September 2, 2004

Viewer Discretion Advised

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Nowadays, if a movie isn”t on DVD and available at Best Buy, it doesn”t exist for most of the public. But there is a certain charm to the blocky, ugly, unnecessarily large shape and poor image of the VHS cassette, one that I will leave the reader to elaborate upon. Yet, some of the world”s greatest movies are now available only on these 15-dollar gargantuans of the past. These are some of the best:

L”Age d”Or

Arguably, the greatest surrealist movie ever made, Luis Bunuel”s brilliant lucid dream starts with Max Ernst as a dying soldier and ends with a little boy being shot to death by snobbish party-goers. In-between are some of the most startling, incoherent, and, hilarious shots ever committed to film. And it”s all an allegory for the rise of fascism. Or capitalism. Or Christ. Or Rome. Or the id. Or something. Salvador Dali is credited as the scriptwriter for the film, although he reportedly never wrote a single scene. Nevertheless, the movie retains Dali”s playfulness as Bunuel mercilessly picks apart every single hypocritical and deluded notion the bourgeoisie has ever held.

The Crowd

King Vidor”s most socially conscious movie is also his most beautiful, harnessing an eminently modern cinematography in the service of establishing its themes of alienation and conformity. One of the last great silents, The Crowd begins with an infamous swoop through a skyscraper window, and settles to the ground with a nobody who imagines he”s destined for greatness. James Murray as the protagonist was one of Vidor”s greatest finds, portraying a dead-end family man with copious amounts of warmth, despair, and regret. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

No, the title is not a metaphor. If the legendarily drunk Sam Peckinpah has ever made a more drunken movie, I have not seen it. Warren Oates is an alcoholic barkeeper with a prostitute for a wife who traverses the Mexican wilderness in search of a gangster”s severed head. Along the way, everyone he knows dies and he befriends a coterie of homosexual gangsters hell-bent on unleashing swells of bullets into anything that moves, and quite a few that don”t.

El Topo

If Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was the Western on angel dust, El Topo is the Western on mescaline, bone fragments, the Bible, and, well, tons more angel dust! All I know is that everyone is dead at the end. At some sort of elementary level, it”s a bildungsroman of a leather-clad yogi/gunfighter finding himself in the Mexican desert. Apparently, finding himself includes a lot of toothpick sculptures, spontaneously combusting rabbits, and raped priests. Why does its structure mirror the Old Testament? Who would possibly finance this movie? Why is that dwarf taking three years to tunnel to a place she can clearly walk to in under an hour? El Topo takes the easy way out: it doesn”t answer these questions, nor does it really pose them.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Red Letter DAZE Editor-in-Chief