After a long hiatus, we’re back with these thoughts on the “Loot Our Closet” featurettes the Criterion Collection puts out whenever they invite an interesting film artist to raid their overstock closet. The most recent is with director Lucrecia Martel, whose work we’re not familiar with, but we plan to be.
A fascinating point is that Martel refers to some of the films she has selected as “b-movies”, and rightly so they are and this is what we truly enjoy about the Criterion Collection — they present films that have left a mark, and many times the b-film is where artists could stretch and make that happen. B-films were usually toss-aways by the studios and/or producers, so we know they weren’t supervised too tightly because the budgets weren’t that high and the marquee stars weren’t involved… or they were independent films done prior to the heyday of independent cinema from the ’70s through the ’90s. This gave filmmakers the chance to be gonzo and experiment with the form, and the results were sometimes stunning and inspired work; the kind of films that are difficult to get financed in the 21st century because the economics and the expectations are entirely different and, one could argue, more limiting. One would hope a place like Netflix would section off around $75m (of its annual $8bn content spend) to fund wackjob films, but if you listen to Netflix’s corporate message most of its subscribers do not watch movies; they watch TV series, s0 it’s unlikely this experimental cinema arm would happen.
Martel selects the French horror classic EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which she laments because it’s the kind of intelligent horror that has disappeared as the economics, the spreadsheet expectations, and the algorithm have trimmed out of existence. EYES WITHOUT A FACE is certainly an interesting film, primarily because it lacks the sensationalism, a hallmark, if not prerequisite of American (and Japanese) horror — and brutality, giving the story room to examine the human condition in a nuanced and disturbing way. In a sense, it’s similar to PEEPING TOM when compared to PYSCHO (but that’s another post in itself, so let’s table that), when holding it up the other contemporary horror films and their descendants (as we clearly know the descendants of PSYCHO).
Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE is an eerie tale that isn’t really a horror film but a love story with fantastical elements at its core; sort of like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (which she selects over 400 BLOWS; film tilts more toward love story than horror). All those Val Lewton horror flicks were atmospheric and stripped down emotional gut punches.
Cassavetes’ LOVE STREAMS gets a nod; everyone has their favorite from the iconic grandfather of modern American independent films, and this does deserve to be in every filmmakers’ collection. What’s still astounds me is how John worked with Gena in so many emotionally-charged projects and their marriage didn’t self-destruct.
Martel’s admiration for CARNIVAL OF SOULS is most interesting! That’s a piece of cinema that requires repeat watching. There are too many elements to it that open up your sensibilities, as a filmmaker, that it’s a shame that it’s not part of the typical conversations, even the atypical conversations, of obscure/less-celebrated films. James Wan and David Lynch mine from it regularly.
Until next time…