Streamers: AFS Programmer Lars Nilsen Presents a Genre Grab Bag for Home Viewing

For this week’s Streamers recommendations we turn to our own AFS Lead Programmer Lars Nilsen, who is known for having tastes that encompass the whole of Cinema, from the exalted heights of art films to some of the deepest crevices where not-art films reside. As one of the founders of the American Genre Film Archive and a current advisory board member, he is a recognized authority in the field so we asked him to select some genre films – elevated and otherwise that you might enjoy.

Here are his picks:

DREADNAUGHT

(1981, Dir. Yuen Woo-Ping) – Streaming on Amazon Prime

Usually when martial arts films attain a high plateau of artfulness, it is because in some sense the makers sacrifice action and melodrama to give the film a gloss of “real-movie” respectability. The Yuen clan will have none of that. Director Yuen Woo-Ping and his brother/collaborators here tell a story of a revenge obsessed killer who hides out in a masked theater troupe. There are several sequences here that are as good as anything you’ll ever see in a martial arts film, including a gravity-defying fight between two “dragons” that will leave you gasping for air.

GANJA & HESS

(1973, Dir. Bill Gunn) – Streaming on Amazon Prime

A unique, Black-bohemian take on that old chestnut – the vampire story. Made on an extremely low budget on grainy-looking 16mm film stock, this film finds yet a new angle on vampirism, which even at the time was a badly distended metaphor. Here it comes to represent both addiction and also the “blood” of African traditions. Maybe best of all is the cast, Duane Jones (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) as Dr. Hess Green is excellent, as is Marlene Clark as Ganja Meda. Her voice is wonderfully expressive and gives her character added dimensions. Gunn himself plays an important part in the film, as Ganja’s eccentric husband. The music by Sam Waymon – processed with echo units to add elements of dreamlike reverie to the fantasy scenes, is – like the rest of the film – spectacularly effective despite the economy of its means.

THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK

(1974, Dir. Francesco Barilli) – Streaming on Kanopy

I’ll be damned if I can tell you what this movie is about. It stars the fascinating Mimsy Farmer as a woman haunted by traumatic memories who may or may not in fact be pursued by a real antagonist. The giallo-esque plot is labyrinthine, and if you lose the thread of it, don’t worry too much. It was never that important anyway. More than anything this is a photographic study of Farmer and her psychologically fraught surroundings. The mise-en-scene is full of layered and reflecting compositions suggesting that a state of wildness and chaos is closing in at the edges of the frame. Directed by 30-year old Francesco Barilli with stellar production design by Piero Cicoletti and cinematography by Mario Masini.

THE BELLE STARR STORY

(1968, Dir. Lina Wertmüller and Piero Cristofani) – Streaming on Amazon Prime

This must be the only Italian Western directed by a woman – Lina Wertmüller took over direction after a few days shooting. It is the sort of low-budget western that proliferated in the wake of Sergio Leone’s genre-defining classics. It certainly lacks the polish of much more expensive Leones, but it has a charm all its own – and one certainly senses that the approach to gender is very different than in most of the other films of this kind. Elsa Martinelli plays the outlaw Belle Starr and George Eastman plays the role of Larry Blackie, their love story is as rough and violent as the old west – as they say. This is an odd one, and not for everyone, but if you enjoy Italian Westerns, take a look at this one.

DEMENTIA aka DAUGHTER OF HORROR

(1955, Dir. John Parker)

Not to be confused with Francis Ford Coppola’s DEMENTIA 13, which is also good. This is perhaps the best example of nightmare-put-on-film before David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD. There is no dialogue in the film – though one version contains narration. The soundtrack consists of a relentless but beautiful score (credited as New Concepts In Modern Sound) by George Antheil which features the soaring, theremin-like sounds of singer Marni Nixon. The story is about a young woman who commits a crime and is pursued down noirish night streets by demons of guilt and societal retribution. Surreal and inventive. A complete outlier in film history.

 

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