The 300 Week 6: Old School and Indie Cred


Welcome back yet again to The 300, a weekly feature chronicling my attempt to see 300 movies on the big screen in 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, and hidden gems to explore the wide world of cinema. Hopefully you’ll find something to enjoy here as well.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times

Looked over some of my numbers and apparently I sure love Metrograph. This fancypants indie theater in the Lower East Side has excellent programming, solid food, coffee, tea, booze, and free wifi. Of the 47 feature films I’ve seen thus far, 18 have been at Metrograph. Assuming this feature continues through the year without a snag, I wonder if I’ll hit triple digits at Metrograph alone… and if they’ll force me to sign a lease.

On the opposite side of things, I will not be going to the Alamo Drafthouse again until Tim and Karrie League step down. Splinter ran a feature last week about all of the Drafthouse’s issues with sexual assault and harassment. While the local franchise owners seem like good people, change at the top needs to happen before I go back again.

And so, onward.

40 of 300: The Fourth Man (1983)
(aka De vierde man)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Jeroen Krabbé, Renée Soutendijk, Thom Hoffman
Country: The Netherlands
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Wednesday, February 7th

The Fourth Man was Paul Verhoeven’s last movie made in his native Netherlands before moving to Hollywood. (He wouldn’t make a Dutch film again until 2006’s Black Book.) So much about The Fourth Man is driven by feverish, dreamlike style. Certain images recur throughout the film, heightening the perverse, paranoid eroticism. Krabbé is a bisexual writer riddled with Catholic guilt, which he tamps down with drink, flimflam, and hedonism. He pursues a femme fatale and later her younger male lover, the two seductions offering their own lurid twists. I was reminded of the movies of Dario Argento and the giallos out of Italy.

41 of 300: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen
Country: USA
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Thursday, February 8th

On the note of Dario Argento and giallos, Dressed to Kill feels like it could have been made by an Italian schlockmeister trying to do their own take on Deep Red or Tenebre. The writing in this erotic thriller/mystery is laughable, yet Brian De Palma’s visual gimmickry (split screens, deep focus, interesting camera moves) keeps the movie watchable even when it’s silly. I am a setpiece mark. Angie Dickinson anchors the first half of the film as a sexually frustrated housewife; Nancy Allen steers the second half of the movie as a prostitute who witnesses the housewife’s murder.

42 of 300: On Top of the Whale (1982)
(aka Het dak van de walvis)

Director: Raúl Ruiz
Starring: Willeke van Ammelrooy, Jean Badin, Fernando Bordeu
Country: Netherlands
Seen at The Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Friday, February 9th

On Top of the Whale is the second movie I’ve watched by prolific Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz, and I suspect his movies are just not for me. Set mostly in a single house, the multilingual film centers on an anthropologist analyzing the language of two telepathic Patagonian natives. The ideas are heady—colonialism, Marx, flaws in social sciences, Lacanian psychoanalysis—and yet the film is static, offering sardonic observations but not much else. I had similar issues with Night Across the Street, the first Ruiz film I watched. It’s as if the fossils have been excavated but no one bothered to reassemble them.

43 of 300: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)

Director: Ranald MacDougall
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, Mel Ferrer
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Saturday, February 10th

There’s a Twilight Zone vibe about The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, a heavy-handed though engaging post-apocalyptic drama about the persistence and pervasiveness of racism. Belafonte and Stevens are two of the last people on earth, with so much sexual tension between them that a simple haircut feels like awkward sex. They can’t do anything about their desire because he’s black and she’s white. “People would talk,” Belafonte says as a wink to the audience. For context, interracial marriage wouldn’t be legal in all 50 states until 1967. Setting a story at the end of the world is a great way to point out what’s wrong with the current state of the world.

44 of 300: The Salt Mines (1990)

Director: Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Sunday, February 11th

On the westside of Manhattan, a group of homeless people live in abandoned dump trucks where the city keeps road salt for the winter. The Salt Mines follows the struggles of these people (mainly the trans women) as they try to survive on the street. Some turn tricks, others scavenge. We get a seedy portrait of NYC in the late 80s, made scuzzier by the grainy video quality and the ominous schluping/thumping of the score. Metrograph programmed The Salt Mines with its 1995 follow-up, The Transformation, though I think the harrowing, fascinating documentary could also play a double feature with Marc Singer’s Dark Days.

45 of 300: The Transformation (1995)

Director: Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Sunday, February 11th

The Transformation deepens the heartache of The Salt Mines, and completes the stories of these lives. The evangelical Christians who appeared in the previous film brought Sara (one of the trans women) into their flock. We learn that Sara has become born again and is now living as a man in Texas. She fled Cuba because she was jailed for being gay, and now that she’s off the streets, she’s not free to be a woman. The conflict and the denial is apparent when you read her eyes. She visits New York to reconnect with her homeless friends, and perhaps entice them into becoming born again Christians.

In the span of a few days, I’ve seen four films about trans women, the one not included in this recap being 2017’s A Fantastic Woman (The 300 Week 5). In 1980, De Palma treated one of his trans characters in Dressed to Kill as an unhinged killer (a nod to Psycho), while another trans woman in the film is just a normal person interviewed by a woke as f**k Phil Donahue, yet there’s still an air of suspicion about her. In these two 90s documentaries, we see trans women as marginalized outcasts, sometimes even denying who they are simply to achieve some sense of dignity. In A Fantastic Woman, that fight for dignity and acceptance continues, though seems more possible; in real life, star Daniela Vega is a trans actress, singer, and model in Chile.

What a coincidence, and what an interesting span of 37 years.

46 of 300: The Harder They Come (1972)

Director: Perry Henzell
Starring: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Ras Daniel Heartman
Country: Jamaica
Seen at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn, NY)
Monday, February 12th

Even though the story seems familiar, The Harder They Come succeeds because of the tension between Jimmy Cliff’s infectious music and the gritty plight of his character. He’s a naive country boy trying to make it as a musician, but circumstances turn him to a life of crime. It’s a little bit Sweetback, and a little bit cowboy, all the while calling BS on meritocracy and pointing out corruption throughout Jamaica. There’s a fine payoff to a scene in which Cliff and his friends watch Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western Django; it’s the gulf between received narratives and harsh realities for outlaws in the real world.

47 of 300: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Director: F. W. Murnau
Starring: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Tuesday, February 13th

Sunrise is artfully bonkers. I like it because it’s all over the place. F.W. Murnau uses superimposition, split screens, models, and rear projection to tell this story of an attempted spousal-murder that becomes a symbolic renewal of vows. There’s also a drunk piglet. Apart from the visual effects and technical mastery, I marvel at the body language of silent performers—those grand gestures so unnatural yet expressive, the small eye movements as conspicuous as pratfalls. Or the way two people, first slowly drawing closer to kiss, abruptly collide, like a car crash or the big bang. The score bleeds into the sound effects, creating these moments of cacophony that soften into silences and harmonies.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.