Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Cult viewing: Alex Cox and Moviedrome

For the current generation of nascent film buffs, there is Mark Cousins but the bolstering of my cinema knowledge came from director Alex Cox, presenter of BBC2's gloriously idiosyncratic Moviedrome. In the second guide to this cult film series of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cox warns: 'If you love big, glossy Hollywood productions starring Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, beware: the 'Drome may damage your taste!' (Substitute De Niro for Redford and little has changed.)

The first three seasons featured Big Wednesday, The Honeymoon Killers, One-Eyed-Jacks, Rumblefish... Peckinpah, Romero, Malick, Godard, Kubrick, Carpenter, Raimi and Craven are all present and correct . 'If there's a typical Moviedrome film,' Cox writes, 'it was probably financed by a major studio that fired the director half-way through and then pulled out entirely, leaving the cast to pool their savings and finish the film in another country, under the directorship of a generous used-car dealer.'

This could almost be the formula for Cox's own productions; his Walker featured here. Made in Nicaragua, it stars a Michael Fassbender-like Ed Harris as the eponymous, psychotic adventurer anti-hero and was written by Rudy Wurlitzer (author of Two-Lane Blacktop, which is one of those films that has such a groundswell of supporters currently it barely qualifies as a cult movie; it just needs somebody to screen it). 'There's not much... I can say about this film, since I am its director,' Cox says, 'I personally am very fond of it.'

It's worth pointing out The Long Hair of Death (1964), a 'spaghetti horror' directed by Anthony Dawson, which could form a counterpiece to Hammer's much fêted Witchfinder General (1968, Michael Reeves) - also included. There are, naturally, spaghetti westerns, given Cox's fascination, including Django (1966) and The Big Silence (1969) by Sergio Corbucci, A Bullet for the General (1966, Damiano Damiani), plus Sergio Sollima's Face to Face (1967), and Requiescant (1968, Carlo Lizzani)

Don Siegel features, of course - there's The Beguiled (1971) and Escape from Alcatraz (1979) - as well as John Sayles (for Alligator, 1980) and Sam Fuller, for Verboten! (1958) and Run of the Arrow (1957). There are several films by Robert Aldrich (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, The California Dolls, Ulzana's Raid and The Big Knife), none of which I've seen, aargh!

Other curios spike my curiosity, too: Inserts (1975, John Byrum) and Romance of a Horse Thief (1971, Abraham Polonsky). A big fan of Vincent Ward - whose brilliant 1988 film The Navigator received a Moviedrome screening - I'm also intrigued by other contemporary choices, including Wayne Coe's Grim Prairie Tales (1990) and James Foley's At Close Range (1986), with Sean Penn, Christopher Walken and Mary Stuart Masterson.

Given that BBC2 separately celebrated Russian, Japanese and French cinema it's perhaps understandable Solaris (1972) was Moviedrome's first Soviet film. Cox recommends war film Come and See (1985): 'The Russians are our neighbours, right? And 20 million of them died on our side in World War II.'

Do also check out Cox's work: start with the excellent Highway Patrolman (1991). And, if you get the chance, dig out his introduction to the hugely underrated Bird (1988), directed by Clint Eastwood, who rightly also received a Moviedrome screening for Play Misty for Me (1971). Film clubs aren't a new phenomenon, but rarely can one have had such far-reaching appeal.

1 comment:

  1. Inserts and Bird were never actually screened on Moviedrome, ditto Chinatown.