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Two Dollar Movie, Part 3 


Nagy V. Gergő

Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness (2007)


Tim O’Farrell

The Killing of America (1982)


Tom Paulus

The Hunting Party (1971)


Lara Perski

Save the Green Planet! (2003)


Jonathan Rosenbaum

Suspense (1946)


Eloise Ross

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)


Julian Ross

‘Close Up’


Miriam Ross

¿Quién mató a la llamita blanca? (2007)


Ronald Rovers

Dirty Money (1979)


Jessie Scott

The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)


Girish Shambu

Flaming Star (1960)


Brad Stevens

The November Men (1993)


Darren Tofts

Perceval le Gallois (1978)


Donatella Valente

Totò Diabolicus (1962)


Belén Vidal

Un Monsieur de compagnie (1964)


Andrey Walkling

Wicked City (1987)


Gabbi Werner



Deane Williams

The Slim Dusty Movie (1984)


Tami Williams

Caroline Chérie (1968)


Nagy V. Gergő

In an early essay about poetry, Béla Balázs claimed that artworks of real genius urge you to start your life over. These works force you to question your beliefs, your values, but most of all your ideas about the medium itself. This was the ‘cataclysmic’ effect Dave Hickey is referring to in his piece about Andy Warhol’s Haircut (1963), which made him rethink the relationship between high art and popular art. And maybe this is why Paul Schrader (as legend has it), while watching Pulp Fiction in 1994, turned to the viewer next to him and, with the realisation that everything had changed, said: ‘It’s over’. These films obviously didn’t come from nowhere – but, for these people, they seemed like something seen for the first time, like a new beginning for the history of cinema and maybe for them as well.


This is what Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness (Laurin Federlein, UK, 2007) did to me. I saw it by accident without knowing anything about it. I remember watching the first sequence with a slightly unnerving sense of shock. What I am looking at? There was this strangely pulsating, lo-fi image of a strange guy in an ugly pullover talking to a patient, Scottish woman about the all-pervading loneliness of the countryside, and about his plan to cure the loneliness with his ‘mobile disco’. The camera was placed far away, and it was not clear whether or not the people on screen knew they were being filmed. Are they acting? And if they are not (as it seems), and the whole scene was shot in secret, then how come the sound is so crisp and clean? And why is the image so transcendentally ugly – and where does all that pink and red come from?


On paper, there is nothing really new about Build a Ship. It is a very funny semi-mockumentary in the vein of Borat (2006). Its main character is an obsessive hero from a Werner Herzog film: a guy who gave himself the hopeless mission of establishing a mobile discotheque in the Scottish countryside. And its astonishing visual style – grainy Hi-8 video re-shot and enlarged with 16mm – resembles Fred Kelemen’s work (particularly Verhängnis, 1994). But the combination of these very different traditions and qualities just feels like a new start.


Build a Ship discovers the majestic, glimmering beauty within this trashy footage of the countryside. It links silliness with despair, raw documentary with dreamy abstraction, distant wide shots with intimate sounds. And it makes the most trivial situations look other-worldly. The character of Vincent, the self-proclaimed Doctor of Loneliness, seems like a Little Prince drugged with gasoline in a rural Wonderland – which has already started to sparkle when seen through his visionary eyes. He drives his moped through the valley again and again, and every shot is a new world, every scene has a new colour code, mood and texture. There has never been a film which glorified the beauty of the poor, digital image like this.


Build a Ship demonstrates the power of peripheral forms and yet, at the same time, it is conceived for the periphery. At 68 minutes, it’s too short to be a feature and too long to be a short. It’s about a marginal man in a marginal place. Its aggressively amateurish style makes it immediately inaccessible to a wider audience. Moreover: it’s redundant, frustrating, and a bit irritating, too. Yes, there isn’t any real development in the story, and some motifs are endlessly repeated – but is this a flaw? The recurrent sound of the shrieking moped causes physical pain after a while, but it’s a pain that makes you experience the icy dread and infantile joy of human solitude.


Where is the moped going? What is the value and the meaning of any human effort? And what is the use of propagating a culture against all the lack of interest in a place full of sceptics? (If you’re a critic or a cinephile, you can symphatise with the hero even more.) Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness finds new ways of confronting the viewer with the most troubling existential questions - and in doing that, it can make anyone rethink her or his assumptions about the possibilities of life and of cinema. At least that’s what it did to me.


Tim O’Farrell

I didn’t watch many films before I was 18. No exotic strict Calvinist upbringing, à la Paul Schrader, accounts for this gap; I was just a bookish kid who didn’t go to movies. At university, things changed. I spent countless hours at film clubs and repertory cinemas to relieve the tedium of studying law. Viewing Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951) and Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956) at Melbourne’s Liberty Cinema in the mid-1980s, the scales fell from my eyes. While Sirk’s overheated, excessive, style-driven studio artefact seemed diametrically opposed to Bresson’s superficially austere, pared back, mysterious approach, each film was revelatory. Together they represented twin poles of cinema, equally valid, shaping my budding perception of the vast, expressive potential of the medium.


I tell this potted, personal history to show how I staggered, late and clueless, to cinephilia, in a period when video culture was ascendant. As my family never had a video player, I came late to that party, too. I recall my brother returning from a friend’s place, confused by a film he’d seen. He described security footage of a convenience store clerk being shot dead and other depictions of violence. Voracious as I was, I nonetheless avoided this film. In an era when the very notion of ‘video nasties’ and ‘snuff movies’ roused passions, it fell into a niche outside my newly acquired, cultivated taste.


Around a decade later in 1994, I owned a VHS player. I spotted a tatty copy of The Killing of America (US, 1982), the film my brother described, in a suburban video store sale. I bit the bullet and parted with $5. It turned out to be a film financed by and made for the Japanese market, co-directed by Leonard (brother of Paul) Schrader and Sheldon Renan, who wrote the screenplay for Lambada (1990). Finally sitting down to view it, I was nonplussed. Comprising a mixture of stentorian, Voice of God-style narration and sensational, scattershot content, it presented as a cautionary documentary critiquing gun violence in the USA. Beginning with the assassinations of John F. and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, ending with the murder of John Lennon, it traced a line from sniper klllers to serial killers, including David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz, Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. Rounded out by interview material with notorious murderers such as Edmund Kemper and court footage of Ted Bundy, the excess of death and evil made for a punishing watch.


The Killing of America was also a challenge to my taste. My immediate response was to dismiss its linear narrative imposed on a sequence of events only broadly connected to violence and death. Yet the images and testimony in this slickly edited film were starkly compelling. I could connect the film to the ‘Mondo’ strand of exploitation cinema popularised by Italian filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, but its engagement with the taboo was more relentless and less jaunty than these forebears.


I don’t pull The Killing of America out every Christmas but, like Bresson and Sirk, it opened up a new frontier for me. What had been an object of scorn became a portal to the malleability of documentary style and the infinite complexity of the documentary image. While never uncomplicatedly a direct imprint of reality, this image is rarely more affecting, troubling and contentious than when dealing with death.


Tom Paulus

A movie that storms out of the gates with Eisensteinian gusto, brutally intercutting Oliver Reed cutting a cow’s throat and Gene Hackman clawing Candice Bergen in a series of almost subliminal shots, The Hunting Party (US, 1971) demands redemption from the video dungeon!


