The Great Watchlist Purge of 2021: As Done as Done is Gonna Get
After eight months, I’m calling it quits on the Great Watchlist Purge of 2021. As I’ve tried to wheedle down the watchlist, watching some movies and giving up on others has left only a handful films in the list, which started with seventy-two. By July, I was down to thirty-seven films total, a number that included ten I had added during the purge but had not yet watched. A few of these remaining films are in my Netflix DVD cue, some are available to rent or buy on at least one streaming service, but a few still seem pretty elusive.
Of those original seventy-two, I cut twenty-one films from the list without watching them. Most of those because I couldn’t seem to find them. Among those, some are foreign, and I couldn’t seem to find a version with subtitles. A small number have gone into the No column after I watched some of it and turned it off, and only one or two have I given up on before even starting them. I did that with Brian DePalma’s Greetings after watching Hi Mom! from the same period, and also with The Night They Robbed Big Bertha’s, which I only has 2.4 stars in IMDb. Why put myself through it?
Earlier this year, I wrote up two progress reports: one in April and one in July. This time, during the two months between between mid-July and mid-September, I watched eleven more movies from the list: two from the 1960s, three from the 1970s, three from the 1980s, two from the 2000s, and one from the 2010s. They span a pretty broad cross-section of subjects, styles, and places.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
I hadn’t realized when I put this film in the watchlist that the story was written by Haneif Kureshi. I like his novel The Buddha of Suburbia – even taught it for a few years in my senior English class – so my viewing of this was somewhat informed by that novel. Though the story was solid, I could see the end coming. I was also a bit disappointed in the acting. But as a quirky 1980s underground film, it stands up to films of its day like Suburbia.
American Splendor (2003)
Good movie— dark but good. I’m not a comic book guy, so I’d never heard of Harvey Pekar (though I am familiar with R. Crumb, who was also a character in the movie). Pekar reminded me of Bukowski, but not quite as belligerent. Giamatti did well to portray the main character, and he had a lot to live up to, since the man he was playing was also shown in alternate scenes. All in all, I think my favorite part was listening to Pekar’s wife say that Revenge of the Nerds was, for her, like the “I Have a Dream” speech.
Frances Ferguson (2019)
I kind of feel bad that I didn’t finish this movie, but I just couldn’t. It’s a dark comedy about a young female teacher who has gotten in trouble for having sex with a student, but it was so steeped in that Millennial ironic humor that I could only tolerate about an hour of it. The generations behind mine seem to think stupid, pointless shit that’s devoid of substance or personality is funny, but it’s not. In this movie, the main character wasn’t even remotely likable, the other characters were equally uninteresting, and it was done in that dry Napoleon Dynamite style but with a voiceover narrator. At least in Napoleon Dynamite the characters were quirky. In Frances Ferguson, there was nothing for the story stand on. I’m getting irritable just writing my comments about it. I hope I forget that this movie was ever made.
Alone in the Dark (1982)
A good ol’ 1980s horror movie about escapees from an insane asylum. Despite having a solid cast – Donald Pleasance, Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Dwight Schultz – this movie was as hokey as I hoped it would be. In this one, Donald Pleasance is not the stone-faced doomsayer of Halloween but a wacky, hippie-dippy psychologist who relies too much on hugs and compassion. So, of course, he dies. And Dwight Schultz is not the kooky Murdock from The A Team, but the straight man in a weird situation. All in all, they basically go through the motions in a forgettable way.
Pierrot le Fou (1965)
When I started watching this, I realized that I had started this movie previously but hadn’t watched more than about thirty or forty-five minutes of it. I recognized it up to the part when they steal the car that’s up on the lift at the gas station. Overall, I didn’t care for this movie. I had wanted to see it after liking Godard’s Contempt (with Brigitte Bardot), which was beautiful and heartbreaking. I saw the same style, etc. here but didn’t like it as much: more experimental, more disjointed, with a less-direct storyline that started out like John Updike’s Rabbit Run then turned into a love story amid international intrigue. I think I was supposed to sympathize with Pierrot/Ferdinand, but he was so aloof that it was hard to feel anything for him.
