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My Films of 2020 - Kanopy Edition
Personal entry follows.
As time has progressed, I've turned into an authentic cinephile. Since early 2015, I've been watching classic films, revivals, and exclusive screenings at actual cinemas with regularity. One picture house in the town where I work would have a new revival or reissue of an older film nearly every weekend. I would attend, and to sum it up I know the manager, his wife, and several of the staff on a first-name basis now. Every time I had a chance to go, there would be some chit-chat about the previous weekend's films, what suggestions I might have for further revivals, and so on. It's been great for me, personally.
Of course, with the pandemic, seeing films in a cinema has been difficult. Beyond the "virtual screenings" hosted by my usual cinema, I found the Kanopy website, and I've been elated with the amount of classic and not-so-classic cinema I've been able to see this past year. I've seen maybe a couple dozen films and documentaries, and I've decided to include brief write-ups here as a reflection on my past film viewing habits.
If anyone else actually reads this: spoiler alert. Also, you might judge me for the noticeable decline in cinematic taste as the list proceeds (I'm listing them in roughly chronological order that I've watched them on Kanopy). I'm a big fan of b-horror and slasher flicks for whatever reason.
These are only films I've seen via Kanopy, not revivals or otherwise I was able to watch at the cinema when it was not closed down due to quarantine, nor is it a list of the virtual screenings I've watched this past year. Kanopy keeps a list of films in my "watch history" so it's easier to track and recollect these.
A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES, PARTS 1, 2, & 3
My first foray into documentaries about the art and process of film-making. Scorsese examines these with an emphasis on the film director, and the various "roles" that filmmakers have had through the decades: socializing audiences, guiding their perspective literally and figuratively through the changes of the times.
TALES FROM THE SCRIPT: UNTOLD STORIES BEHIND SOME OF THE GREATEST SCREENPLAYS
Features interviews with Peter Schrader, screenwriter of -Taxi Driver-, and John Carpenter, one of my favourite directors. Carpenter also reminded me that there are two types of monster movies: "The horror is out there," and, "The horror is us."
LITERATURE OF THE SUPERNATURAL: WORLDS BEYOND REASON
A collection of narrated fables and gothic horror stories, combined with classical art. A much more academic appreciation than I'm used to. Like a cinematic PowerPoint presentation.
At some point, I uncovered that Kanopy had a lot more than just documentaries and Great Courses. It was all downhill from there (as readers will notice). It started with Cronenberg's -Rabid-, a tale about a woman turned into a psychotic seductress after undergoing emergency surgery. She's infected with an incurable "sadistic" disease, whose victims suffer from rabies-like symptoms. Features the Cronenberg trademark "tentacles coming out of bodily orifices," with the added bonus of a bleak, '70s horror ending.
The curator who approved to have this film added to Kanopy's catalogue should be slapped. I watched it anyway. The "surprise" killer leaves a lot to be desired.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (the original)
Wow. Now I see what all the fuss was about. Really awesome story, the jumping-off point for an iconic character actor Michael Berryman, and the teeth-gritting, disturbing scene when the cannibals raid the campervan. The dog was the real hero of the picture, honestly.
NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE & BLUE: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN HORROR FILMS
Lightning-fast takes on everything from the US-made silent horror films to those made up until like 2009. Kind of like someone's "greatest hits" collection, and full of recommendations.
LO & BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD: THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF THE INTERNET
This film made me want to quit FB for good. What the Internet has become, as opposed to what it could be. Directed and featuring another favourite filmmaker: Werner Herzog. This reminds me: I should watch his -Grizzly Man- again.
Doesn't so much deconstruct the b-horror and fringe cinema, as it explains how it came about. There were cinemas that were contracted to show only "established" film studio pictures... Imagine if a movie theatre could show only Disney films, or only MGM films, or only Fox films on its screens. Those who wanted to make films and have them distributed, but weren't part of a major studio, were forced to have their films shown on the fringes of society. Fortunately, there were plenty of non-affiliated picture houses who wanted to make money showing films. Exploitation cinema and b-horror was born. This was a pretty useful documentary, personally speaking. I enjoyed the content a lot.
