The Great Watchlist Purge of 2021: A Springtime Progress Report
After publishing the original post on January 14, this is my three-month progress report on the Great Watchlist Purge of 2021. The watchlist had seventy-two titles in it when I made a resolution to try to whittle down this self-imposed cinematic to-do list. I’ve long had a habit to noting and stockpiling books, movies, whatever makes me think, “That could be cool, I need to look at later.” Then it gets out of hand . . .
The good news is that I’ve found and watched twenty-two of the seventy-two films from the original January list, and have only given up on four as being either unavailable or unwatchable. Of the twenty-one, two were from the 1960s, eleven from the ’70s, four from the ’80s, and five from the 2010s. I started out with movies that were readily available, ones streaming on Prime mainly, then searched other sources. Though it took a little effort, I was glad to find some of these films after believing they might not be available. The streaming service Tubi usually requires a subscription but has a watch-ads option on its Roku app. I found several of the films there. And a few appeared free on YouTube, surprisingly. Below are a few notes on the titles I’ve watched, with notes in gray.
Mickey Rourke was not terribly convincing as Saint Francis, though Helena Bonham Carter did a good job in this movie. Told as a frame story, the action moves back and forth between past and present, as Francis’ early followers remember him. Good way to tell the story, I guess.
Born to Win (1971)
Born to Win tells a sad story in an episodic way. Karen Black is also in the film and plays the character I feel like I’ve seen her play a lot: the girl whose guy can’t act right and doesn’t treat her very well. The ending was particularly disappointing, didn’t resolve anything, and just left the main character sitting there.
Bruges-Le-Morte had a very 1970s feel to it. It was slow-paced, sometimes awkward, and, in some scenes, surreal and creepy. This extremely straight-laced guy gets sucked in by a group of carnies because he thinks he sees his wife, who he believes to be dead. It becomes kind of like that Bob Dylan song “Ballad of a Thin Man”— what have you gotten yourself into, Mr. Jones?
Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? (2013)
I watched some of this documentary on Noam Chomsky because he always has interesting ideas, even if I don’t agree with them. The animation was stellar, but there was one glaring problem: it was very difficult to hear and understand what was being said. The director speaks with a thick French accent, and Chomsky mumbles. It stinks since I was more interested in Chomsky’s ideas than the director’s animation, but what I got was the opposite.
Quiet Days in Clichy (1970)
This movie was rambling, raunchy, and filthy, like the book. Unlike Rip Torn in Tropic of Cancer, the guy who played Henry Miller this time actually looked like him. I’ll also add: I was surprised to see that Country Joe McDonald (of “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” fame) made this movie. The soundtrack began with his music, but later switched to jazz for some reason, then ended with acid rock. The majority of the movie was sex scenes and walking around Paris.
The Wicker Man (1973)
This was a well-done thriller. I wouldn’t classify it as horror, since the premise was more suspenseful than frightening. It’s very British, with a stiff-upper-lip police officer trying to goad a passel of odd, uncooperative villagers into telling him what he needs to know. Ultimately, he wishes he didn’t find out what he came to find out . . .
The Baby (1973)
If I didn’t enjoy weird ’70s horror movies, I’d have turned this one off pretty quickly. But it had all the things that make people like me enjoy ’70s horror movies: bad acting, a bizarre premise, cheap effects. The ending was unexpected, I will say that for the movie.
Heavy Traffic (1973)
I had seen Heavy Metal before, but never Fritz the Cat, so I had little background in how gritty and harsh Bakshi’s portrayals of urban life were. This movie is basically about a young white guy who draws cartoons and who wants to have this one particular black woman in the neighborhood to be his girlfriend. The opening and closing portions are live action, but the majority of the film is animated. It’s one man’s perspective on the inner city in the 1970s. I watched it all the way through but probably won’t watch it again, and wouldn’t really recommend it.
Six Pack (1982)
When I found a way to watch this movie, I made my wife and kids watch it with me. Of course, my wife was enthusiastic, remembering it from our childhood, but my kids were clearly bored. Sure, Six Pack is dated and cheesy but it also brought back great memories. I can remember my dad busting a gut laughing when the mouthy kid says that Brewster has gone “to shake the dew off his lily.” This movie is very Gen-X in the Deep South, and that’s why I like it.
