By Christian Gay
There’s nothing quite like the experience of watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, his prequel and epilogue to the ABC television series, allowed Lynch to connect plot points (albeit loosely, and with tangled string), answer some lingering questions, and make explicit some of the more taboo themes of the network television series. Filmgoers unfamiliar with Lynch or the series will immediately get a sense of his surreal style as the film opens – the screen is blurry and blue, eventually revealed to be a static-filled television screen, which is then destroyed with a baseball bat to the sound of a woman’s terrified screams. Could this be Lynch’s signal to the audience that he is through with television, and here, returning to film, ready to smash all preconceived notions of his work?
By Justin LaLiberty
By the time of the 1973 release of The Friends of Eddie Coyle, director Peter Yates already had two great crime films under his belt in the form of Bullitt and The Hot Rock. Like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both of those were based on novels as well, creating a throughline of late 60s through early 70s pulp that was never equalled by another filmmaker – though folks like Walter Hill and William Friedkin certainly tried.
By Tyler Patterson
Widely lauded by critics upon its release, Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners and I is a freewheeling lyrical documentary that celebrates the timeless practice of gleaning and those who engage in it. Nowadays we usually speak about gleaning metaphorically: one gleans meanings or information. But in its original sense, gleaning refers to going into the fields after a harvest to collect the fallen ears of wheat, which is depicted in the famous Jean-François Millet painting. Varda references the painting in the beginning of the film, starting a conversation between the mid-nineteenth century oil painting, with its sympathetic portrayal of the austere peasants in the French countryside, and her similarly sympathetic film from the dawn of the digital age, which also brims with Varda’s signature sense of humor, curiosity, empathy, and openness to the world. The Gleaners and I is a quietly powerful meditation on not only the strength of those who make use of scraps of all kinds but also the very potential of documentary filmmaking to ennoble its subjects while nearly enchanting the viewer through relatively simple yet carefully deployed filmmaking techniques.
By Natalie Jones
Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) epitomizes the “ticking-clock” film, but, unlike most of these films that accelerate toward their narrative destinations, you’d never know from this film’s leisurely pace that time is quickly running out for the protagonist. Shots linger until the characters are eventually instigated into motion, a drive in a taxi extends for several minutes, and a character makes unwavering eye contact with the camera while she sings a song in its entirety. Rather than bluntly reminding the audience of quicksand funneling through an hourglass, Agnès Varda’s steady direction causes the presence of death to eventually loom in the background of both Cléo Victoire’s (Corinne Marchand) and the viewer’s mind. Over the course of ninety minutes, Cléo undergoes a slow transformation from hopeless stasis to renewed optimism as she allows herself to live with the recognition of her impending death.
By Selin Sevinc
Influential French filmmaker Agnes Varda’s debut film La Pointe Courte (1956) is a great reminder to modern cinephiles what film-viewing experience can be. Following the footsteps of Italian Neorealism and in the wake of the French New Wave, La Pointe Courte serves as an amalgam of the kind of films that transformed our understanding and appreciation of film language and aesthetics. It not only represents a major step in cinema history, but is also a refreshing viewing experience for the modern moviegoer who is accustomed to conventional plot and character development and an easily discernable protagonist.
By Greg Mucci
When director Charles Laughton’s first and sadly final film, The Night of the Hunter, was released back in the summer of 1955, it marked an irrevocable burden on the mind of one of Britain’s most applauded stage and screen actors. Laughton, who trained in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, starred in more than 50 works of film, both short and theatrical, before stepping behind the camera to adapt Davis Grubb’s novel of the same name. The burden that caused Laughton to abandon the director’s chair came in the form of critical disdain and audience dismissal upon release of his debut, an outcome that many believed to be caused by little to no marketing. Given the subject matter, themes and tones stalking every frame, marketing it to a wide audience in 1955 would have been a difficult and daunting task, even if we weren’t judging its history through decades of reflection. Though no matter how many lobby cards filled theaters, television spots small screens, or write-ups newspapers, the new Christianity of the Eisenhower era wasn’t ready for such a film.
By Juan Ramirez
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) dir. Elia Kazan
1947’s other “message film” to also deal with antisemitism was Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement, which took home Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress. Adapted by Kazan and Moss Hart from Laura Z. Hobson’s best-selling novel of the same name – which she wrote after learning a congressman’s racist tirade against Walter Winchell was met with applause by the House – the film concerns a journalist (Gregory Peck) who spends six months living as a Jew to expose antisemitism in New York for his liberal newsmagazine.
There’s a fleeting moment in Agnes Varda’s 2008 documentary The Beaches of Agnes where the filmmaker returns home sees her family of cats and bluntly states “I’m home. The cats are here.” And that moment summarizes the film as a whole – as a film that chronicles Varda’s life in cinema, as a woman and as a person aging – while staying as honest and playful as its subject and creator.
The Beaches of Agnes came at a point in Varda’s career where she had all but abandoned narrative cinema – her prior feature length narrative film, One Hundred and One Nights, was released in 1995 – and had spent the past two decades building a body of documentary work, something she had worked with in years prior leading to films like Mur murs and Daguerreotypes. But 2000’s The Gleaners & I brought forth a sea change for Varda, establishing herself as a subject worthy of the same attention she gave to anything or anyone else in front of her camera with the advent of small digital cameras allowing for an intimacy that she was unable to achieve until the new millennium.
By Eric Shoag
Wild, loud, ridiculous, over-the-top in every conceivable way, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997) is a feast for the senses, a one-of-a-kind thrill ride, a candy-colored cacophony of comic book logic and madcap mayhem taken to the absolute extreme, and beyond. With its vividly imagined universe full of outrageous characters, ancient prophecies, magical relics, and its unapologetically simplistic take on Good versus Evil, it is some sort of acid-drenched mashup of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Though upon release it divided audiences and critics alike, it remained for years the world’s highest grossing French film, vindicating Besson and his pet project, which he conceived in his youth and finally managed to bring to the silver screen after years of struggle and at a cost which at the time made it the most expensive European film ever made.
By Leo Racicot
From the very first jungle beats and howls, you are shaking, gyrating, moving to the instant explosions of sounds and rhythms. Director D.A. Pennebaker isn’t fooling around; he dunks your ears–and eyes–deep into the Monterey “happening” of 1967’s Summer of Love and happy you are to be there, whether again or for the first time.
Only a select few concert documentaries can lay claim to greatness: The Last Waltz, Gimme Shelter, Stop Making Sense, Don’t Look Back. Monterey Pop stands proudly alongside them.