I snagged my copy of Don Medford’s savage Western from a local record store, which had a small video annex. This was 1984, when VHS was still battling Betamax: I remember the store’s two creaking spinners trimmed with the schlocky likes of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981) and Israeli teenie classic Lemon Popsicle (1978). I nosed out The Hunting Party during a sale, as the store was ceding its place to the first of the big chains.


Reed, a hero after starring in cassette favourites like The Devils (1971) and The Brood (1979), was no doubt the main reason for spending the Belgian-money equivalent of (roughly) two bucks on this obscurity. Looking as morose and bloated as ever, Ollie seems unlikely casting for a Western, but turns out oddly suited for the Lawrentian character of brooding outlaw Frank Calder, who kidnaps a woman (Bergen, fresh off Soldier Blue) he takes to be a schoolmarm, because he wants to learn to read. In fact, she is the wife of sadistic cattle baron Brandt Ruger (a sweaty Hackman pre-Popeye Doyle), who deflects his deviant sexuality into high-class hunting trips with high-powered rifles (he also likes to burn Chinese hookers with his big cigars). Faster than you can say Zaroff, Ruger’s party have set their telescopic sights onto the biggest game of all, picking off Reed’s band of renegades like Sergeant York with a pedigree.


If it is the violent misogyny that sticks in the mind – culminating in a hallucinatory Hellmanesque desert finale in which Reed channels El Greco and Hackman shoots Bergen in the groin – the movie also captures a moment in Hollywood history when every distributor was looking for an Anti-Western hit. The Hunting Party is essentially a television movie with added slo-mo bloodletting – its producers, writers and many of its supporting cast (including Peckinpah regular L.Q. Jones) worked on ABC’s long-running Barbara Stanwyck ranch saga The Big Valley (1965-69). In fact, its central plot idea derives from a 1966 episode, ‘Teacher of Outlaws’, written by Lou Morheim and Gilbert Ralston, who get a story credit here. The hip, anti-conformist, anti-business stance was added by writer Bill Norton, a card-carrying Communist, who plagiarises his work on an earlier production from the same team, the Burt Lancaster-Ossie Davis comedy Western The Scalphunters (1968).


Like most of Burt’s Westerns of the period, this comes with all the Spaghetti trimmings, including picturesque Spanish locations, crash-zoom lensing and a faux Morricone score by Riz Ortolani. What finally raises The Hunting Party above similar fare is the crisp editing by the Swedish-born Tom Rolf, Scorsese’s cutter before Thelma Schoonmaker, author of the aforementioned Strike homage who also turns an otherwise ludicrous scene of Reed and Bergen fingerlicking their way through a jar of peach preserves into a silly symphony of perfectly timed reverse shots.


Lara Perski

To say that a film is ‘odd’ or ‘strange’ is not necessarily to say much. When used to describe a film, such adjectives, much like ‘pretentious’ or ‘cinematic’, can mean too many things or none at all. I can, however, find no better description for Joon-Hwan Jang’s 2003 film Save the Green Planet! (original title: Jigureul jikyeora!) and, while this speaks as much for my linguistic shortcomings as it does for the virtues of the movie, it is, indeed, a curious little picture.


Unlike its fellow South Korean compatriots such as Oldboy (Chan-Wook Park, 2003) and The Host (Bong Joon-Ho, 2006) which have found their way into the Western cultural consciousness thanks, in no small part, to their own stylistic and narrative idiosyncrasies, Save the Green Planet! has so far remained under the radar. And while it may not rival these titles in terms of overall quality, it still was a fortuitous find.


The film starts with a disturbed young man, Byeong-gu Lee (Ha-kyun Shin), who kidnaps a high ranking official, Man-shik Kang (Yun-shik Baek), believing he is a leader of an alien race from Andromeda, sent to Earth as part of a plan for its destruction – an alien abduction of a slightly different kind. He is aided by a devoted but sceptical girlfriend, Su-ni (Jeong-min Hwang). She is a circus performer – something we find out when she performs an impromptu routine (set to ‘Besame mucho’, no less) in front of the captured Kang.


Together they tie their prisoner to a chair, and what starts like a bizarre science fiction film, or perhaps a psychological thriller – is Byeong-gu a lunatic or an unlikely prophet? – seems to rapidly descend into horror territory, populated with hatchets, electro shocks and, unbelievably, murder by bees. I will not sketch further details of the complicated plot: its pleasures and displeasures are best discovered on one’s own, as it moves on to bigger, better, odder things.


Jonathan Rosenbaum

(Frank Tuttle, US, 1946) – an ice-skating noir musical? More or less, with Belita serving as Monogram’s answer to Sonja Henie, and a few A-picture production numbers (such as the Dalíesque one glimpsed above, climaxing with the heroine diving through a wheel ringed by long, sharp daggers pointed towards the centre). Not quite a two-dollar movie (the Warners Archive DVD is pricier), but an intriguing curiosity. Philip Yordan’s original script is so pro forma that one can almost imagine him writing it in his sleep, In its early stretches, it suggests a lazy rip-off of Gilda (1946), with different sexual inflections (no homoerotic undertones, no heterosexual love-hatred, and this time the hero and villain are the same character, played by Barry Sullivan). Yet most of it was shot at the same time as Gilda, in late 1945.


Most curious of all is the almost total lack of motivation whereby Sullivan, a thuggish tramp, gets accorded a free white coat and shave by the owner of The Ice Parade so that he can sell peanuts to the customers, and then, after dreaming up the wheel-of-dagger stunt, which Belita accepts without hesitation, gets asked by her husband-boss (Albert Dekker) to take over his position when he leaves on a trip, allowing Sullivan more of a chance to romance his beloved spouse and star. Not even the next-in-command (a non-comic Eugene Pallette) can understand what’s going on, and neither can we. Director Tuttle serves it straight, and DP Karl Struss treats the strange milieu (Damon Runyon transplanted to L.A.) as if it were part of a dark, foggy Whistler sketch or a Val Lewton quickie.


Eloise Ross

As only the thinnest selection of video rental stores remains visible in inner-city Melbourne (on either side of the river), it is a time to reflect with regret on our ability to possess tangible copies of films, to hold, sort and peruse covers while walking through stores. This was a starkly different experience, often with much more direction and certainly with a greater sense of satisfaction, than that allowed by scrolling through titles in a digital platform. And yet this comes with a specific, bittersweet pleasure: the rental store sale, filled with opportunities to procure known loves and unknown treasures.


One of these treasures, for me, was finding a DVD with a bemused Robert Mitchum on the cover (Backfire!, US, 1995), his lightbulb-shaped languid face betraying a body sitting discontentedly in the middle of the image. I had bought it for a few silver coins, and finally brought myself to watch it for this project. Sadly, within the film’s content, there was little I wanted to convince my peers to see, to likely groan through.


Instead, a most pleasant surprise was discovering the DVD of The Valley of Gwangi (James O’Connolly, US, 1969). I picked it up ($3) not knowing that this is, indeed, a Ray Harryhausen film, a work of art shaped around his particularly lauded style of visual effects. Its cover design indicates only that it is a B-movie featuring some variation on the illicit love theme, on the capture of innocent heroes by a monster. It is much more.


