Where Forgotten Films Dwell

Welcome to this site! It exists for one reason: to preserve the memory of films that have been forgotten about or under-appreciated throughout the ages. Take a seat, read an entry, leave a comment. You might discover your new favorite movie!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Directed by Jared Drake
The United States of America

“This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” - Horace Walpole

George Washington Winsterhammerman hasn’t felt happy in quite some time.  Oh sure, he has a enviable life.  After all, he has a decent job as a Level Three “TUNT” employee at the Jeffers Corporation, the single largest business in world history which simultaneously maintains de facto control over the United States government.  He has a lovely wife, a son, and a massive single family home in the suburbs.  As his name suggests, he is even a descendent of the original George Washington, leader of the American Revolution and the first President of the United States.  But despite all of these things, George Washington Winsterhammerman isn’t happy.  Even worse, he has begun to have dreams when he goes to sleep at night.  And everyone knows that having dreams is the first sign that you might explode.  See, over 100,000 people have spontaneously exploded for no apparent reason.

George Washington Winsterhammerman

George has recently seen a doctor to investigate if he was in danger of exploding, but he was given a clean bill of health, relatively speaking.  As the doctor said, “Mr. Winsterhammerman, you seem like someone who’s able to follow orders well, you have a desire to please, you’re a pleasant, affable sort of fellow who doesn’t seem to want much, perhaps just to be included.  Judging from the somewhat dull look in your eyes I would rate your intelligence at ‘average.’  All of which is good.”  So George Washington Winsterhammerman has everything going in his favor. And yet, he dreams.

Such is the world of Visioneers, the first film by writer-director team Brandon and Jared Drake.  The film has been advertised as a black comedy, but I think to do so would be disrespectful.  Visioneers is so much more than just a comedy with black humor.  Instead, it is a devastating examination of the relationship between tragedy and comedy. Many like to imagine a line, however thin, between the two. But I’ve begun to doubt that comedy and tragedy are two different things.  The thought first occurred to me when I recently re-watched Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925), arguably the greatest blend of laughter and tears ever committed to the screen.  In the famous bread-roll dance scene, I couldn’t figure out whether to laugh at Chaplin’s antics or weep at the cruelty of the women who tricked him.  I frequently felt the same emotion while watching Visioneers.  On the one hand I wanted to laugh at the scenes that demonstrated the complete absurdity of George’s world.  Who wouldn’t laugh at a society where flipping your middle finger and saying "Jeffers morning" was a standard greeting?

 "Jeffers morning, everyone."

George’s wife watches a show where women discuss how the use of “vaginal butter” and the ownership of 12-gauge shotguns are the keys to staying happy!

On the ride home from work, George is serenaded by radio commercials with such infectious jingles as:

If you wanna be happy and have lots of friends,
Eat fried chicken, fried chicken makes a difference.
And if you wanna have fun and not blow to pieces,
Eat fried chicken, fried chicken, it’s delicious!

Can't argue with that logic. 

And yet, all of the laughter makes one feel nervous and uncomfortable.  It’s very clear that George lives in a truly hellish society where genuine emotions and feelings are repressed and replaced by kitschy, artificial substitutes such as television, consumer goods, and blind loyalty to the Jeffers Corporation.

Say hello to Mr. Jeffers.

When George’s brother Julieen, a former Level Five employee, moves into his pool-house after quitting his job, we view him as an amusing oddity despite the fact that he is clearly the only person we’ve seen who is actually happy and content with his life. His achievement of what we as the viewers view as normalcy make him an outsider.  In another scene, to combat the increase of explosion cases the Jeffers Corporation forces its employees to wear silly outfits and hug giant teddy bears.  At first, we laugh. But when one of George’s co-workers has a particularly violent reaction to the overstuffed animals, our hearts sink into our stomachs.  Yes, there is humor in this world.  But it comes at the expense of its occupants’ very humanity.

Let's just say that what happens next isn't pretty.

Eventually George seeks solace in the form of his ex-boss Charisma who was suddenly fired.  He discovers her working in her father’s cafe in an “undeveloped” part of the country.  They find a glimmer of hope and happiness in each other.  But the powers that be conspire to try and keep them apart.  From there George’s world continues to collapse.  Julieen is violently taken into custody by government agents. The government suddenly declares explosions as a “threat to our way of life” and begins a campaign to install thought inhibitors into all of its citizens.  These inhibitors are, of course, manufactured and distributed by the Jeffers Corporation.  Media personalities start to blow up during live broadcasts. In one of the film’s most devastating scenes, George and his wife witness the “vaginal butter” lady suffer a mental breakdown when she learns that she has been instructed to tell people that “happiness is being happy.”

