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Pink Flamingos (1972)
Written & Directed by John Waters
Well, Pride month is here, which means corporations & municipalities all around America will temporarily use rainbow avatars on social media and paint homeless deterrence rainbow colors to celebrate. Unless they are one of several states actively legislating against LGBTQ people, where Pride celebrations have either been banned by city leadership or heavily threatened with violence by reactionaries state & federal leaders feel no desire to do anything about. So I decided that I wanted to watch a bunch of queer cinema I’ve heard about for years as a way to see & write about these films and maybe provide solidarity for some readers out there.
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The Iceman Cometh (1973)
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by John Frankenheimer
You are not alone if you’ve felt increasing anxiety over world events in the last few years. Additionally, this is not the first time in human history that societal shifts have led people to become fixated on watching it unfold, standing on the sidelines, unsure of what to do. Eugene O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh between June and November 1939 while living in Danville, California. During this time, the Nazis invaded Poland, the Great Depression ravaged American workers’ lives, and Southeast Asia became fertile ground for the next salvo of the coming world war. O’Neill, in a letter to his daughter Oona said about this period, “The war news has affected my ability to concentrate on my job. With so much tragic drama happening in the world, it is hard to take theater seriously.” O’Neill had an understanding that he’d written something personal with The Iceman Cometh but also touched on universal anxieties of the era. He delayed production of the play until World War II ended because the playwright understood he had written something that spoke to people living in the wake of devastation.
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The Tin Drum (1979)
Written by Volker Schlöndorff
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, Jean-Claude Carrière, and Franz Seitz
I have not read Herman Hesse’s novel of the same name, so I won’t be able to compare this version of The Tin Drum to its source material. However, the film feels dense & literary, which leads me to believe it is likely not too far removed from the book. This decision makes the picture heavy-handed and obvious as the story progresses. Director Volker Schlöndorff’s career includes many adaptations, including the Dustin Hoffman-led Death of a Salesman and the feature film version of The Handmaid’s Tale. Schlöndorff feels very different from his peers like Herzog, Wenders, and Fassbinder; he is a little more straightforward & direct. However, there’s no mistaking what The Tin Drum is about, and that may not be a great thing as it fails to challenge the audience to think in ways that it could, given a defter touch.
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The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)
Written by Peter Märthesheimer, Pea Fröhlich, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fassbinder’s films often centered women in the protagonist roles and explored how they were trapped in damned if you do/damned if you don’t scenarios. The Marriage of Maria Braun was one of his largest productions with a budget of less than a million, but it certainly doesn’t show. This epic story goes from the middle of World War II into the 1950s. It also follows Fassbinder’s tendency to draw inspiration from the films of Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life), telling stories of women with dignity who humble themselves to survive in a world designed for the pleasure of men. These women are complex, vulnerable, strong, determined, and broken. They are presented as human beings, something that wasn’t done often with women in much Western media of the recent past.
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The American Friend (1977)
Written & Directed by Wim Wenders
There’s a scene early on in The American Friend where Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) is asked by a hatmaker/art forger (director Nicholas Ray) if Ripley wears his Stetson hat when he’s in Germany. Ripley removes the hat, briefly examines it, and responds, “What’s wrong with a cowboy in Hamburg?” Wim Wenders’ films, while German, are very much fixated on America. The director finds an incredible amount of inspiration in the mythic idea of America and the way these grand ideas crumble under just the slightest scrutiny. Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley is the perfect character to explore that, and Wenders proceeds to repurpose this figure in the same way Robert Altman presented audiences with a radically different Phillip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye. This Ripley is not a cool, calm, collected man but a psychologically troubled murderer who manipulates an unsuspecting man into his web.
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Alice in the Cities (1974)
Written & Directed by Wim Wenders
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. – “The Stolen Child,” W.B. Yeats
The world is Hell, and more so for children than anyone else. They are ultimately the most powerless of the humans on the planet, seen as property by their parents, animals to be tamed by systems of education, and future labor to be squeezed dry by our institutions. I was an elementary school teacher from 2010 to 2020 and saw the spectrum of joy & pain that children are forced to endure. I had homeless students, transient & ping-ponging between schools for years, raised by severely drug-addicted guardians, and subject to physical/sexual abuse. Wim Wenders, one of the great directors of late 20th century German cinema, thought a lot about what was heaped on the shoulders of children and, after adapting The Scarlet Letter years earlier, found he sympathized far more with Pearl, Hester Prynne’s daughter than he did any of the adults in the story. So he decided to cast the young actress who played Pearl in this next film, where he focuses on her experience.
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The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)
Written & Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
We only see one room of Petra Von Kant’s home for the entirety of this film, creating a sense that we’re in a realm of metaphor rather than concrete reality. This is a crypt, and we watch her rise from her grave at the start, only to return to it. The all-female cast understands what Fassbinder is doing; this is a camp film, not as extreme with filth as John Waters and not as on the nose as what camp became in the 1960s. This is camp in the traditional queer definition, the actresses summoning up the energy of women like Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and their peers. It’s a lot of talking, but you might learn something if you pay attention.
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Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Directed by Terry Jones
Throughout my life, I have attempted to sit down with the work of the Monty Python troupe and develop an appreciation. Every time I walk away with a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not helped by the apparent ignorance of many of its living members, John Cleese chief among them. It has led me to believe there really is nothing revolutionary or ultimately insightful about the comedy they were doing. In fact, they were just their generation’s continuation of a type of elitist comedic sensibilities that’s always had strong roots in the United Kingdom. So I sat down to watch Life of Brian, hoping that this, a satire of the life of Jesus, would be the thing that convinced me to enjoy them. Unfortunately, it did not play out that way.
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Shazam!: The World’s Mightiest Mortal Volume One (2019)
Reprints Shazam! #1-18
Written by Denny O’Neil, Elliot S! Maggin, and E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by C.C. Beck, Dave Cockrum, Bob Oksner, Vince Colletta, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Pat Broderick, and Tex Blaisdell
Once upon a time, there was a superhero named Captain Marvel (not that one) who was the most popular comic book character of his time. He was so popular, in fact, that DC Comics sued Cap’s publisher, Fawcett because they believed the similarities between him and Superman were so much that the character infringed on the Man of Steel. So Captain Marvel faded into obscurity in the 1950s, but not before a few other things happened.
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Young Frankenstein (1974)
Written by Gene Wilder & Mel Brooks
Directed by Mel Brooks
Comedy films aren’t really known for their cinematography. Typically they are notable for set pieces or dialogue, which does make sense. Comedy is an intricately constructed thing when done right. However, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder didn’t just want to make another comedy. They specifically wanted to make a comedy and an authentic tribute to a film from their childhoods that they loved. The result is one of the best-looking comedies ever made with a mix of techniques found in the 1930s and what would have been more contemporary blocking from the 1970s. Young Frankenstein may be the best comedy ever because it nails the visuals and is still uproariously funny.
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