2013 As Seen From 2014: The Imperfect Ten / by Samuel B. Prime

                                     Giuliano Gemma in THE BASTARD (Duccio Tessari, 1968) AKA: THE CATS

                                     Giuliano Gemma in THE BASTARD (Duccio Tessari, 1968) AKA: THE CATS

LA Ciné Salon will be all of two weeks old tomorrow evening, right around 10:00 PM Pacific. The first salon meeting, held just before Christmas, was a successful and spirited mix of personalities all come together to socialize while strange short films silently screened in the background. Discussion that evening ranged from everyone's various occupations to year-end superlatives to invitations to upcoming screenings all over the city, and what's in store next for the coming months at LA Ciné Salon, which I should say - although humbly - is a lot.

On January 14th, all members are welcome to come along to the Hammer Museum's Open Projector Night. A free event that The Sklar Brothers host every so often, the rules are quite simple: anyone who attends can bring a short film (no longer than 10 mins). The work that is shown is often humorous, though whether that is the intent of the filmmaker(s) remains in question. Additionally, on a date TBD (but after Sundance 2014), we will host the second salon meeting. Expect this to fall on a date in late January or in very, very early February. 

2013 was an imperfect year, rife with ups and downs. I don't mean in terms of cinema, but in terms of my own personal and professional life. I had left Los Angeles and for most of the year was living in a city that I simply did not care for and working a job which wasn't panning out. Ultimately, I quit my job, packed up my belongings, and moved back to LA without a place to stay or a means to pay the rent. In so doing I trusted and learned that my wide network of friends, many of whom work in the film industry, would help me out when I was in need. Now, two months after having moved back, LA Ciné Salon is (finally!) a reality and I am also working on a variety of ambitious, film-related projects. At year's end, I found myself in a place that I loved, happy as ever I could remember, and feeling that the year had been evocative of an unconscious, but necessary growth. From here I extended the thought of the imperfect and evocative into the cinema. I was asked to create various top 10 lists (of 2013 releases and pre-millennial discoveries), but tangentially started thinking more and more about those titles that weren't so cumulatively satisfying, not the best I had seen throughout the year, but that had that something special - an extraordinary scene, a stylistic flourish, a memorable line of dialogue - that stuck with me and that I thought of every week since seeing the film. So, I decided to create a list (organized chronologically by release year) of those titles that I haven't been able to get out of my head, each accompanied by a brief explanation of what precisely caught my attention. The Imperfect Ten. Here's hoping one piques your interest.

1. THE BASTARD (Duccio Tessari, 1968) AKA: THE CATS

Duccio Tessari's film does not give a fuck about exposition. It opens with a burst of gunfire, a jewelry store heist, and a getaway underscored by the best faux-Bond theme I have ever heard. It is frank and beautiful.

2. SECRET WORLD (Robert Freeman, 1969)

Jacqueline Bisset in a beautiful blonde wig is hard to ignore, but the real attraction is the story of a young boy who desires warmth and understanding, but lacks the means to express himself. Instead, he draws a vampire-like creature on his hand. It is a very strange gesture, but articulates his total inability to connect with anyone.

3. MALICIOUS (Salvatore Samperi, 1973)

Ostensibly a comedy, MALICIOUS is as humorous as it is horrifying. A widower and his three sons are all in love with their housekeeper (portrayed by the seriously stunning Laura Antonelli). Only the middle son, Nino, acts on his perverse desire to see her nude. What begins as play turns treacherous in a penultimate scene that renders the childhood game of hide-and-seek completely terrifying. It will leave you breathless, if you can handle it.

4. HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (Chin-Ku Lu, 1983)

An inexplicably zany and shamelessly stylish wuxia picture replete with skeletons, optical effect ghosts, swords commanded by the power of the mind, and at least one thousand-year-old, English-speaking zombie. The moment in particular that sticks with me is when two kung-fu masters literally get their heads kicked off.

5. TWISTED LOVE (Yang Chuan, 1985) AKA: TWISTED PASSION

Top-model Tina marries the well-to-do businessman Mr. Ma, but Mr. Ma refuses to have sex with Tina. Frustrated, Tina finds her pleasures elsewhere, such as with a young gigolo whose bedroom wall sports a ROCKY III poster. The real highlights, however, are two scenes that use lighting to great expressionist effect: one where all the colorful lights of a nightclub dim around Tina, who slams down drink after drink, having just clandestinely seen her husband leave with another, strange-looking woman. The other is a rape scene that occurs in a photo studio, where abstract red and blue lights slice apart the set combined with the stroboscopic effect of the photography equipment. Both examples are haunting and unforgettable. They resonate long after.

6. 52 PICK-UP (John Frankenheimer, 1986)

A near-perfect end scene, punctuated with a line of dialogue that makes you want to stand up and cheer. Having finally turned the tables on the rat-bastard punks who have been blackmailing him: "So long, sport."

7. THE WORST WITCH (Robert Young, 1986)

Tim Curry's (as Big Daddy Wiz) public access-style, green-screened, effects-laden love ballad-cum-acid trip.

8. JACK'S BACK (Rowdy Herrington, 1988)

10 minutes from its end, JACK'S BACK poses a deliberate fake-out ending underscored by a spooky rendition of "My Way" that cuts to black, holds for five long seconds, then surges back to the real finale. The mystery of who is recreating the grim Jack The Ripper killings in 1980s Los Angeles is finally solved. Thank goodness for that.

9. TWISTER (Michael Almereyda, 1989)

William S. Burrough's sweet, strange, deadpan cameo appearance, with particular attention to this line: "Jim got kicked in the head by a horse back in February. He went around killin' horses for awhile, then he ate the insides of a clock, and he died." TWISTER made me laugh more than almost any other movie in 2013.

10. MY HEART IS THAT ETERNAL ROSE (Patrick Tam, 1989)

No happy endings. Besides its incredible title, the final scene in MY HEART IS THAT ETERNAL ROSE is the best, most audacious HK action filmmaking I have seen in recent memory. Nobody is left alive, whether good or bad. And that final, devastatingly explosive shot is right up there with the great ANGEL TERMINATORS (1992).