A bit Western, shaped by the mystical monster film genre, a little bit of (tenuous) connection to King Kong history, and dinosaurs, to boot. It starts off with a classic setup declaring the all-powerful ‘law of the Gwangi’ (also known as, apparently, the ‘Curse of Hell’) and plunges into impressive opening credits sequence, each title card accompanied by a different Technicolor template. Immediately, this declares itself a brazen, impressive film, unlikely to disappoint, for its dedication to bright colours alone. Perhaps this is part Hollywood musical, as well.


It’s not the narrative that is most impressive, but the singular elements. Striking matte paintings, blood the colour of raspberry sauce, a cobalt-blue pterydactl, a lycra-pink ornithomimosaur (‘plucked ostrich’), a manageably-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex as the titular Gwangi. Palaeontologists, humanoids, a tame miniature horse called El Diablo, some rock formation imbued with historical or mythical resonance. Tight pants, tight shirts, neckerchiefs that dance attractively in the wind. Incredible, clever framing. And once all these elements (and more!) combine to make a stock-standard Western mash, it finishes with a triumphant note tinged with sadness, as Gwangi is engulfed by electro-neon flames against a screeching organ and glowing, gothic chapel. And it ends as simply as it began: this time, on a yellow title card that immolates the audience as it darkens to orange then red, letting us burn by the Gwangi’s ‘curse of hell’. A most magical movie experience.


Julian Ross

During my student days in London, I worked at an East End film library called Close Up, one of the only DVD/video libraries still in existence today. We were always on the look out for good buys, mainly browsing online for legit copies of rare and unknown gems: a year into the job, I stopped buying DVDs for myself, as my workplace had a collection of close to 40,000 films at my daily disposal.


One day in the summer of 2008, I strolled over to the BFI Southbank to catch a screening and saw a mountain of VHS cassette tapes lying on the floor of the BFI Shop. Priced at 2GBP each, the stack unearthed from their basement included a pool of rare titles among the usual suspects: the ones I recall are Medea (1969) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, a lesser known film by Satyajit Ray, and silent era animations by Winsor McCay – none  of which were available on DVD at the time. Guarding the stack, I quickly called my colleague who confirmed that many of these would be a welcome addition to our collection. We bought four bags full of those tapes that very afternoon.


Still going strong as a film library, Close Up is now celebrating the first anniversary of their cinema. New Blu-Ray/DVD editions since released have replaced most of the VHS copies I discovered that afternoon. I’m sure many of the videos were borrowed only once or twice during their shelf life; after all, they were bought at a time when Blu-Ray had already begun to compete with DVD.

Now, halfway into 2016 in Amsterdam, I realise I have not once put a disc in a player since I moved here. All my home viewing is now done through online streaming. Still, I go straight to the DVD section in the second-hand stores and charity shops, always on the lookout to expand Close Up’s collection.


Miriam Ross

At the Argentine Mar del Plata film festival in 2007, I saw a new film that took me and the (mainly young) Argentine audience by surprise. The frenetic story of the Bolivian
¿Quién mató a la llamita blanca?, of a couple of young lovebirds caught up in a drug heist from the high Andes of La Paz to the jungle rivers at the Brazilian border, had the viewers giggling appreciatively and applauding the audacity of the protagonists. Self-conscious about their underdog status as brown-skinned Bolivians amongst the corrupt Bolivian elite and US narcotics dealers, the couple give as good as they get. For me, a PhD student embarking on fieldwork across the Southern Cone, this was the first contemporary film I had found with indigenous subjects at its centre.


As I journeyed on rickety buses into the Andes, the film was on an almost constant loop, jammed into their DVD players and flickering across the tiny television screens. It was making headlines in Bolivia for breaking domestic box office records, and it tested my hypothesis that the indigenous people of the Andes had no visible presence in contemporary cinema.


But how could I get a copy of the film? There were no DVD stores in La Paz and this wasn’t a film to be found on Amazon or other online sites. After disembarking in the capital I found that access to the film was not a problem. Almost all of the pirate stalls littering El Prado’s main strip had copies of the film, and pop-up stands at the side of traffic lights exclusively traded in ¿Quién mató a la llamita blanca?. I don’t remember, now, the exact stall where I purchased my copy of the film, but I know it was bought for pennies, much less than a couple of dollars.

When I later interviewed its producer Roberto Lanza, he gifted me another copy of the film, but wasn’t surprised that I already had a copy from the street. Knowing that there were no legal distribution points for DVDs in Bolivia, he had hoped to broker a deal with the pirate vendors and use them to sell copies of the film. But the negotiations fell through.


When I later wanted to screen the film at the Glasgow Film Theatre in Scotland, the legal, official copy once again proved elusive. Even though ¿Quién mató a la llamita blanca? had been co-produced with the British Buena Onda company, under its remit to support politically oriented films from Latin America that wouldn’t otherwise get support, the company had no hard copies of the film. With Lanza’s permission, I was able to screen the copy he had gifted me but, without any specific markings on the DVD, it had travelled side by side with my pirate copy and the two were now interchangeable.


Since then I have shown and loaned ¿Quién mató a la llamita blanca? various times in the UK and New Zealand, never quite sure in any one moment if it is the copy bought for pennies by the side of the road or the disc that was pressed into my hand by the very generous producer. It continues to be one of my favourite South American films, and one that I must digitise, lest the DVDs degrade and I am left without the cholito lovebirds.


Ronald Rovers

This has to be The Great Riviera Bank Robbery aka Golden Sewers aka Sewers of Gold aka Dirty Money (Francis Megahy, UK, 1979). Though I should warn you that ‘masterpiece’ is probably a bit much for this delicious heist movie that doesn’t know what to do with itself. But it did grab my attention and never let go. Years later, after someone tied together the Internet, and the Piratebay became a new Alexandrian library, I went looking but couldn’t find it. Now you can buy it online  – for a long time VHS was the only option – but where’s the fun in that?

Also, I didn’t buy this for two dollars. I found it in a box around 1985 delivered to us by a neighbour who owned a video store, and who occasionally dropped off a box of VHS tapes that he discarded, because no one would rent them. So I think this box does meet the condition of stumbling upon it. It’s also how I discovered porn.

The thing that always fascinated me is the time that the bank robbers spend preparing the heist. They are British members of some fascist operation in the south of France (voiceover narration from another era: ‘Through him I got involved in what they called “terrorist activities’’’), and they need the money to finance their attacks. I’ve always liked heist films, especially when they have an eye for detail, for meticulously planning an operation. And this one has the bank robbers returning every evening after dark to dig/drill a tunnel somewhere in the sewage system to the bank’s vault. So there you have the essential image: a bunch of fascists digging around in the sewers looking for a future. Also, Ian McShane.

I honestly don’t know how good it is. It’s been too long. But the film’s stubbornness in relentlessly focusing on the preparations jnever disappeared from memory.

