At the risk of chiming in on a dead thread, here are some notes on the twelve best older movies I saw in 2002. I list them in order of my having seen them.




THE FUNERAL (Abel Ferrara, 1996) [Pretty close to being a masterpiece, I think.There are so many brilliant performances in it, with Walken and Chris Penn leading the way, this film is an embarrassment of riches.More than other Ferraras Iíve seen, this one seems to keep threatening to be a ďnormalĒ film, or at least a piece of comprehensible Italian socialist-modernism. But it veers into places too dark for even Visconti or Petri.]


THE LONG GOODBYE (Robert Altman, 1973) [Not much left to say about this one, except that I too think itís amazing. The 70s were indeed the Age of Gould.]




CIRCUS GIRLS (Walter Gutman, 1971) [Saw this bizarre short while doing research on the Kuchars at the PFA. Gutman was (is?) a liminal Bay Area figure, underexplored. This very personal documentary, about both the women of various low-grade traveling circuses, and Gutmanís sexual fixation on them, is so honest, so poetic and allusive and rambling, itís like your weird uncle channeling Chris Marker. Watch rep listings for it. I give it an unqualified endorsement.]




MULTIPLE SIDOSIS (Sid Laverents, 1970) [I would have likely missed this gem were it not for McCloud bringing it to my attention.In the oft-forgotten world of amateur film clubs and circuits, Laverents is the king.A cantankerous jack-of-all-trades and erstwhile Vaudevillian, Laverents is a self-taught filmmaker, and SIDOSIS is his crowning achievement. A musical self-portrait and a technical tour-de-force, it defies description.One could easily imagine Chuck Jones having remade this, with Bugs Bunny cast in the Sid role.]


ARABIC NUMERAL SERIES (Stan Brakhage, 1980-81) [In a year where I am feeling more and more ambivalent about my Top Ten by the day, I am fairly certain that these Brakhage films were the best thing I saw, period.The qualities and textures of light on display in these almost completely abstract films are stunning.Sometimes I disturbed the other audience members, quite by accident, by breaking the silence with a gasp or an ďOh, fuck . . .Ē Like things I saw when I half-opened my eyes just before daybreak, with unadjusted ambient light catching my vision out before the room made sense.]




THE CHELSEA GIRLS (Andy Warhol, 1966) [Several people who are greater Warhol aficionados than I am have argued that CHELSEA GIRLS is a film of diminishing returns.Seen in light of his other work, and in light of repeat viewings, it becomes a meaner, nastier, uglier film than Warhol fans seem to want.But as someone who has often found the Factory material rather insular and a bit alienating, I think this one may be a summary work.CHELSEA GIRLS doesnít give an inch.It is long, rambling, self-involved, drug-addled, but it is also so confident in its own fabulousness that it may be the closest thing to a queer equivalent of present-day hip-hop culture.Its unbridled bitchiness is infectious. Pope Ondine, who steals the show, is not a nice person.]




THE MUSIC ROOM (Satyajit Ray, India, 1958) [For various unimportant reasons, I have still not delved very far into Rayís work.This and CHARULATA are the only ones Iíve seen so far.I checked it out mostly because itís one of Ericksonís desert island films, and I was not sorry.Stunning central performance by Chhabi Biswas, in a heartbreaking Chekhovian tale.]


ENTHUSIASM: SYMPHONY OF THE DON BASIN (Dziga Vertov, U.S.S.R., 1931) [A key Vertov I had never seen before.The soundtrack is incredible.Basically a musique concrťte piece with some factory-worker footage to go with it.Itís no MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA, but it doesnít have to be.]




UMBERTO D. (Vittorio De Sica, Italy, 1952) [While I was annoyed by the filmís reliance upon melodramatic convention Ė the landlord who apparently just hates old people Ė without a willingness to commit to it entirely, I nevertheless found this simple story moving.The precise images and understated central performance certainly helped, as did a devastating final fifteen minutes.]




MADEMOISELLE (Tony Richardson, France / U.K., 1966) [The weirdest thing I saw all year that I liked. (The weirdest thing I didnít like was Sokurovís DAYS OF ECLIPSE.) Jeanne Moreau is a sexually repressed schoolteacher who sets fires so she can watch a hunky Italian immigrant put them out, sans shirt.She performs various tasks so as to avoid masturbating onscreen.Eventually, she convinces the townsfolk that the Italian is a bit too helpful, and must be setting the fires himself Ė shades of Richard Jewell.The first image we see of Moreauís character has her reaching into a birdís nest, gently picking up the eggs, and smashing them in her fist with relish. (Oh, thatís the emotion, not the condiment.) Anyhow, that pretty much sets the tone.]




YOJIMBO (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1961) [Again, what can I say that hasnít been said already?This was the standout in the Kurosawa series Ė funny, bad-ass, riveting, masterfully constructed, just a great fucking time at the movies.]




SACHA AND MUM (Gillian Wearing, U.K., 1996) [My first exposure to this key figure in contemporary video art. Itís presented as an installation but plays more like an avant-garde short.Running backwards, with a young half-naked woman and an older woman (the title characters, we presume) in an ambiguous embrace of apparent reconciliation, we then move through a harrowing sequence of torture.Or is it?Sacha could be an epileptic or a mental-deficient, subject to care which appears harsher to an outside observer than perhaps it really is.Or, it could be some sort of strange S/M ritual, miscoded by the title.Or perhaps we are watching a young woman being punished for masturbating by a religious fanatic.The five minute video remains indecipherable and undecidable as it retracts itself to its beginning, only to repeat.]