The first ever entry on LA Ciné Salon in early 2014 was a year-end list that closely aligned to my feelings about the past year: The Imperfect Ten. It was defined by extreme highs and lows. There were moments and memories from that year that stay with me as beautiful, singular examples of a life lived without regret, but there are painful others that outweigh the good. The list itself was made up of little moments in movies - lines, gestures, abstract lighting - that were highly memorable, but where the movie as a whole left something to be desired. I believe that these imperfect movies with little moments approaching perfection are those that come closest to defining who we are. What's more is that recognizing these special moments reminds me why I love movies in the first place.
2015 hasn't been perfect either, but was a major improvement. In particular, making steady progress on my two-volume set on Z Channel and finally completing work on CATCH MY SOUL while passing the one-year mark living in West Hollywood is enough to keep me roundly satisfied. I also worked on the awards season campaign for an Oscar-nominated film, recorded a commentary with James B. Harris for SOME CALL IT LOVING, went out dancing with more frequency than ever before, took it upon myself to realize some goofy video projects in Final Cut Pro, and I just generally optimistically pursued any idea that I thought was worthy of my time, effort, and attention. That didn't always turn out as planned - the Candid & Anonymous series on this site, for instance, was met with so much resistance, misunderstanding, and vitriol that it has been all but abandoned. I still don't know whether to release the remaining videos without written accompaniment or to simply abandon all hope for C&A.
Cannon Films' Menahem Golan said, "If something excites you, be brave. And go! Try to do it well, but do it." That has served as a kind of mantra for me throughout this year. If you have an idea, pursue it. Take risks. Do your best. Not everything always goes as planned, but the world is filled with people who never try for fear of failure.
The list that follows takes its inspiration from two quotes from men whom I deeply respect: William S. Burroughs and Mike Nichols. The moments that comprise this list are those that I discovered in the course of 2015 and since that first viewing haven't been able to get out of my head. The first comes from a lecture on marginalized media:
"A film of five good minutes is really a good film." - William S. Burroughs
The second comes from an hourlong onstage conversation between Elaine May and Mike Nichols circa 2006:
"The thing I love most about movies, and the thing I love most about other people's work, is small things. If you think about your favorite thing in a movie or in a play or in a performance ever, it's always something very small that you can barely tell other people about. It's so small but it just makes you gasp. Because it's like a little pebble of truth. It's something true." - Mike Nichols
Both quotes are appreciative of small miracles within a larger context, that even in places where you least expect it you can find beauty, inspiration, or something that you may love. Like the moment in GANJA & HESS where the narrative is briefly suspended in favor of direct address of Marlene Clark's childhood memory, what is on display is remarkable truth. Something heightened. Something memorable. Here are my ten imperfect truths from 2015.
In the end credits, there is a brief special effects shot of the real Domino Harvey smoking, looking smug, and smiling as the wreckage of a car drops to the ground behind her. She doesn't even flinch. Text superimposed on the image makes it clear that the film is dedicated to her in memoriam, but the image has its own spectral quality that communicates it without the necessity of words. It is the perfect confirmation of an unbelievable life story.
This is a star-studded swashbuckler and an old-fashioned adventure film that, while a little musty and meandering at the outset, bears its teeth when James Mason announces his true identity: Blackbeard. The moment is chilling.
There is a devastating shot where the main character, a tomboyish gal fresh out of prison named Bullet, dual-wields Molotov cocktails while running and screaming in slow-motion directly at the movie's villain, Brother Mad.
Pure exploitation. Drowning herself in plain view, Edie Sedgwick plays herself: a girl who literally lives in the emptied-out deep end of a pool. The notorious "Girl on Fire" and Warhol Superstar could not put herself out.
A very otherworldly TV-movie where not-so-famous people portray extremely famous people. The zenith of the weirdness comes when "Don Pardo" introduces SNL's "original cast" over a disorienting recreation of the show's opening. As close a window into an alternate universe as I can ever imagine. The effect is nearly nauseating.
I fell in love with a girl in a blue dress who danced like mad to a Louis Armstrong song. She was in the movie.
For a movie ostensibly about a dog shot into space, this movie is aggressively boring - but in a sort of good way. After watching this, I met some friends for a dinner and spent close to thirty minutes describing the odd film in excruciating detail as they choked on food and doubled over with laughter. Contains the following completely sincere line: "It was wintertime... The whole country was like... a wonderland." Hard to believe that this one exists.
Earlier this year, I met the actor Leonard Mann quite by chance when visiting Monte Hellman. Mann had a notable career in 1970s Italy, appearing alongside Laura Antonelli and Marcello Mastroianni in WIFEMISTRESS (1977). In this blatant STAR WARS rip-off, he utters the unforgettable line: "In the name of the Moon law, shoot him dead!"
Best one-sentence pitch for a movie goes to MAX MY LOVE. "A French housewife takes a chimp as her lover."
The mother of all subtext appears in this Don Siegel made-for-TV Western: a gay biracial cowboy romance.
- Samuel B. Prime
Founder, LA Ciné Salon