Jessie Scott

I was so inordinately taken with The Mirror Has Two Faces (Barbra Streisand, US, 1996) when I was in my early 20s, I could have just about written the proverbial PhD on it. It’s a rom-com, sure, and a bit of a vanity project for Babs – but it is also
immensely weird, warm and funny. And almost feminist, with some interesting things to say about beauty, romance, costume and sex: all of which I was preoccupied with between the ages of 21-25. I picked up an ex-rental VHS copy for $2 from Movieland Carlton North some 15 years ago. And I'm so glad I own it still – a touchstone, a happy place, intentionally and unintentionally amusing, a film to which I will continue to return.

It’s not from the golden era of Streisand’s film work. Nevertheless, she directs and stars in the lead role, and a lot of what’s interesting about this film derives from this feat. Her character, Rose, is a supposedly frumpish college professor who is successful in her career but failing in love, about which she harbours some fairly high-tone romantic ideals. Her more ‘glamorous’ sister (Mimi Rogers) secretly answers an ad in a lonely-hearts column on her behalf, placed by an equally misguided, and not quite believably studly, fellow professor (Jeff Bridges). He is looking for stable companionship with an equal, but here is the catch: tiring of the decades-younger models he has been dating, he believes he can only achieve true soul connection with someone to whom he is not sexually attracted. Crossed-wires, hijinks and heart-wounding ensues, variously abetted by Rose’s competitive sister and her judgemental mother (Lauren Bacall). Love wins, strings swell, Barbra sells millions of copies of the tie-in hit single ‘I Finally Found Someone’.


It’s a hard premise to swallow, that Streisand is not one of the most glamorous women in any room she happens to be in – just to begin with. But there is a major undercurrent of cognitive dissonance around Rose, whose baggy black sweats, love of baseball and desire to eat at regular mealtimes is apparently enough to signal excessive female schlubbishness. That we are supposed to feel sorry for this brilliant woman who regularly captivates hordes of rapt undergrads in lectures peppered with charming anecdotes and salty zingers never stops feeling absurd. One of the reasons I was so drawn to it, in fact, was because it was the first time I had seen a film that telescoped me into the adult world of women, and at least attempted to demonstrate their complexity. Not elderly crones or grandmotherly types, not ingénues or urchins, but adult, full-grown women who had merit beyond the physical. Speaking loudly to the converse injustice of men being valued and desired for who they are, not what they look like, it appealed keenly to my own callow outrage and burgeoning feminism.


But it’s the make-over montage that really got me though. The great reveal of Rose’s new, better, made-over self had a profound effect on me. I rewound and replayed it over and over – its unexpectedness struck me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. The over-the-top effect it has on her friends and colleagues; the film’s cringingly awkward examination of this effect; the decidedly ‘90s mini-skirt-business-jacket combos; the sheen of bronzer on her lightly muscled calves: it was a heady brew that overwhelmed me. Eventually I decided it was because it was exactly and only what Barbra Streisand (or Rose, depending on what side of the mirror you’re looking through) believed her sexiest self to be. Something that was not ugly to me, but almost incoherent, so used was I to seeing women through the Hollywood male gaze. Unlike the many teen movies of the ‘80s that had set conceptual and formal precedents for the screen make-over (and which had received equal workouts on my VCR), this had a full-fleshed idiosyncrasy and cultural specificity that were refreshing and confounding. Like Cher at her best, it was too marginally weird to be anything but real.


Whatever feminist aims might have informed the film, they are inevitably undermined by the director giving in to the desire of the actress to be presented to her best advantage, in ways that are comically obvious and distracting. Her face floats around the screen, a fuzzy orb of kind light trained on her at all times, a beauty tic verging on the unheimlich to rival Joan Crawford’s right eyebrow. This vanity was critically lampooned at the time of release but, 15 years later, I am deeply aware of the fact that male directors are rarely held to account for the same crime. In fact, men have been living out their base ego-projections on film for the better part of a century and a half now, and we are mostly blind to it.


The Mirror Has Two Faces aimed to be a smart, talky rom-com of the Allen/Ephron/Meyers mould; perhaps not smart enough, it failed. It aimed to educate its audience about new social mores in a generic setting, but everyone knows that ‘ugly’ people get laid all the time, find love, have families, good lives; we do fine. What it actually was: a Romantic Comedy educating itself, clearing the path so that other films would know it was OK to follow. OK to have an older female lead. OK for her not to be immediately ‘fuckable’. OK to question and complicate the idea of fuckable in the first place. Kudos forever to Barbra for the attempt, for pulling such a heavy-duty cast, and for ensuring she’s never on screen for a single moment without being bathed in a halo of good light.


Girish Shambu

My account of a Two Dollar Movie begins not with a Movie but with a Dollar.


A few months ago I happened upon an essay written by an art professor named Edie Pistolesi. In it, she described a project she designed for her students. The project was inspired by a conversation in her class about Elvis Presley – specifically the phenomenon of ‘Elvis sightings’ and how Elvis was an icon. She called the project ‘Elvis Dollars’. Students had to draw a small picture of Elvis on a dollar bill – and then spend that money, thus putting the dollars into circulation and causing a series of ‘Elvis sightings’. The project didn’t go quite as planned. She writes: ‘Students quickly abandoned tiny Elvis figures in favour of elaborate, glitter encrusted, photo-montaged, bejewelled Elvis Dollars’. There was also a risky and dangerous frisson to this undertaking that added to its interest and excitement: both the act of ‘defacing’ currency and the act of colour-xeroxing it – which she performed in order to document the project – are considered illegal acts in the USA.


The Elvis image that is a central focus of Pistolesi’s essay is Andy Warhol’s silkscreen painting Elvis I and II, and I learned that it was based upon a poster for Don Siegel’s 1960 western Flaming Star. Later that week, in the kind of coincidence that everyone will recognise, I was at a discount store that was having a giant sale of everything from clothes hangers to teacups – and stumbled upon Flaming Star in a big bin of bargain DVDs. I took it home and watched it that night.


Not the best Elvis Presley movie (which would probably be Jailhouse Rock) but very likely the best movie with Elvis Presley’: this is how Dave Kehr described Flaming Star in a capsule review. Kehr meant that the movie is not a vehicle for Elvis he was only one among several key characters but as a film it is the best one he ever made. Elvis plays Pacer, the mixed-race son of a cattle-farming family; his father is white and his mother is Kiowa Indian (she is played by Mexican-born Dolores Del Rio, often considered the first major Latin crossover star in Hollywood, here in the late phase of her career).


For me, the most striking thing about Flaming Star is its open and unflinching desire to take up and not in a pious, liberal-humanist fashion the vicious racism that underwrote the old West’s expansionist project. (That the film is committed in a sustained way to its dark vision becomes clear early: all but two of Elvis’ musical performances were cut out of the finished work – and the songs that remain are dispatched within the first ten minutes!) In the film’s story, this toxic prejudice precipitates an existential crisis in Pacer and he remains, until the end, a man stranded between two worlds, irredeemably alienated, cursed to never know what it’s like to belong anywhere …


Brad Stevens

Paul Williams must be among the most maudit of American directors. Few of his eight features are available on DVD, and those that are remain hard to track down, or are packaged in strange ways. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Williams is also an actor (he has appeared in two of Henry Jaglom's films and several of his own), but not the actor/songwriter of the same name who played Swan in Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974). Nor is he the journalist who has written extensively on Bob Dylan and Philip K. Dick.