The Sky is Gray (1980)
This short film had a very made-for-TV/classroom-use feel. There wasn’t much to it. At only forty-five minutes long, it’s a screen version of a short story. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that the story was better than the adaptation.
The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds (1970)
Not only is Paul Zindel’s stage play really powerful, it won a Pulitzer Prize, so I would have thought that they’d stick closer to the actual script. This film was kind of like when you see “based on true events” and know that they’ve changed whatever they felt like changing. It might have been based on Zindel’s play, but I’m not even sure that it should have had the same title. I expected better.
Boxcar Bertha (1972)
Boxcar Bertha is based on the autobiography of a real woman who lived through the Depression. This adaptation was an early ’70s crime movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Given the cast – David Carradine, Barbara Hershey – and the director, I expected the movie to be sharp. But it wasn’t. It was cheesy and felt forced.
Pink Motel (1982)
This movie was exactly the poorly acted 1980s comedy I hoped it’d be. I got several good chuckles, and the feathered hair, one-off jokes, lack of a cohesive plot, and dated music were perfect!
The Rebel Rousers (1970), Ride in the Whirlwind (1968), and Psych Out (1968)
I would call Ride in the Whirlwind an existential western. After watching it, I still have no idea why it was titled that. There was nothing about a whirlwind in the movie. Jack Nicholson played the main character but never really stood out, just sort of mumbled his dialogue in his nasally way without much fanfare.
Despite having a strong cast – Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton – The Rebel Rousers is pretty weak. It seems at first like it’ll be Wild Angels with a biker gang coming into a small town, but then there’s a side plot about two unmarried lovers who are having a baby. The movie seems like one of the early to mid-’60s things that try to show how cool and wacky the hip crowd is, but then they end up being dangerous, too.
Of these movies, Psych Out is easily the best of the three. There’s actually a story. Sure, there’s also lots of trippy music-heavy scenes with little relevance to the plot, but each time the movie gets back to the main storyline. The acting and production value are also reasonably good in this one.
Mood Indigo (2013)
This was visually and creatively one of most interesting movies I’ve seen in a long time. Even though I had seen Tautou in Amelie, I had not expected this to be similarly quirky but it was far more quirky. I really liked this movie.
Lucky was not exciting, but it was quite good. How much action can you derive from a story about an old man who lives alone, walks everywhere he goes in his small town, and finds out that he’s dying? But action isn’t really what it’s about this time. This time, it was about lonely guy who is greater than what the people around him realize he is. This one has some quirky moments – David Lynch’s character is obsessed with an old turtle he can’t find, and Ed Begley play Lucky’s perhaps-too-blunt doctor – but the movie is mostly sentimental with a few odd parts sprinkled in.
Big Sur (2013)
I liked this movie more than I thought I would. I was so fond of Kerouac’s work when I was younger that I hesitate to watch any dramatizations of his books or his life, but I said “What the heck” when this one came available on Amazon Prime. The story was well done, the casting was appropriate, and the characterizations weren’t over done. Kerouac was such a sad guy . . .
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)
Once again, 1970s horror-thrillers— I enjoy them. And ones from Europe are even better, with the stylized cinematography, zooming in on people’s faces, playing the sound of people’s footsteps too loud, overly long chase scenes, and stuff like that.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Minnesota (2017)
This was a very, very good film. I’m sorry that I didn’t get off my rear end and watch it sooner. Frances McDormand is her usual wry, chilly self, and Sam Rockwell plays a great asshole cop. The story was dark but quirky, too. Woody Harrellson’s police chief character adds a lot of humanity to the story, too.
Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
The artistry in the animation was something like I’d never seen – I don’t watch anime, mind you – but I hadn’t expected so much of the story to be sexual. Some of the long, trippy, acid rock scenes could have been cut down or tamed a bit. I don’t get offended by sexual material in movies, but at some point, I go, “OK, OK, I get it, now get back to the story.” That’s how I felt watching Belladonna of Sadness. Also, the little squeaky noise that the main character made constantly got on my nerves, but that’s neither here nor there.
