Easy Rider

Guardians of the Galaxy Obscene Gesture

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill slowly unwinds his middle finger like a jack-in-the-box as men gaze at him from the other side of smart glass warning of his imminent “obscene gesture.” Flipping the bird has now become interstellar, the latest in a long history of imaginative fingering. The gesture has evolved beyond a simple way to say “fuck you.” It’s the obvious and subtle threat between the fingers, no longer happy to simply pop up, now it dances in many forms. Some fling it in anger, some let it tease, and some see theirs blown off. It can be bloody, robotic, disembodied, Tank Girled and adamantiumed. If Hollywood put half as much effort into storytelling as they put into creative uses of the middle finger, many of the industry’s problems would be solved. For now, we have the following 10 birds, some of which are part of the “Movie Middle Finger”video montage featured way down. Is your favorite missing?

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Easy Rider Perfect Summer Movie

Every week this summer we’ll be exploring movies that are perfect for the season. Cinematic stories for watching in a cool, dark room while it’s sunny outside. If there’s an ultimate lesson in Easy Rider, it’s to do your own thing in your own time. The movie tosses out that koanistic nugget right up front when Captain America and Billy (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) praise a farmer for taking control of his own destiny by living off the land. He does as he likes with a massive blue sky overhead, and they dig that. For our heroes, applying that lesson means smuggling drugs in their motorcycle gas tank in order to achieve the financial solvency necessary to live more comfortably, although it’s unclear how much more comfortable they can get. They ride, you know, easy. Gasoline costs money, but otherwise the farmland-hopping duo seems set as they roll on through God’s Country toward New Orleans. Summer is freedom, and this film’s got freedom in spades.

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Medium Cool

Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool is a film whose immediacy and docu-realism was all too fitting for an America that could, for the first time, see its wars on television. Shot during the protests and riots that accompanied the Democratic National Convention in August 1968, Wexler’s film seamlessly mixed narrative storytelling and documentary – Medium Cool is a Hollywood-made document of America in ’68 if there ever was one, a stunning portrait of the chaotic state of politics and its relationship to media in one of the most tumultuous years in American (or, perhaps, world) history. But Criterion’s long-anticipated release of Medium Cool isn’t the only A/V flashback to ’68 occurring this summer. Olivier Assays’s Something in the Air reflects on the student protests surrounding the similarly turbulent demonstrations in France in May of that year, while Season 6 of Mad Men has just entered the sweltering summer that will climax in the events in Chicago that August. Maybe it’s Congress’s seemingly eternal bottleneck, or the government’s paranoia-inducing surveillance of the press, or a general aura of well-justified cynicism, but the simultaneously dark and potentially revolutionary years of ’68 seem to demand contemporary reflection, even if it only results in pop culture nostalgia. That said, here’s The Criterion Collection’s archive of films that captured the spirit of the revolutionary times of the ‘60s around the world, all fitting comrades of the brilliant Medium Cool.

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Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper is fucking awesome. I use the present tense there because the man, though gone, is eternal. At least when it comes to his art. He definitely had some experiences. Several that no one could be proud of, but he also came to represent a free wheeling sensibility that came with defying the establishment while learning from it. The man’s resume remains formidable (and it will only continue to grow with more “Very Special Thanks” entries). So instead of listing his best movies, take your pick. You can probably name 10 you love just off the top of your head. There are a ton of them. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a real easy rider.

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Criterion Files

Of the 600+ films in The Criterion Collection, almost 200 are listed as from the United States. While not all of these films are explicitly thematically based  around life in the US, the American selections for the Collection do make up a mosaic of diverse perspectives on life in this country, proving that there is no sustainable solitary understanding of what it means to be an “American,” but there exists instead an array of possibilities for interpreting American identity. What the American films do have in common, though, is provide proof that excellent films have been made in the US for quite some time. So, after exhausting yourself with Independence Day Parades, firecracker-lighting, and Budweiser, settle down with a great American movie. Here are a dozen great titles from the Criterion Collection about “America” and “freedom” in the many senses of those terms.

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Culture Warrior

Way back in the summer of 2004, on the heels of the great success of I Love the 80s and (later) I Love the 70s, VH1 tested the bounds and justifications of the nostalgia market by releasing the initial ten-part I Love the 90s. Instead of simply reflecting upon the most memorable and oft-canonized popular culture products and national news events of the 1970s and 1980s (two decades whose iconography had become ever more apparent, stylized, and parodied during its reappropriation in late 90s/early 00s pop culture), VH1 instead attempted (perhaps unsuccessfully) to create a trend rather than merely follow the typical, perhaps “natural” cycle of nostalgia. Because I Love the 90s aired only a few years after the actual 90s ended, VH1 situated the early 21st century – a time that ostensibly marked a major temporal shift but (save for 9/11) had yet to be self-defined – as a time that uniquely necessitated an immediate reflection on how to understand the 20th century, even the years of that century that were not so long ago. The experiment was both engaging and bizarre. By 2004, the early 90s had come into stark, VH1-friendly self-definition. Yes, we could all collectively make fun of Joey Lawrence, Pogs, oversize flannel, and Kevin Costner’s accent in Robin Hood, and share in the memories and irony-light criticisms therein with Michael Ian Black and Wendy the Snapple Lady. However, by the time the show reached 1997-99, I Love the 90s seemed less like a program banking […]

