Saturday, October 17, 2009

Desert Island Movies, Part Two


Anders began her filmmaking career as a Production Assistant on Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, and has since helmed such deeply personal, ambling, iconoclastic films as Border Radio (mandatory viewing for LA punk aficionados), Gas Food Lodging (mandatory viewing for anyone interested in the roots of independent cinema), Mi Vida Loca (mandatory viewing, period) & Grace of My Heart (ditto). She is a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s coveted “genius grant”, has won & been nominated for numerous Independent Spirit Awards, founded & programs films for the Don’t Knock the Rock Film & Music Festival, is Professor of Film & Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara & has directed several episodes of HBO’s Sex and the City & Showtime’s The L Word.

As befits her Kentucky upbringing, Anders is also a brilliant, accessible conversationalist & vivid storyteller…


1. A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

I have seen this movie at least several hundred times and I expect to see it freshly each time for the rest of my life. It thrills me to no end, and if I don’t scream outloud each time I see it, I am screaming inside over each glorious close-up of Paul McCartney and the collective positive pop culture energy that was Beatlemania. It is a supremely perfect movie, it never rings false, true to itself in every single frame and it never once drags or feels the least implausible-- even though-- it is. It gives a little taste of what a drag fame would be, and yet it quickly veers away from getting too droll and miserable about it. I will no doubt watch this film within days of the moment I leave this mortal coil.

2. Alice In The Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)

A beautiful postcard of the early 70s...and you will never be able to hear this Ozu inspired Can score anywhere else except by watching Wenders glorious movie.

3. Harold And Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

To view it as just a geriatric cougar and young Bud Cort is to miss the true gift of this movie -- which is a lesson in connections between people, yes, but also connections to the earth, music, humor, life. It is the most affirming film ever made. And if you were on a desert island, you would need this! I certainly would.

4. A Stolen Life (Curtis Bernhardt, 1946)

This film lives inside my cells, it informed my ideas about romantic love from age 5 when I first saw it. Bette Davis in this movie as twins Kate and Pat is both of the women I found wrestling inside of myself when I was younger. And now that they are both at peace somewhere within me, I love the film more each time I see it.

5. Two Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971)

If I ever got lonely on a desert island, and needed company -- let it be Dennis Wilson and James Taylor in this movie: they wouldn’t talk much, would understand isolation, and would be very easy on my eyes!

Rough and Ragged Sixth:

6. The Man From Laramie (Anthony Mann, 1955)

I think if I were surrounded by water, I would really miss the rocky treacherous New Mexico landscape of Anthony Mann’s westerns. This movie would be my perfect fix.


Whip-smart Max Dropout, named, I presume, after his great grandfather Phineas Dropout, has, for years, been the first line of defense against squares & frat boys at Austin’s beloved garage rock headquarters, Beerland. His finely-honed bullshit detector is somewhat mitigated by the glint of joviality in his eyes & once you’ve shown yourself to be someone who can be trusted after six to ten tall boys & three or four shots of Jim Beam, you’ll always be family as far as he’s concerned…

This is a strange list, because I actually have films on here that do not appear in my top ten of all-time. If I were stuck on a desert island, I think I’d have to select films that have survived repeated viewings without much wear on their entertainment value. Several of these films continue to reward me by giving up new details I hadn’t noticed from previous viewings. Here are my top five in no particular order:

A Face In The Crowd (Elia Kazan, 1957)

More of a murky gray than pitch black, my impressions of these characters has changed drastically as I’ve gotten older. With age, our perception of integrity, morality, and sexuality definitely matures, and this is one of those films that will continually yield fresh insight into human nature with each subsequent viewing. This film is steeped in punk rock ethos despite predating the movement. A very dark comedy featuring some of the finest performances I’ve ever seen on screen, while the photography manages to feel somewhat contemporary. There are a lot of odd shot selections that seem to spite the fact that it’s a black and white film.

Death Wish 3 (Michael Winner, 1985)

Bronson always manages to play a protagonist who’s a convincing badass despite yielding numerous unintentionally hilarious moments. This, of course, is the granddaddy of them all. Michael Winner manages to multiply the comic book factor evolves over the course the first sequel, and overdose the thing with a violence so over the top that it verges on stooge-ish at times. This film is ALWAYS a blast of fun to the face.

Lady In White
(Frank LaLoggia, 1988)

A Rockwellian supernatural thriller, this is a beautiful and eerie film with a level of atmosphere than very few films ever manage to evoke. Despite a few unfortunate spots in the score, this is nearly flawless. Great cast, great script, unabashedly nostalgic, and stands up to repeat viewings.

