FANDOR: Great Restorations, Revelations, and Debuts of 2016

By Sean Axmaker
Dec 13, 2016

Private Property (Cinelicious, theatrical and Blu-ray+DVD)

Long considered lost until it was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and rereleased in 2016, Private Property isn’t a lost masterpiece, but it is a terrific little independently-produced thriller—both a handsome production and a visually evocative world, taut with palpable tension. The directorial debut by Leslie Stevens, a playwright, screenwriter, and protégé of Orson Welles, this 1960 American indie is a neat little sexually-charged psychological thriller starring Corey Allen and Warren Oates as drifters with a sociopathic streak crashing the sunny California culture of affluence and trophy wives. The simmering resentments of class and money, and the confusion of sex, desire, and power point this film forward to the socio-political concerns of late-sixties and early-seventies cinema.
Our coverage of the best of the year can’t overlook the “new old” movies—the ones that are finally enjoying a much needed push or have just become available to the wider public. These are eight of the essential items that saw restoration or re-release this year.

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (Cinelicious, theatrical and Blu-ray)

This lost 1973 classic of Japanese animation is indeed an erotic drama, but perhaps not what you might think. Set in an unnamed kingdom in an abstracted medieval Europe, it’s part subversive folk tale, part rock-ballad musical, and part experimental filmmaking. Whatever you want to call it, it’s nothing like the manga serials or sexually explicit anime horrors that come to mind in the intersection of Japan, animation, and erotica. This has more in common with animated outliers like Fantastic Planet (France, 1973) and the Czech New Wave masterpiece Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970). From abstract sexual imagery to strobing Peter Max pop-art designs to delicate watercolors and Euro-style sketches, Belladonna of Sadness—restored to its full length and to its visual vibrancy and intensity by Cinelicious—is a unique artifact from a time when animated features could aspire to fine art and experimentation for adult audiences.

A.V. CLUB: From martial arts to mumbling cowboys – The best re-released and restored films of 2016

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By Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
Dec 5, 2016

Movie culture has always been sustained by rediscovery and revaluation—that infinite process of expanding and redefining canons. There are two important factors at play here. The first is that film spread and developed faster than any creative medium that preceded it, meaning that the bulk of what survives of film history is still unexplored. The second is that film has always been a business, and that its commercialization can make release patterns and availability into tricky processes. Every year, some set of rights is finally negotiated or some negative is found after decades in a closet.

Our coverage of the best of the year can’t overlook the “new old” movies—the ones that are finally enjoying a much needed push or have just become available to the wider public. These are eight of the essential items that saw restoration or re-release this year.

Belladonna Of Sadness (1973)

A psychosexual freak-out of fairy-tale subtexts and obscene imagery, Belladonna Of Sadness stands as one of the most unusual and challenging animated features of its time—no small feat, given that its contemporaries include René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and the early films of Ralph Bakshi. Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, a close collaborator of the Japanese comics and animation legend Osamu Tezuka, in an array of limited animation styles that draw on art nouveau and expressionism, the film draws on the French historian Jules Michelet’s theories of witchcraft as a form of rebellion to create an anti-authoritarian parable of sex magic and sexual violence in medieval France. A commercial failure in its time, the film had never played American theaters before this year’s 4K restoration; it has since been released on Blu-ray and DVD.

DANGEROUS MINDS: ‘Private Property’ – Kinky, sexually tense—and long lost—film noir thriller gets rediscovered

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By Bart Bealmear
June 30, 2016

The 1960 independent feature, Private Property, is a rarely seen, sexually tense thriller. Anyone who digs film noir, crime dramas, or vintage indie flicks is going to want to see this movie. Believed to have been lost for the ages, a 35mm print has been found and restored, so, lucky you, now you’ll have a chance to see it, as it’ll be released this week on home video for the first time.

