Hallie Cantor of the comedy site Splitsider was so right when recently wrote: The worst feeling in the universe may be the desperation of
aimlessnessly poking around Netflix Instant trying to find something better than the weird foreign dramas it keeps inexplicably recommending to you.
She then goes on to recommend some comedy, specifically as an alternative to The Bicycle Thief. Well, the terror and confusion of BICYCLE THIEVES (ahem) isn’t something I’d advise for the laymen. Who wants to remember what it’s like to be robbed, or Catholic, poor as fuck and thick-headed in post-war Italy?
We Cineastes here on Bright Lights don’t care for comedy–too artless– and it’s too late for neorealism, we want some ART… and so bad it’s good Friday night goofball thrills– that are and hard to find, that no one else knows about, that are way left of the dial–probably because they explore taboo topics like terrorism, lesbian junky espionage, patricide, 70s German terrorists, and Manson-esque LSD freakiness. Well, if you know where to look, here they are:
Currently available only on Netflix streaming is the hitherto unbeknownst to me big budget, ponderous, confusingly edited, reasonably engrossing, mildly titillating melodrama from Dino De Laurentiis, FRAULEIN DOKTOR (1968).
Also known as FRAULEIN DOCTOR, it’s the semi-true story of a WW1 German morphine-addict bisexual super spy, and is clearly structured along a DR. ZHIVAGO (1965) template, which is to say, it has big elaborate international sweep, a Maurice Jarre-ish orchestral soundtrack (by Ennio Morricone!), a superfluously elaborate train journey, and period detail the same approx. time, the same enigmatic approach to power, and romantic leads who look a lot like Julie Christie and Omar Shariff (Suzy Kendall and James Booth).
However, this ain’t your mom’s ZHIVAGO, unless your mom is a lesbian junky super spy working for WW1 Germany and in some ways FRAULEIN’s kin are less ZHIVAGO and more the Marlene Dietrich Von Sternberg collaboration DISHONORED, but ‘bigger’ and far dirtier, and more allegedly true. FRAULEIN dips its toes in a druggy kind of debauched super genius nastiness: the good doctor disguises herself as a London dockside wench, shoots up a lot of morphine, seduces Capuccine to steal her poison gas formula, and stares lustily at the delicious morphine granules being given to dying soldiers. If you’re an addict of anything, you’ll relate, and the lesbian seduction has a creepy Aldrich-ish freakshow quality–while staying true to the Zhivagosian ‘sweep.’ So… derivative as it may be I personally like it better than Dr. Zhivago, if for no other reason than as per De Laurentiis’ best works there’s a sense of real moral ambiguity, where immorality and violence are is championed and condemned in equal measure. (Full Review Here)
Similar and recommended: NEW ROSE HOTEL
2. The BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX (2008)
Sociopathic German youth never looked better than in late 1960s swinger outfits with machine guns in hand, even if the filmmakers feel the need to use, yet again, Buffalo Springfield singing about how what it is ain’t exactly clear / but there’s a man with a gun over there, to encapsulate that wild time of the late 1960s (and of course the ubiquitous flaming monk on the eleven-o-clock news). Though occasionally confusing as characters come and go with no ID (and all the hot German frauleins change wigs and hairstyles understandably often), it’s all boldly ambiguous and rich without being tediously overcrafted. The terrorists aren’t painted in any particular brush, letting viewers be attracted to these angry political activists while horrified at the violence of their actions. The sobering effect is to find your gangster movie fantasia suddenly resembling middle eastern terrorist mentality; you’ve been tricked into identifying with your own enemy via the mass hypnosis of popular cinema! Your own tool of hypnosis has been used against you, bourgeoisie schweinhund! To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so cute… been so violent… for so much media attention.
3. CULT OF THE DAMNED (1968)
Perhaps this film isn’t as well-known as its other AIP psychedelic brethren due to bad timing, i.e. the Manson murders. That tragic slaughter broke up negotiations between the generations like a bomb at Middle East peace conference. Suddenly an innocent film like ANGEL ANGEL DOWN WE GO AKA CULT OF THE DAMNED–full of song, freak, and flag that just happened to be about killing your parents–was considered too dark and dangerous for general release, and the film’s been rolling around in time warp obscurity ever since.
The untrue story finds rock messiah Peter Bogart Stuyvessant meeting and laying Tara, an overweight heiress (the one with the rich parents) down by the lake where she fantasizes in weird Freudian melt-down bloody Bluebeard forbidden stained-key-style collages. Bogart’s friends show up and sweep her into their world of forbidden pleasure and love, love, freedom! Pillows and purple gel accent lighting and a groovy old LP player and reel-to-reel. Bogart (“the original Hump-Phrey!”) even records a song to his new love about how “growing high and going wide gives you lots of ‘room’ inside.”
Tara gets confident with all this attention and learns to dance free and easy like Mama Cass and tease her mom about her obsession with expensive jewelry. With a little research Tara learns that fat used to be the height of beauty and that “Twiggy only dates back to Buchenwald.” But… Bogart decides to get with Tara’s pill-head mama and Tara freaks out and starts crying up on the ceiling. Mom hangs by the pool and notes: “He is the sort that makes you take all sorts of tranquilizers before breakfast, isn’t he? And Bloodys.” Cheers, Mrs. S.! With Bogart around, bloody’s always for breakfast. (more here)
Similar and Recommended: THE WILD ANGELS
Jack Hill’s great triumph of amok hot youth is like the grungy welfare recipient sister to the ‘richer’ films on this list – it’s got threadbare production and some bad acting and like most Hill films of this era about eight tons of great exploitation packed dialogue. It’s a favorite of Quentin Tarantino which means the eye patch Daryll Hannah wears in KILL BILL is at least partly inspired by Patch (above). There’s also a fortified Cadiallac tank, black militant feminists, evil dyke wardens getting beat downs, and general savagery.
Similar and Recommended: The BIG BIRD CAGE, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, and COFFY
(Full Review Here) Also Recommended: ENTER THE VOID
Backed by music from the Steve Miller Band (freshly formed), Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, REVOLUTION (1968) helps us get back to the garden after all the above political satire. This slightly sleazy free love documentary really benefits from the crunchy psychedelic guitars; even if you’re not paying full attention to the kids onscreen or the squares gawking from the sidelines at the never-ending parade of panhandlers along the Haight, they’ll lift your spirits up in case the cynical rock of WILD IN THE STREETS lowered them. If you need some love, here it is. Pupils dilated in the mirror. 20-years old and foxy, dancing like a girl who just found freedom, who done stepped out her shell like… a girl named… Today.
Unfolding with one eye on the exploitation market, it could be argued REVOLUTION was–at least on some level–pitched less to the kids themselves and more to adults curious about all the free love they’d heard about, but prurience is addressed too: hippies interviewed include a girl from the Sexual Freedom League who explains how only couples are allowed into the orgy to keep the numbers even (so dirty old men don’t capsize the boat). Ah the logistics of orgy-mongering!
The peak moment in all this is the writhing naked theater group dancing in front of the wild psychedelic light show to Country Joe’s most psychedelic instrumental, “Section 42.” With one exploitative eye to the bush shots, the long takes with the light show definitely have a certain magic Kenneth Anger-style power. You can feel the amount of LSD that surged through the audience, as if the black magick strength of their lysergic gaze is captured in the celluloid itself! Hey, groovy. (Full review here) See Also: TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.