The four films presented here form a dominant harmony of ‘70s era independent movies from filmmakers operating on the fringe of Global Cinema. Les Blank, Werner Rainer Fassbinder, Costa-Gavras, and John Waters are all maverick filmmakers whose non-traditional approaches bounce off one another in this specially curated collection with personal, political, and social resonance against the technology-driven global realities of 2017. You won't find any cell phones here, just some heavy doses of nitty-gritty humanity.
“Multiple Maniacs” was made in 1970. Viet Nam’s influence is written all over the film. Bourgeois citizens gather to witness crude performers committing vile acts, only to be shaken down for their cash in a violent climax to the confrontational entertainment that came before. Meanwhile, network television shows the horrors of the Viet Nam war every night's news reports. Baltimore’s real-life counter-culture (check out David Lochary as Mr. David) take their cut of John Waters’ fearless (prototypical Punk) fantasy that comes complete with a necessarily Shakespearian tableau. Waters pushes the film's defiant tone toward a public episode of violence, in an ending that Clifford Odets could appreciate.
Here is the ultimate filmic and political palate cleanser. Divine can’t help but moan at being seduced into anal play within religious walls, but that doesn’t mean she owes her new lover (Mink Stole) any more respect than she gives any of the other people she treats like disposable fetish objects.
John Waters cuts to a deeper social quick than any other American filmmaker because he understands the innate beauty of all people, regardless of how they look, much less how wild their imaginations and libidos run. “Multiple Maniacs” wallows in perversion for perversion’s sake because that’s what it’s there for; that's how it's done. Social class lines are clearly drawn.
You can fight the ideas, but you can’t fight the orgiastic feelings that John Waters transmits because his respect for filth runs so deep. Dirt is good for you even when it tastes like spinach pulled from manure. “Multiple Maniacs” is dirtier than that. Get filthy.
Costa-Gavras is an exquisite leftist filmmaker because he is too much of a pragmatist to fall into idealistic traps of the left or the right. His unique upbringing, as the son of a Pro-Soviet (Communist) Greek Resistance fighter in the Greek Civil War, meant that attending university in Greece or in the United States was out of the question. France offered the perpetual outlier an education in law in 1951, that paved the way for a switch to film school and apprenticeships with directors Jean Giono and Rene Clair.
Like "The Battle of Algiers," "State of Siege" includes a gut-wrenching scene of torture, this time performed on a theater stage for a private audience of military officials and other well-dressed reprobates. What was once a shocking scene of inhumane torture comes across as normalized when watching it in 2017.
Celebrated in critical circles for his groundbreaking film “Z” (1969), Costa-Gavras made fresh tracks across the backs of America’s power-grabbing military pawns of capitalist exploitation (think The United Fruit Company) with “State of Siege” (1972), a political thriller released at the height of the Watergate scandal. The efforts of the radical left are just as dimwitted as the vastly more effective methods of rightwing corporate raiders; the difference is that one has all the money and guns. Living by the sword always means dying by the same blade regardless of who is doing the transporting and who is doing the cutting.
FilmStruck is committing an enormous public service by showcasing Rainer Werner Fassbinder, New German Cinema’s hottest and most prolific star. Fassbinder is the German version of Lou Reed if Lou had been a German filmmaker.
Although the version of “Mrs. Kusters Goes to Heaven” currently being shown on FilmStruck does a fake-you-out move by spelling out, and including, two different endings, this movie presents a compelling case for autonomy of the individual. In an age when the NSA utilizes the same data that social media crunches to decide the plot of the next Hollywood movie you sit through like a hungry cat sniffing fresh tuna in the air, “Mrs. Kusters” puts the media, politics, and familial trust in same trash bin. Brigitte Mira’s elderly matriarch is a postfeminist every bit as complex as the outsider character she played in Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Heaven is what you make it.
Les Blank’s intuitive sense of documentary filmmaking is purely organic. His films allow for a natural symbiotic exchange to occur between the viewer and the work at hand. You can feel it happening when “Always For Pleasure” (1978) gets into the Second line musicians and partiers at a funeral procession. Irreverent joy overflows into Blank’s wanton absorption of a melting pot made up of Black, White, European, French, Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Mexican, Appalachian, and West Indian influences. Outside of society, and yet minted within primal human instincts for shared communal experience, the Second line musicians and their followers give back all that has been taken away from most of America’s citizens. You can guess the rest, with a smile on your face.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
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