Welcome to this week’s edition of 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 some great releases that I’m thrilled to discuss, so without further ado here we go.
Significant life moments become less clear as time goes on, but most of us will never forget the first time we fell in love. Jeremy might be the most pure depiction on this subject and if it’s not the definitive example, it’s certainly one of them. There’s nothing extraordinary about fifteen-year-old Jeremy Jones (Robby Benson), particularly his music talent as his concerned loving mentor points out to him. It’s that brutal honesty and sincerity that permeates Arthur Barron’s film, which makes it immediately relatable and convincing. In another film this might come across as ridicule for dramatic or comedic effect. Here it’s a simple character beat that simply states that takes the weight off of Jeremy’s shoulders. His teacher is like a surrogate father in the way he’s essentially telling him he’s not a musical prodigy and that’s alright.
When Jeremy stumbles upon Susan (Glynnis O’Connor) practicing her ballet routine in school, he’s absolutely mesmerized and his physical nervousness becomes infectious to this viewer. He hasn’t yet developed confidence, but his noble yet awkward attempt to communicate with her is honest and naturally conjures memories of having those same doubts and the fear of messing up what could be the perfect moment. It’s cinema in its most voyeuristic form. Knowing that neither one of these actors have had much experience on or off screen and are genuinely falling for one another and not just because it’s in the script brings everything to a whole other level.
After Susan witnesses Jeremy perform his cello at the school recital, she becomes quite smitten and they go on their first date to go see W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee in a crowded theater no less which is a bit of a stretch, but it’s the scene in the pizza parlor that follows which made me fall in love with this film. Jeremy’s trying to play it cool and he orders them cokes at the table. Everything is going well enough and neither of them are nervous anymore. She starts confessing everything to him: her mother’s passing, her father dragging her to this strange city away from her friends, and her whole world being turned upside down and how does Jeremy respond?
He listens. He’s not trying to be witty or pretend he knows the answers, he just gives her his attention and that’s when they make a connection. The first two thirds of this film kind of play out similarly to Before Sunrise, but obviously not as deep because these two haven’t seen the world yet. It is just sheer innocence captured here. I won’t spoil how this film wraps up, but I will say that it doesn’t pull you emotionally the way one would expect and I really appreciated the way it was handled.
Fun City Editions have put together a phenomenal package for this release. There’s a bittersweet commentary with the late Mike “McBeardo” McPadden and Kat Ellinger and they waste no time digging into what makes this film so special. On McPadden’s “70 Movies We Saw in the ‘70s” podcast episode, they went pretty deep on this subject and talked about how Jeremy’s lack of angst set this film apart from others of its ilk. I was partially concerned that they already covered everything Fortunately in this commentary getting the visuals really brings more context. For example, when the camera pans around Jeremy’s bedroom and displays his records and posters, Kat pointed out that this all shows who Jeremy is as a character, captured in the opening five minutes.
The filmed interviews between Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor reliving this experience is absolutely magical. They speak of their innocence and vulnerability that’s been captured in this cinematic time capsule and they couldn’t be more proud of the result. It was wonderful to hear about Benson’s encounter with his idol Francois Truffaut at the Cannes screening who gave his nod of approval amongst the standing ovation.
There’s also a video essay by Chris O’Neill included that’s informative but mostly covers ground explored from others. It was a welcome addition regardless.
This is a film that everyone should have the opportunity to experience, so support Fun City Editions and pick this up as soon as you can.
Available for purchase from Vinegar Syndrome.
Everyone who’s seen Swingers knows “This is the guy behind the guy, behind the guy”.
Some may not know that those elegantly cryptic words originated from the keen vernacular of David Mamet. Things Change came right on the heels of Mamet’s devilishly delightful House of Games and, much like its predecessor, is an intricate examination of the human condition. It’s filled with chicanery and mischievous double crossing, but it has one thing that House of Games doesn’t; it has a heart. It depicts an unlikely bond that grows between two strangers in an unlikely predicament and it shows how friendship is obtained through respect and empathy.
