What Wednesday is where I talk about what I’m watching, reading, playing, listening to, because for some reason I think that might interest you. Today I watch some old as crap movies with the Criterion Collection–a Hitchcock war propaganda film, two of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen, and the most terrifying movie you ever saw as a kid (no, not The Brave Little Toaster).
What I’m Watching: Old as crap movies. And lots of them. I love a good old movie. It’s a perfect time capsule of that time period’s fears, morals, values. What were the 90s if not a really extended version of Clueless. One of my favorite ways to watch old movies is with the Criterion Collection, a lovingly curated collection of historically and artistically significant movies; aka old and artsy fartsy. (Though it has plenty that are neither–like the high art classic Armageddon!) I got Stanley Kubrick’s anti-war film Paths of Glory for Christmas a couple years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The collection is a great mix of under appreciated gems and beloved classics, and each movie comes excellently packaged, with stellar original art and in-depth special features. During the month of July, Barnes and Noble takes 50% off all of their Criterion movies, so I indulged my inner-collector nerd and picked up 4 new ones: a couple of horror classics I’ve never seen, a lesser known movie from the thriller master, and a kids animated movie that terrified the crap out of me as a kid…and as an adult.
Eraserhead, directed by David Lynch (1977): Let’s get this one out of the way first: WWHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAA??? Whoa boy, was I not ready for this thing. I like Twin Peaks, but I’ve never watched one of David Lynch’s films, so I had no idea what to expect. Eraserhead is about as indescribable a film as I’ve ever seen. It has no solid plot; no solid, definable characters; no solid anything, really. Just lots of moodiness, like a cracked out Terrence Malick horror movie. That said…I don’t think I actually hated it. Well, I don’t know how I feel exactly, which is probably what the movie is going for anyways. The music is pretty awesome, though. Some Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor stuff right there.
Foreign Correspondent, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1940): A fairly by the book political thriller with a few memorable scenes, Foreign Correspondent usually doesn’t make the list of classic Hitchcock films, but it still has its share of Hitchcockian flair. Besides having one of the first filmed examples of enhanced torture techniques (i.e. bright lights, sleep deprivation, loud music), it’s mainly notable for being a 100% legit propaganda piece: released shortly before America entered World War II, it not so subtly argued that Americans could no longer stay on the sidelines. At that time, the Defense Department was literally telling Hollywood the kinds of movies they should make and what they could say about the war. Foreign Correspondent was less overt than most, but even so, an impassioned “we must fight!” speech was added at the last minute to the end of the movie. To its credit, the rest of the movie is more entertaining and less preachy. As a Hitchcock film, it’s slightly above average; as a propaganda film from the early 40s, it’s pretty darned good.
Watership Down, directed by Martin Rosen (1978): If you like your kids movies bloody, depressing, and dripping with political and social commentary, Watership Down is your movie. If you saw it as a kid, you either vividly remember the intense violence and death, or you suppressed the movie deep within your subconscious so you wouldn’t have nightmares the rest of your life. Childhood trauma aside, the film, like the book it’s based on, is incredibly well done, emotionally dense, and a powerful allegory for freedom in the face of tyranny. So like a good Ayn Rand. And while the topics it tackles are heavy, it’s done in a way that is very respectful to children. I’ve never seen a kids movie that handles death in such a healthy way. I mean, it ends *spoiler* with the death of the main character on screen, but without either being totally depressing or unrealistically happy. That’s a hell of a trick to land.
Videodrome, directed by David Cronenberg (1983): Though Eraserhead caught me off guard, this one didn’t. I knew going in what I was getting with a Cronenberg movie: gross out body horror with a cynical message. And that’s exactly what I got with Videodrome: a freaky horror movie with intense scenes of violence and torture, coupled with some trenchant insight on mass media and control. It’s impressive how well this movie and its effects hold up over 30 years later, as well as some of its predictions, like the rise of reality TV and our own digital identities. If you can cope with the freaky stuff, it’s well worth a watch.