Harlan County, USA

Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, USA provides us with a lot of talking points about Pat’s family history (and Appalachian geography’s effects on politics), the Anthropology version of the observer effect (and when keeping your subjects alive means breaking cardinal documentary rules), and what exactly constitutes a living wage (when income well above the today’s Federal minimum isn’t even enough for a guy living in a trailer on the side of a holler).

It’s uh…it’s a very good documentary.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) may be our favorite Nicholas Roeg film, though the bar has been set pretty dang low. Even without David Bowie's performance -- and is he playing any more of a character than "David Bowie" ever was? -- this film deserves its cult status. Still as science fiction it fails for us on two major points:
1) The inventions don't seem that mind-blowing/paradigm shifting for 1976.
2) The departures from the source material eliminate the main anti-American militarism and anti-Nuclear weapons themes and replace them with...we're not entirely sure what this movie wants to say. Something about the alienation of pure genius?

Of course those are themes that show up a lot in science fiction, so I'll allow that Roeg may have been avoiding a cliche. But that doesn't forgive point one, which is a failure of imagination in production design (though it is probably the only aspect of this film that fails to be imaginative enough).

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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Two films for the price of one this week as we watch the original 135 minute version of John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie from 1976 and then his director's cut which runs 108 minutes from 1978. Of course, since this is Cassavetes, the shorter version isn't just a truncated version but a rather different film in design, in character motivation, and quite a bit of plot. Right from the start we see scenes not in the longer original then a restructuring of the narrative's chronology. The pair form a fascinating look into the psyche of an extraordinary director, only compounded by the suggestion that the story is allegorically autobiographical.

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Coup de Grâce

The year after their brilliant film The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, married moviemakers Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlondorff split their duties with Schlondorff staying behind the camera for Coup de Grace while von Trorra does double duty as co-writer and star. Filmed in 1976 and set in 1919, the filmmakers split the difference and rather successfully made a film that seems to have been made in 1939 for all it's melodrama and technology, though with its graphic depiction of war and its emotional consequences perhaps not in America in 1939. Oh goodness the emotional consequences.

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