Tim Beatson is one of the Staff behind the Counter at Videon, Auckland’s 35 year-running Independent Video Library, where he dispenses recommendations and sarcasm in equal measure, in between adding to the Library’s catalogue and ordering more toner for the printer. Here are five films that have stayed with him…
Lists are not a strong point for me. A list of five – in my hands, at least – rapidly mutates into a list of 500-odd with seemingly little effort. I am not the person you want itinerising your next camping holiday. So when Simon extended the invitation to contribute to his Five Films That Stay with Me, I felt a curious mix of terror and elation, much like when one reads about another Happy Madison picture bombing in the Box Office – You won’t have to see Sandler’s Mug on the side of a bus anymore, but you will have to watch your inbox for increasingly desperate attempts on behalf of whoever scored the distribution rights. Or maybe that’s how Simon feels when he asks people to do this – I digress.
This time I just went with the 500 and whittled it down slowly.
1 – Snowtown: Released in 2011, Snowtown didn’t seem to have quite the impact that David Michod’s Animal Kingdom had the previous year, which is curious as in many ways it’s a far superior watch in my opinion – especially considering it lacks the ‘Star Power’ of Animal Kingdom. Few of the cast were known names at the time of filming, including breakout member Daniel Henshall, who brought a chilling intensity to his role as John Bunting yet managed the not small feat of making a man out of someone that the media and urban myth had made utterly monstrous. Snowtown was utterly committed to portraying its key players without bias and achieves it aims magnificently. Whether you want to or not you will begin to empathise with the plight of its characters as they are slowly drawn in to the vortex of Bunting’s very ordinary brand of evil. This is the film’s genius in many respects: Snowtown does not distort its characters or reduce them to any kind of B-Movie cliche, it captures the paralysing ennui of suburbia and the mindless, bored cruelty that can develop in these environments and the terrible, terrible consequences of that boredom in the hands of a masterful manipulator. The fact that it’s beautifully shot doesn’t hurt either. I can’t watch Snowtown very often – maybe three times since its release – but it seared itself into my psyche from the first viewing.
2 – Suspiria: Argento pretty much sucks now, it’s a given. The general consensus seems to be that while the man can craft a masterful shot, his inability to script characters with any kind of depth and lack of interest in directing his cast means it’s largely down to whether his leads are committed to their performance or simply treating it as a paycheck (I’m looking at you, Adrien Brody…) as far as the performances go. Suspiria is considered the man’s masterpiece and earned him the somewhat unjustified ‘Italian Hitchcock’ sobriquet. He is not, put simply. Suspiria is however a masterpiece of film, from the clashing discordance of Goblin’s fantastic score to the garish palette of deep blues and vivid reds that saturate many of its key scenes to the gorgeous locations it is shot in, there is so much to love about this film you can forgive the somewhat hammy performances of the cast. Suspiria has never been topped, not by its Director at least which is unfortunate considering it is part of trilogy (entitled ‘The Three Mothers’ – the other films are Inferno; which is saddled with a dizzying Keith Emerson score and some appalling lapses in editing quality including a scene where an actor is attacked by cats and you can clearly see a hapless production assistants hand in shot hurling said cats and The Mother Of Tears, which is simply a screaming hot mess of a film)
3 – The Thing (1982): John Carpenter has likewise been off the boil for more than a minute (seen The Ward? – Don’t.), but I would not be being true to myself if I did not include this brilliant exploration of paranoia masquerading as a Science Fiction film in this top five list. Rob Bottins practical effects work set the bar for future SFX Artists and Carpenter deftly ratchets up the tension as one by one the hapless crew the American Antartic Research Outpost 31 are assimilated and used as camoflage by a voracious alien biology. While Carpenter is a huge fan of the original Hawks/Nyby ’51 version of John W. Campbell Jrs. novella Who Goes There? It’s his version that captures the creeping dread of the source material most faithfully – there are a number of apocryphal rumours that Hawks intended his version to somehow serve as a commentary on the hysteria gripping the United States under Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House UnAmerican Activities Commission – but it was Carpenter who nailed that Paranoia definitively 31 years later, only to have it thoroughly pantsed at the Box Office by Steven Spielberg’s equally horrific paean to an extra terrestrial that looked like a scrotum.
4 – La Haine: Many people will be more familiar with Mathieu Kassovitz in his role as an actor, from films such as Amelie and Munich, so it’s easy to forget that he’s an accomplished Director (if you discount Gothika, also Babylon A.D) and La Haine/Hate is the film that introduced him to audiences outside of his native France. It also brought one of its principles – Vincent Cassel – no small amount attention too. La Haine just fires on all levels, featuring riveting performances and some incredible cinematography, including one particular shot which traverses the housing estate that the central characters call home: initially it seems to be a crane shot, but the camera rapidly travels beyond the scope of any crane available at the time and was later revealed to have been accomplished via a camera mounted on a remote control helicopter. A scene where Cassel’s Vinz channels Travis Bickle in his bedroom mirror was filmed with Cassel facing out at a double, effectively acting his own reflection. The DJ performing the scratch routine that accompanies the aforementioned remote shot was French DJ Cut Killer of premier French hip hop crew Assassin, cutting up his own track Nique La Police with BDP’s Sound Of Da Police and the film took its inspiration from the death in custody of a Zairian youth who was killed while handcuffed and in custody by the accidental discharge of an officer’s firearm while the officer was intimidating him. Abdel’s beating (and subsequent death), which provides the impetus that drives the plot was also based in fact: The death by beating of a student protestor at the hands of riot police during the 1986 student riots. La Haine was hailed as a scathing indictment of the institutionalised racism at the core of French politics on its release and while that’s easy enough and lazy enough for most critics, there is a very authentic sense of rage that powers this film and it still seems just as authentic today.
5 – Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb: There are many Kubrick films, and this is one of them. Out of all of the films Ol’ Stan made Dr. Strangelove is my favourite because no film better encapsulates the dangerous posturing and utter absurdity of the Cold War and post-Cold War era. I grew up pretty much convinced that the whole shebang could disappear in a flash at the press of a button controlled by a fundamentalist b-movie actor with a thing for co-starring with chimps (possibly the only other talent available that was incapable of showing up his dramatic shortcomings), so Dr. Strangelove went some distance toward defusing that anxiety by simply confirming my belief and demonstrating that there is good reason to view authority critically and skeptically, because the point – much as it is in Chris Morris’ excellent Four Lions, which contemporised and flipped Strangelove’s P.O.V in many ways and which I view to be as a kind of modern successor – is sometimes these figures are childish petulant berks. Plus “Gentlemen! You cannot fight in the War Room!” is possibly one of the best lines ever written.
There are always more films, and I hope there always will be. Cinema is one the greatest means of bringing meaning to a world which more often than not can seem random and capricious and cruel, especially in our current climate. despite the prevalent “If it bleeds, It leads”, dollar driven commodity obsessed climate we seem to occupy, cinema offers an opportunity to view the world through a different lens – forces us to adopt a different perspective and can leave us changed. Change is good.
Made it Ma, Top of the World.