This is the place to talk about films from around the world.


Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 10, 2005 12:40 am

FINGERS (1978)

From all accounts, since its rather unremarkable release in 1978, Fingers has slowly climbed up the ladder and is now considered a "cult classic." And its quite easy to see why: this emotional and sexually charged drama cogently portrays its self-contradictory protagonist without ever betraying him. Harvey Keitel is Jimmy, a man perhaps capable of perfecting the art of life under the right circumstances but internal and external pressures prevent him to do so. On one hand, his mother (only seen briefly), a pianist, wants him to follow her path even though hes past the beginners age; while on the other, his father (Michael V. Gazzo), a loan-shark, often urges him to forget everything else in order to help collect his debts. We watch Jimmy doing both brilliantly playing a Bach piece in the opening sequence, and not long after, expertly drawing the owed money from a restaurateur. But as this compulsive man starts to question himself and his manhood, things start going downhill (he even stops carrying his tape player everywhere like he used to). So, to prove himself capable in more ways than one, he tries to develop a relationship with an enigmatic sculptor (Tisa Farrow), but it turns out that she belongs to a local boxer-turned-pimp (Jim Brown). Directed by James Toback, Fingers, which was his debut feature, remarkably covers a lot of ground in its short running time. Much credit certainly goes to Keitel who mightve won more accolades for his leading performance in Abel Ferraras Bad Lieutenant (1992), but hes just as good here as a man incapable of getting rid of his demons which brings this tragedy full-circle in the classic Greek sense as the final sequence unfolds. Perhaps Toback was so enamored with his character that he didnt quite flesh out the secondary ones, but then, hes cut the film lean and raw, not the way everyone likes it.


*FINGERS is available on DVD from Warner (U.S.).


Postby wpqx » Wed Aug 10, 2005 2:45 pm

Haven't seen the film, I just had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to get rid of the emoticon without removing the bold typeface, Jesus.

I'm always a fan of cult cinema, so I'll try and contribute perhaps the next time I see Rocky Horror.


Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 10, 2005 9:00 pm

Feel free to share how you got rid of it.

Looking forward to your post(s).


Postby wpqx » Wed Aug 10, 2005 9:05 pm

there is a box that says Use Emoticons, and it automatically has a check in it, in order to remove that crap, you just have to click the box


Postby A » Sun Aug 21, 2005 2:00 pm

Hey Arsaib. I was really shocked (in a positive way ), to see this post on Fingers appear under a new thread here on this site. ITs one of my absolute favorite films (have it in my Top 20 on Ymdb), but no one seems to have seen it. How did you actually come upon it?
Lots of thanks for your favorable review, seeing it noticed by someone made this day a good one for me.
Hmmm, I wonder what I should post in this thread in the future, as youve raised the bar so high already...


Postby arsaib4 » Sun Aug 21, 2005 9:03 pm

Thanks, A. Your check is in the mail.

I had seen Fingers before but wanted to watch it again for its remake the French recently did titled The Beat That My Heart Skipped. As you know, most originals, especially ones like this that are so involuted with time and milieu, can't be remade properly and that was the case here. Good performance from Romain Duris who is the French one but the rest I think is very ordinary. Fingers is available on DVD in the U.S. if you're interested.

Looking forward to your contributions here in this thread.


Postby A » Tue Aug 23, 2005 5:49 pm

Okay, heres a fine one, Im very fond of:

El Topo (1970 / Mexico / Alejandro Jodorowsky)

This has over the years really become a cult object, and though it is today by many considered a classic, its notorious history still hasnt come to an end, as the availability of the film is very limited, and there seem to be various edited versions in screen time and screen size. I saw a widescreen version with washed-out colors, which was a bit cut I believe.
Nevertheless the power and vision of this film came through my 16:9 TV screen and I experienced enough of its magic to glimpse its greatness.
The film was made as an underground project in the Mexico of the late 60s, and had difficulty finding distributors, probably because Jodorowsky had already caused a scandal with his previous film "Fando y Lis" in 1967 which was (reportedly after a notorious run in Mexican cinemas, where numerous fights broke out over it) banned by the Mexican government. This film too has in time become a cult object all over the world, and is available on DVD in the US along with an audio commentary by Jodorowsky himself and a documentary on its making. Though I havent seen it yet myself, I dont think fans of surreal films would be disappointed if they took a chance with it. Because all of this Jodorowsky had difficulties with El Topo, but after John Lennon urged a friend to buy distribution rights, it got a world wide release and was heralded all over the world for its weirdness and strange philosophical take. If one considers a statement by Jodorowsky where he said that he asks of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs, one can see why the hippie-generation all over the world got enthusiastic about it. But while for example a film like "2001 - A space Odyssey" (which also got a lot of negative press on its original release, and commercial success through stoned audiences) became later regarded as a great cinematic achievement, El Topo hasnt yet gotten the same academic "beatification", for better or for worse.
So a modern viewer commonly approaches it not expecting a demanding work of art, but more something along the lines of 70s pseudo-intellectual Eurotrash, spiced with some gore and sex scenes.
I must confess, that this was also my own approch, when I borrowed it from a local videostore, but I was soon to be disabused.

