By John Seal

February 10-16, 2004

I *said* not to cut off my Academy Award speech.

From the obscure to the obscurest to the merely overlooked or underappreciated; they all have a home in the TiVoPlex! All times PDT.

Tuesday 02/10/04

3:45am Encore True Stories
The Mystery of Picasso (1956 FRA): After years of directing some of cinema’s greatest and most beloved suspense films, French auteur Henri-George Clouzot’s career took an interesting turn when he produced this documentary about painter Pablo Picasso and the creative process. Picasso admitted Clouzot’s camera into his studio, allowing the director to film him at work by utilizing a transparent easel that traced brush strokes and rendered the artist “invisible”. This unlikely film tracks the development of 20 Picasso works, some in ink, some in oils, and all of them displaying the artist’s predilection for cubism. A fascinating and truly unique film, The Mystery of Picasso has rarely (if ever) appeared on television, so be sure not to miss it. Also airs at 5pm.

3:20pm Encore Mystery
Full Circle (1976 GB-CAN): This long-forgotten Anglo-Canadian horror film sat on the shelf for more than four years awaiting an American release, finally drifting into US theaters as The Haunting of Julia in 1981. Starring Mia Farrow and Keir Dullea as an expatriate couple living in London, the film is a ghost story about Farrow’s encounters with the spiteful spirit of a long-dead child in her ritzy Kensington digs. Directed by Brimstone and Treacle man Richard Loncraine and written by Xtro creator Harry Davenport, this is a decent if minor entry in the canon of haunted-house cinema, long unseen on TV and currently unavailable on home video.

11:45pm IFC
Mouth-to-Mouth (1978 AUS): I haven’t seen this antipodean drama, but its very obscurity is as enticing to me as catnip is to a feline. Directed by John Duigan, one of the lesser lights of the Australian film boom of the late ‘70s, this is a coming-of-age drama about two teenagers getting by on the streets by hook or by crook. A quick perusal of the cast reveals no names that are familiar to me, so naturally I’m terribly excited about seeing this.

Wednesday 02/11/04

11:20am Encore Westerns
Frontier Hellcat (1964 BRD-FRA-ITA-YUG): I really hate to repeat myself, but some days I don’t have much choice. Today’s schedule is particularly dire, forcing me to consider recommending everything from Frida to Pokémon 4Ever to Passon Cove 2: Deep Desires. Instead, I’ll give another plug to this sauerkraut western, the lesser of many evils on television today. Believe it or not, American readers, our friends in Germany are huge fans of the genre, especially the Old Shatterhand and Winnetou novels of Karl May, a good dozen of which were adapted for the silver screen in the 1960s. British star Stewart Granger appeared in several as Shatterhand (changed to Surehand for American audiences) and Pierre Brice played his loyal Native American sidekick, Winnetou, in all of them. The two team up here, along with Elke Sommer and future Trinity star Terence Hill, in this tale of good guys - guess who - versus bad guy-bank robbers who disguise themselves as Indians! Director Alfred Vohrer was also responsible for a number of German Edgar Wallace films, another Teutonic taste treat that never really caught on in the United States. Also airs 1/12 at 1:35am.

11:50pm Starz!
Das Experiment (2001 GER): Whilst we’re still on the Teutonic tip, this excellent thriller about a student role-playing experiment involving the ol’ master-slave relationship makes its US television debut. All the more disturbing because it’s based on a real-life experiment conducted at Stanford University in 1971, the film quickly establishes that brutality and cruelty are lurking beneath the civilzed surface and are easily accessible parts of human nature, as students ‘act out’ the roles of prisoners and their wardens. This is hard going and definitely not for all tastes, but strongly recommended nonetheless, and thankfully, Starz! is utilizing a subtitled print. Also airs 2/12 at 2:50am.

Thursday 02/12/04

1:50am Encore Action
The Challenge (1938 GB): Wow, the Kino Panzer divisions are unstoppable this week. One of the forgotten genres of cinema is the German “mountain film” of the 1930s, a trope mimicked by Guy Maddin’s overly-clever tinted epic Careful in 1992. The major filmmaker of the style was Austrian-born Luis Trenker, a ski champion, mountain climber, and all-around cold weather enthusiast who helmed a couple dozen high-altitude films in the 1930s and ‘40s (yes, he loyally stayed in the Fatherland during the war years). This film was Trenker’s only English language production, though he was only responsible for the second unit work, with primary filmmaking duties resting with British filmmaker Milton Rosmer (On a sidenote, Rosmer was born in my hometown of Southport, Lancashire in 1881). However, Trenker was also the star of The Challenge, a docudrama about the first scaling of the Matterhorn in 1865, long before Mickey Mouse and Goofy began climbing it on a daily basis. One of the least=known films produced by the Korda Brothers London Film Productions, The Challenge was shot on location and is a real rarity. Also airs 2/16 at 4:20am.

Noon Sundance
My Friend Paul (1999 USA): The eponymous subject of this documentary is a bright ex-Vassar student whose life spiraled out of control and landed him in jail, a manic-depressive bank robber cut off from his friends and family. Director Jonathan Berman, a longtime friend of Paul, decided to make this film when his childhood buddy was released from prison after serving his time. The result was more than Berman bargained for, with Paul still suffering from mental illness and desperately in need of much more support than his filmmaking friend could supply. A hit at Slamdance in 1999, My Friend Paul is a disturbing reminder that reality and art don’t always make the most comfortable of bedfellows.

