Obscure Film Week

23 06 2010

We love a good film here at ScratchAcross HQ.

But only good films.

Sure, shoot-em-up action classics such as Predator will always hold a spot in our hearts, but increasingly, it seems that fewer and fewer films meet the criteria of this elusive category.

Take a handful of the blockbusters released in the past month: Sex in the City 2, Robin Hood, The Karate Kid, The Back-Up Plan….gross.

Anyway, with this in mind, I should like to bring to your attention three amazing films, all of which have surely escaped the public’s attention.

Only one is new, two are subtitled and the third is by a famously prickly German director, which probably explains why they never screened at your local Cinemax.

But do yourself a favour and check ’em out.

Let The Right One In

Vampires schmampires, right?

Yeh, but what about Swedish-speaking vampire kids, living in 1982? Super cool.

Who knows what spawned the recent rash of blood-sucking books and features, but rest-assured, this is the best of a tired genre —  a film with heart, combining suspense, a little horror and even comedy in a way ‘Twilight’ could only dream of.

Oskar is a loner and bullied at school, but life turns a corner after he befriends an odd little girl on the jungle gym outside his snowy apartment block.

Eli is a grubby little 12-year-old, but she’s been 12 “…for a very long time” and together the two begin to develop a warmth amidst the bleak Swedish winter.

The subtle romance that blooms give Oskar the strength to fight back against his tormentors and while the film might be filed under ‘horror, it’s hardly horrifying – more like a dark, elegant fairy tale.

Viewers are left to fill in the gaps about Eli’s real identity and her elderly helper who gathers fresh victims for his tiny friend – even the bloodiest scenes are framed in wide shots and the impact is much reduced.

Stark, understated and unexpectedly moving, Let The Right One In is probably the best film you’ve never seen.

Encounters at the End of the World

Director Werner Herzog is certainly prolific, but I happen to think he’s frickin’ awesome to boot – offbeat subjects tackled with candour, insight and a lack of pretension.

Grizzly Man saw him examine delusional bear-enthusiast Timothy Treadwell’s tragic end and he convinced Christian Bale to shed one-third of his body weight for Rescue Dawn.

Here, he travels to Antarctica , delivering some unintentionally hilarious one-liners along the way: “The National Science Foundation had invited me to Antarctica even though I left them in no doubt I would not come up with anther film about penguins.”

Herzog ventures out from McMurdo research base and attempts to discover what might lead a person to work on the southernmost continent.

He soon discovers an eclectic collection of professional daydreamers, some with their own theories.

“If you take everybody who’s not tied down, they all sort of fall to the bottom of the planet. We’re all at loose ends and here we are together,” says one man, a trained linguist who now finds himself on a continent with no language of its own.

Despite striking underwater photography beneath the ice, Herzog’s film is no nature doco, but more an observational study of people and place.

There are also some otherworldly recordings of seals beneath the ice that wouldn’t be out of place in a nightclub (I’m serious) and one of the most haunting images is of a confused penguin wandering away from his pals toward certain doom in the mountains.

A little strange, for sure, but all the more captivating for the weirdness.

Man on a Wire

In 1974, a Frenchman snuck into the barely completed World Trade Centre towers in NYC and set up a tightrope between them, before spending an hour balanced precariously over the city.

This is his story, the story of a man obsessed with what he saw as the ultimate challenge, the seven years he spent planning it and his subsequent fairly hilarious arrest by New York cops.

Much of the doco is taken up with Philippe Petit’s exhaustive planning for the event but his enthusiasm is infectious and as he nears the big day, there’s all the suspense of a heist film.

To rig the wire, Petit and his co-conspirators must evade WTC security and battle the weather before firing arrows across the gap to friends waiting on the other tower.

Archival photographs provide the evidence of Petit’s amazing feat and combined with an edgy soundtrack and recent interview footage, the result is a life-affirming film – after viewing ‘the artistic crime of the century’, you can’t but feel inspired.