The Seven Faces of Doctor Lao (George Pal, 1964)

Tony Randall turns in an amazing performance, as he manages to play seven roles throughout this story of a traveling carnival that enters a town on the verge of gentrification. Essentially, this is a tale about the death of the American spirit of independence, and it perhaps even moreso relevant today than it was during its initial release. Quite possibly the best film George Pal ever made; it is at the very least his most intellectual.

The Fearless Vampire Killers
(Roman Polanski, 1967)

Sardonic hate mail to his critics who had labeled him a horror director, Polanski still manages to pay homage to the British horror genre with this delightful comedy. Roman himself demonstrates his worth as a physical comedian with a knockout performance as Alfred. As morbid as it may sound, Sharon Tate’s scenes in this film would wind up as the inevitable jerkoff material on the island


Smith’s highly personal, cerebral, politically astute approach to video games has turned him into a bit of a guru in both the gaming & computer media community at large & he’s won numerous awards for his work on such acclaimed, immersive role-playing games as Wing Commander, Deus Ex, Ultima & System Shock. Smith has also lectured extensively around the world on emergent media & the role of computer & video games in modern culture…

Question: Why are we so obsessed with deserted islands? Answer:
Because no one wants to be alone.

If I could take 5 movies with me (and none of them could be porn), I'd
choose the following:

1) Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)

I love this movie because it evokes some of the same
multilinear feelings that I experience when playing a well-crafted
video game. In a game, you often stop and save your progress at a
specific point in the timeline. Then you can race forward, trying
various tactics and exploring new areas. And if you die or if the
exploration cost you too much in terms of resources, you can back up
to the point in timeline where you saved then proceed again. Often,
after backing up, you move forward optimally. (A side effect of the
unique way players experience their own narrative in games.) As a
result, when you get to the end of the game, you've got this long
linear experience, right? Your memories of what happened from
beginning to end. Except that what's missing are all the moments when
you advanced, then died and backed up to the point at which you saved
your progress. Those are like moments that happened, but didn't
happen. At the end of the game, your memories cannot be untangled; you
remembered the things that happened in the actual playthrough timeline
and things that happened in the discarded, aborted side timelines. Run
Lola Run left me feeling the same way. And I have an intense and
inexplicable love for German women like Franka Potente.

2) Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

I love the nihilistic ethos of this film. And I
love the music. Brando here is one of the great villains. I like the
original version btw. The Redux version is too long and contains some
side threads that I found largely irrelevant.

3) The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)

There's something about small, dying towns
that I love. If I ever survive an apocalypse, I will probably choose
to live in a small town rather than an urban center. Growing up, my
great grandparents had a farm in Moulton, Texas, and it was already
dying back then in the 1970s, so I've got an innate longing for the
spirit of such places. So much happens in this movie, and the scenes
and dialogue imply a lot more…years and generations of lives lived
with partial success and the accompanying regrets.

4) Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

It's probably a cliché for someone of my generation
and tastes to choose this movie, but it's so undeniably great, such an
obvious labor of love and vision, that I've got to include it. Roy
Batty has some of the best lines ever delivered. There's some lesson
in here about a director or screenwriting elevating an actor. Half the
movie's appeal is the vision style and graphic design, but really all
the elements serve the whole in a way that's rarely accomplished. As a
16 year old boy, I wanted a Pris replicant of my very own. I'm
actually torn on which version I'd take; I know what I'm supposed to
say, but I feel there are strengths to both the original and the
director's cut. From the director's cut, the darker, more ambiguous
ending is a complete win for me. From the original, the monologue adds
a lot of depth to Deckard's character. Sure, we all loved the
director's cut *after* gaining familiarity with the original, but I
have to ask: Would the more stripped down version have been as
powerful without the context provided by the original, heavier-handed
version? I hate it that Ridley Scott feels like he's answered the
question definitively about whether Deckard was a replicant,
because—first—the director's intentions are far less important to me
than the audience interpretation, and—second—because the ambiguity and
doubt that the character felt about the possibility of false memories,
of not being *real* were more powerful than a definitive answer either

5) Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

I'll admit that I don't normally like movies made
before the 1970s. People like Scorsese, Cimino and Coppola brought so
much grittiness and depth to film that it's hard for me to go
backward. Casablanca is one of the exceptions. I love fiction that
focuses on a specific point in time, when a mixture of events and
pressures up the ante for all the standard elements of human life. The
love story still chokes me up.

I love Kubrick, and The Shining might have made the list except that
if I had to watch it over and over on an island, the nights would be
unpleasantly unnerving and I'd probably end up hanging myself from a
coconut tree with a rope woven from my hair. And—for the mood,
cinematography and sex—I might have included Eyes Wide Shut if, you
know, anyone actually got properly laid in the movie.

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