I’m not talking about bad movies you love or guilty pleasures. And I’m not talking about movies that set out to intentionally make you feel bad about something and succeed. I’m talking about something a little different.
Here’s my example: Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill. I snagged a used copy of this on blu-ray recently, and watched it again for what must be the fifth or sixth time. I love Brian De Palma, and I would put Dressed To Kill near the top of his oeuvre - probably only Blow Out edges it out as what I think is the best De Palma flick.
Dressed To Kill is a technically brilliant movie. The weird, dreamlike sequence in the the museum is the kind of achievement most film-makers would probably club a seal to be able to accomplish, and that’s only the first tour-de-force sequence in a movie stuffed full of them. It’s a clever and shocking updating of Hitchcock’s Psycho supercharged with twenty years of the sexual revolution between.
But, but, but: It’s also one of the most misogynistic movies ever made, made almost infinitely worse by the pure seductiveness of De Palma’s camera. De Palma takes the subtexts of the Hitchcockian thriller genre, specifically how women’s sexual liberation will be answered by extreme male violence, and makes it explicit, but without any layer of irony to allow the viewer a comfortable, safe distance. As Pauline Kael said about Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (another movie that I would put in this category), it’s a “fascist work of art”.
See what I mean? I love Dressed To Kill even as I find it incredibly repulsive.
I watched it again this week, as you with DTK, for at least the fifth time.
I find the movie beautifully filmed–Tarantino’s shot work is just spot-on throughout PF. Acting, characters, writing, all just masterful. I really believe it stands up to the term “masterpiece” even though it is so early in his career.
But Tarantino has become such a cliche’ of himself these days, and all of the characters in PF are so unlikeable, that you almost feel like apologizing for raising it as a brilliant film.
One of my favorite over the top Wire Fu epics. But there is a scene where ninjas throw snakes at people. The snakes are then chopped to pieces.
The pieces are then shown writhing on the ground. It is clearly real snake pieces.
Irreversible. It’s not a film I would feel comfortable recommending to anyone and I feel a little violated just watching it but it is so well crafted and the characters so well-realized that I rate it highly.
Spoorloos. Another superbly crafted film that I feel uncomfortable watching.
On a similar note, I was watching The Long Riders the other day, which has scenes where they’ve obviously used tripwires on the horses. The practice makes it and a lot of older westerns nearly unwatchable to me, since it usually means the horse was destroyed afterward. Which is a shame, since I love westerns.
Certain Horror picks come to mind. Specifically, Texas Chainsaw Massacre which is just incredible in how creepy and awful it makes you feel. I can’t think of much else that comes close. “Hit her Grandpa!” It defines why I love film making in the 70’s while retroactively justifying Hollywood’s pivot to the middle of the road at the end of the decade.
On the otherside of that same coin I’d put the Hills Have Eyes remake, which scores most of it’s points by taking everything that was fucked up about the original and making it just that much more explicit and gross.
Finally, I love Funny Games but I would never ever ever tell somebody else that they should watch it unless I knew they had a somewhat academic appreciation of movies. That movie is really goddamn hard to swallow, and it does not let the audience off the hook at all.
Spoilers for Dogville and Match Point below the asterisks…
I’m not sure if Dogville really qualifies because I don’t necessarily love it but, by the end of the movie I was very much rooting for violent retribution, which flies in the face of everything I believe in. This is, of course, exactly what von Trier was going for and I was embarrassed to be manipulated in such a heavy-handed manner but, the bottom line was that I was manipulated successfully and I respected the movie for that.
I watched Match Point over the course of two nights (my girlfriend fell asleep halfway through) and I almost didn’t finish watching it because I hated the first half so much but the final act blew me away and I ended up loving the movie. The turning point for me was when I realized that he was going to get away with it. And I hated him! Part of the reason I thought about dropping the movie halfway through was because I found the main character so detestable. But the scene where he’s talking to the ghost just won me over. “It would be fitting if I were apprehended… and punished. At least there would be some small sign of justice - some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning.”
The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie’s sequel to his debut House Of 1,000 Corpses (which I hated), was a complete surprise for me. It was pretty well directed, had some good acting (Priscilla Barnes of 80’s sitcom Three’s Company comes to mind), and was actually funny in a few scenes (in a dark, twisted way of course).
But it’s excessive violence can be tasteless at times. Still, I could not help but sort of cheer for the baddies. Well, not exactly cheer, they are just coldblooded psychopaths after all, but they were so entertaining I kept hoping their demise wouldn’t come too soon.
Also, any of Dario Argento’s films. There really is no substance to any of those films. For instance, Suspiria. It’s one of my favorite films but the dialogue is terrible, the story is barely there, characters have no depth, the acting is barely average and the soundtrack actually annoys me. But it’s just such a beautiful film to look at, his use of color is just stunning. And it really does feel nightmarish at times. But when I put it on, my wife will give me this look that says, “Oh god, you’re going to watch that crap again?”