Our Favorite Underrated Stuff (Pt. 4)
Mike Gaughn’s recent Favorite Underrated Stuff post sent me on a journey down memory lane that had me recalling some underrated stuff from my past I felt compelled to share.
Flash back to California’s Bay Area in the early 1990s . . .
I lived in downtown Berkeley, California, about a mile walk from UC Berkeley, in a large house owned by my best friend that he rented out to six other college students. I worked as a golf pro at a private country club in nearby Orinda,
where one of my best friends from high school, Pierre, also worked while he went to Cal.
Every Tuesday night, all the theaters in downtown Berkeley had a “$2 Tuesday” deal where the majority of films were—you guessed it—two bucks. After work, Pierre and I would have some golf-related challenge—putt-off, long drive, bunker shots, etc.—where the loser would have to pay for the winner’s movie. Or beer. We tried not to be too rigid.
Nearly every Tuesday, we would go and see a movie. Often, we had nothing specific in mind—we would just stroll down Shattuck Avenue, where there were multiple theaters, and we would see what was playing that looked interesting. Two-Dollar Tuesday was a buffet where you were free to sample anything and everything, and we did. We saw foreign films, independent films, obscure and bizarre unrated films, and, occasionally, even mainstream fare.
It was terrific to experience such a variety of cinema—the mental equivalent of throwing a bunch of stuff against a wall and seeing what stuck.
Here are some of my favorites from that glorious three-year period . . .
This Australian coming-of-age film takes place at two boarding schools—one all boys, one all girls—separated by a lake, and stars Noah Taylor, Nicole Kidman, and the screen debut of 16-year old Thandie Newton, who is just perfect in this role. I love the awkwardness of Taylor’s Danny Embling as he fumbles through each scene, struggling to fit in at a new school while slowly developing his confidence, and the slow development of his relationship with Newton’s Thandiwe, who has her own set of struggles, being the only black girl at school and dealing with Kidman’s mean girl, Nicola. You can’t watch this movie and not root for Danny, both cringing and cheering along with him, and remembering those tender/sweet/clumsy moments of the beginnings of a childhood crush. This film is in my Kaleidescape collection, and one I still return to on occasion.
Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World)
This takes place in the 17th Century and examines the life of French composer and viola player, Marin Marais, and the complex relationship with his mentor and instructor, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, and Colombe’s daughters, Madeleine and Toinette. Interestingly, as time changes throughout the film, older and younger Marais are played by father and son duo Gerard and Guillaume Depardieu. Entirely in French with subtitles, this is the first foreign film I can remember really loving, and it also gave me an ongoing passion for musical works featuring viola and cello. The music throughout the film is beautiful and is used to drive and carry each scene.
A Midnight Clear
Another film with a young, star-studded cast that includes Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ethan Hawke, Arye Gross, and Gary Sinise, this World War II-era drama plays out at Christmas with a band of US troops discovering a weary group of Germans cut off from their main force. The hungry and tired German soldiers would rather surrender than fight and die, and the two sides develop an uneasy friendship as they co-exist in near quarters and come up with a plan allowing the Germans an honorable surrender. The acting is terrific throughout, and while the film builds towards it tense climax, it really shows the human side of conflict.
Night on Earth
It has been years since I’ve seen this movie, but I remember loving the randomness of it as Jim Jarmusch weaves together five different cab rides from five different cities around the world on the same night at the exact same time. The film’s action travels easterly from LA, to New York, to Paris, to Rome, and finally to Helsinki and features a wide range of actors, including a chain-smoking Winona Ryder, a rapid-fire and sex-obsessed Roberto Benigni, a new-to-America former clown Armin Mueller-Stahl, along with Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, and Gena Rowlands. Each vignette includes a nice mix of humor and drama and gives an interesting look at life around the world from inside a cab.
Night on Earth is available on Amazon
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.