Private Property is the work of writer/director, Leslie Stevens (he’d later create the sci-fi horror series, The Outer Limits). Shot in just ten days on a minuscule budget, the movie is a critique of classism and bourgeois suburban life. It’s also a beautifully photographed exploitation film. Stevens’ cast his own spouse, Kate Manx, as the doting ‘50s housewife Ann, and the majority of the picture was filmed on location at or near their Beverly Hills home. Much of the story takes place while the sun is blaring, but when the night comes, those same areas are transformed into creepy, shadowy settings.

Corey Allen and Warren Oates play criminal drifters, Duke and Boots. Allen worked primarily in TV, but will be familiar to many as Buzz, the lead delinquent in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Oates is now remembered as one of Hollywood’s great character actors, having appeared in such revered pictures as The Wild Bunch (1969), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974).

Though we know next to nothing about the backgrounds of Duke and Boots—factors that contribute to the ubiquitous tension in Private Property—it is clear from the get-go that Duke calls the shots. During a conversation early in the film, Boots admits to being a virgin, and Duke promises to find him a “twitch”. The first woman they spot is Ann, and they begin following, tailing her to the home in the hills she inhabits with her square husband, Roger. From there, Duke and Boots begin spying on her from a nearby vacant house, with the movie’s audience complicit in their voyeurism.

Duke then hatches a long game strategy to seduce Ann and pass her off to Boots. Duke, in his relentless, yet cool pursuit of Ann, exhibits such sociopathy that Donald Trump would praise him for his powers of skillful manipulation. Brilliantly portrayed by Allen, such a character is often seen as a heartless, one dimensional creature, but as Duke’s wicked plan to ensnare Ann progresses, there are hints that he is falling for her.

Kate Manx gives a nuanced performance as the lonely lady of the house. Ann is generally a cheerful person, but there is a discernible sadness that is just below the surface. Her husband, Roger, is frequently absent, and when he is around he callously disregards her frequent overtures for sex (“wife noises,” he calls them). She is faithful to her spouse, yet has been so deprived of tenderness and physical intimacy that she is seduced by the smarmy Duke, which challenges her morality. Knowing that Manx would commit suicide (in 1964, shortly after her divorce from Stevens), one can’t help but feel a heightened compassion and anxiety for the vulnerable Ann. The actress would star in just one other film—another written and directed by Stevens, in which Oates also appears—Hero’s Island (1962).

Warren Oates isn’t on screen as much as Allen and Manx, but he too shines here. Like Ann and Duke, Boots is a complex individual. He’s dopey, but not dumb; vicious, yet sensitive. He says he wants to be with a woman, but he may be a homosexual. Boots is actually the loneliest soul in the picture. For much of Private Property, he’s on the outside looking in.

Late in the film, Boots gazes lovingly at Duke (in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment), revealing he thinks of his partner in crime as more than just a buddy. As is the case with Ann, Boots needs Duke in a way that society will not accept, his confusion over who he thinks he’s supposed to want made clear in the riveting finale.

In many ways, Private Property was ahead of its time, especially in regards to the Ann character. Her descent into moral ambiguity, as well as her obvious—and at times kinky—sexual desires (in one scene, she drapes Duke’s belt around her neck and tightens it), were progressive components in Hollywood movies at that time. Not too mention the sexual tension between Duke and Ann that is so intense it threatens to boil over into your popcorn. The Motion Pictures Association deemed Private Property “unacceptable” due to, among other things, its overt depictions of “lust,” and was subsequently denied the MPA’s Production Code seal. In a few years, cutting edge films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (1966) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967) would lead to the creation of a more modern ratings system, but it was too soon for Private Property. Even Manx’s “overly suggestive postures” rattled the conservative censors.

Without the all-important seal, Private Property was effectively doomed to obscurity. Passed over by major distributors, it was released by the independent Kano Productions in the spring of 1960, before quietly vanishing. Though lost for decades, a 35mm print was recently discovered by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and restored by Cinelicious.

The restored Private Property will be released in a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Cinelicious Pics on October 25th. Order it via the Cinelicious Pics website, or get it on Amazon.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Two ’70s Movies on Video Enter the Valley of the Cult Heroines

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By J. Hoberman
October 21, 2016
In late 1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s druggy, mystical western “El Topo” opened at the Elgin Theater in New York with no more fanfare than a small notice in The Village Voice. The film was to be screened only at midnight, according to the ad, because it was “too heavy to be shown any other way.”