The film features Jodorowsky himself as the main character El Topo, a gunslinger in search of himself. At the beginning he has a young son with him, but he leaves him alone in a village after finding a woman who is willing to accompany him on his travels. From this point on things start to go downwards for him, as the woman stirs up his ambitions to become something. On his search for fame and money he becomes more and more unscrupulous killing and torturing people, and even aquiring a second wife. The mission he finds himself on is a mixture of a spiritual search and a killing spree, on which he has to find four master gunmen of the desert (each with a personal philosophical stance) which he wants to defeat. After completing his task (not in an honest way that is), he is left alone in the desert to die by the two women who have apparently bscome a couple.
After this many a viewer (and critic) would have liked the film to end, but Jodorowsky is more interested in his philosophical vision, and the expression of a humanist view of the world, and adds a final chapter to this film, which is imo crucial for its understanding and the overall quality of the film. In the last part (which is the strongest) El Topo awakes in a cave where he has been worshipped for many years as a saint who is going to rescue the clan of deformed outcasts living there. Felling guilty of his former sins, he starts digging a tunnel, to connect the cave with the outer world, represented by a nearby town. Here Jodorowsky gets deeply allegorical and crafts a pessimistic commentary about the state of things in present day Mexico. Ill only tell, that in the following El Topo encounters his son, and that the union of all people is a task that cant be easily completed. The ending shows a bit hope for the human race as a whole, though it is far away from happy. It personally reminded me of the end of Jean Renoirs "La grande illusion", with whom the director shares his love for the common people and his ambivalent belief in and love of mankind, though both know what horrible things it is capable of.
But above all the films quality rests in its subversive take on film and society, which has put many viewers of, and is also the most responsible factor for the films strange reputation.
Jodorowsky uses elements from all over the world, mixing western and eastern philosophies, using film styles as different as the western and the slapstick comedy (where Jodorowskys knowledge of film history gleams), and dialogues and a use of language that seem to come from everywhere. The use of camera-angles contrasts beautiful panoramas with repulsive stagings of human decadence, and from gore to sex scenes, to a lrelationship between a dwarf and a "normal" person, there seem to be few topics the film doesnt have something to say about. But this eclectisicm isnt just a show-off, but at the very center of the films whole concept.
As a whole the only satisfying comparison I found, would be to Glauber Rochas brazilian masterpiece "Black God, white Devil" (which was - made in 64 - surely a huge influence), with added philosophical grounding.
Jodorowsky has afterwards made only a handful of films (some also classics), but with this film alone he has left an important mark in film history.


Postby arsaib4 » Wed Aug 24, 2005 11:00 pm

I think it's safe to say that Jodorowsky has redefined "cult cinema" with his two maverick masterpieces: El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Too bad that the film's been screwed around with so often by distributers.

Thanks for your detailed analysis, A.


Postby wpqx » Sun Dec 18, 2005 2:39 am

In cult movie news, Eraserhead will finally be officially released on DVD in the US on January 16th. So at long last I can get rid of the grainy old VHS bootleg I got and stop trying to find a decent print of a foreign import.


Postby arsaib4 » Wed Nov 15, 2006 1:28 am

THE DESERT OF THE TARTARS (Italy-Fra-W.Ger / 1976)

While film critics and programmers don't mind scavenging through the bins at far-flung festivals and markets in order to unearth "hidden masters," its remarkable how often they miss the boat on important filmmakers from major film-producing territories that have stared them in the face all along. Italian director Valerio Zurlini (1926-1982) -- a hitherto neglected post-neorealist whose career got into gear alongside such filmmakers as Ermanno Olmi and Francesco Rosi -- may not by an indisputable master of the caliber of an Antonioni or a Rossellini, but hes left behind a formidable body of work which deserves our respectful attention.

Adapted from a controversial 1938 Dino Buzzati novel of the same name, Zurlini's final effort, The Desert of the Tartars (Il deserto dei Tartari), is perhaps the best among the 8 features he made. The film stars one of his favorite actors, Jacques Perrin (also the project's co-producer), as a fresh-faced young officer in the early-20th century Austro-Hungarian Empire who gets assigned to a remote desert fort on the eastern frontier, not that far removed from where Tartars reportedly roamed. Once there, it doesnt take long for him (and us) to recognize that the constant transition of ranks among the elite is the only major activity that has taken place for years, if not decades, much to the chagrin of his fellow commanding officers constantly searching for the mythological "enemy." (The inestimable supporting cast includes such greats as Vittorio Gassman, Philippe Noiret, Giuliano Gemma, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Fernando Rey and Max von Sydow.) Zurlini skillfully manages the slow-burning tension as the days turn into months and years, causing the men to gradually wither away in mind and body. A few eventually find a way to wiggle out; others, including our protagonist, get caught in the bureaucratic quagmire. Set to the understated, melancholic score of the great Ennio Morricone, and shot by the renowned Luciano Tovoli -- whose on-location work in the ancient Persian city of Bam is just as impressive as his austerely lit sets inside Cinecitt, resolutely capturing the metaphysical erosion of the subjects and their ideals -- The Desert of the Tartars, in its essence, is an existential ghost story featuring silences that speak louder than words.


*Available in the U.S. on DVD (NoShame Films).

*Extras include:

-Interview with DP Luciano Tovoli (who has also worked with the likes of Pialat, Antonioni and Argento).
-Interviews with actor Giuliano Gemma.
-Original Italian Theatrical Trailer.
-CD of the original soundtrack.

*NoShame has also released a box set of two other fine Zurlini films: Violent Summer (1959) and Girl with a Suitcase (1961). (Please stay away from the poor Koch Vision edition of the latter.)


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