Friday 02/13/04

12:05am Sundance
The Gift (2003 USA): Last week, I recommended the film version of Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros, a story about a man who refuses to conform and finds himself alone in a world of pachyderms. It’s a familiar and fascinating story arc, extending through films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Last Man on Earth (though the film version of that story avoids the deeper questions raised by Richard Matheson’s short novel, I Am Legend). Where does normality end, and where does subservience begin? If we “change with the times” are we collaborators in our own cultural genocide, or merely Darwinian adaptors? This very disturbing documentary looks at the subculture of HIV bug chasers who actively pursue the acquisition and continued spread of the virus in an attempt to “fit in” with the “accepted” norms of HIV-positive gay society. The winner of the Best Documentary prize at the 2003 New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, it’s guaranteed to provoke discomfort of some level for almost everyone.

4:45am More Max
The Duellists (1978 GB): Ridley Scott’s lush-though-cold costume drama about a personal grudge taken to extremes in Napoleonic-era France is worth a look if you’ve never seen it before, or if you’re simply interested in seeing what the director was up to right before shooting Alien. Scott’s first feature film, The Duellists plays a bit like a B version of Kubrick’s masterful Barry Lyndon, right down to the decision to cast Americans in the lead roles; in this case, Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as the fussin’, feudin’ Frenchmen who repeatedly cross swords over the years. Even the narration is by Yank Stacy Keach! Undoubtedly on board to ease financing during one of the bleakest periods for British film production, the Stateside trio are fine, but can’t hold a candle to co-stars Albert Finney and Edward Fox. For a first film it’s really quite admirable, though, and if you look hard enough, you’ll see Pete Postlthwaite in a small role as a barber.

Saturday 02/14/04

7pm Sundance
Intimacy (2001 GB-FRA): One of those sexy French films I normally avoid, Intimacy is actually set in Britain, and features Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance as a pair of lovers engaged in an anonymous, purely sexual tryst. It’s all a bit like Last Tango in Tooting, with Rylance playing a publican instead of Brando’s ennui-ridden unemployed wanderer, but I have to admit that Ms. Fox is a bit of all right and definitely a step up from Maria Schneider. Director Patrice Chereau’s next film, 2003’s Son Freres, took him back to the Continent for more tortuous Gallic relationships, but Intimacy’s Big Smoke setting adds immeasurably to its believability and interest. Add in co-stars Timothy Spall and Marianne Faithfull and a screenplay by My Beautiful Laundrette scripter Hanif Kureishi, and you’ve got an arthouse winner.

Sunday 02/15/04

5:20am Encore Mystery
The Running Man (1963 GB): For those who resent paying their insurance premiums - and who amongst us doesn’t - there is Carol Reed’s The Running Man, not to be confused with the Arnold Schwarzinator film of the same name. The always-dapper but much-too-thin Laurence Harvey stars as Rex Black, a professional pilot whose insurance claim is turned down by frosty Allen Cuthbertson due to coverage that expired two days prior to an accident. Enraged, Harvey and wife (played by an icily beautiful Lee Remick) launch a scheme to bilk the insurance company of a very large sum of money. Unfortunately, claims adjustor Alan Bates is on the job to complicate matters for the felonious couple. John Mortimer’s screenplay is a bit flat and frankly unbelievable at times, but the superb cast more than makes up for it. The film, shot in color and on location in Spain, looks gorgeous, but Encore is airing a pan-and-scan print that severely compromises the original Panavision framing. At least this print retains a wide-screen credits sequence, which features some superb work by Bond main man Maurice Binder.

5pm Showtime
Bowling for Columbine (2002 USA): Love him or loathe him, Michael Moore remains the only documentary filmmaker able to put bums in American movie theater seats. He’s the American equivalent of Nick Broomfield, a passive-aggressive gadfly who lets his subjects hang themselves by their own petards. Bowling for Columbine, last year’s Academy Award-winning look at American gun culture, makes its television debut this evening, and like much of Moore’s work, is only partially successful, with Moore’s Spike Lee-style predilection for on-screen glory serving as an unnecessary distraction. When it hits the target, though, it’s a bullseye, and the film had me blubbering more than once into my popcorn. Kudos to Charlton Heston for having the guts to face off with the Flint-born troublemaker, and top marks to Moore for getting ammunition off the shelves at K-Mart. Lacking the measure and nuance of an Erroll Morris, Moore is nonetheless an agent provocateur extraordinaire, and I’m looking forward to his forthcoming Bush-Bin Laden exposé, Fahrenheit 9/11, hopefully hitting cinema screens in time for Election 2004. Also airs at 8pm and on 2/16 at 2:30pm and 5:30pm.

Monday 02/16/04

5pm Encore Mystery
Murder By Contract (1958 USA): A passable Columbia programmer about a hit man reluctant to carry out his next assignment, Murder By Contract features future television star Vince Edwards as the foot-dragging assassin who draws the line at murdering women. Director Irving Lerner was clearly impressed by Edwards, and the two worked together extensively on the Ben Casey TV series of the early 1960s, with Edwards in the lead role. At barely more than an hour in length, Murder By Contract is, however, a step above other glorified boob tube pilots, and features some fine LA location work, as well as Charley Tuna himself, Herschel Bernardi, as an enforcer.