In the current 1973-set Licorice Pizza, Alana Haim’s heroine at one point auditions for a movie, and as a result briefly gets squired around by a much older, hard-drinking, self-absorbed veteran movie star played by Sean Penn. Like many incidents in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, this one is based on anecdotes told him by fellow Los Angeleans, in this case auditions for the actual 1973 release Breezy—yes, that hideous dialogue Alana recites is from the actual original script—and the offscreen carousing of its star William Holden. That whole section of Pizza may seem over-the-top, but apparently it is not much exaggerated from the realities of the era.
That is particularly bourne out by Breezy itself, a flop at the time that was released to Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber a little over a year ago, and which now the Alamo Drafthouse is reviving for a couple playdates on Mon/24 and Wed/26. A very particular kind of time capsule, it recalls that while the Me Decade may have been a time of “sexual liberation” for many, that also meant a whole lot of “old guys ogling nubile young chicks” they now figured were “easy.” And though this film was written by a woman, Jo Heims (who’d also co-written its director Clint Eastwood’s first effort in that role, Play Misty for Me), it certainly caters to that particular male demographic.
Holden plays a divorced So. Cal. real estate agent across whose path tumbles the titular, teenaged Breezy (Kay Lenz), an itinerant flower child who looks like Carly Simon on the cover of No Secrets. Equal parts nymphet and non-housetrained puppy, she inexplicably decides to cling to this somewhat caustic square, until her Manic Hippie Dream Girl adorability begins to wear down his resistance.
This advertised “now romance,” so May/December that he buys her cotton candy and an actual puppy, comes complete with much nudity (solely female, of course), an atrocious soft-rock theme song, and the ego overload of lead characters going to see… a Clint Eastwood movie. He blamed the movie’s commercial failure on poor marketing, but really, in attempting to bridge the “generation gap,” it does just about everything but apply a crowbar to widen it.
There’s a sort of terrible fascination to anything that works so hard to be “with it” while getting “it” so very, very wrong, and you can experience that full wheezy-male-fantasy cringe on the big screen this week. (For a very different take on gender roles in the ’70s, check out Robert Altman’s Bergmanesque 1977 3 Women at the Roxie, also playing Mon/24.)
There are several other notable curios and rediscoveries surfacing for film buffs at present:
Another daft blast from the past is this 1992 Hong Kong feature from Lam Ngai Kai, a cinematographer who’d moved into directing genre films with an emphasis on FX work. He’s best known now for the prior year’s Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, an insanely violent manga-based action film set in a prison that’s like a campier warmup for the Raid movies. But that cult favorite was actually a box-office dud at the time, as was this even more outrageous followup, an outcome that seems to have ended the director’s career when he was not yet 40—he hasn’t made another feature since.
’Tis a pity, because this Golden Harvest production is nuts in the best possible way. Involving rival extraterrestrial visitors that take the form of a cat, a beautiful woman, and tentacled ectoplasmic ickiness a la The Thing, it is a berserk pileup of fantasy effects, gangster gunplay, and crazy sci-fi horror setpieces landing somewhere between The Terminator and The Blob. Of course it’s ludicrous, as well as near-senseless, but isn’t that the charm? Alamo Drafthouse offers up this singular celluloid cocktail this Tues/25. More info here.
The Unknown Man of Shandigor
Another outre excavation is this hitherto obscure 1967 Swiss feature, which for years was forgotten as just one more amongst umpteen spy spoofs to emerge in the wake of 007’s phenomenal screen popularity. But Jean-Louis Roy’s film is closer to Dr. Mabuse than Bond territory, its striking B&W visuals exaggerating old-school Expressionism in ways that speak to a great eye, since clearly the production had slim resources. (All locations appear to be “found” ones, not built sets.)
The wacky storyline has your classic mad scientist (familiar-looking villainous actor Daniel Emilfork) inventing a device that could very well destroy the world, particularly once opposing sides in the Cold War kidnap his niece (Marie-France Boyer) and lab assistant (Marcel Imhoff) to get their hands on it. Cult Eurotrash actor Howard Vernon and music great Serge Gainsbourg also figure in the cast, with the latter naturally contributing a discotheque-ready original song.
Comic-bookish in content but deadpan in tone, with a straight-faced orchestral/choral score helping to heighten the joke, Shandigor loses narrative momentum after a while. But it remains a unique and inventive oddity among all its era’s sendups of international espionage action. The newly restored film gets released to Blu-ray (with digital and streaming launch soon to follow) by LA-based Deaf Crocodile this Tues/25, for info go to www.deafcrocodile.com
The Olive Trees of Justice
Made five years earlier on a different continent, and in an entirely different headspace, is this sole narrative feature by American documentarian James Blue, who as a film school teacher had students including Coppola, Lucas, and Jim Morrison. His ability to immerse himself in unfamiliar cultures might lead you to think this was shot by an Algerian, or at least French, director. But Olive Trees’ 1962 snapshot of a nation at the end of its long colonial occupation, based on a novel by Jean Pelegri, convinces utterly despite its makers’ outsider status.
Acted mostly by nonprofessionals, its slender story has Jean (Pierre Prothon) returning from France, where he’s built an adult life, to his father’s deathbed in the Algiers where he was raised. That pere (author Pelegri himself) no longer owns the vineyards he’d cultivated for decades, and there are other signs that the day of Europeans controlling local affairs is coming to an end. Yet the (presumably ongoing) War for Independence, which ended the year this film premiered, is only alluded to, never foregrounded. Instead, we get a poignant sense of nostalgia (complete with flashbacks to Jean’s childhood) as well as glimpses of racial inequity, and a strong sense of the inevitable necessity of change.
Despite winning a major award at Cannes, Blue’s beautifully crafted B&W film was little-seen, not even surfacing for an eyeblink initial US release until 1967. But it’s a fine work, if not terrifically forceful in dramatic terms, with a beautiful chamber-quartet score by Maurice Jarre—created the very same year as his famous music for the ginormous epic Lawrence of Arabia. The Olive Trees of Justice is currently playing NYC’s Metrograph Theater and can be streamed through their website (more info here), along with other films by and about James Blue; Kino Lorber also plans an upcoming home-formats release.