Smokey and the Good Times Outlaws (1978)
Even though this movie was corny and low budget, it is also a great example of mid- to late 1970s Southern kitsch, that goofy comedy sub-genre that spawned Smokey and the Bandit and The Dukes of Hazzard. I had this in the original list with The Night They Robbed Big Bertha’s, which I cut because it looked irredeemably bad, but I watched this one. It was just a simple, feel-good, and predictable cash-in on the kinds of working-class, usually Southern movies that were being made at the time.
The Spider Labyrinth (1988)
One of the reviewers under another film mentioned this Italian horror/thriller in his review of that one. He had high praise for it, and it was pretty good. The acting wasn’t stellar, but it beat 1989’s Black Cat by a long shot. The story was a little bit formulaic, with some Indiana Jones scholar-adventurer elements, some outsider-discovers-a-hidden-secret. The influence of Suspiria was also detectable. The crescendo that resolved the conflict was really creepy.
This was one of the most fucked up movies I’ve ever seen. It began like one of those 1970s after-school specials that used to come on TV (but Japanese, not American), silly and naive almost to the point of ridiculous. Then, about a third of the way, it began to depart from kitschy and got weird in subtle ways. And it rode that slow train down the path to ultra-weird for the remaining hour. I don’t know what this director was thinking, whether the movie was intentionally shot this way or if it was just low budget, or what. By the end, the cat’s portrait was a blood-spewing monster, the girls’ teacher had turned into a pile of bananas in a dune buggy, and the future stepmom came to be victimized by the girl who left to visit her aunt. Yes, that doesn’t make sense— watch it for yourself.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
This movie came up as a suggestion after I rated the movie Deep Red. I like suspenseful movies, and I like ’70s movies, and I like Donald Sutherland, so I put it in the list. Before I watched it, I kept seeing it mentioned on social media, by accounts like Seventies Film on Twitter, then I found it in Netflix’s DVD option . . . But the movie was terrible. I even started watching it once, quit after about forty-five minutes, then started it completely over a few days later and tried again. I don’t know what some people see in this movie. The cinematography was wonky, neither lead actor delivered a strong performance, and the story wandered around in space.
In Bruges (2008)
I found this Colin Farrell action story about a hitman, when I was reading something that said it was a great film, and then also came across 1978’s Bruges Le-Morte in a search when I typed ‘Bruges’ in the search bar to find the first movie. I watched that earlier film earlier in the year, then this one. And this one was awesome! It was quirky and funny and suspenseful and had a great story that tied all these disparate characters together at the end. This film was my sleeper. I didn’t think I was going to like it, then I really did.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Though I like old horror movies, I’m normally not a Christopher Lee fan because his movies are so freakin’ cheesy! This movie was supposed to be better than most of his churned-out vampire movies. In this one, he’s the hero, not the vampire, and he and an old buddy are trying to save the son of an old friend from becoming a satanist. They just show up at his house in the countryside while he’s having a party, and they realize that it’s a coven planning a dark baptism. Sure, okay . . . But it’s classic Christopher Lee: good versus evil, unrealistic fight scenes, classic Hollywood music, all the things.
As it has gone along, it has been necessary once again to cut some of the movies from the list. Here are the ones that I’ve cut since July:
Widespread Panic: Live from the Georgia Theatre (1991) and The Earth Will Swallow You (2002)
How has a guy who loves Widespread Panic never seen either of these early concert films in their entirety? Ridiculous. Sort of. One is mainly available as a bonus DVD in a live album CD set, and the other is available in bits and pieces all over the internet. While I didn’t get to watch either of these straight through, I still got to see clips. It does seem odd that, with all of the emphasis on sharing in the jam-band subculture, no one has shared these films in their entirety.
The Girl Behind the White Picket Fence (2013)
I found this movie in a search for Udo Kier, who I’ve liked since seeing Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Dracula when I was in high school. The cinematic style of this one looks pretty cool, as does the story. The problem is: the only way I can find it to watch is to buy a DVD from the production company for 30 euros. It’s not that I’m cheap but it’s a short film, and I don’t know that it’s any good.
This movie caught my attention, because I’m interested in Saint Francis. But it’s an Italian made-for-TV movie, and consequently hard to find. It’s not like this is the only place I can see an interpretation or adaptation of the saint’s life, so I’m scrapping this one.
