Random Double Feature: Imitation of Life and Anna Lucasta

A few weeks ago, after reading an obituary of underground film legend George Kuchar in the New York Times, I watched Jennifer M. Kroot‘s 2009 documentary It Came from Kuchar, a very enjoyable film in its own right, about the delightfully weird hand-made movies of George and his twin brother Michael. The Kuchars of the Bronx made over-the-top satires with their friends and family on, first, a wind-up action DeJur 8mm camera (the kind I loved making films with as a kid) and then a Bolex 16mm (the kind I always wished I had). Unlike their underground peers Andy Warhol or Kenneth Anger, the Kuchar’s were primarily interested in Hollywood-style narrative (though their movies are far stranger than anything Hollywood could ever dream up) and were heavily influenced in particular by Douglas Sirk, whose melodramas they watched over and over at local movie houses.

From my days of interest in New German cinema, I knew Rainer Werner Fassbinder was also a Sirk fanatic, and I was intrigued by the homages he paid Sirk in films like Lola and Veronika Voss–not the narrative influence so much as the visual influence, the use of  primary color light gels and art design components to telegraph emotion. These visuals also clearly appealed to the Kuchars. In It Came from Kuchar, you can see that George was still practicing Sirk-style lighting in his film classes at San Francisco Art Institute. (Sins of the Fleshapoids, which is available in multipart on YouTube, is a good example of an original Kuchar epic employing Sirk-inspired lighting techniques.)

I only knew about Sirk as an auteur worth investigating from my interest in Fassbinder. So far as I know, I had never seen a Sirk until just the other night. It was the Kuchar films that piqued my interest anew, so when I saw Imitation of Life available on Netflix, I queued it up. By coincidence, my own twin brother Erik recommended I see the remake of Philip Yordan’s Anna Lucasta (directed by Arthur Laven) with Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr just that day, so when Imitation of Life was over, I went right into Anna Lucasta, which is also available for instant streaming on Netflix. They make for an interesting double feature. Continue reading

Letting Go of God

It's Jesus!

If you know her only as “It’s Pat” from Saturday Night Live, then you probably won’t know that Julia Sweeney is also a talented writer and performer of monologues à la Spaulding Gray. Unlike Gray, Sweeney moves around on the stage a lot, but like Gray, her subject is her journey into self-knowledge. Her first show, God Said, Ha! (1998), concerned disease, death and survival: the story centered on her brother Michael’s lymphoma and how it brought her closer to her parents–literally closer; they moved in with her to help her care for her brother.  It’s a surprisingly unsentimental, unselfpitying show, very funny throughout, and, therefore, a much richer experience than the usual hystrionic tales of family dysfunction and disease.

I picked up the Quentin Tarantino-produced film of Sweeney’s show from the library a few weeks ago thinking it would be about Sweeney’s loss of faith. I’m at the age when titles of movies and plays don’t stick in the head the way they used to and I was thinking of her next piece, with the similarly divine title Letting Go of God (2006). But I’m glad I saw her earlier piece first, not only because it was fascinating and beautifully performed, but also because it drops a few clues about how someone with Sweeney’s deeply Catholic background could take the radical spiritual turn she takes in the second monologue, which I finally got to see last night. Continue reading

Random Double Feature: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Le Doulos

I wasn’t expecting to watch either Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) or Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos (1962) last night. Almost randomly, I selected each just seconds before watching them from my Netflix instant watch list, where both had been sitting for perhaps a year or possibly more. Each made a surprisingly provocative complement to the other on my random double feature bill. Continue reading

Writing Sample: Book Review

AN ARMY OF PHANTOMS: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War
Author: Hoberman, J.
Review Date: February 1, 2011
Publisher: New Press
Pages: 400
Price ( Hardcover ): $27.95
Publication Date: April 1, 2011
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-59558-005-4
Category: Nonfiction
Classification: Popular Culture

Sharp analysis of postwar-era Hollywood by a leading film critic and historian. Continue reading

Writing Sample: Film Review

Enjoying Fuller: The Irresistibility of Sensation in Underworld U.S.A.

By Christo​fer Pierson on February 23, 2010 back to Underworld U.S.ATo tell you the truth, though I loved Samuel Fuller’s 1953 classic Pickup on South Street, perhaps because the last Fuller I saw was the wildly uneven White Dog (1982), I wasn’t expecting much from Underworld U.S.A. (1961). Continue reading