Those were the ones I watched, but there four that I gave up on:
Mondo Cane (1962)
I tried watching this again and quickly found myself fast-forwarding to find something interesting. The opening scene, where the guy drags the dog by its neck in front of cages full of barking dogs is disturbing enough. As for wanting to watch the rest of it . . . not so much. Beside that, a lot of what I did see was incredibly dull.
I started watching this again and only got a short way into it before admitting that I didn’t really want to watch it. If I understood the context better, maybe it’d make more sense. I had to give up on this one.
I doubt if I’ll ever find this movie, and even if I did, I won’t understand the Polish that they’re speaking. I wasn’t terribly interested in it anyway. The title just made me wonder why a love story from Poland was titled “Alabama.”
How Tasty Was my Little Frenchman (1971)
And . . . like Macunaima, I started this one too – again – and quickly gave up.
Those are the titles I knocked off the list. But there’s also bad news, at least it’s bad when you’re trying to reduce the number of items in a list. In addition to the twenty-two movies I watched and the four I scrapped, I’ve continually added more since January— almost as many as I’ve watched! Of these fifteen that were added, I went ahead and watched two of them.
Thomasine & Bushrod (1974)
This blaxploitation film was directed by Gordon Parks, Jr. and is billed as a Bonnie & Clyde story in the early 1900s. This is different from most blaxploitation films, which are typically urban and set in the then-modern 1970s.
Fox Style (1973)
I started watching Fox Style, but quit before it was over. This might the worst, cheapest blaxploitation movie ever made. And that’s saying a lot for that genre.
Although it was a new addition to the list, I went ahead and watched Zachariah, which is a rock n’ roll western that has cameos from James Gang and Country Joe & the Fish. I feel pretty certain that it came up as a suggestion because I was watching hippie films and because Quiet Days in Clichy had Country Joe associated with it. The movie kind of reminded me of Hair a little bit.
This Western came up as a suggestion at the same time as Zachariah. It’s a German Western, so we’ll see . . .
The Tenant (1976)
The only other Roman Polanski movie I’ve ever seen was The Fearless Vampire Killers, which was stupid and not funny. I don’t know why I added this movie to the list but I figured I’d give it a chance.
Landscape in the Mist (1988)
This Greek film about two orphans won high praise. I haven’t tried to find a subtitled version yet, it may be out of reach.
The Blood of a Poet (1930)
Jean Cocteau’s bohemian classic. I remember reading about this film in books that discussed Paris in the early twentieth century, but I never made any effort to watch it. I’m not as interested in European bohemians as I once was, but if the film is good, it won’t matter.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
I can’t tell what to make of this movie: Phantom of the Opera but with rock n roll in the mid-’70s?
Another blaxploitation movie. I’ve seen most or all of the significant and well-known ones, and most of the lesser-known ones, and am more recently finding and watching the pretty obscure ones. In this one, a woman is possessed.
The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970)
If Joe Delassandro is in a movie, you know it’s going to be weird and sketchy.
Alone in the Dark (1982)
A good ol’ 1980s horror movie about escapees from an insane asylum. It should be terrible! I can’t wait!
The Hunger (1983)
I’d seen this movie before but thought I’d watch it again— a vampire movie with David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve (from Belle Du Jour), and Susan Sarandon (from Rocky Horror Picture Show).
It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988)
This is a Richard Linklater movie I’d not heard of. It predates Slacker.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
As I’ve already shared, I just like ’70s horror movies. We’ll see if this one is any good.
White Star (1983)
This biopic has Dennis Hopper playing Westbrook. I couldn’t pass it up.
The Spider Labyrinth (1988)
One of the reviewers under mentioned this Italian horror/thriller in his review of another movie. He had high praise for it. Once again, we’ll see what happens.
Since this is a progress report, I’ll end it this way: I started with seventy-two movies, watched twenty-two and scrapped four, which means that I knocked out a little over one-third of the list. But I added fifteen more but watched two of those . . . which leaves watchlist with just over sixty movies now. Mathematically, I made a little progress— three steps forward, two steps back.