Of the five Williams films I have managed to see, my favourite is unquestionably The November Men (1993). I found a tape of this on sale for, if I recall correctly, 99p at my local Blockbuster some time in the late ‘90s, just as DVD was starting to render the VHS format redundant. This ex-rental cassette was in perfect condition – perhaps nobody ever actually rented it.


The November Men's protagonist is a filmmaker who is named Arthur Gwenlyn, but is clearly supposed to be Williams himself, and is played by Williams. While brooding over the murders of several prominent left-wing figures (the Kennedys, Martin Luther King), Gwenlyn decides to make a movie about ‘an assassin from the left’ who sets out to kill George Bush (President at the time of filming in 1992). Gwenlyn initially approaches Robert Davi, who refuses to play the lead role (‘I'm best friends with Arnold. He's close to Bush. I get Christmas cards from the Whitehouse’), but offers to anonymously finance the project. Although Davi is not credited as an actor on this film in which he refuses to (but nevertheless does) appear, the end credits proudly declare this to be 'A Robert Davi Presentation', suggesting his involvement with the financing was not merely fictional. Gwenlyn recruits volatile ex-Marine Vincent Duggo (Williams regular James Andronica, who also wrote the screenplay), who agrees to be technical advisor on the project, despite loathing its ideological perspective. Cast and crew soon begin to suspect Gwenlyn is using the shoot as an excuse to stalk Bush and carry out a genuine assassination. Adding another level to this paranoia is some footage of Bush's public appearances, evidently shot with a hidden camera which at one point pans from the President making a speech to Williams/Gwenlyn barking orders at his cinematographer. All of which inevitably makes us wonder if The November Men might itself be the work of conspirators intent on performing a political execution.


The film's total disappearance (it has never been released on DVD anywhere, and cannot be obtained from any of the usual Internet sources for unavailable rarities) reinforces its atmosphere of suspicion and multi-levelled conspiracy. This is one of those necessarily elusive works entirely predicated on the impossibility of its existence. Its current invisibility confirms the accuracy of Williams' pessimistic view, which seems more relevant than ever. Gwenlyn's complaint that ‘You must be a millionaire in order to be listened to in this society’ certainly resonates with an era which has seen Donald Trump emerge as a viable candidate for high office. Since Williams' reputation is minimal, the actors (though uniformly excellent) are not well known, and the film's cult following seems to consist solely of myself, the chances of its being revived are pretty much zero. But The November Men nonetheless stands as a model of political filmmaking, its lack of distribution testifying eloquently to the kinds of discourse permissible in America.


Darren Tofts

Chrétien de Troyes in the Suburbs; or, Pointing Percy at the Porcelain
. The inner city Melbourne suburb of Richmond may not be the critic’s choice for cinephile epiphanies. In late 1970s encounters, punks, turned on to the raw sounds of the Sex Pistols, The Damned and the Ramones, menaced the streets with bedraggled attitudes honed by razor blades. The Valhalla cinema in Victoria Street was the Mecca for a pre-video audience hanging out for a repertory of the good, the bad and the ugly of a substantial back-catalogue, its classics as well as its avant-garde. Suffice to say, as an independent cinema, it catered to all tastes from the new wave flocking to see Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (1978) and David Blyth’s Angel Mine (1978), the rugged conceits of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the sublime, balletic inventions of Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot. Well before the advent of domestic video, it was one of the very few places where, on the same day, you could enjoy a Lindsay Anderson and François Truffaut double bill, a John Waters retrospective, and get high watching Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978 – choofing substances of various kinds was, for better or worse, still permitted in the cinema).


But it was also the place to go and see films new and old that would never make it to the pedestrian schedules of commercial cinemas. And I mean films that were way off the multiplex radar, like David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977’s ‘new cult film of the midnight crowds’), Lina Wertmüller’s The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert (1965) or Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964). When I took some friends to see Pink Flamingos (1972), their interest in trash and junk culture was admittedly less enthusiastic than mine, and I think I scarred them for the rest of their lives. I had never felt so warm and cuddly inside as when I drove them back to the chilly north of Melbourne, still pale and quivering, haunted by the spectre of Divine and that beatific, shit-eating grin. What could ever compete with or supersede this gem of phatic coprophilia as an unforgettable spectacle? It was on the verge of such despair at the impossible when I saw it. And I have never forgotten that moment.


I think it was at a late night screening when it happened. Sitting comfortably in a virtually empty cinema, a suite of forthcoming titles preceded the main feature, including Peter Brook’s extraordinary Marat/Sade (1967), one of cinema’s greatest explorations of the Theatre of Cruelty. Another, I’m pretty sure, was for Fred Haines’ adaptation of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf (1974), cheek by jowl with Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg (1977). The most memorable, without a doubt, was the tempter for Éric Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois (1978). And it was the punctum that really blew my socks off.


As a student of medieval literature in 1979, it certainly appealed to me, especially the artifice of its ‘theatre as empty space’ aesthetic. Around that time I had recently seen Alfred Jarry’s Ubu performed in Melbourne by Peter Brook’s French-based Centre International de Créations Théâtrales at the old Channel 7 tele-theatre in nearby Collingwood. I never actually saw Perceval at that time, for reasons inexplicable to me now. I had certainly seen films that were effete and weird, like George Lucas’ dystopian THX 1138 (1971) or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal The Holy Mountain (1973). But the mnemonic experience of that foreshortened excerpt was like a solar flare, still burning just as brightly when I was invited to scribble for this project. Suffice to say I watched it, repeatedly, prior to the commencement of this text. It was an online version of very good quality, though not for download (available commercially on DVD, it regrettably demands a hefty price).


But I am glad I hadn’t watched the film until recently. For what had stayed with me over the years was the oneiric trace of nothing like I had ever seen in a cinema, especially a card-carrying art house of the inner city suburbs. Like a medieval mystery play, its highly stylised mise en scène was stripped to the bone. A latter day Everyman, in which characters were types rather than individuals (the ‘hero’, the ‘challenger’, etc), its set decoration resembled pantomime rather than naturalistic cinema. Ostensibly an interpretation of Chrétien de Troyes’ twelfth century re-telling of Parsifal’s pursuit of the Grail of Christ, it resembled a surreal, plastic world of cyphers; from its two-dimensional palaces in vivid pastel colours, the formulaic delivery of the story by fresco-like characters in action and song, to the thaumaturgy of its Lego-like trees. These fantastical arbors were an instance of the cinematic index stripped to its most austere; a Thomist avatar of treeness that was suggestive of the celluloid upon which this very image was written in analogue form. The spectacle of Parsifal riding his horse through a sculptural grove of such arborescence is as sharply defined for me today as when I saw it that night in 1979. Deferentially nodding to Jorge Luis Borges, nothing as trivial as the wind was going to disturb those ‘irreal’ leaves.


Parsifal looks startled throughout, at other times he is quizzical, as if – like us – he has stumbled into something about which he has no idea, nor what he is doing there, how to behave or to act. For someone interested in the materiality of cinema as a medium as well as an aesthetic form, this world couldn’t have been more sur-real. Flat and shot as if in an anechoic chamber, there was no atmospheric sound to suggest a persistent reality, a quiescence that was only punctuated by incidental or diegetic music. Imagine, then, a Tex Avery cartoon peopled by stereotypical characters from the 16th century commedia dell arte, combined with the pantomime aesthetic of Lindsay Kemp’s dance production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1983), and you get the idea.