A new outré cinema was born: The violent “El Topo” established the template for subsequent midnight blockbusters, like John Waters’s shockingly crude “Pink Flamingos” (1972) and David Lynch’s fantastically weird “Eraserhead” (1977). Had the Japanese animator Eiichi Yamamoto’s psychedelic, sexually explicit “Belladonna of Sadness” (1973) opened at midnight, it, too, might have entered the cult pantheon.

As it was, Mr. Yamamoto’s film was a commercial failure in Japan and, despite a screening at the 1973 Berlin International Film Festival, took more than 40 years to arrive in the United States; last spring, newly restored, it enjoyed brief theatrical runs in New York and Los Angeles and is now out on Blu-ray from Cineliciouspics. It’s also available for streaming from Amazon Video.

A product of countercultural magical thinking, “Belladonna” was inspired by “La Sorcière,” the 19th-century French historian Jules Michelet’s examination of the medieval witch mania as a rebellion, led mainly by women, against the feudal order and the Catholic Church. The movie is also something of a revolt — against constraints of good taste as well as conventional animation.

Mr. Yamamoto, an associate of Osamu Tezuka, the founding father of contemporary manga and anime, employs a variety of styles. Much of “Belladonna” unfurls like a scroll, with Mr. Yamamoto using forms of conventional cel animation and the “limited animation” associated with his television series like “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion,” panning across or zooming in on static drawings.

With its flat patterns, sinuous lines and entwining forms, “Belladonna” refracts traditional Japanese graphic art through the prism of the Art Nouveau or Vienna Secession, two movements that were in some ways inspired by Japanese woodcuts. It also echoes the candy-colored psychedelia of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” (1968), the prurient French science-fiction comic book Barbarella and the late-1960s poster art associated with the San Francisco rock scene. “Belladonna” is eye-popping and ear-catching. The score, by the jazz pianist Masahiko Sato, might be characterized as “acid twang” in its evocation of Pink Floyd and Ennio Morricone.

The movie’s look is as flowery as its title. Still, the delicate lines and pastel splashes of color are frequently at odds with a sexual violence at once explicit and powerfully abstract. Reviewing “Belladonna” in The New York Times last May, Glenn Kenny called the movie “compulsively watchable, even at its most disturbing.”

The protagonist, Jeanne, an initially shy, sad-eyed damsel who might have been the subject of a song by a hippie troubadour, is raped on her wedding day by the demonic local lord — and then again, repeatedly, by Satan himself. (The Devil speaks with the deep, seductive voice of Tatsuya Nakadai, an actor best known in the West for his samurai roles, and appears in various guises, including that of a disembodied penis.)

Part abused victim, part avenging riot grrrl, Jeanne takes up witchcraft, ultimately becoming so powerful that the feudal lord who first violated her tries to enlist her as his ally. She refuses — or rather, she makes a demand he cannot satisfy — and is thus arrested and martyred at the stake. A brief coda added for an expurgated but still unsuccessful Japanese release flashes forward to the French Revolution, identifying Jeanne with Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 painting “Liberty Leading the People.”

“Belladonna of Sadness” — described in a Japanese trailer included as a Blu-ray extra as “a typical Romanesque anime of intense eroticism and lyrical sorrow” — is organically outré.

INDIEWIRE: Cinelicious Pics Acquires Tim Sutton’s Critically Acclaimed Sundance Premiere ‘Dark Night’

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By Kate Erbland
September 28, 2016

Cinelicious Pics has acquired all North American rights to Tim Sutton’s critically acclaimed “Dark Night.” Billed as “an artfully understated critique of American gun culture,” the film is “loosely based around the 2012 massacre that took place during a multiplex screening of ‘The Dark Knight’ in Aurora, Colorado.” Sutton’s feature uses pseudo-documentary technique and a cast of non-professional actors to chart the course of six strangers — including the eventual shooter — over one fateful day. The film was shot in Sarasota, Florida, and lensed by veteran French DP Helene Louvart and boasts an original score by Montreal-based Maica Armata.

