Here are a couple of perverse but interesting choices, films which perhaps
work better as social commentary than they work as dramatic stories:
ALL THE MARBLES (1981, dir. Robert Aldrich; stars Peter Falk, Vicki Frederick,
Laurene Landon) One of the most cynical comments on the American cinema
I've ever seen. Veteran action director Robert Aldrich recognizes that
American film is centered around two poles: sex and violence, and he finds
a perfect combination of both in this film about female wrestling. Aldrich
goes to great lengths to show us the behind-the-scenes mechanisms of showmanship
that create spectacle (in this case, the wrestling matches choreographed by
manager Falk) being staged for the rubes in the audience. At the same time,
however, the action sequences are brilliantly staged and are kinetically
engaging, so Aldrich makes us aware that WE are part of that audience that
loves sex and violence, even when we know how trumped up and fake it is.
The film encourages us to look down on the rubes in the wrestling audience
and then audaciously makes us recognize that we are part of that audience.
Once this is established, Aldrich rubs our noses in it, showing us just
how low we'll go in our tastes for sex and violence. Clearly this is
not just about wrestling but is also about cinema, as evidenced by foregrounded
references (the climactic match of this MGM film takes place in the MGM
hotel in Vegas).
THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN GEORGIA (1981, dir. Ronald F. Maxwell;
stars Kristy McNichol, Mark Hamill, Dennis Quaid) On the surface an
episodic little film about a country singer (Quaid) and his manager
(McNichol) working their way through the South toward Nashville, full
of interesting slices of Southern life. Seen in another way, this is
a rumination on the relationship between the artist and his/her work,
between the singer and the song. This film investigates the relationship
between life experiences and the singer's ability to sing "white man's
blues" (country music). The film meanders through almost all the thematic
building blocks of country music. Andrew Sarris was the only critic to
give this film its due (he called it one of the top 10 films of the year).
More films come to mind: AMATEUR NIGHT AT THE DIXIE BAR AND GRILL (Joel
Schumacher's hommage/parody of _Nashville_), TIGHT LITTLE ISLAND/WHISKEY
GALORE (one of the great directorial debuts (Alexander Mackendrick) and
perhaps the best of the Ealing comedies), but I don't have time right
now to give full details. Maybe later.
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