead mouse. It's low, cheap, and ruthless.
This is one of those films that I can't imagine being in color. Many of the scenes are worth pausing to stare at the composition. The restoration is near perfect; there were a few scenes where damage showed, but overall, it's a fine job.
This is the film that made the industry take Curtis seriously as an actor. Shortly after this, he was in The Defiant Ones, which cemented him as a star.