A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud (2017)
I love Carson McCullers, and films of her stories are rare. There’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter from 1968 but that’s about it. I was surprised to see this film, which is a short that’s only thirty minutes long, but I can’t find any way to watch it. It was produced by Karen Allen, who played Indiana Jones’ love interest Marion in the first movie, that’s just a bit of trivia. Anyway, there’s no way to buy a DVD on the website, so I even emailed the contact address to ask how to get a copy but got no response.
The Panic in Needle Park (1971) and Dusty and Sweets McGee (1971)
These are from the early ’70s and are about hardcore drug users. I don’t have a complicated explanation of why I cut them. I had them in the list with Born to Win, but was never very interested in them.
What the Peeper Saw (1972)
This Italian suspense-horror film is one from the creepy child sub-genre, like The Bad Seed. So far, it has been unusually hard to find.
With that, I’m declaring the purge completed for now. I had considered trying to clean out the entire list by watching all of the movies, but with school starting and other writing work to do, eight months will be enough. After all of the watches and cuts, here are the ones still in that original list. These movies will stay, in the hopes that I come across them someday.
Though I don’t know much about this movie, it sounds odd, but what caught my attention was that it was filmed in Alabama. There’s another film called The Ravagers from 1965, but this is not related to that one.
Haiku Tunnel (2001)
This movie (and Mountain Cry) came up when I searched the term ‘haiku.’ It is an early 2000s indie comedy about doing temp work in an office. I remember it being one of the last GenX zeitgeist films, but coming out a bit too late. By the early 2000s, the very youngest Xers were in college and getting into the working world.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1929)
I had never heard of this animated movie before seeing a reference to it on Twitter from an account that was disputing Fantasia‘s designation as the first full-length animated feature film. The clip attached to the tweet was interesting, and I want to see the whole film.
The River Rat (1984)
I found this film when I was trying to figure out what Martha Plimpton had been in. I tend to think of Plimpton as the nerdy friend she played in Goonies, but this one, which is set in Louisiana and has Tommy Lee Jones playing her dad, puts her in a different role.
The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
I’ve read about this movie but never seen it. I must say, the title is great, and it doesn’t hurt that Jacqueline Bisset is beautiful.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
This horror film came up alongside Deep Red, which I watched not long ago, after I rated two recent horror films: the disturbing Hagazussa and the less-heavy but still creepy Make-Out with Violence. Deep Red was good, so I want to watch this one, too.
Born in Flames (1983)
This movie looks cool but is obscure. It’s an early ’80s dystopian film about life after a massive revolution. But it is almost impossible to find. I was surprised to see a story on NPR about it recently, so maybe it will show up.
Personal Problems (1980)
This one is also pretty obscure – complicated African-American lives in the early ’80s – and came up as a suggestion since I liked Ganja and Hess. The description says “partly improvised,” which means that the characters probably ramble a bit.
Little Fauss and Big Halsey (1970)
Paul Newman movies from the late ’60s and early ’70s are among my all-time favorites. This one came out about the same time as Sometimes A Great Notion. Despite having seen Cool Hand Luke, Hud, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Long, Hot Summer numerous times each, I’d never heard of this movie until a few years ago.
All the Right Noises (1970)
I found this story about a married theater manager who has an affair with a younger woman, when I looked up what movies Olivia Hussey had been in other than Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. It looks a little like Fatal Attraction, like the relationship goes well until it doesn’t.
All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
I saw this movie in the mid-1980s when USA Network used to have a program called Saturday Nightmares, which featured an obscure horror movie followed by two half-hour shows like Ray Bradbury Theater or The Twilight Zone. That weird old program turned me on 1960s and ’70s European horror movies, like this is one, Vampire Circus, and The Devil’s Nightmare. I haven’t seen this movie in a long time and would like to rewatch it. However, the full movie was virtually impossible to find. One streaming service had it but said it was not available in my area.
These films were added between January and April and are staying in the watchlist as well.
This Western came up as a suggestion at the same time as Zachariah. It’s a German Western, so we’ll see . . . Generally, it has been hard to find, with only the trailer appearing on most sites.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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 not add it to the list!
