By Brian Saur, co-host of Pure Cinema Podcast
In the premiere episode of our third season of Pure Cinema, we chose the topic of "America" and used it as a way to loosely interpret and extrapolate films that made us think of that word and what it means to us. It was a fun exercise to approach the word from abstract and possibly twist it to allow for a variety of different films to be represented within the episode:
Below is a list of five more films that could have made my list, but that I still think are well worth a look. They don't all scream "America" at first glance, but I feel like they contain aspects of various pieces of the American experience within them – some in unexpected ways:
This is truly one of the great existential road movies of all time and and all-time favorite for me. Directed by the venerable Monte Hellman, this movie truly demonstrates his abilities as a filmmaker and cements his oft described reputation as the "American Antonioni."
There's so much I love about this film from its stripped down narrative and characters (James Taylor is known only as "The Driver," Dennis Wilson as "The Mechanic," and the lovely Laurie Bird is just "The Girl") to its unforgettable ending and a stellar turn from Warren Oates as "G.T.O." - another lost soul the main characters encounter in their journey across the freeways of the U.S.
It really doesn't feel like any other movie I've ever seen and the stoic nature of it's characters allows them to be interpreted as both actual people and archetypes at the same time. One of the greatest American films ever made.
One of the best movies about Halloween ever, and I don't mean the scary kind. Set in a California suburb, this magical little coming-of-age dramedy from the director of PHANTASM and BEASTMASTER (Don Coscarelli) has a vibrance about it that I cannot even quantify. Filled with a cast of unknowns and youngsters, this film is one of the best portrayals of teen-dom that I've ever seen (especially teenage life in the late 1970s).
It is one of those movies that really is from the kids point of view and is done in such an authentic and charming way that it's hard not to be won over by it. We watch the kids play flag football, skateboard, get themselves into trouble in their neighborhood, deal with girls and bullies, and go trick-or-treating, and the whole experience is absolutely delightful.
Another quasi-road movie but more interesting as the story of a man who is trapped in one life and trying to find his true self. He's basically a yuppie with the soul of an irreverent shoplifter. He finds himself constrained by the career and existence he's created for himself but is secretly looking for a way out. He just needs a little push in the right direction.
The vehicle of his personal discovery is a sort of femme fatale in the form of Audrey (Melanie Griffith), who takes him on an unexpected weekend adventure that he finds both frightening and incredibly freeing. What's even more interesting about this film is the turn it takes into straight thriller territory in the third act - a turn few other films have ever attempted and one that only a master like Jonathan Demme (who I think of as a very "American" director in his own right) could pull off.
One of the great paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, this incredible and intricate conspiracy story comes from the same director as ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN - Alan Pakula. Between that film, PARALLAX and KLUTE, Pakula put together an incredible trilogy of warped paranoia that seems more factual than fictional in retrospect. PARALLAX deals with an assassination of a possible presidential candidate and the aftermath of said event as it impacts all those who were witness to it.
The assassination itself is shown to be a patsy setup from the beginning and the people who where there at that private event on that day start to die in more than suspicious ways. Enter ambitious reporter Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty) who, after seeing some acquaintances meet their fates in unusually creepy ways, decides to try to figure out who is doing the killing. What he comes to discover is more horrifying than he could have imagined in an agency that specializes in recruiting unstable personalities as assassins. The deeper he goes with his investigation, the more we begin to be unsure that he will come out of it unscathed.
This one is a little bit of a stretch, but I really do think it represents something about the American ideal of what a private eye is while turning it on it's head. NIGHT MOVES is one of the greatest "Neo-Noirs" ever in my opinion and contains one of Gene Hackman's greatest performances.
Here, he plays Harry Moseby, and ex-football pro-turned-detective who has begun to struggle to get work and is often forced to take the extra work from a much larger private detective agency (run by the great Kenneth Mars) in order to keep his business going. He takes on a missing girl case off a tip from the bigger agency and begins to try to locate the daughter of an aging starlet in Los Angeles.
First off, the idea of an aging starlet seems fairly American in and of itself to me, but the real meat and potatoes thematics are what really sell this as an "America" movie in my mind. The main thing here though is that Harry Moseby finds himself in a tough spot in that this particular case doesn't add up the way it should. The motives don't all make sense and he can't reconcile the fact that all the clues don't come together nice and neatly so he can say "case closed." Even the ending leaves Harry with questions he may never be able to get proper answers for. Another of my favorite movies ever and one that has only gotten better with each viewing.
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RupertPupkinSpeaks) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/rupertpupkinspeaks) for more film recommendations.