Every once and a while, a great film slips through the cracks for some reason or another. Sometimes, films are dumped onto video with a minimal theatrical release (as is the case with the now classic “Donnie Darko”- which only played two theatres in NY and L.A), or are simply forgotten with the passage of time. To celebrate these little known classics, I’ve put together a short list of films- in the hope that you readers may feel the urge to give some of these obscure films a look. Most of the following are available on either video or DVD.
A great film by William Friedkin, the man who brought you “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist”.
Admittedly a vanity project, this film is a remake of H.G Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear”, where a group of fugitives are hired to transport a truckload of aged and extremely sensitive nitro-glycerine through a jungle in the third-world. More than just an adventure film, the film is an ambitious commentary on the way Western Conglomerates in the seventies viciously plundered the natural resources of underdeveloped regions. The four lead characters are from vastly different backgrounds, and none of them are made out to be exceptionally sympathetic. Similar to the corporations who exploit the regions, these four criminals just want to make enough money so they can stay one step ahead of their pursuers.
Costing an astounding $25 million (in 1977 dollars- by comparison “Star Wars”, which supposedly opened a week before this film, only cost $10 million), the film was a colossal flop. Audiences stayed away in droves, and Friedkin’s once promising career was ruined. In recent years the film has been rediscovered, and has become something of a cult classic.
Most people who see this film love it, including several professors in the Film Studies program. The film is available for rental on VHS at Movieland and La Boite Noire. An out of print DVD is also available, but good luck finding it. Supposedly it’s going to be re-issued as a special edition this year.
Romanoff and Juliet (1961)
Supposedly a semi-hit when released in the ’60s, this film- directed by Peter Ustinov, one of the great wits of the twentieth century- is a cold-war satire about the offspring of U.S. and Soviet ambassadors in a fictional country named Concordia (I swear!), that fall in love. Peter Ustinov is the president of Concordia, who plays cupid to these two young lovers. A tough film to find these days, although it does air on cable from time to time, “Romanoff and Juliet” is a lot of fun, and works as great political satire. Students, note that in this film Concordia is an extremely tiny country (only a few miles long) run by a drunken buffoon who can’t dance- proving that even in the movies, Concordia never gets any respect.
Unfairly dismissed by critics as a “Matrix” rip-off, this film was sent direct-to video by Miramax, despite the fact that it made money overseas, and boasts a strong cast (Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Emily Watson, and Taye Diggs to name a few).
The story of a future dystopia where emotion of any kind has been outlawed and is suppressed by a drug called Librium.
If anyone misses a dose, they are deemed thought criminals, and are hunted down by a group of government assassins called clerics. Christian Bale is a cleric who, after missing a dose of Librium, begins to feel emotion. Naturally, all hell breaks loose.
While maybe not a masterpiece, “Equilibrium” is an intelligent sci-fi action movie, and is easily better than the two “Matrix” sequels that were released around the same time.
In some ways, this film is reminiscent of “1984”, although I don’t recall any car chases, kung fu, or gunfights in Orwell’s novel. As it’s such a recent film, “Equilibrium” can easily be found on DVD at any video store.
Wild in the Streets (1967)
A terrible film, but a great flick, this low budget hippy movie from the late sixties is about a rock star who becomes president after successfully campaigning congress to lower the voting age to 14. Once in office, he makes a law stating that anyone over thirty will now be confined to communes, where they will be force-fed LSD 24/7- while the youth of America runs “Wild in the Streets”; hence the title. This movie is a lot of fun, and the best way to view it is with a large group of friends while consuming ever larger amounts of alcohol. Try taking a shot anytime anyone says “man”- I guarantee, no one will be left standing after the first 10 minutes. “Wild in the Streets” is available at MovieLand, and also airs frequently on the Drive-in Classics satellite channel, along with other classics, like “Mary-Jane”, “Psych-Out”, and “The Trip”