Coda. The ‘gentleman’s lounge’ was far too louche a synonym for the cinema’s toilet. But it was there that I came across a discarded copy of the Valhalla’s six-month calendar/poster, read, no doubt, during an altogether different performance. Identifying the schedule for Perceval’s season, I scanned it for the obligatory hostage to be taken from an extended quote, written by no less a pornosophical authority than Penthouse. The film was described in luminous terms as one of ‘the most challenging entertainments you can see this year’. Challenging because it involved ‘a certain amount of mental work’. Quite an imprimatur for the latest film by Éric Rohmer, I thought, and from an unexpected source (Bob Guccione’s credentials were to be hung on Caligula, a soft-porn sword and sandal epic that would not be released on these shores for another two years). And for this, I was grateful. After many recent viewings preparatory to writing this text, it was, as the quote screamed out, ‘tremendously worth the effort’.


Donatella Valente

While Steno is well known as the auteur of the commedia all’Italiana in Italy, his comedies are little known internationally. Thus it is not surprising that his 1962 film Totò Diabolicus, which I picked up on DVD for a mere Euro in a second-hand shop in Rome, has no English subtitles.


In his book on Italian auteur Mario Bava, Tim Lucas described Steno’s film as a parody of the popular ‘fumetto nero’ Diabolik, a noir comic-book creation of sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani, whose first issue was published earlier the same year. The Giussanis’ creation eventually inspired Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968), a self-consciously comic adaptation steeped in pop-art iconography, in which the anti-hero (fashioned by the sisters after their favourite Hollywood actor, Robert Taylor), a handsome criminal turned amoral villain, was assisted by his equally attractive and sly side-kick, Eva Kant.


While Steno’s idea for Totò Diabolicus draws on this mysterious, black-clad character (which is also a reference to the Louis Feuillade’s 1913 film Fantômas), he turned this fascinating myth sourced from the pulp fiction genre on its head, by associating it with those fears overshadowing the apparent wellbeing of the rich. Through the wonderfully comedic interpretation of five brothers and one sister of the aristocratic di Torrealta family by popular Neapolitan comedian Totò (born Prince Antonio De Curtis), whose caricatures and marionette mannerisms originated in the Teatro della rivista (burlesque theatre) tradition, Steno creates a dark satire that dissects greed and amorality. The family’s hunt for money, power and lust are masterfully rendered by Toto’s recreation of stock characters typical of the commedia dell’arte tradition.


After the apparent stabbing of the criminal mastermind Marquis Galeazzo di Torrealta by Diabolicus, his brother, nostalgic fascist General Scipione (whose name echoes Mussolini’s colonial enterprises in North Africa), Professor Carlo, Monsignor Antonino, and Baroness, ‘black widow’ Laudomia are each in turn identified as the guilty party. But they will all be killed by Diabolicus, the single exception being Monsignore who donates Galeazzo’s inheritance to their illegitimate brother, Pasquale Bonocore, in prison. With the police’s help, the latter will eventually find the ‘real’ Diabolicus, his brother Galeazzo, who faked his own murder. This diabolical plot staged by different characters but played by the same actor also evokes the ‘remake’ in both theform and process of re-signification – by transforming and replicating an original idea.

On one level, Totò Diabolicus shares with the Giussani’s escapist fantasy the parody of a bourgeois taste for beauty and fashion; these escapist worlds of danger and stealth pandered to bored housewives’ fantasies of masculinity (echoing the fotoromanzo genre depicted in Fellini’s 1954 Lo Sceicco bianco), much as Eva’s alluring sensuality fed men’s visions of erotic and glamorous femininity. Steno’s ‘Diabolicus’ also satirised that society which, in the early 1960s, lived in the imaginary and illusionistic trappings generated by the economic ‘boom’. Steno’s Diabolicus is thus the opposite of the comic-book character, although he makes use of the black mask to ridicule fantasies of virility. Steeped in betrayals, hypocrisy, back-stabbing and poisoning, this mask is there only to generate a sense of parody played at the expense of that ‘cunning virility’, the butt of the Giussanis’ joke. In Steno’s film, this takes a more sinister turn; the phantasmatic ‘Diabolicus’ might really exist, albeit in the guise of the ‘debt collector’, haunting the aristocrats on the brink of an economic and moral precipice.


Steno’s parody of greed and phallocentric masculinity suggests a feminist approach to the representation of a patriarchy seen as hilariously confused but also comfortable in its shifting masks of self-mockery – thus echoing the anarchic Commedia dell’arte characters Pulcinella, Arlecchino and Pantalone. Steno also shares with the Giussani sisters an irreverence toward bourgeois social norms, as well as a critical attitude towards elitist cultural superiority. He ends up supporting a provocative, tongue-in-cheek, lowbrow culture existing on the fringes of the mainstream.


Belén Vidal

My two Euro movie story is not exactly the story of a great, accidental purchase. Regrettably, all the cheap VHS tapes and DVDs I’ve picked over the years turned out to be precisely that: cheap, forgettable trash – in my case, a lot of middlebrow trash. Let me offer instead a two-Euro movie story in the shape of a persistent memory of a film I accidentally stumbled upon late at night on television. In my defence, I will add that I spent the next ten years rummaging in remainder bins, on each trip to France, in the hope of getting hold of this gem for a ridiculous price. Now it’s out again and, despite its newly acquired trappings of respectability (2K restoration, Blu-ray edition), this ripe 1964 comedy remains as embarrassing a delight as it ever was.


Un Monsieur de compagnie (Male Companion) wrong-foots you from the word go. Antoine (Jean-Pierre Cassel) checks into a factory at dawn for what looks like another day of backbreaking, welding work. A close-up of his sweating brow dissolves into a sleeping Antoine; he wakes up, startled, and finds himself sitting by the riverside, next to his grandfather. The two men are wearing identical straw hats and pink shirts, and they are enjoying a lazy fishing afternoon. ‘Nounou, I had a nightmare – I dreamt that I had to work’. In voiceover, Antoine thanks his lucky star for the train accident that killed his parents and left him in the care of his grandfather, an indolent man who instilled in him only one principle: never exert yourself, for ‘only the effortless is divine’. When his grandfather dies, Antoine resolves to fend off any form of labour. Left without any other assets but his charm, Antoine thus becomes a male companion, taking pleasure in the pleasure of others.


Male Companion is a film that, like its main character, drives itself into extraordinary efforts in the defence of the dolce far niente as a philosophy of life. The tenuous plot spins out of a baroque choreography of escape: refusing to give in to any productive activity, Antoine runs, jumps, climbs, dances and glides as if his life depended on it. By 1964, Cassel had perfected a balletic repertoire of gestures cut to the measure of the fast-paced tempo of the films by Philippe De Broca, of which Male Companion is the last of four collaborations. By this point De Broca’s universe was itself bursting through the seams of its fabulous sets, here designed by Pierre Duquesne taking over from Bernard Evein. If De Broca’s films are all about masculine escape fantasies, here the fantasy is elevated to a way of life (also shared by financiers and other professions that peddle in smoke, as the film notes) and pursued through varied cosmopolitan settings, as Antoine randomly travels from Paris to Rome, to London and back to Paris again.