The film debuted at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was later selected as Closing Night Film at BAM CinemaFest. In recent weeks, the film played out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, where it took home the Lanterna Magica Award.

Our own Eric Kohn wrote of the film, “at every turn, the movie casts a haunting spell…’Dark Night’ plays more like a plea for scrutinizing people rather than the reductive tales of their fates…Despite its real world inspiration, ‘Dark Night’ creates the impression that exclusively focusing on the horrific events — and not the people impacted by them — buries the lede.”

“I am so proud of how this film was made and equally proud of the people who made it,” commented Sutton. “Now I get to take pride in how it will meet American audiences because Cinelicious Pics — a tasteful, intelligent and thoughtful team — will lead Dark Night into theaters with as much passion as we put into making it.”

“We’re incredibly proud and excited to be working alongside Tim,” added Cinelicious Pics’s Vice-President of Acquisitions and Distribution, David Marriott. “His is a singular and much-needed voice in American Independent cinema. DARK NIGHT is not only an important addition to the conversation surrounding gun culture in this country, but a visionary work of art in its own right.”

Cinelicious Pics is planning an early 2017 theatrical and VOD release for the film.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Once Lost, ‘Private Property’ Is a Genuine Rediscovery

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By Glenn Kenny
June 30, 2016

This 1960 picture, long considered lost, and newly restored courtesy of the bold indie distributor Cinelicious Pics, is a sex-crime thriller that teeters on the edge of morbidity before its galvanic climax. Seen today, it’s also a fascinating mélange of cinematic semiotics.

Written and directed by Leslie Stevens (best known for his contributions to the TV series “The Outer Limits”), “Private Property” features the sleazoid dirtbags Duke and Boots hijacking their way into an upscale section of Los Angeles, the better to secure a rape victim Duke can give to the sexually inexperienced Boots. The duo break into an unoccupied house next door to the home of an attractive, neglected housewife, Ann. How neglected? When Ann tells her insurance-salesman husband, “I’m ready for bed,” he says, “Wife noises” to the colleague with whom he’s on the phone.

Duke is played by Corey Allen, a few years after he hassled James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”; Boots is Warren Oates, a few years before establishing himself as one of the greatest character actors of the “new Hollywood.” Kate Manx, Mr. Stevens’s wife at the time, plays the porcelain beauty Ann; her expertise at portraying vulnerability is made more poignant by the knowledge that she took her own life in 1964. Mr. Oates underplays what could have been a schematic “Of Mice and Men”-derived dynamic, while Mr. Allen’s work as an overconfident sociopath is consistently insightful enough to make you regret that he didn’t get more roles this meaty during his career.

This tense and upsetting film has more psychological depth and empathy than the comparable sensationalist fare of its time, and shudder-inducing cinematic style to spare. “Private Property” qualifies as a genuine rediscovery.

INDIEWIRE: Cinelicious Restoring Japanese Queer Classic ‘Funeral Parade of Roses’

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By Vikram Murthi
June 30, 2016

Exclusive: Cinelicious Restoring Japanese Queer Classic ‘Funeral Parade of Roses’

Cinelicious Pics and actor Elijah Wood’s production company SpectreVision will restore and re-release Toshio Matsumoto’s Japanese queer cinema classic “Funeral Parade of Roses.” A loose adaptation of “Oedipus Rex” set in the gay underground of 1960’s Tokyo, the film follows a group of transgender people as they travel through a largely unseen world of drag bars and nightclubs, fueled by booze, drugs, fuzz guitar, performance art and black mascara.

Long unavailable in the United States, “Funeral Parade of Roses” is an intoxicating masterpiece of subversive imagery, combining elements of documentary and the avant garde. Stanley Kubrick acknowledged that the film was a major influence on “A Clockwork Orange.” Check out some exclusive images from the film below.

“Funeral Parade of Roses” is slated for a theatrical release in early 2017 with VOD and Blu-ray to follow.
 

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