The Shame of a Film Archivist

So, by day I work in a film archive which specializes in saving old theatrical films. Silent movies, international cinema, animation, classic Hollywood, etc. I have been working with film since I was in college getting my Economics degree and wondering how could I follow my passion for cinema. What happens to them after they play in the local theater?

Fast forward 22 years and here we are. Growing up in the days where I purchased my first VCR for $450 (yes, I still have it and it works) and the cable channel AMC had a ‘Film Preservation Festival’ to raise money and awareness for restoring movies (does anyone remember that?) I found my way to a career that allows me to work with celluloid every week and gives me access to lots and lots of movies. For this, I am very grateful.

Yes, I have seen a lot of movies. But mostly these are from the early year’s of movies to about the 1950’s. Why? Well, that is what I normally work on all day. Nitrate film, that flammable stuff that can burn when mishandled (more on this another time). My viewing then picks up again around 1991 to the present, but I have to admit it is mostly American Cinema with some of the big International titles thrown in if they can be easily found and conveniently watched.

So my friends, this leads to a large gap, where my list of 2020 Cinema Shame films mostly resides. Please comment and let me know what you think. Some will be easy to find (a few of those large DVD box sets at home where I purchased it for two titles and the other five are still sitting there, unopened, are listed) others will be a bit harder. Yes, it is a long list, but winter here in Western New York is long and I can always say I am improving my work skills instead of cleaning the house, right?

In order by decade:

Within Our Gates (1920)

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

Destry Rides Again (1939)

Le jour se leve (1939)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Secret Beyond the Door (1948)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

The Defiant Ones ( 1958)

Jalsagher [The Music Room] (1958)

Meghe Dhaka Tara [The Cloud-Capped Star] (1960)

Hanyeo [The Housemaid] (1960)

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

Lolita (1962)

Closely Watched Trains (1967)

Easy Rider (1969)

Mean Streets (1973)

Annie Hall (1977)

My Brilliant Career (1979)

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Diner (1983)

The Big Chill (1983)

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

The Natural (1984)

Out of Africa (1985)

The Fly (1986)

Broadcast News (1987)

Reversal of Fortune (1990)

Boyz ‘N The Hood (1991)

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Xi yan [The Wedding Banquet] (1993)

The Last Seduction (1994)

Dead Man (1995)

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Dancer in the Dark (2000)


2019 Shame Statement

Time for another year of penance. I know I haven’t been consistently writing, but I definitely am still consistently watching. One thing I try to do each year is expand my knowledge of a genre. Last year it was supposed to be westerns and I managed to get a few first time watches in. This year I’m going to move onto comedies.

The journey into comedies is inspired by my discovery and newfound love of screwball comedies after watching His Girl Friday for the first time in November 2018. I followed up with Bringing Up Baby and His Favorite Wife and wouldn’t you know? I liked something new that I had no idea I would. Hence 2019 will be exploring humor. Here’s gonna be some of them I certainly plan to watch:

The Naked Gun Trilogy – All I’ve seen of these films is the “that’s my policy” bit that spoofs Dirty Harry. That’s all I needed to see to decide it’s finally time to knock these off the list.

Joes vs The Volcano

Inspired by CinemaShame’s very own James Patrick, I hear about how much this film means to him, so I need to see what is going on. I like hearing when movies are special to people that aren’t the usual suspects.

Young Frankenstein

I’ve been working on my Mel Brooks watching for a while now. Yet I’ve still haven’t seen his magnum opus. I own it, so it should be one of the first I knock off this year.

That Thing You Do!

Some more Tom Hanks here.

Chasing Amy

One of many still unwatched Criterion disc. Also the one Kevin Smith film I was always genuinely interested in.

So this is the opening salvo. Obviously subject to change. Or not at all. Here’s to 2019 and all your first time viewing!

No Dog in this Fight: My first viewing of Straw Dogs.

The end of Straw Dogs has Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner driving an uncredited David Warner’s Henry Niles back to town after the climatic showdown in the Sumner house. Henry tells David, “I don’t know my way home.” To which David responds, “That’s okay. I don’t either.” This final exchange sums up the entirety of what  Straw Dogs conveys. At the end of the day, just what are we? 

There will be spoilers here.

Prior to my viewing of Straw Dogs, the only film by Sam Peckinpah I’ve seen was The Wild Bunch. I took that film as a more visceral version of a Leone western. However having only seen it once, I didn’t get the themes that are prevalent with Peckinpah’s work. This film is rife with controversy and complications and interpretations. It is not an easy watch. Things do not resolve themselves. People are not good and don’t nescesarily become better people by the end of this.

This film is certainly one that earned its controversial status. It raises questions. Even if you answer one question, you may not answer the next question the same way.  Is Straw Dogs a condemnation of violent masculinity? One may interpret it that way. Or is it a celebration of that? It may be as well. Is Peckinpah blaming women for the violence that occurs against them? It seems that way, at least to me it did. Early on David asks his wife Amy (a heartbreaking performance by Susan George) why doesn’t she wear a bra if she doesn’t want the leering eyes of her ex-boyfriend and his cohorts focused on her chest. This moment is actually one of many that show her husband is not only meek, but part of the overall problem. He disrespects his wife at times and belittles her. He blames her sexual freedom for the attention she did not ask for. By time we reach the climax, you’ll see David is no better than the brutes who invade their home. It just took him a little longer to get there.

The controversial rape of Amy is still a discussion point to this day. Becuase of how Peckinpah filmed the scene, there are indicators that Amy at first refuses but then acquiesces. Now I do not see it that way. I saw a woman trying to cope with the violation being committed against her. The scene is brutal and uncomfortable and I actually feel uncomfortable trying to discuss it. Yet this is film criticism and I’d be remiss to not mention it at all despite its notorious reputation.

This is a very complicated film, directed by a very complicated man. Did Peckinpah hate the violence within himself? Did he allow that to manifest in this film? Does he think David is a hero or antihero? So many questions. It’s fitting that this film came out in 1971, the same year as fellow controversial director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Straw Dogs, like that film are not easily watched. Yet both films hold a mirror to the ghastly primal nature of humanity and at the very least, make you look inside and question just what are you. Straw Dogs, structurally is a time bomb, ticking away during its runtime until it explodes in the climax. 

Is it just a matter of time for any of us? Just another of the many questions it forever brings. Endless questions and endless discussion.