Gino (Don Ameche) is a poor Italian-American who makes an honest living shining shoes and who dreams of spending his remaining twilight years on his fishing boat in Sicily among the lavender sky and breathtaking sights. Unfortunately, in order to achieve this goal, he’ll need to be a pawn to a local crime boss and face a three-year prison sentence or worse after providing a false murder confession. He’s assigned to be shadowed by a low-level gangster named Jerry, played with sheer gusto and bravado by Joe Mantegna. Jerry wants to send Gino off in style to Lake Tahoe and, thanks to the strong rank in the mafia Gino earned through his convictions, the two are treated like kings in a luxurious hotel suite.
There’s a nobleness found in Jerry when Gino wants to keep his fixed earnings from the roulette table. When Gino pleads his case, Jerry simply states that returning the winnings is “to be an honorable guest.” A tender friendship begins to form below the surface between these men and, despite their altercations, there’s a genuine appreciation Jerry begins to develop towards Gino, which makes the mafia’s true intentions all the more devastating. This is perhaps Mamet’s most endearing film because it walks the line between tragedy and saccharine with dignity and grace.
There’s a great interview included with Mamet where he discusses his influences on this story which include the literary works of Tolstoy among many others. It was a delight to learn that Don Ameche was cast after a chance viewing of Hollywood Cavalcade some random night on Turner Classic Movies.
Also included is a great interview with Joe Mantegna who was specifically written into three of Mamet’s films after not getting cast in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict. This is an essential release from Indicator, so definitely pick this up if you have a region free player.
Available for purchase from Powerhouse Films.
The Last Remake of Beau Geste
Mel Brooks saw great talent in Marty Feldman, as did we all. Unfortunately, when it came to Feldman showcasing his own talent, luck never quite seemed to be in his favor. The Last Remake of Beau Geste was the first of two films he directed for Universal Pictures, and neither found success with box office or critics. Loosely based on a 1924 novel by P.C. Wren and the Gary Cooper pictures that followed, The Last Remake of Beau Geste was an ambitious undertaking, causing Feldman to have an uphill battle in its making.
There’s a Trailers From Hell excerpt included here where Feldman’s friend Alan Spencer speaks of the original and, by his recollection, superior cut of the film before studio executives interfered. While it would be great to see it, it is unavailable, and as gracious as it is for Kino Lorber to release this along with Feldman’s other ambitious failure, there’s just nothing that works here. The ideas and intentions are present, but the execution of tone falls flat as a door mat. On paper the idea of Feldman casting Michael York as his identical twin is not only funny, but ahead of its time, yet every joke that attempts to land in this version is dead on arrival. There’re some great musical numbers that stand well on their own, but within context, they cause more confusion than amusement.
Feldman was supposed to direct four movies for Universal but unfortunately passed away at the young age of 48 in 1982. The Last Remake of Beau Geste and Feldman’s other directorial effort, In God We Trust, are being released this week by Kino Lorber and are worth obtaining for those curious to see what Feldman was trying to do. Perhaps, if enough support is shown, that evasive director’s cut might see the light of day. Included on this release are new commentaries by Alan Spencer, Michael York, and entertainment journalist Bryan Reesman.
Available for purchase from Kino Lorber.
She’s The Man
Andy Fickman is not a filmmaker I would ever bring up in conversation as talented or even interesting, but if I was forced to sit through one of his films, my choice would have to be She’s The Man. Made in the aftermath of other contemporary Shakespeare-inspired comedies like the more enjoyable 10 Things I Hate About You, this movie is harmless enough, mostly due to the charming leads Amanda Byrnes and Channing Tatum. Essentially recycling the formula of HBO favorite Just One of The Guys, replacing journalism with football and decorating it with Shakespeare references that will most likely fly over the target audience’s heads and voila, we have ourselves a middling but cute romantic comedy that’s sure to entertain those not looking for anything that requires much intellectual investment.
Vinnie Jones was inspired casting for the hotheaded team coach and David Cross has his moments as the well-intended yet awkward dean of the school. It might be worth picking up if you’re nostalgic for this odd trend of movies from this period or you want a reminder of how far Channing Tatum has come along as an actor. Extra features for this release include nine deleted scenes, optional commentary from the director and actors, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette.
Available for purchase from various retailers.
For more information, head to Paramount Movies.