« Merry Christmas! | Main | The Monkey King 2 »

January 12, 2017

2016: Answered Prayers and Unexpected Gifts

beat girl 4.jpg
Beat Girl

This piece was intended to be posted earlier. My hard-drive crashed a couple of days after Christmas. Between repairing my computer, and recovering a forgotten password, I'm a bit behind. This site will be a bit busy in the next few days as I catch up.

For those looking for the usual "Best of" or "Top Ten" list, it's not going to be here. I've not strained myself to create a "Top Ten" list in the past eleven years that I've been posting. Also, most of my viewing and reviewing has been home video based, and my access to the year end Oscar hopefuls is based on the whims of the distributors who may, or may not, be sending me screeners or watchable online links. What was significant for me was that a handful of films that I thought I would either never see, or at least not see in close to the way that the filmmaker may have intended, became available on home video this year.

Around the time that he was filming the erotic insert for Who's that Knocking on My Door in Amsterdam, Martin Scorsese was tapped by Dutch filmmaker Pim De La Parra to polish the English language script for Obsessions. The film is obviously Hitchcock inspired, and there are a couple of smart aleck gags that I'm certain were contributed by Scorsese. Bernard Herrmann contributed a soundtrack made up of unused music from other projects. On the verge of getting a gray market version, I found that the German company, Koch, issued a blu-ray version last June. For whatever reasons, Obsessions never got a US theatrical release, although it was a big hit in the Netherlands. For those whose home viewing is region restricted, fellow Dutchman, Nico B. of Cult Epics, is working on US home video release.

There was the amazing triple of three released from the British Film Institute's Flipside label devoted to some of the edgier British films of the past. I first read about Beat Girl (1960) in Rolling Stone magazine in 1969, in an article about rock movies. That article stayed with me, as well as the reference to the film also known as Wild for Kicks. The film was available much later, by about thirty years, on VHS. This was a ragged version of the US release, with the strip club scenes cut out with gardening shears. A DVD version I came across later was even worse. Still, nothing kept me from finding this to be a very entertaining film, with young Oliver Reed glowering his way from a supporting role with no name to a stint in several Hammer films in the early Sixties. Not only could the original British version of Beat Girl be seen in its blu-ray glory, but BFI also included two other versions as well, with plenty of extras.

It seems more than coincidental that BFI's Beat Girl would be release simultaneously with Expresso Bongo from 1959. Previously, only the 1962 version, shortened from the original release version, has been available. Again, we finally have the original film restored as a blu-ray, with a couple of songs from the original stage production as part of the film. Val Guest's film, a hit at the time, has an obvious influence on Beat Girl with strippers and rockers converging in London's Soho, as well as an influence on the film version of Absolute Beginners. No coincidence there as the novel took place in London, 1958. The blu-ray also includes a short made in 1957 by Michael Winner that remained shelved until Winner's death, also worth checking out.

At the same time as the two British rock films were released, BFI also had their recovered and restored version of Symptoms from 1974, a horror film from Spanish director Jose Ramon Larraz. I first became aware of this film from Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' indispensable book, Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Films 1956 - 1984. What may be most shocking about this rural thriller is that it was considered lost until 2014, when the BFI was informed that the negative was still in storage. Taking a chance on a film read about, but never seen, has proven rewarding.

Finally, since as a member of the Online Film Critics Society, I've had access to more films than I have time to see for year-end award consideration. Every year is a little bit different, as some studios will want me to see a couple of films they believe are award worthy, while others will send screeners one year but not another. The smaller companies whose films are usually on the art and independent film circuit usually are the most generous. I had no idea what Girl Asleep was about, but if Oscilloscope was going to send me a screener, that was fine by me. I got an online link instead. Still, this little Australian film about a fourteen year old girl trying to resist turning fifteen, with overbearing parents, an equally young male friend who is a little to ingratiating, a late Seventies' disco party, and a nightmare featuring familiar looking characters, proved much more memorable than some of the more highly touted films of the season. This is the directorial debut of Rosemary Myers, who also directed the play. Forget the pull quotes, especially those comparing Girl Asleep to Napoleon Dynamite. It's not just that Myers' film is so much better, but that even with all the other films that I've seen and written about, I could still come across a movie I could fall in love with.

girl asleep.jpg
Girl Asleep

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 12, 2017 08:50 AM