With the 2013 summer blockbuster season about to ramp up, you may be looking for a way to escape the Fast & Furious (Star) Trek into Iron Man Darkness Part III. Fortunately there are DVDs, popcorn and couches at home. For something completely different, you may even want to venture back into the less predictable, more adventurous cinema of the 1960s.
Pierre Etaix. "Who is Pierre Etaix and where has he been all your life?" After years of pleas, petitions and legal battles, Criterion Collection has finally unveiled the clown-turned-filmmaker's long lost works. The new DVD set includes five features and three shorts, made between 1961 and 1971, which display an artistry every bit as creatively rewarding as his heroes Max Lindor, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
A disciple of what he called "le gag," Etaix began his film career assistant-directing fellow French comedian Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle. A chance meeting with writer Jean-Claude Carriere, a frequent Buñuel collaborator, spawned their decade-long collaboration. Etaix's works are remarkably diverse. With every endeavor he seemed to re-invent what his films were capable of, deftly transitioning from the black and white visual puns of romantic comedy (The Suitor, 1963) and circus tale (Yo Yo, 1965) to his playful yet scathing departure into nonfiction, Land of Milk And Honey (1971). Lambasted by critics after this creative take on the documentary format, Pierre packed up his director's chair and started a clown school with the help of his actress wife. He is very pleased to know that people still enjoy his films.
The Loved One. The recent death of comedian Jonathan Winters has led to renewed interest in his films, and The Loved One (1965) is an overlooked gem. A blatantly subversive dark comedy in the vein of Dr. Strangelove, the film is based on a short satire written by Evelyn Waugh after traveling to Hollywood to work on an adaptation of his novel Brideshead Revisited. During this time, he happened to visit Forest Lawn Memorial Park, chic resting place of the stars. Offended by the pretense of both the American film industry and the American funeral industry, Waugh wove these into the story of an aimless British poet who falls for a doe-eyed devotee of Whispering Glades, the cult-like funeral parlor where she works.
U.K. director Tony Richardson was joined by American screenwriter Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider), editor Hal Ashby (who would later direct Harold & Maude) and cinematographer Haskell Wexler (Matewan). The impressive ensemble cast members, including Rod Steiger and Liberace, do things they wouldn't normally do. Jonathan Winters gives standout performances in two supporting roles, as the money-minded creators of both Whispering Glades and the nearby pet cemetery.
Promising "something to offend everyone," Richardson hoped The Loved One would ruffle feathers among the shallow West Coasters he encountered. To his delight, many displeased studio execs actually walked out at the premiere. The film's deviant humor has aged well.
Merrick McKinlay is co-owner of La Dolce Video, an independent video rental store in Arcata.