Ten Near Masterpieces Rescued from the Dustbin

Jonathan Marlow May 26, 2006

It is all too easy to linger at the stacks of new releases and wonder which among the many titles are worthy of watching. But what of the titles that have quietly slipped by over the years? What about them? The list that follows represents an alphabetical accounting of ten such titles…

1. Daisies
It is astonishing that Vera Chytilova is a largely unknown director in this country. "Daisies" is a justifiable cornerstone of the Czech New Wave and equal in its remarkable intensity and inventiveness to Agnes Varda’s better-known "Cleo from 5 to 7." It is as close to an essential film as anything that might otherwise spring to mind and should be required viewing for any aspiring filmmaker.

2. F for Fake
Far too many folks treat Orson Welles’ works as museum pieces rather than inventive films worthy of enjoyment. Of course, he isn’t the only exceptional filmmaker to suffer such a fate. For anyone that finds his Shakespeare adaptations a chore, I highly recommend this quasi-documentary, the last theatrical feature completed in his lifetime (and before the cinephiles write-in to correct me, "Filming Othello" was made for television).

3. The Golden Fortress
Satyajit Ray continues to be saddled with the albatross of the Apu Trilogy. That isn’t to say that those three films are not classics — "The World of Apu" has one of the best build-up pay-offs in all of cinematic history. However, Ray’s other films are sadly forgotten by most audiences. This film, one of a series based on his literary invention Detective Feluda, follows the fantastic Soumitra Chatterjee and his usual band of misfits as they solve another mysterious case.

4. The Night of the Following Day
Based on a novel by Lionel White (perhaps best known as the author behind Kubrick’s "The Killing" and Godard’s "Pierrot le fou"), this masterpiece from the unjustly underrated Hubert Cornfield features a great ensemble cast and a tight, economical story. It isn’t by chance that White was one of the folks to whom "Reservoir Dogs" was dedicated, along with Jean-Pierre Melville, Timothy Carey, and others.

6. The Saragossa Manuscript
Unfortunately, not everyone can experience this astounding motion picture in a cinema (where its confounding story-within-a-story structure works best). Buy or rent the disc and free your home of distractions since the film devolves deeper and deeper into confusion until, at the very end, all becomes clear. Features a star-turn by the "Polish James Dean" Zbigniew Cybulski.

7. A Sign From God
With Caveh Zahedi’s latest film all over the press, why not take a look at this wonderful effort from 2000 written and directed by frequent collaborator Greg Watkins. It’s a fictional tale but doesn’t deviate greatly from Caveh’s usual tendencies nor stray from his typical preoccupations.

8. Tramp, Tramp, Tramp
At the height of his career, Harry Langdon’s popularity rivaled that of the great comedians of the era. It all came crashing down rather suddenly, supposedly due in no small part to his insufferable ego. Two of his earliest features were directed by Frank Capra. This wasn’t one of them. Regardless, this hilarious, little-seen silent stars Joan Crawford as the unlikely object of Langdon’s affections.

9. Valerie & Her Week of Wonders
Arguably the most allegorical film ever made about a young girl’s "flowering," this exceptional fantasy maintains a dream-like sensibility from beginning to end. If you’re seeking a straight-forward narrative, look elsewhere. If, however, you’re looking for a fascinating, visually impressive tale with a truly grand soundtrack, this one is for you.

10. Werckmeister Harmonies
Although Andrei Tarkovsky is the celebrated master of long, languishing scenes, Bela Tarr has crafted his own place in the parthenon of laborious filmmaking. Witness the endless tracking shot of two men walking… and walking… and walking. Genius!

Jonathan Marlow is Content Acquisitions Director for GreenCine, LLC.