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The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970)
Directed in a semi Giallo style of filmmaking this film from 1970 has all the camp and absurdity of European trash cinema of the late 60’s. Helmut Berger stars as the ill fated Dorian Gray, his German accent dubbed into a sweet American one, which only adds to the fun of this Italian horror treasure. The costumes, production design, and even Dorian’s enchanted portrait are over saturated with vibrant color and the performances are perfectly over the top. I’m surprised this film isn’t talked about more in terms of it’s Queer asethics because it has all the ingridients that make a lasting camp classic. I’m thrilled to have stumbled on it. Free on Amazon prime!
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Robert Mithcum gives one of the most terrifying performances in the only film ever directed by Sir Charles Laughton. This classic has influenced generations of filmmakers and is often talked about as a spectacular example of noir though Laughton imbues it with fairytale elements that would make even the Grimm Brothers shriek. Mitchum plays a deranged preacher, complete with tattooed hands, one reading love and the other hate who sets about finding money hidden by a recent prison cellmate. The only thing that stands in his way are two small children. Think Hansel and Gretel meets the Big Bad Wolf locked inside a German expressionist nightmare. This film is hauntingly beautiful and still eerie after 65 years. On Amazon Prime.
Fright Night: Part Two (1988)
Horror sequels are generally never as good as the original, however, this vampire genre film by Tom Holland is super fun and creepy. The follow up to Fright Night continues the story of Charlie Brewster who is now a college student as he faces off with yet another vampire; this time a sexy 1980s vamp (pun intended) and her gang of monsters. One of the things that always attracted me to this film besides the horror is the inclusion of an androgenous person of color who is Regine, the vampire queen’s right hand person. The plot is fairly similar to the original film but who really cares when the movie is full of gore, camp, and laughs. Free on Youtube.
Long before Drag Race b ecame the new normal and standard by which a generation of young queer people judged Drag performers there was HBO’s Dragtime! This was one of my first introductions to the world of Drag. This short documentary follows some of the most important performers the Drag scene has ever known including, Lypsinca, Varla Jean Merman, Charles Busch, and the brilliant Lady Bunny. I’ve seen this film repeatedly over the years and it is always a pleasure. To see the evolution of a subculture from then to now is fascinating and to think that all of these performers not only paved the bumpy road but that their work is still relevant and perhaps even more subversive when compared to the contemporary scene. The Queens we want and need are all here. FREE on Youtube.
The Queen (1968)
Continuing with the Drag theme comes the first and perhaps the best film about Drag culture ever made. The groundbreaking film, The Queen needs to be seen and absored by all queer people. Pre-Stonewall and during a time when it was illegal for a man to dress in women’s clothing and punishment included jail time a group of gay men paint, sinch, pluck, and strut across the stage for a good ol’ fashioned pagaent. The film is both heartbreaking, funny, and a true historical document of how much Drag has evolved and how certain cultural touchstones have stayed exactly the same. The film concludes with a camp explosion of jealousy and “reading” by Crystal LaBeiga, the original mother of the house of LaBeija. If the name sounds familiar it’s because the “House” will appear again in another documentary, the queer masterpiece Paris is Burning. Watch on Netflix and fall in love.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Robert Egger’s follow up to his brilliant film The Witch, this claustrophobic and increasingly wet movie will both scare and thrill the spectator. Shot in stunning 35mm black and white Egger’s once again creates a symphony of breathtakingly horrifying imagery with his slow and steady pacing. Free with Amazon Prime.
One of the most interesting, funny, and moving documentaries you’re likely to ever see. Equal parts Masiel Brothers’ social examination and Christopher Guest’s head shaking giggles. The film is a touching love story that cinema doesn’t often turn its attention on and as an audience we’re able to step into the room for this very special relationship. I found the film to be beautifully composed and often jarring because of the filmmaker’s storytelling. At times the long uninterrupted takes feel like a contemporary European art film and then you realize you’re watching a true story playing out in real time. Dina is a truly refreshing film in both content and execution. Available on Hulu.
Woman on the Run (1950)
Perhaps because of the quarantine and the current state of the world I’ve been in the mood for films and stories with a darker storyline and this 1950 film noir is just fantastic. Ann Sheridan is brilliant firing off enough sharp one liners to start a fire. The plot is simple but tense and the film leads to an impressive visual climax that’s really astounding for a noir that’s gone under the radar. Free on Amazon Prime.
The Conversation (1974)
This is one of my favorite films ever made. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola post the success of The Godfather t his film is a departure from the operatic mafia story. Gene Hackman gives a powerful performance that becomes increasingly more and more tense and disturbing as the film progresses. The screenplay, by Coppola, is so tightly constructed and every character so beautifully executed that each moment grabs the spectator and forces them to lean in closer and closer until we become as paranoid as the characters on screen. If you’re a fan of thrillers then this film should be in your repertoire. Free on Amazon Prime.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
If you’re interested in expanding your palate to truly brilliant foriegn l anguage masterpieces then Luis Bunuel’s surreal dark comedy is one you should start with. Bunuel’s canon of work is difficult to sum up in a few concise sentences, however, Bourgeoisie i s one of his strongest and most spectacular films that raises questions of classism, sexism, art, and politics over a theatrical surrealist dinner that never gets eaten. It doesn’t matter if you understand all the nuances by this auteur the film is an experience every film lover should have! Amazingly free on Amazon Prime.
On Amazon Prime
Johnny Guitar ( 1954)
Great Expectations (1946)
Les Diaboliques (1955)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)