Fistful of Features: Week of February 23rd

Welcome to Fistful of Features, a weekly column that celebrates film preservation through physical media and discusses cinematic treasures from every genre to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. There are many great labels that are doing incredible work to keep all sorts of films significant through luxurious treatment via physical media. Without further ado let’s look at some releases to add to the conversation.

I’m happy to have a new home here at Elements of Madness and I look forward to discussing great films here that are being brought to home media on a weekly basis in potentially the best quality possible.

Pump Up the Volume: Warner Archive

“Eat your cereal with a fork and do your homework in the dark.” Those defiant words echoed in my pre-adolescent brain when I first encountered the glorious Pump Up the Volume, finally making its way to high definition courtesy of the fine folks at Warner Archive. I didn’t see this in its initial theatrical run and caught it on home video during a confusing time when my family life was turned upside down. The counter culture brought to light by the immediate success of Nirvana opened up endless possibilities of exploring art that channeled my societal frustrations and this angst-ridden poetic film hit me at just the right moment. It became a part of my DNA, and it was a success in my mind, even if, in retrospect, the box office numbers didn’t reflect that. To me, it fell victim to the fact that it was a tad ahead of its time. If this would have been released on the heels of the “alternative” phenomenon that Cameron Crowe’s moderately successful and also wonderful Singles cashed in on, then the masses would have eaten this up in droves.

There was an entire decade separating this and filmmaker Allan Moyle’s previous directorial effort Times Square and, though both are undervalued (especially Times Square, I really hope gets a needed upgrade as well.), they both encapsulate the punk rock spirit of the eighties and nineties. That’s an amazing feat considering they both kicked off those decades and were ahead of the curve with everything else that followed. Mark Hunter (Christian Slater) is the quiet and awkward outsider that many of us could identify with and his pirate radio alter ego was a primal manifestation of the many frustrations that many of us wanted to express that didn’t have an outlet for expression. Like a cross between Howard Stern and Kurt Cobain, this character was the mouthpiece for the generation that followed and it’s a shame that this director was constantly on the cusp of a cultural revolution, but like most cult movie directors, like John Carpenter, he never really found the love for his work until long after leaving the theatrical circuit.

Another big revelation in this film is Samantha Mathis, who should have had a huge career after this movie. Unfortunately, missteps like Super Mario Bros. didn’t do her any favors. Almost as important as the feature is the soundtrack that accompanied it. This introduced me to Leonard Cohen, Camper Van Beethoven, Bad Brains, I could go on and on. This soundtrack is simply amazing. If you’ve never seen Pump Up the Volume before, it will hit you the same way it did me almost thirty years ago. This strongly stands the test of time and is ripe for discovery by a new generation of frustrated youth.

Head to Warner Archive to purchase this awesome movie.

Show Boat: Warner Archive

Also from Warner Archive is the 1951 MGM Technicolor adaptation of the 1927 stage musical Show Boat based upon from director George Sidney (Annie Get Your Gun).

Set in Mississippi on the Cotton Blossom captained by Andy Hawks (Joe E. Brown pre-Some Like It Hot), the traveling show’s leading lady Julie La Verne (Ava Gardner) becomes entwined in a dark scandal involving a jealous crewman and a long-buried secret that could come back to haunt her as the melodrama ensues throughout lavish candy-coated musical numbers that range from the upbeat “Make Believe” to the melancholy and controversial “Ol’ Man River.”

This was my first introduction to Show Boat, not having seen the two prior film adaptations nor the show itself. It honestly didn’t really float my boat, pardon the pun, but I could appreciate some of the elaborate set pieces and choreography. Ava Gardner is good as usual, though it’s not actually her singing, which is a great portion of the role. I mostly prefer their output from the forties overall when it comes to MGM and the great renaissance of musical pictures from that period, many of which I would highly recommend before this one. Meet Me in St. Louis for example is an absolute treasure.

If you’re reading this though, you either are already a fan or might be the right audience for this film, and I have to say that Warner did an outstanding job with the visual transfer and the vibrant Technicolor practically leaps off the screen. The extras included on this disc are an audio commentary from the director, a sequence titled “Til The Clouds Roll By” from the 1946 production and the Lux Radio Theater Broadcast from 1952.

Head to Warner Archive to purchase this film directly.

Running Time: Synapse Films

Synapse Films sent me a great discovery I wasn’t familiar with from filmmaker Josh Becker (Lunatics: A Love Story) and I hope their release of Running Time from 1997 finds a big cult audience that it absolutely deserves. Filmed in black & white and in real time, this captivating crime caper revolves around a freshly released prisoner played by Bruce Campbell who immediately throws himself back in hot water by partaking in a poorly thought-out heist that’s surely going to land him back in the slammer. Complicating matters worse is a reunion with an ex-flame, played by the lovely Anita Barone, which finds him needing to own up to his own poor life choices and face the challenges and responsibilities that come with potentially attempting to make a new life or go down the path he knows best.

This is apparently one of the works that Campbell is most proud of, and it’s clear to see why as it’s a great acting showcase for him and is a loving tribute to the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Wise, with Rope being one of the more obvious influences with its continuous takes and no cuts long before 1917 hit the red carpet. I really hope this release does well for Synapse and people take a chance with it. This was a nice surprise going in with zero expectations and I really would love to see an HD upgrade for Lunatics: A Love Story sometime in the near future.

There’s a great interview with Campbell included on this disc where he rejoices in the director’s decision to set the tone as a straight crime drama and keep the laughs few and far between. I was quite impressed when he mentioned this was all filmed in only 10 days with six locations. Another insightful extra is the Q&A with Campbell and Becker from the Freaky Film Festival and there’s an audio commentary included from the two of them as well. This is a solid release from Synapse and a great discovery that’s well worth your time.

Order directly by going to Synapse Films.

The Allnighter: Kino Lorber

Lastly from Kino Lorber is The Allnighter from 1987, a film collaboration between musician Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles and her filmmaker mother Tamar Simon Hoffs.

It’s definitely a harmless throwback to the beach party movies made famous by Frankie Avalon and  Annette Funicello, and this movie was ironically overshadowed by their reunion in the vastly superior Back to the Beach of the same year. That’s not to say that The Allnighter doesn’t have its own enjoyable merits. Susanna Hoffs certainly gave it her sincere best and showed potential to grow as an actress if the reaction to this film didn’t dissuade her to pursue it farther. I think, most importantly, it seemed like a nice family bonding experience that has been preserved in a cinematic time capsule.

Joan Cusack is enjoyable, as always, and does the most with her material, and I’ll never complain about an appearance from the always lovely Pam Grier. Similar in theme and tone to Where the Boys Are from 1960, The Allnighter is essentially a coming-of-age hangout movie that explores identity and expression through the female gaze from two different perspectives. Three young college students throw a farewell party to the innocence of youth and, like most things in life, doesn’t exactly go to plan.  It’s noble, but unfortunately kind of unremarkable. It’s certainly a curiosity worth seeking out if you happen to be a fan of Suzanna Hoffs and have never seen this.

For those who happen to be fans, this is a solid release from the always reliable folks at Kino Lorber. The extras include two audio commentaries that are both valuable in their own right: one from the director and the star and the other from film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Also included is a music video for “No T.V. No Phone” that’s visually bland, but the song, for better or worse, is sure to get stuck in your head.

Pick-up The Allnighter by visiting Kino Lorber.



Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Recommendation

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