I won’t reveal what happens in the last few scenes because I believe that it is something that you have to experience for yourself.  I won’t even say if it’s happy or sad.  You need to see it with your own two eyes.  It is the perfect conclusion to the Drake brothers first film.  I praise a lot of films as part of my job as a movie critic.  As such, I can say that some films have better acting than Visioneers, although Zach Galifianakis’ performance as George would have easily earned an Oscar nod if it had gained a wider release.  Some films have better cinematography.  And some films demonstrate a greater level of craftsmanship.  But despite this, Visioneers is truly something special.  Since first watching it, the film has haunted my dreams and occupied my fantasies.  There is something so basic, so primitive, and so pure at the heart of Visioneers that it stands in a league of its own.  Most Oscar winners wish that they could claim the same.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Directed by Fritz Lang
The United States of America

There is a famous scene in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) where a group of townspeople suddenly mob a random man during a panic caused by a recent string of child murders. The unsuspecting man had made the mistake of giving a little girl the time of day. At first, a large man appears and accuses him of bothering the girl. When the man rightfully objects, onlookers swarm around him. Raised voices lead to shouts. Shouts lead to screams. And before the poor man can object, he is attacked by the crowd. Five years after Lang released M, he would direct another penetrating examination of mob mentality and crowd psychology. It would be the first film Lang directed after fleeing to the United States from the looming specter of Nazism. Loosely based on a real life incident where two men were lynched in Santa Clara, California in 1933, the film, simply titled Fury, would prove to be one of Lang’s most angry and cynical.

At the beginning of the film we find Joe Wilson, a well-meaning auto mechanic, as he embarks on a long journey to meet his fiancée, Katherine Grant, in California. These early scenes chug along with an obnoxious, plasticine kitsch. Joe, played by Spencer Tracy, seems a bit too idealistic and well-off for an auto mechanic, happily popping an occasional peanut in his mouth from his pocket as he laughs at the world around him. Katherine, played by Sylvia Sidney, seems a bit too doe-eyed and innocent. The world seems a bit too bright and friendly. Indeed, one could easily be fooled into thinking that the projector had accidentally run the wrong film. Is this the same Fritz Lang whose most famous film involved a child murderer?

Joe setting off on his trip. There are WAY too many people smiling in this picture for it to be from a Fritz Lang film...

But things take an unusual turn during Joe’s journey. He stops in a small town for some gas. However, the townsfolk seem strangely unnerved, their eyes swiftly shifting all over this outsider. Unbeknownst to Joe, the town had recently suffered the loss of a little girl to two kidnappers. And even more unfortunately for Joe, one of the kidnappers supposedly had a fondest for peanuts. The sheriff decides to hold Joe overnight while they investigate him. However, rumor and hearsay quickly spreads throughout the town that the sheriff has one of the kidnappers in the jail. The police stripped Joe’s car in the search for ransom money, but failed to find any. However tales start to spread about how the “prisoner” had a suspicious amount of money in his possession. How much? $100! No, $1,000! No, it was $10,000! Gossip swirls around until the townsfolk are convinced that the police are holding a vicious, unrepentant kidnapper who was caught with all the ransom money.

The gossip spreads...

A mob forms. The sheriff tries to maintain the peace, but the people are restless. Sensing a possible riot, the sheriff calls in the National Guard. But word reaches the governor who stops them from being deployed. He’s up for re-election, y’see, and voters don’t like it when the National Guard gets involved in their business. The crowd loses control and storms the jailhouse. When they are blocked by the sheriff and his deputies, they set the jailhouse on fire, laughing and jeering at the heinous criminal getting his just reward.

Miraculously, Joe survived the fire and escaped. However, having survived a lynching, Joe Wilson is a changed man. He desires nothing more than vengeance on his would-be killers. When twenty-two townsfolk are put on trial for his murder, he gleefully listens as they slowly crack under pressure. He knows that if found guilty, the townsfolk would be given the death penalty. But he doesn’t care. He wants them to suffer. When the trial seems to stall from lack of evidence, he quickly mails the judge incriminating memento as an “anonymous towns-member.” Soon Katherine discovers that Joe is alive and begs for him to appear before the court, thereby saving the townsfolk’s lives. What is Joe to do? Appear and let off the people who gladly tried to murder him without evidence or a trial? Or should he let them the ultimate punishment?

With Fury, Lang rips asunder the picturesque image of small-town America. The seemingly incorruptible American justice system is ultimately wielded by Joe Wilson to prosecute the townsfolk. Rather than trying to correct an egregious sin, the townsfolk become entombed in silence, refusing to indicate any of their peers as members of the lynch mob. While a news camera captured several hundred people participating in the mob, the entire population of the town was apparently “asleep that night” or “out at their cabin in the woods.” Even Spencer Tracy, no stranger to diverse roles but usually associated with kind characters, transforms into a snarling, angry shadow of his former self.

Joe Wilson threatening his loved ones to keep quiet that he's alive.

It has been argued that once Lang moved to America he lost his eye for formal composition and ultra-stylized cinematography. However, Fury proves this assumption wrong. The striking black-and-white photography, courtesy of Joseph Ruttenberg, transforms the town and courthouse into hellish reflections of man’s most primal nature. It also warrants mention that Lang had not yet lost his taste for silent film language while making Fury. There are several scenes that demonstrate his skill for storytelling with visual language. Take an early scene where the town gossip mill first begins to turn. We are treated to several shots of different people embellishing the story with each re-telling. At one point, a flock of squawking hens are superimposed on top of a couple of gossiping old ladies. Such a sequence makes perfect sense for those familiar with silent film language. However, if such a technique was used in a modern movie, it would probably be received with raucous laughter.

What could have been a simple courtroom crime drama was wielded to make no less a commentary on American society as M was to Weimar Germany. While Lang would go on to make several of his greatest films in America, for many, once he left Europe the thrill was gone. Once he was crushed into the unforgiving mold of the Hollywood studio system, Lang became just another peddler of cheap B-movies. But these people are wrong. Just one viewing of Fury will suffice to silence them.