Adam Fresco works in film, theatre and TV as a writer, director, producer, performer and professional acting coach. Born in London, he arrived in Auckland a decade ago, having worked in professional British Theatre and TV. The Director of DramaTrain.co.nz and Producer for Imagine Studios NZ, Adam is a self-confessed film nut. He regularly reviews for Flicks.co.nz and Planet FM’s Kick Arts. Adam wishes to be cremated – but only once he’s dead. Here are five films that stay with him…
Hollywood is often referred to as ‘The Dream Factory’ and all movies are, in their own way, dreams. Waking dreams. Dreams of a better world. Nightmares of a worse one. Calls to think and confront what is, or entertainment escape hatches, designed as distractions from waking life. Here then are five films that, no matter how hard I try to sleep, stay with me, colouring my dreams.
1 – Brazil: An Orwellian satire, shot in 1984 and originally titled 1984½. Co-penned by playwright Tom Stoppard, featuring the lovable Python, Michael Palin, as a sociopathic civil service torturer, Robert De Niro, barely recognizable behind odd goggles as a terrorist plumber, and Bob Hoskins, drowning in human sewage. Surreal, cartoony art direction, homes, shops and offices full of pipes, ducts and steampunked 1940s technology. Wild and wacky detail that rewards repeated viewings, from posters aimed at subduing the populace (“Suspicion breeds Confidence”), to a Christmas shopper carrying a banner emblazoned with the legend: “Consumers for Christ”. A Michael Kamen score almost entirely consisting of variations on the main melody of the upbeat calypso-inspired song, “Brazil”, in a movie so darkly pessimistic that the studio recut the ending to create the now notorious “Love conquers all” version. A movie with a fascinating and controversial history, making the documentary The Battle of Brazil, a must-see in its own right. Hugely influential, enormously imaginative, highly rewatchable, Brazil is a fabulous, frantic and furiously funny fever dream. Few films have its scope, vision, ambition and staying-power. For me, it ranks up there with the likes of Welles’ Citizen Kane, Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Spielberg and Kubrick’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Scorsese’s Casino, and The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer’s Cloud Atlas. I hate to name one movie above all others as being the greatest, but, subjective as my dreams are, it’s pretty hard to top Brazil.
2 – Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans: This 1927 American movie, by German director F.W. Murnau, may be silent but, using the new Fox Movietone system, it holds the distinction of being the first feature film with synchronized sound effects and music. As revolutionary and visionary as Orson Welles’ brilliant 1941 debut, Citizen Kane. An expressionistic masterpiece, featuring enormous stylized sets and chock-full of cinematic innovations, from the groundbreaking cinematography, stunning tracking shots, and forced perspective that employs everything from dwarves in the background and giant light bulbs in the foreground to create the illusion of depth. The tales of its making are no less fascinating than the finished film, from workers hired to glue thousands of leaves to leafless trees, to lead actor George O’Brien wearing lead-weighted boots to help convey his being weighed down by guilt. Containing technical wizardry and camera techniques that reinvented cinema, creating dreamlike visual imagery that raise a simple tale to the level of timeless tragedy. When it comes to putting dreams on screen, there are worthy contenders, from Todd Browning’s Freaks to Michel Gondry’s glorious depiction of the Charlie Kaufman penned, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but for sheer dreamy cinematic beauty, Sunrise is hard to outshine.
3 – Wild At Heart: Like dreams, movies are often surreal smorgasbords of images, ideas and odd episodes. From Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and Jean-Luc Goddard’s Weekend, through the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound, to Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, surreal movies stay with me. None more so than David Lynch’s adaptation of Barry Gifford’s Sailor and Lulu tale, Wild At Heart. A love story, a road movie, an allegory, a modern take on The Wizard of Oz, a violent homage to Elvis movies, a bad trip with a great cast, featuring the likes of Nic Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd and Harry Dean Stanton, and a soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti. Alongside the likes of the Tarantino scripted, Tony Scott directed, True Romance, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream, and Abel Ferrara’s King of New York, this is a cinematic ride on the wild side, with characters, scenes and images that, once through my ear-holes and eyeballs, refuse to leave my subconscious. For my tastes, it’s easily as much twisted fun as Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, as tightly directed as Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, as entertaining as David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, as visceral as Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy, as bat-shit crazy as Takashi Miike’s Lesson of the Evil, and as thrilling as Luc Besson’s Léon. Lynch’s Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive all stayed with me, but it’s Wild At Heart that continues to make the most indelible impression on my dreams.
4 – All That Jazz: There are precious few musicals that rock my boat. Bob Fosse’s Cabaret is an all-time favourite, but it’s his semi-autobiographical movie, All That Jazz, that sticks with me. Fosse was going crazy editing his biopic of Lenny Bruce (starring Dustin Hoffman), just as his director alter-ego, Joe Gideon, (Roy Scheider as brilliant as he ever was in Jaws, The French Connection and Marathon Man), is going crazy editing a movie, whilst imbibing colossal quantities of pharmaceuticals, cigarettes and booze. A frenzied fever dream, borrowing liberally from the likes of Fellini’s similarly autobiographical 8½, this is a frenzied depiction of an artist overworking body, heart and soul to the point of collapse. Featuring steamy choreography, surreal all-the-world’s-a-stage set pieces, and dazzling editing. A literal dance with death, this is the only director’s dream of a movie of a dream that out dazzles Christopher Nolan’s Inception. For me it’s a musical dream that’s only equaled by the likes of Todd Haynes’ Bowie, Iggy and Lou inspired Velvet Goldmine, Lars von Trier’s Bjork-starring Dancer in the Dark, or Alan Parker’s film of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. With songs, dance routines and open-heart surgery scenes, All That Jazz stays with me – an egomaniac’s dream.
5 – Evil Dead 2: Splatstick is that uneasy mix of gore-filled horror and knockabout comedy that I just love. From Peter Jackson’s gloriously blood-soaked Braindead, to Norweigan sequel Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, and the over-the-top gore of splatstick scenes in Tarantino movies, I can’t help giggling. Top of the list for me is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn. One of my all-time favourite comedies, alongside the likes of The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Woody Allen’s Sleeper, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and rock doc satire, This is Spinal Tap. Bruce Campbell as Ash is comedy horror gold and the scene in which he attacks himself with a possessed hand is pure Buster Keaton. This is one of those dreams that, no matter how many times it recurs, has me laughing myself awake. Rarely is action this much fun, unless it’s John McTiernan’s Die Hard, or John Woo’s Hard Boiled. Rarely is horror this entertaining, unless it’s John Carpenter’s The Thing, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects or Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek 2. Love it? I named my son Ash after Evil Dead 2 and can’t wait till he’s old enough to enjoy Sam Raimi’s splatstick masterclass in all its morbid madness.