But it is Male Companion’s abrupt shifts of tone that leave the strongest aftertaste, like an overripe, exotic fruit whose intense sweetness bears a hint of rottenness. Romantic comedy flirts with homosocial farce (Antoine briefly enters a master-slave relationship with a Prince who has an obsession for toy train sets, played by a never campier Jean-Claude Brialy), and racy situations anticipate the kind of scenarios that would become commonplace in European sex comedies of the late ‘60s. The Italian section is particularly demented, with all credit due to Cassel for sailing through some excruciating jokes (one about unwanted erection while Antoine poses nude for an art class, another about his seduction of the underage daughters of an Italian millionaire) with his charm entirely unscathed.


What can possibly destroy this male fantasy? Enter Isabelle, played as a dreamlike vision by a Catherine Deneuve fresh off Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). Love is the only force that can stop Antoine dead in his tracks. Their chance encounter across trains moving in different directions is an unexpected moment of pure cinema, highlighted by Raoul Coutard’s bold use of Eastmancolor, anticipating the expressive heights of Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965). Nevertheless, unlike in most romantic films, love here means the threat of reality corroding the delicate fantasy that supports the hero’s sense of self, and thus the film’s whole raison d’être. Isabelle is a worker’s daughter, and in no time Antoine finds himself married, saddled with children, and checking into the factory every morning. Here the film chooses to escape the logic of its defeat through a temporal sleight of hand – an elegant narrative loop that provides the spectator with the ultimate escape by returning to the very first scene: Antoine wakes up once more next to his grandfather. ‘Nounou, I had a nightmare. I dreamt that I had to work …’ Only this time we know that love, and what love leads to – domesticity, habit, repetition: everything that De Broca abhorred in life – is part of the nightmare that plagues Antoine; the Real that the film’s fantasy needs to keep at bay with its illusion of perpetual movement.


Seen today, Male Companion seems a troubling oddity with regard to both the Nouvelle Vague and the French popular cinema of the ‘60s. Whereas De Broca’s That Man from Rio, released a few months earlier in 1964, was an unqualified hit that sprouted a whole sub-genre of intercontinental comedy adventures, Male Companion is a rather more baffling personal statement, washed over by the tide of the not-so-distant crisis of 1968. Possibly the best punchline in this strange comedy was its selection in 1965 by the Workers’ Film Festival in Czechoslovakia, established to promote the education of workers in line with the Communist Party’s programme. Who said Marxism didn’t have a sense of humour?


Andrey Walkling

It all started 16 years ago when I was a confused 12 year-old roaming around a university arts school – RMIT Media Arts. It was a place riddled with visual references and influences, which made it quite a strange place for a kid to be exploring. As I was walking around, I wandered into a turn-of-the-century, vintage computer lab filled with multi-coloured Apple logos, big, square monitors and a single poster for an anime film. The poster featured a man in the centre of a spider’s web surrounded by fantastic other-worldly creatures closing in on him. Above him were the omniscient eyes of a mysterious woman.


I was transfixed by this image. I had never seen anything like it before. It was wild, dark, complicated and intriguing – everything that I was looking for at the age of 12! But the one thing that I didn’t take note of was the title. Several weeks later, I went back to the computer lab and the poster was gone. This image of a film whose title I didn’t know haunted me for years. Every so often I would do a Google search to try and find it, without success. Fast forward quite a few years to 2015, when a friend of mine, who worked at Movie Reel video library in Westgarth, told me that the store was closing down and that I should come in and check out the DVDs that they were selling for throw-out prices.


As I was scanning the aisles for the prospective adoption of new DVDs for my collection, the image of the film that I’d almost forgotten reappeared in front of me. The omniscient female’s eyes were still hovering over the man caught in the spider’s web, and I now knew that this anime film was called Wicked City (Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1987). Little did I know that this movie that had haunted me is part of a genre of post-apocalyptic anime that I had been obsessively watching for all of that intervening time. 


Wicked City is probably best described as a hybrid horror/erotic/thriller that takes place between two worlds – the human world (a contemporary Tokyo) and the Black World – while the two worlds are in negotiations to sign a peace treaty, a process threatened by a fringe, demon faction.


I was also soon to find out that the omniscient eyes in the poster belonged to a woman who turned into an erotic spider-like succubus during intercourse. I’m not sure what I would have thought of the film if I’d watched it at 12, or for that matter what I could have imagined future sexual encounters to be like, but it made me reflect on the way that you find some films – or some films find you – at just the right time in your life.

Gabbi Werner

The other day, a friend brought me two Betamax video cassettes containing work of mine. I do not have a Betamax player, so it is quite a mystery to me as to what is on these tapes. However, to have been given back some solid evidence that I was once a filmmaker is in itself a miracle. 

I made numerous films for a travelling theatre festival, and lost all the copies. I am just the worst archivist on the planet. Here is my cry to you: if you ever find any of these films, please watch, and hopefully enjoy them. Let me know if you are now, or have been for some time, the owner – but do not let me watch them. I have a vague recollection of some of these short films, and may have forgotten others – probably with good reason. But even the few I do remember clearly and cherish the memory of, I do not want to see again. The films were made for the moment. Not to last.


Going to the movies is always about the moment, the time the filmmaker and viewer agree to have the audience enter a world that seems to be made just for them. Remember when the curtains actually opened before the film started? The lights would dim. ‘Hush! Welcome into your new world’. The theatre would make you forget everything in order to believe a new reality. 


This agreement, between the filmmaker and the audience, to believe in one another, in the safe darkness of the cinema, is what movies are about. 


It is OK if you cry during the opening sequence or, as a matter of fact, through the whole film: the theatre itself could not care less, it does not even realise you are there. Nor does the filmmaker. Maybe he or she wonders who is watching his film today, maybe he’s out getting some groceries; but you, the audience, have the attention of a whole film just for yourself. 


Long gone are the days of the carnival, the Lumière brothers, when film was spectacle and not art. The sensation back then was not the storyline, nor a cinematographic pleasure: it was seeing life, larger than itself. 


Films were not shown in cinemas in the early days, they were considered seedy, and often were. They were shown at fun fairs, with bearded ladies and sword eaters as their neighbours. 


During my days as a three-Euro-movie entrepreneur, I was a neighbour to side-show theatre myself. Every day in summer, I would take my little cash box, my VHS player, the freshly-made film – for I made a new movie on a daily basis – and venture to my beautiful circus tent which could hold 37 people at one go.


Every rule I enjoyed as a movie watcher so much, I broke on those hot, summer nights. The circus tent was not quiet, since there were other performances at the festival. My movies often had no storyline whatsoever; they would be lucky to have a punchline. I had to lure people into the tent in order to have them watch what I had conjured up for them, and I hardly suspect that any of the viewers had an experience close to the people who saw the first Lumière films. 


But I was enchanted. For, by breaking the rule of not being actively part of the screening, I gained something quite special: dialogue. Some people wanted their money back, for instance. That is dialogue, in a way. Others found my work interesting (they said), and then left to get some lukewarm rosé wine. A few people actually liked what I did, and would come back the next day. They wanted to know what would happen next. What I would make up the next time. Some, then, even started to act in the following episodes. The audience and I became a community – a crew, so to speak.


