The big complaint at this year’s San Diego Comicon, apparently, is that too many big budget movies are cloned from superhero effects extravaganzas and don’t have good stories to tell – but there are good films made in Hollywood, even if it seems they only appear by luck sometimes. Having said that, only two of these films are US-made, in another six interesting underrated films that I didn’t get around to mentioning in ‘Film Freak’.
Stephen Soderberg’s take on the Czech Republic’s favourite son is typically idiosyncratic, as it simultaneously tells the story of Kafka (Jeremy Irons) within a situation worthy of one of his anti-heroes. It helps if you know about Kafka’s family life and colleagues, as the film is packed with subtle nods and jokes.
Lars Von Trier’s early film is one of his most accessible, as a train attendant (Jean-Marc Barr) takes a job on a night express, only to fall foul of a femme fatale and the company of ‘werewolves’ who control the train. The twist is in the telling; the film uses every cinematic device imaginable, from split colour to lush, hyper-romantic back-projection, and is presented as an exercise in hypnotic suggestion.
‘The Nasty Girl’ (1990)
Another exercise in breaking cinematic form, on a more serious subject. A young German girl decided to write a class essay about what the members of her town did during the war, and starts to uncover disturbing truths about their collaboration with the Nazis. It’s told with elegant cinematic trickery.
This virtually unseen Hungarian film means ‘hiccup’, and certainly features a hiccupping man, but it’s a murder mystery told almost entirely without words. A village wakes up and goes about its day. A police car visits houses. The townsfolk meet and try to work out what’s going on. All of this is seen from afar, or in extreme close-up, or in process shots – and the only dialogue line (sung) reveals the killer.
‘Allegro Non Troppo’ (1976)
This Italian parody of ‘Fantasia’ is structured in the same manner as Disney’s classic, but has an orchestra of charladies and a single harassed artist attempting to draw to their music. He conjures stories to match a host of composers including Debussy and Ravel, including the creation of life on another planet, formed from a discarded Coke bottle – beautiful.
‘American Pop’ (1981)
Ralph Bakshi is remembered primarily for ‘Fritz the Cat’ but sought to expand the boundaries of animation in many ways. His attack on ‘The Hobbit’ was well-intended but ahead of its time in terms of technology, with rotoscoped characters – basically he was trying to invent CGI before computer technology. This film is the bridge and is his best work, a potted history of 20th century music that starts with the ethnic cleansing of Russian Jews and ends with Ziggy Stardust, told through one family’s experiences in America.