TELL THEM ANYTHING YOU WANT: A PORTRAIT OF MAURICE SENDAK
A look behind the curtain into the life of the author of "Where the Wild Things Are." He seems to have been quite a lovable curmudgeon late in life.
A look into the lives, works, and perspectives of contemporary filmmakers from all over the world. I had heard of only maybe half the names. Like a "foreign film" compilation CD / mixtape: I'm apparently missing a lot in terms of contemporary film, but there were a couple I could definitely pass and not miss at all.
AMERICAN CINEMA OF THE 1970s
I think I jumped into this one because I wanted to learn more about Buck Henry - someone I only knew about through him being name-dropped in classic Saturday Night Live episodes - and another interview with Paul Schrader. Also includes segments on -The Graduate-, -The Conversation-, and -Chinatown-, all movies I've seen thanks to their revival screenings.
CINEMA OF VENGEANCE
A low-budget overview and clip collection of Chinese and Southeast Asian martial arts action films. Lots of material on Bruce Lee. I also learned about Sammo Hung and Cynthia Rothrock. I've seen a number of these films but there are plenty more I want to watch now.
A fantastic Mario Bava piece, consisting of three short stories. Lots of wild lighting, over-the-top acting, Boris Karloff (the villain of the main feature), and a campy twist ending. I can see what has inspired horror filmmakers since then. There's like a direct line drawn between Bava's imagery, pulp comics of the pre-Code era, and slick '80s monster movies like -Creepshow-
LES RAISINS DE LA MORT (GRAPES OF DEATH)
A strange title for such a well-done horror film. This was my first-ever viewing of a Jean Rollin picture, and I enjoyed it tremendously. The locations were gorgeous and I was sucked in instantly. And Brigitte Lahaie caught my attention immediately... I may look for more Rollin films in the near future, but I'm not completely driven to do so. If I could just see film reels of deserted French countryside for an hour or two at a time, I'd be just as satisfied.
HOW STRESS AND EMOTION AFFECT LEARNING
A Great Courses segment discussing how traumatic experiences can seem to be vividly-remembered by those who witness them, and experiments done to try and augment learning and memory by simulating it. To sum it up: it's a bit too erratic and problematic to be useful. However, one useful piece of research points to the usefulness of the sense of smell in memorization.
HOW SLEEP AFFECTS LEARNING
Another Great Courses lecture, this one explaining the various effects of a good night's rest on learning and memory. Apparently the typical brain is just as active while we sleep as it is when we are awake, so a good night's rest is worth it. Both REM and non-REM sleep have discrete benefits, either towards critical (and unconscious) thinking, in remembering new information, or in synthesizing disparate ideas as part of creativity.
COLD EYES OF FEAR
My first Enzo Castellari film, and it was...meh. The introductory score sucked me in, but the way things ended kind of just left me irritated. The main villain was identifiable almost instantly. The woman shouldn't have died: she was the real victim in this picture.
I thought that -City of the Living Dead- would be my forever-favourite by Lucio Fulci, but I think that this one has taken the crown...! A fantastic ghost-centered horror story, excellent scenery and locations, and supporting characters that added a lot to the whole. The penultimate scene - a shootout with the zombies in the hospital - was telegraphed a mile away and a bit of a let-down. However the end of the film was chilling and left me with a lasting impression not soon forgotten.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (the original)
I've seen this before, and I wanted to watch it again. It kicks ass. It's an ever-tightening noose that starts off campy and hammy, but then takes a turn for the horrifying right about the time the boyfriend has his piano recital. The fact that the film constantly tries to convince you "the boyfriend did it" is the only let down. Otherwise this is fantastic.
Probably gonna watch something tomorrow night for New Year's Eve, but I don't know what yet.