Finally, these last films were added between April and July and are still in the watchlist. Both are in my Netflix DVD queue, so I’ll probably watch them before the end of the year.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
This French thriller, which came up as a suggestion from All the Colors of the Dark, caught my eye with the wonderful artwork on its cover image. The title is also compelling, and those two factors led me to see what it was. It didn’t hurt that the description contained the phrase “surreal kaleidoscope.”
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
This film came to my attention on one of the movie-related accounts that I follow on Twitter. Once I looked on IMDb to see what it is, the first “You Might Also Like” was Let the Right One In, which is a beautifully made vampire movie. Like Lillith’s Awakening, this film is also in black-and-white.
If you’re a list person, here’s how the Great Watchlist Purge of 2021 went down.
- Persona (1966)
- Francesco (1989)
- Born to Win (1971)
- Bruges-Le-Morte (1978)
- So, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? (2013)
- Hi, Mom! (1970)
- The Borrower (1991)
- Quiet Days in Clichy (1970)
- Fantastic Planet (1973)
- The Baby (1973)
- Under Milk Wood (1971)
- Heavy Traffic (1973)
- Six Pack (1982)
- The Sky is Gray (1980)
- The Black Cat (1989)
- The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds (1970)
- Boxcar Bertha (1972)
- Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
- Pink Motel (1982)
- The Rebel Rousers (1970)
- Ride in the Whirlwind (1968)
- Psych Out (1968)
- Mood Indigo (2013)
- Lucky (2017)
- Big Sur (2013)
- Factotum (2005)
- The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Minnesota (2017)
- Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
- The Wicker Man (1973)
- Paris, Texas (1984)
- Meridian (1990)
- My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
- American Splendor (2003)
- Pierrot le Fou (1965)
- Smokey and the Good Time Outlaws (1978)
- The Spider Labyrinth (1988)
- House (1977)
- Don’t Look Now (1973)
- In Bruges (2008)
- The Devil Rides Out (1968)
[end of original January list]
- Thomasine & Bushrod (1974)
- Fox Style (1973)
- Zachariah (1971)
- The Tenant (1976)
- Abby (1974)
- It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988)
- The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970)
- Alone in the Dark (1982)
[added between April and July to original January list]
- The Unnamable (1988)
- Wendy and Lucy (2008)
- Lillith’s Awakening (2016)
- Frances Ferguson (2019)
- Greetings (1968) – struck after watching Hi, Mom!
- Alabama (1985) – unable to find, foreign: Polish
- Mondo Cane (1962) – started watching, but quit
- Endless Poetry (2016) – not interested anymore
- Macunaima (1969) – started watching, but quit
- Tykho Moon (1996) – unable to find, foreign: French
- Beginner’s Luck (2001) – unable to find, English but blocked on Prime
- How Tasty Was my Little Frenchman (1971) – started watching, but quit
- Mountain Cry (2015) – unable to find, foreign: Chinese
- Mondo Candido (1975) – unable to find an English version, Italian only
- The Vampires of Poverty (1978) – unable to find, foreign: Brazil
- La mansion du Araucaima (1986) – unable to find, foreign: Brazil
- The Night They Robbed Big Bertha’s (1975) – unable to find but looked terrible
- Widespread Panic: Live from the Georgia Theatre (1991) – can’t find whole film, just clips/trailer
- The Earth Will Swallow You (2002) – can’t find whole film, just clips/trailer
- The Girl Behind the White Picket Fence (2013) – can’t find film online
- Francesco (2002) – can’t find, only trailer on YouTube
- A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud. (2017) – can’t find whole film, no response to my email
- The Panic in Needle Park (1971) – can’t find whole film, just clips
- Dusty and Sweets McGee (1971) – not interested anymore
- What the Peeper Saw (1972) – unable to find, foreign: Italian
Remaining in the Watchlist:
- Ravagers (1979)
- Haiku Tunnel (2001)
- The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1929)
- The River Rat (1984)
- The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
- Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
- Born in Flames (1983)
- Personal Problems (1980)
- White Star (1983)
- Little Fauss and Big Halsey (1970)
- All the Right Noises (1970)
- All the Colors of the Dark (1972) [last film in original January list]
- Deadlock (1970)
- Landscape in the Mist (1988)
- The Blood of a Poet (1930)
- Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
- The Hunger (1983)
- Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
- The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)