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Criterion Files

As I argued in my introduction to our coverage of the BBS box set, this major Criterion release both celebrates New Hollywood and complicates the master narrative informing the way in which the era is typically remembered. Alongside classics of the era like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show, the set also includes films that were received badly or misunderstood in their time like Head and The King of Marvin Gardens which can now be reassessed with the benefit of hindsight. But perhaps the most interesting juxtaposition to the canonized works of New Hollywood here is the presence of the absolutely obscure, the completely forgotten, the movies that up until now were lost in time and memory. This set marks the first time Jack Nicholson’s Drive, He Said (1970) and Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place (1971) have been released in any home video format. These films are, in a sense, correlated with New Hollywood because of their themes, narratives, characters, and their temporal and economic contexts, but unlike the three heavy-hitters in this set, watching them now is, by comparison, to see a film with a forty-year-old blank slate – a unique and rare experience when one contrasts watching these films to, say, Easy Rider, a movie inseparable from an ongoing and reiterated forty-year-long conversation about what it meant then and means today. Separately, these are interesting films on their own, but together, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place point to the fact that there’s […]

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Criterion Files

The most difficult thing about watching seminal, groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting movies is that it’s impossible to see them, feel them, or experience them the way they were in the moment, before they became influential enough to seem almost unexceptional by retrospective comparison. It’s difficult to marvel at the audacious camera angles or fragmented narrative of Citizen Kane in an age where Gaspar Noe and Guillermo Arriaga exist, or be shocked by the expertly-crafted profanity of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in a post-David Mamet world. These movies may remain strong and, in other ways, timeless, but even with the very best, the “moment” of greatness is lost by the sheer force of its effect on cinema that came after. Films, after all, aren’t made in a vacuum. They are the constant subject of influence, and rarely anything influences a film more than another great film.

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Criterion Files

As a relatively young person, far too young to speak meaningfully about an important era of American culture, it’s difficult for me to ascribe any sense of value even unto my own words about a picture that encapsulates and represents an alternate ideology of real American freedom than what we consider as being truly “free.” When we think of freedom we think of rights and when we think of American we think of the dream. We have the right to be happy and we have the freedoms to pursue it.

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Criterion Files

For the rest of the summer, Adam and Landon will be focusing on films included in the Criterion Collection released by the legendary BBS Production Company whose anti-establishment films rocked the world of Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So dust of your old LPs, set out on the highway, and embrace your countercultural sensibilities with one of the most eccentric and essential stories of New Hollywood. When rummaging through the Criterion Collection’s available box sets, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the serious and traditional role that authorship has played in forming both the Collection and its reputation. Whether it’s five films by John Cassavetes, Sergei Eisenstein’s sound years, or Truffaut’s cinematic adventures of Antoine Doinel, the Collection places the director as the primary author of the text, just as they do when ascribing possession to individual titles (“Orson Welles’s F for Fake,” for instance). Then came the BBS set, which frames authorship to a group of films not because of the signatures of the directors who made each individual title, but as a group effort through the umbrella of a production company. BBS may refer specifically to Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner, but the talent pool that determined the artistic output of this company was hardly exclusive to them, incorporating the then-young talents of Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, and Henry Jaglom. None of these figures solely inhabited clear and exclusive occupational signposts like “writer,” “director,” “producer,” or “actor,” but a combined contributions to […]

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Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as NoWaveSurfer and KeatonRox2738 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest. This week, the purported death of indie films that’s reported upon faithfully every year (at least 4 times a year). In the face of the Independent Film’s best friend festival beginning this weekend, we tackle the real question: Indie films can’t actually be dead, can they?

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Upon discussion and deliberation between Landon Palmer and Adam Charles (the two primary authors of the Criterion Files column) it was decided that due to the column’s state of near infancy and a small number of articles to choose from they would not reflect upon each other’s incisive works throughout the year of what was considered, or what they felt to be, the articles each were either most impressed by from the other, or considered the most indicative of what the column represents – and instead opted to choose 10 releases of the Criterion company in 2010 they felt most noteworthy of attention.

Delving into each other’s works even if the output was extended to 26 articles each over the course of a full year to choose the favorites from would actually prove to be a much simpler task than what was done for this year’s Year in Review. Trying to narrow down a list of the most significant Criterion Collection releases of any given year to a list of 10 is like…well, trying to list the 10 best of anything of which everything deserves attention. So, take these not as a slight against any of the other releases by any means (please, see every film they include in the library because they’ve selected it for a reason), these just happen to be a consolidation of releases Landon and Adam considered either significant for the availability on home video, marked a trend of the company’s direction of material to include in the library, personal affections, or were simply just incredible works in presentation of the picture previously not able to be experienced from prior releases.

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. Today’s trailer stuffs a bunch of drugs and money into its gas tank, and sets out to find America even if it can’t find it anywhere. Freedom: that’s what it’s all about. And then, you know, the movie won an award at Cannes. So it’s prestigious (as if the Steppenwolf couldn’t tell you that). Think you know what it is? Check out the trailer after the jump.

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Imagine for a second that Disney grew weary of raking in piles of cash from the Jonas Brothers. Imagine that, instead of merely cutting them loose (and leaving them to their own disastrous devices, ala Ms. Lohan), Disney went a more subversive route. Imagine Disney casting them in a surrealistic, experimental patchwork of a film that lampooned the vapidity of pop culture and consumerism – and left both the Jonases and their fans feeling totally mindfucked. That’s essentially what happened when Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner – creators of The Monkees – released a film called Head…

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The world has lost a cinematic rule-breaker. What’s your favorite Dennis Hopper film?

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bluray-header

In this edition of This Week in Blu-ray, it’s another round of slim pickings as I continue to save you money at your local retailer…

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Flag and Fireworks

Even though celebrating Independence Day excites us more than Christmas, we get even more excited when we watch films that remind us of the land that we love.

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Rose McGowin on the cover of Maxim

Because my stereotype of Maxim readers as unhip, Neanderthal frat boys wasn’t enough, they had to go and prove themselves cinematically illiterate. As if it were something to celebrate, Maxim posted up its list of the 25 Most Watched Movies as tabulated by a poll of their readers, and the results are depressing.

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