This was my life for about seven summers in a row. Getting up in the morning, editing what I had shot the day before, hardly using dialogue (a camera I could hold and operate, a boom I could not – and with the noise from the festival, it was no use anyhow). So I often went back to the old black-and-white film techniques: using subtitles or text cards instead of dialogue. Then off, shooting new footage in the afternoon, showing the product of the previous day in the evening. 


The movies actually did become successful after a couple of seasons: the audiences became larger, as did the budget. The festival gave me a new tent, now holding 84 people per viewing. I only made four films that summer. With a real crew and cast. My project had grown up. It had become film. The lights would fade, perfect darkness. The audience would hush. And I sat outside, looking at the queue. The entrance fee remained the same, however. 


Deane Williams

I can’t recall if I’d heard about The Slim Dusty Movie (Rob Stewart, Australia, 1984) before I found a VHS copy in a bargain bin at my local video store, but it was a startling revelation. The blurb on the cover describing it as ‘a Country and Western musical’ had me immediately. Part docu-backstage musical, part postmodern (this is the mid ‘80s!) road movie, the film works away at affirming Australian Country and Western star Slim Dusty’s mythical status through gorgeously rich 35mm and stylised mise en scène. It eschews traditional documentary form (voice-over, explanatory cutaways, et al) and employs historical re-enactments, elliptical transitions in a loose narrative of episodes (this is four years before Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line) that oscillate between the past (1930s–‘70s) to the present, including many live performances as well as the participation of its central figure. The Slim Dusty Movie appeared just as the Australian landscape genre began to decline in popularity; this, in tandem with its specific subject matter, may have led to its going missing in most (city-located) Australian and global audiences.


Tami Williams

My summer bargain bin DVD is an erotic, kitschy, petit Technicolor bijou: Denys de la Patellière’s Caroline Chérie (Dear Caroline), a 1968 Franco-Italian-West German co-production with a star-studded cast (Vittorio De Sica, Bernard Blier, Charles Aznavour and Jean-Claude Brialy). One of several postwar adaptations of the homonymic romance by Cécil de Saint Laurent, (1) including the 1951 release admonished by Cahiers du cinéma critic and future Nouvelle Vague cineaste François Truffaut as ‘beloved, capricious, and dry as a desert’, (2) this 1968 adaptation, on an Italian release DVD, offers more than just guilty pleasure.

After a brief glimpse of its coquettish heroine (France Anglade) through a duo of vanity mirrors, this quirky little patchwork, discovered chez les bouquinistes of Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato, reveals a rich brocade of intertexts and allegories, ripe with sensibility and desire. It opens with a long, tracking shot through a palatial French garden, where aristocrats flirt with demoiselles donning low-cut, pastel dresses and parasols. In the midst of this scene, a young woman floats to the sky in a tree swing evocative of a Renoir tableau or a Renoir fils film. The body of the female protagonist, Caroline, soaring, rising and then falling through the air, can be read as metaphor for la patrie, a nation-state in transition – just as its cast, crew and style point to a cinema in transition.


In this playful yet cautionary erotic tale, the nubile kitten Caroline, who celebrates her 16th birthday on the dawn of the French revolution (14 juillet 1789), embarks on a spirited if perilous mission to reunite with her ‘first love’, Gaston de Sallanches (François Guérin). Against the backdrop of abstract, colour-tinted battle scenes, spanning the period of the French Revolution (1789) and First Republic (1792) leading to the Napoleonic Empire (1804), this 1968-saturated tapestry interweaves the nation’s tumult with the voluptuousness of Caroline’s spontaneous bedroom adventures, exposed through proscenium arch doorways. The film’s constantly unravelling threads of nudity, of dressing and undressing (and cross-dressing), concealed and revealed by the breathy buoyancy of rising veils and falling beaded curtains, punctuated by probing ogles, winks and nods, meandering hands, and perfectly hung moons, are capped with the patriotic flair of fluttering flags, a women’s judiciary, explosions and cheers.


Indeed, in this carnal insurrection, sensually shot by left bank darling Sacha Vierny (l’Opéra Mouffe, Hiroshima mon amour, L’Année dernière à Marienbad, Belle de Jour, The Cook, The Thief …) on the precipice of 1960s cinema’s own sexual revolution (cf. Warhol’s Blue Movie, 1969), Anglade flaunts her ‘proto-feminist’ determination, and her aspirational Bardot-ness, as the film’s conflicted and capricious sex-object.

Caroline’s erotic expedition figures as both a survivalist currency of exchange and a source of feminine expressivity and deliverance. Yet, her excursion can also be read film-historically, as it is Caroline’s father, played by Italian neo-realist pioneer De Sica, who first releases her, and the film’s inaugural style, to a succession of adventures amoureuses. This theatrically-staged film’s stylistic flings with aesthetic realism in the plein air prologue, and with self-conscious abstraction in the Technicolor-tinted and toned battle-scene tableaux, are capped off by a wanton encounter with controversial revolutionary figure Robespierre, played by Nouvelle Vague idol and Truffaut darling, Jean-Pierre Léaud. 

In this 1960s film context where reflexivity and intertextuality reign, Léaud’s character takes advantage of a fainting Caroline on a satin-lined bedroom suite, cushioned by fluffy bed pillows, in what reveals itself to be a ‘hotel of terror’ – before being beheaded, sent to the very guillotine, that ‘tool of virtue’ he once promoted. In this late ‘60s call to arms, Caroline Chérie leads her own revolution. While the sudden return of her beloved sparks a period of turmoil, the heroine forges ahead, eventually reuniting with her true love, in a nation on the dawn of a new empire. All considered, this two-Euro DVD historical confection is well worth its cost, and even better after multiple viewings.


Go back to Two Dollar Movie, Part 1

Go back to Two Dollar Movie, Part 2


1.The 1968 film is adapted from the first novel in a Caroline Chérie trilogy by Saint Laurent, who penned Lola Montès (1955) among other classics. Earlier cinematic incarnations of the novel include Caroline Chérie/Dear Caroline (Richard Pottier, 1951), adapted by Jean Anouilh; and Un Caprice de Caroline Chérie (Jean Devaivre, 1953), both starring Martine Carol.  Not surprisingly, in the 1955 Le Fils de Caroline Chérie/Caroline and the Rebels directed by Devaivre, Carol is replaced by rising star Brigitte Bardot.

2. In a 1953 review of Niagara, Truffaut (under the pseudonym Robert Lachenay) lambasts the original 1951 Pottier film: ‘I would probably surprise Cécil Saint-Laurent – who, recently, in Cinémonde, compared (to his own advantage) the adaptations of Caroline chérie and Le journal d’un curé de campagne – if I declared that there is more eroticism (to my thinking) in the three minutes of Les dames du bois de Boulogne when Elina Labourdette, all dressed up, seated in a chair, raises her bare legs one after the other in order to better slip over them those silky pre-nylon stockings, and her garment is then covered over with the ingenious raincoat — more eroticism, I say, than in all of Caroline, beloved, capricious, and dry as a desert’ (translation and emphasis mine), Cahiers du cinéma, no. 28 (November 1953, pp. 60-61).









© the authors, 2016.
Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors.