The Great Watchlist Purge of 2022: A Late Summer Progress Report
*You should read the first post for this year’s Great Watchlist Purge.
As I began another Great Watchlist Purge, with over fifty movies in the list, I took a look around to see which ones were available. Not many, that’s why they were still in the list . . . Once again, my watchlist has tended to be heavy on the 1970s, so my viewing preferences haven’t changed: twenty-two of them – nearly half – were made during the Purple Decade. The oldest films on the list are 1929’s Prince Achmed and 1930’s Blood of a Poet. There is only one movie from the 1950s and one from the 1960s this time. However, there are eight from the ’80s and seven from the ’90s. The remaining films were made in the twenty-first century.
First, here are the twelve movies from the list that I’ve watched since mid-May:
I’ve liked Bernardo Bertolucci ever since I saw Stealing Beauty in the 1990s, but this four-plus-hour film was not at all the same thing. It stars Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu as boys then men then old men who are wrapped up in the politics of early twentieth-century Italy. Depardieu’s character is a peasant who has been raised on socialism, and De Niro is the child of landowner who doesn’t share his family’s uppity ideas about how to treat workers. Ultimately, they are both friends and enemies. While some portions of this movie did get tiresome, the end was bittersweet, and I was glad I finished it.
Haiku Tunnel (2001)
I remember this being one of the last attempts at a GenX zeitgeist films, but it came out too late— even well after the purely Hollywood takes on our generation: Singles (1992), Reality Bites (1994), and SubUrbia (1996). By the early 2000s, the youngest Xers were getting into the working world, and unfortunately for the Kornbluth brothers, all of the types and tropes had become clichés. I probably chuckled at this when I saw it the first time, but was generally disappointed in it this time.
Knowing a little bit about Robert Altman, I felt that I knew what this film would be like, but it surprised me. I was picturing something like Play It as It Lays after watching the trailer, but it was more like The Wicker Man. The main character is a schizophrenic woman in Ireland, who has three men in her life: a dead husband, a current husband, and a former lover who is a friend of her current husband. The conflict comes from her mind not knowing which of them she is looking at, talking to, or sleeping with— and we don’t always know either. If that wasn’t complicated enough, she also sees another version of herself, who always seems to be far-off in the distance, until the end when she confronts herself. Yes, that’s as confusing as it sounds.
40 Years on The Farm (2012)
It has always been interesting to me that such an infamous hippie commune would exist in Tennessee of all places, and watching this documentary, I learned why. One of the early members explained that the San Francisco group led by Stephen Gaskin on a nationwide speaking tour had found friendly people in rural Tennessee, and they also saw that the East and West coasts were so heavily politicized that they wanted to avoid those regions. After a search and some minor obstruction from locals, they found a 1000-acre piece of land and started The Farm. I also hadn’t realized that Stephen from the infamous Monday Night Class was the founder. This documentary was not terribly exciting, but it was informative and well put together. I was glad to learn the backstory of this longstanding sustainable and peaceful community to my north.
The only Jean Rollin movie I’d seen before was Shiver of the Vampires, which was hippie-weird and kind of hokey. This one was nothing like that; it was slow-paced, dark, and sinister. The story centers on a group of women who practice vampirism; they drink blood but are not vampires. They prey on a fleeing criminal who shows up at their chateau. He has double-crossed his cohorts and must get away, but he falls into something much worse. The movie’s star Brigitte Lahaie is beautiful, but there’s not much else to say about Fascination.
Zabriskie Point (1970)
When this movie began, it was seemed typical of its time and subject, and reminded me of the movie adaptation of The Strawberry Statement. The subtitle description says it is about a hippie revolutionary and an anthropology student hiding out in Death Valley, but that’s really not what the movie is about. Of the movie’s two hours, that part is about twenty minutes and has less to do with the story. Also, the way that scene is handled – as a hippie orgy, heavy with symbolism? – comes out of nowhere, since the rest of the film is stark realism.
I didn’t know anything about this movie, but it caught my eye for having been filmed in Alabama. The cast looked solid – Richard Harris, Ernest Borgnine, Art Carney, et al. – and the concept driving the plot seemed that way, too. But the story kind of wandered around in the space, and its style screamed late-1970s TV movie. I should have known to be suspicious when the IMDb rating was 4.3, but I was curious about the on-location stuff. So, I got what I was looking for: Alabama. I recognized Huntsville early in the film, and Mobile in latter parts.
The Beautiful Troublemaker (1991)
I was a little worried that this film would be just a bunch of rambling about abstract existential topics, since it’s four hours long and French, but there was a strong story here. An aging painter tries to recapture his old magic by restarting an unfinished work, using the girlfriend of a visiting painter as his model. Of course, there’s jealousy, ego, and the interplay of the two couples: the old painter and his wife, and the young painter and his girlfriend. The style of the film was very deliberate, sticking with shots for longer than one might expect in modern films, which emphasized the humanity of the characters through highly realistic storytelling. I liked this movie, but will admit that I started checking how much was left at about the two-hour point.
Simple Men (1992)
I knew nothing about the director or the stars of this one, but it appeared to be a GenX indie film. I gave it a half-chance, for about forty-five minutes, then admitted that it was pretty bad. The credits indicated that it was produced by a small theatre company, which I could see— a group of twenty-something stage players overacting for the camera. As for the Generation X elements: randomness, quirky characters, urban decay, absurd authority figures . . . I wouldn’t suggest watching this one, unless you’re just really into obscure ’90s stuff.
This film reminded me a lot of Shivers, which preceded it by a few years. There was the medical angle to the horror, like Shivers, but this time, we had zombies, too. The pacing and the acting were typical of the ’70s, which was fine, but there was one major problem for me: the way the main character became the host/source of a monstrous epidemic. Somehow, a perfectly normal young woman (played by porn star Marilyn Chambers) got some skin grafts after being burned in a motorcycle accident near a cosmetic surgery resort, but while in a coma, she developed a tongue-like feeding apparatus in a hole in her armpit that murders people. I get that both horror films and Cronenberg films are supposed to be strange, but this premise didn’t fly. Something was missing in the leap from point A (healthy young woman) to point B (horror movie monster).
What the Peeper Saw (1971)
This movie was actually in the last Watchlist Purge, but I struck it after not being able to find it. Then it showed up recently in Tubi. At first, I thought it would be like The Bad Seed, but the story was more complicated than that. It took a turn similar to Images (above) or the 1990s drama Falling Down, where the person who starts out with our sympathy loses it slowly as we figure out he/she might be the actual problem. The boy they cast as the problem child is creepy, the star Britt Eckland is beautiful, and the interplay between them works. The ending is pretty gruesome— I won’t spoil it, but it’s unexpected.
If I were going to describe this, I would say that it’s art-deco meets steam punk in a highly symbolic claymation sci-fi movie. This one is very abstract and mixed Polish and French. The plot, if there is one, seems to based around this amorphous substance that is living but can also be control kinetically with various tools. There is also a group of majestic but expressionless figures who are counterbalanced by – or possibly at odds with – some marionette-like mountain climbers. Chronopolis is visually very interesting, but I felt about it like I did about the surreal 1988 movie Begotten— I know watched something pretty cool, I’m just not sure what it was.
This was not in the original list from May, but a friend recommended this to me as “a female Superbad.” That was all I needed to add it to the Watchlist. . . . (No, I didn’t learn my lesson about adding to the list while trying to whittle it down.) This movie was laugh-out-loud funny in places, though in general, it was a little too Gen-Z for my taste. Booksmart is a best friend movie, a high school movie, a raunchy comedy, all at once. There are elements of Superbad here, but also of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and American Pie. I’d recommend it, yes, but if you’re over 35 years old, be prepared to spend a little time thinking condescending thoughts about younger generations.
The Psychedelic Priest (1971)
Another one that I added to the list since May, this one appeared on Tubi right after I learned about it. It was another of those might-be-terrible-but-might-be-great “lost” films— and . . . it was terrible. No story, bad acting, trite social commentary, cheap cinematography. With the alternate titles Electric Shades of Gray and Jesus Freak, it was made in 1971 but not released until 2001. It’s described as a road movie, which is one of my favorite genres, but they really just drive in the California mountains for no reason. I thought when I saw it, It could be like that Orson Welles thing with John Huston, The Other Side of the Wind, where they took the footage and made a film later, but probably less artistic and more indie . . . No, this was awful. At least hippie flicks like Zabriskie Point or Stanley Sweet have a point. This one should have remained lost.
The Downing of a Flag (2021)
This two-episode program on PBS looks back at the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia after the killing of nine African-Americans in Charleston in 2015. The issue of the flag has long been an issue in Southern states, especially since 1961 when it was flown on many Southern state capitols in response to the Civil Rights movement. This two-part documentary was very well done, presenting speakers on both sides of the issue, as well as former governors and legislators who dealt with the politics of it themselves.
And as I went through the watchlist, I had one cut, too:
Salt of the Earth (1954)
This black-and-white, social justice film about the plight and lives of Mexican miners has been available on multiple platforms for quite a while. After passing up the opportunity to watch it over and over, I’ve finally admitted that I don’t really want to watch it.
So, these forty films are still in the list. So far, all of these have been harder to access, for various reasons. A few are available for rent-or-buy on streaming services, but most aren’t. A handful are foreign films that are available in a language that I don’t speak. I recently subscribed to Mubi, which has more foreign films, so we’ll if some come up.
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-thriller came up alongside Deep Red, which I watched last year, 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 difficult impossible to find. (Apple TV has it but I don’t have Apple TV.) 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. Though the script was written by Ishmael Reed – whose From Totems to Hip-Hop anthology I use in my classroom – 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 have memories of seeing this movie in the late 1980s when USA Network used to have a program called Saturday Nightmares, but every list that appears on the internet doesn’t include this movie as having been shown on that program. That weird old program turned me on 1960s and ’70s European horror movies, like Vampire Circus and The Devil’s Nightmare, and I could have sworn this one was on that show— but maybe not. No matter where I first saw it, I haven’t seen this movie in a long time and would like to re-watch it. However, the full movie was virtually impossible to find. One streaming service had it but said it was not available in my area, and one YouTuber has shared the original Italian-language movie . . . but I don’t speak Italian.
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?
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. As a fan of rock journalism, I couldn’t not add it to the list!
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 mid-1990s film by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, who later made Pan’s Labyrinth, which is an incredibly beautiful film. (He also made The Shape of Water, which won an Oscar a few years ago.) I had never heard of this movie at the time, but found it when I went down the rabbit hole of seeing what else the director of Pan’s Labyrinth made.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)
Though I’ve seen most of Spike Lee’s movies, this one got past me. It doesn’t look at all like his classics Do the Right Thing or School Daze, so I’m curious to what it will be.
Not to be confused with Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, this film is a Quebecois hippie film about a naive girl who comes to the city to get involved in the modern goings-on. This one came up as related to Rabid, but only has 5.1 stars on IMDb— it may be a clunker, we’ll see . . .
The People Next Door (1970)
I’ve been a fan of this movie’s star Eli Wallach since seeing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but this film will certainly be nothing like that one. This movie is about a couple in New York whose daughter ends up being on drugs. The premise and title remind me of the ultra-depressing Ordinary People and also of one subplot in the more recent film Traffic. Some of the reviews reference TV movies and those short films that were meant to scare kids into not doing drugs. I hope this is better than either of those genres.
The Slums of Beverly Hills (1998)
I remember seeing this movie when it came out but not much about it. I do remember it being funny in kind of an off-color way. In short, I’d like to watch it again.
Cat People (1982)
This is Natassja Kinski a few years before Paris, Texas. Early ’80s horror, but perhaps its redemption will come in its cast: Malcolm McDowell, Ed Begley, Jr., Ruby Dee, et al— a whole host of ’80s regulars. (Also John Heard, the jerky antagonist in Big, and John Larroquette from TV’s Night Court.) It’s possible that this movie won’t be good, but I’ll bet two hours on it and find out.
The Decameron (1971)
About ten years ago, I read The Decameron – the Penguin Classics translation into English – over the course of about a year, reading a story or segue each night. (Every year, I make a New Years resolution to read another one of the Western classics that I haven’t read, and this book was part of that annual tradition.) So, when I saw that Pasolini had done a film version, I was intrigued— how would anyone put 100 stories held within a frame narrative into a film? Well, he didn’t . . . He sampled from them. The Italian-language version is available on YouTube, but of course, I don’t know what they’re saying. I’d like to find this film with English subtitles.
The Amorous Adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (1976)
This film caught my eye because Hy Pyke is in it. Sometimes “erotic” means porno, and sometimes it means that there are just some gratuitously naked people. This movie was made in Spain, which is appropriate for Don Quixote. I seriously doubt if this one is up to par with Orson Welles’ version, but it should be good for a chuckle or two— if I can ever find it.
Somebody, in the mid-1970s, made a sex comedy out of the basic plot line of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. This movie is probably terrible, but it’s also hard to find. It appears that this was the only film for director Nate Rogers, who gave himself the pseudonym Duncan Fingersnarl, which is both creepy and gross. The young woman who stars in the movie was a topless dancer who also starred in one of Ed Wood’s movies. I serious doubt that Tanya is any good, but I have to admit that I’m curious . . .
The Lobster (2015)
I had to add this movie to the watchlist. The director made Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was infuriatingly tense, and Dogtooth, which was disturbing, and Colin Farrell was great in In Bruges. So, add it all up into a dark comedy, and I want to see it.
The Dreamers (2003)
Another Bertolucci film, this one set in 1968 in Paris during the time of student riots. The star here, Michael Pitt, I recognized from supporting roles in Finding Forrester in the mid-1990s and The Village in the early 2000s.
Burning Moon (1992)
What fan of strange horror films could resist this description of a German film made in the 1990s: “A young drug addict reads his little sister two macabre bedtime stories, one about a serial killer on a blind date, the other about a psychotic priest terrorizing his village.” The information on it says that it is really gory, which doesn’t interest me as much as tension and suspense do, but I’d like to see this for the same reason that I wanted to see House before.
The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
This film is French and Polish, and follows two women leading parallel lives. Though the film may be nothing like it, the premise reminded me of Sliding Doors, but this film preceded Sliding Doors by seven years. It gets high marks in IMDb, so it should be good.
This came up as a suggestion on Prime, then it went to Rent or Buy status, and I should’ve watched it when it was available. I’ll probably bite the bullet and rent it sometime.
The Order of Myths (2008)
This documentary about the krewes involved in Mobile’s Mardi Gras was recommended by a friend who is a folklorist. I’ve written a good bit on the culture of Alabama, which is my home state, and I understand that this documentary caused some controversy when it was released.
Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)
I remember this being a really good movie. I like early 1980s Michael Paré generally – mainly from Street of Fire – and the Springsteen-esque main song from the soundtrack was really good: “On the Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. But this movie is virtually absent from streaming services.
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
An early ’70s Spanish drama set in 1940 about a seven-year-old girl who goes into her own fantasy world after being traumatized by watching a film adaptation of Frankenstein. I had never heard of the director Victor Erice, but browsing his other films, I’m excited to see what he does.
Wrong Turn (2003), Burnt Offerings (1976), and Session 9 (2001)
All three of these made it onto the watchlist from a documentary called The 50 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen. I’d seen more than half of them, but these three I had not. They were numbers 39, 30, and 19, respectively.
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)
Based on the Tom Robbins novel, this film was one I remember watching when I was college-age. But I haven’t seen it in a long time, and now, it’s rather hard to find. Sadly, the movie gets low ratings on sites like IMDb, but I remember Uma Thurman being good in it. Right after this, she was in Pulp Fiction then Beautiful Girls, which were easily better movies, but I still don’t think this one was bad at all. I’d like to re-watch it.
Three Women (1977)
I actually ran across this one on one of the movie-themed Twitter accounts I follow. The description on IMDb says, “Two roommates/physical therapists, one a vain woman and the other an awkward teenager, share an increasingly bizarre relationship.” Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall star.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Two of the most unique actors around, John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, star in this story about the filming of 1922’s Nosferatu.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Last, but certainly not least: I remember watching this movie as a boy. Jason Robards stars as an older father whose son is enthralled with a carnival that has come to town, but the carnival is a front for a sinister group of evildoers. Now, this movie is very hard to find. It’s not on any of the major streaming services, and a general search on Roku yields nothing.
As for those other movies that I added to the list . . . here they are:
Brother on the Run (1973)
I love blaxploitation films. There are literally hundreds of them, some look pretty cheesy, most are low-budget. This one looks like it could be better than most. The poster art caught my eye, to be honest, and the main character is a teacher or a professor, which is very different than most of the movies in this genre.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
This one was made by Peter Weir, who later made Gallipoli, Witness, and Dead Poets Society— all good movies. The description says, “During a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls’ school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.” That’s just too tantalizing to turn down.
The Little Hours (2017)
I don’t know how I missed this one, as a Catholic, as a fan of Saturday Night Live, and as someone who has read the Decameron. I would watch this for Fred Armisen alone . . .