Amos Poe had already staged homage to Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (his 1976 debut film Unmade Beds) when he began producing the thriller Alphabet City in 1984, but the latter film really deserves the comparisons he invites to Godard and the French New wave as a whole. A member of the East Village "No Wave" movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which included Abel Ferrara, Bette Gordon, Jim Jarmusch and Sara Driver, Poe began his career with the seminal punk rock documentary The Blank Generation and Alphabet City is a unique mixture of sensitivity for punk and European art cinema, filtered through classic film noir and gangster images like Jules Dassin's Night and the City. Vincent Spano, fresh from Baby It's You and Rumble Fish, plays a drug dealer who is forced to flee town after crossing over his boss. Set in one night in the narrowly circumscribed neighborhood of the title, the film looks forward to Scorsese's After Hours, both in its expressionist style and in its relentless sense of urban claustrophobia and paranoia. The narrative is clear and simple, and allows Poe and his staff (in particular cinematographer Oliver Wood and production designer Nord Haggerty) to fill it with visual and anthropological details that make Alphabet City a document of its cultural moment, as it was Breathless Time and place. Wood's work is particularly impressive, a master class in using color and light to express emotions and mesmerize audiences. It is not surprising that Michael Mann hired him for the TV series Miami Vice after his photography in Alphabet City.
Alphabet City was a ubiquitous VHS title in the video stores of my youth, but it has been hard to find in recent years. It's now available on Blu-ray from Fun City Editions, a boutique label that deals with Blu-ray and vinyl pressings of loners. Their Alphabet City CD has been lovingly produced, with a great commentary track by Poe and Luc Sante, plus a Vincent Spano interview and visual essay by Chris O'Neill. It's one of two great new releases from Fun City. The other (which also includes an O & # 39; Neill visual essay and some other great extras) is the American home video premiere of David Greene's drama I Start Counting! from 1970, a masterpiece of first-person filmmaking and one of the greatest coming-of movies. Age films of his time. The film shows Jenny Agutter as Wynne, a 14-year-old who has a crush on her 32-year-old stepbrother George and has a growing sexual competitiveness with her brave classmate Corinne. Wynne's increasing feelings for George and her transition from innocence to sexual consciousness coincide with a local serial killer hunting young women, and when Wynne catches George throwing away a bloody sweater, she begins to suspect that he may be the criminal could that everyone is looking for. The screenwriter Richard Harris and the producer-director Greene adapt a novel by Audrey Erskine Lindop and immerse the viewer in Wynne's psyche via subjective camera work and frames in frames, which perfectly convey Wynne's curiosity and combine their voyeurism with that of the audience. We never know more or less than them and that, together with Agutter's sensitive accomplishment, makes me start counting! A compelling combination of youthful character studies and expertly crafted thriller.
The best addition to I Start Counting! Disc is a meticulously researched commentary track by film historian Samm Deighan who has been in a hot phase lately. She also adds a fantastic commentary on my third recommendation this week, the Kino Lorber Blu-ray from Captain Newman, MD The film features a strong cast – an unusually easy-going and warm Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, Tony Curtis and Robert Duvall – and a unique blend of quirky humor and military drama that paves the way for later satires like Robert Altman's M * A * S * H and Mike Nichols' adaptation of Catch-22. Captain Newman, an ensemble that played in a military psychiatric ward during World War II, isn't as iconoclastic as any of these films, but is brave in its own quiet way. The tone shifts are pretty daring and possibly part of why the movie isn't more popular – it's hard at times to know what to make of the juxtaposition of broad humor and harsh social realism in this film, which is clearly as much about Koreans and Vietnam is going to war as it is about the earlier conflict it is set in. An even better Vietnam allegory in the form of an image from World War II, Cornel Wildes Beach Red from 1967, is also new in theaters. The second film in Wilde's great trilogy of original action films (after The Naked Prey and before No Blade of Grass) breaks the World War II genre of all its stereotypes to rub the audience's faces into the brutality and stupidity of war's bloody ruthlessness. It saves Private Ryan with no patriotism, no emotion, and no mercy.
Jim Hemphill is a filmmaker and film historian and lives in Los Angeles. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.