Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A site devoted to rare foreign and U.S. features

I have avoided spotlighting sites that offer streaming video of copyrighted films and audio. A site appeared earlier this year, however, that is focused on uploading subtitled copies of foreign features that have no U.S. distributor (thus no DVD release) and American oddities from the pre-Code era, as well as titles made during the most fertile time for oddball productions, the Sixties. Rarefilmm is a very ambitious endeavor that may not be around for long, but the moderator's attention to obscurities that have fallen “through the cracks” of cinema history is most appreciated.

The moderator, who goes by the name “Jon Rarefilmm,” has thus far posted links to 644 films that are housed on other sites (first YouTube, then another upload site); he takes requests for film titles on the site's Facebook group, so presumably he himself is posting these films on those sites – I'm not certain whether he's digitizing the films himself, but the number of titles he's made available in just 12 months makes that highly unlikely.

Jon doesn't offer any opinions on the material he's posting, although he has created a side menu linking to films he's uploaded that were made by great foreign filmmakers. Thus I thought I should zero in on the more significant and entertaining features that have shown up on this odd site, especially in light of the fact that Jon has noted he will be putting up a “pay wall” on January 1 (see update below). If foreign and pre-Code film fans are interested in the material, they can check it out for free for the next week.

If I had to chose one title to recommend above all others currently on the site, it would be Resnais' 1997 film On connait la chanson (“Same Old Song” in English). It is perhaps the late New Wave master's most charming picture, a modernist musical dedicated to the memory and genius of TV deity Dennis Potter. The film is currently unavailable in the U.S., because its American distribution was handled by New Yorker Films, which went out of business several years ago and its titles are currently lurking in limbo.

In the Potter tradition, Resnais' characters express their frustrations and ecstasies through popular song, lip-synched to classic old recordings. The screenplay by Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnes Jaoui is a delight, and Resnais' fragmented approach to Potter's technique is glorious, both for what it says about the characters' inner lives and popular culture's hold on the imagination and emotions. The post for this film is here.

Another truly rare item posted on the RF site is The Devil's Cleavage (1975) by George Kuchar. The film is George's longest-ever feature (running over two hours) – his other long works were composed of shorter “episodes,” or were screenplays directed by other filmmakers, as with the amazing Thundercrack!. 

Cleavage is a fun feature with some great, torridly melodramatic sequences (in the classic Kuchar style), but it's a bit too long for its own good. If you've ever seen George's great short works, try it out for a bit – it includes (for those who want to see underground comix artists undraped) a topless Art Spiegelman in one scene. The film is posted here.

Another must-see is a film that is so insanely egomaniacal that it's hard to describe, Anthony Newley's Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1970). It's a classic Sixties misfire that mimics 8 1/2 but retrofits it to accommodate Newley's lusts (he wants us to know all about his womanizing), his family (including then-wife Joan Collins), and oddball guest stars (Fellini's embodiment of death was a beautiful woman, while Newley's is Georgie Jessel). The post for Heironymus is here.

Another film of note that's been posted by Jon is Alain Corneau's sublime Jim Thompson adaptation – for my money the single best Thompson adaptation ever – Serie Noire (1979).

The film stars Patrick Dewaere (whom we lost way too young, a suicide at age 35). He plays a door to door salesman/con man who concocts a plan with a quiet girl to rip off her rich aunt. The film is wonderfully underplayed and Dewaere beautifully cast as the amoral lead. The post for that film, thus far unavailable in the U.S. on VHS or DVD, is here.

A final spotlight should be thrown on yet another French feature that lurks in distributor limbo, Rivette's Haut Bas Fragile (1995). The film is a joyfully self-conscious affair that is similar to Godard's Une Femme Est Une Femme, offering stars who can only mildly carry a tune acting out the most blissful of movie-musical cliches as they sashay around the set. Like most Rivette titles, it's a long feature, but worth the time spent. The post for the film is here.

Other notable foreign items on the RF site include Scola's The Family, Varda's Kung Fu Master!, Sternberg's Anatahan, Antonioni's La signora senza camelie, Losey's The gypsy and the gentleman, Ophuls' La signora di tutti, Bunuel's Wuthering Heights and The Monk (based on an unproduced script he cowrote), Mizoguchi's Love of the actress Sumako, Oshima's Boy, Rohmer's Les rendezvous de paris, Gillian Armstrong's Starstruck, Maxmilian Schell's End of the Game, and Paul Verhoeven's The Fourth Man.

Arthouse items worth checking out include Robert Frank's Me and My Brother, The Wild Duck with Jean Seberg (her last film), Anna Karina as a non-Godardian hooker in Le Soldatesse, Marcello in Everything's Fine, the caper film Rififi in Tokyo, the only post-Breathless reunion of Belmondo and Seberg in Echappement libre, and the only pairing of Belmondo and Moreau, Moderato cantabile. 

Some vintage Hollywood titles: Clara Bow in Call Her Savage, the wonderfully titled Are Husbands Necessary?, and the Spencer Tracy pic Now I'll Tell, costarring Helen Twelvetrees and Alice Faye (based on the memoirs of Mrs. Arnold Rothstein!). Also, Hawks' Ceiling Zero, Capra's Dirigible, and a later oddity, William Castle's Let's Kill Uncle.

A number of lesser known noirs are up on the RF site, including The Night Has a Thousand Eyes and Hugo Haas' immortal Pickup. You can see Tim Carey do a lovely little dance in Bayou and watch one of Dean Martin's most underrated performances in Career.

Rarities that Jon has posted include Bette at her kitschiest in Beyond the Forest, Otto Preminger's misbegotten Porgy and Bess, the patriotic Song of the Open Road (with a W.C. Fields segment), the Dean Martin comedy Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?, the rare comedy Funnyman with Peter Bonerz, the trippy Sixties pic TheTouchables, the Patty Duke vehicle Me, Natalie with Al Pacino's screen debut, The Dion Brothers (aka “The Gravy Train”) scripted by Terrence Malick, The Incredible Sarah with Glenda Jackson, Ulu Grosbard's Straight Time with Dustin Hoffman, the female buddy movie Heartaches with Margot Kidder and Annie Potts, and Paul Bartel's farce Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.

Fans of cinematic bombs and oddities will want to check out Mickey Rooney with a talking mule in Francis in a Haunted House, the ridiculously titled Cottonpickin Chickenpickers with the immortal Sonny Tufts, the beatnik oddity Once Upon a Coffee House featuring the movie debut of Joan Rivers, the big giant bomb Che with Omar Sharif as Guevara, the Filippino variant on The Most Dangerous Game called The Woman Hunt (take a guess), the rock fantasy Oz: a Rock and Roll Road Movie, the Doris Dorrrie comedy Me and Him with Griffin Dunne and his talking penis (no kidding), and something that sounds like it will either be very funny or quite awful (but is most likely both), Jesuit Joe.

Feast while ye can, and happy holidays to all! 

Thanks to John W. for pointing the way.

UPDATE: The "download" feature is still working on the film entries, as of 1/3/15. You click the link and then you have a choice of MP4 download "sizes."

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