As my Christmas bonus arrived and I had time on my hands, I paid a visit to my local video/book exchange store. Yes! There are still some of those around—for how long, though, I have no idea!
And so I was rummaging through the rows and rows of used novels, music CDs, and films. Now bragging about finding a copy of Sneaker Pimps’ now seventeen-year-old “Becoming X” for $6 is probably not Criminal Element’s cup of tea. But as I was going through the used films, I realized that someone had clearly pawned their Criterion Collections and I was blessed with one of those rare moments in which you find great freaking movies at ridiculous prices.
Here are a few titles worthy of your attention.
Pickup on South Street (1953) – directed by Samuel Fuller
If you’re into crime fiction in general and have never heard of Samuel Fuller, I suggest you go on Wikipedia right away. The rest of you, do your best to locate this vintage item. (Okay, you can probably download it a lot easier than finding an actual copy, but still.) Remember when Russia was the enemy? Remember when the streets of Manhattan were dangerous, filled with competing mafia factions? Hell, the protagonist even lives in a harbour shack on the East River. This is raw, classic, almost journalistic noir cinema.
Koma (2004) – directed by Chi-Leung Law
Okay, maybe it’s because I’m fond of Asian cinema in general. Koma is probably the least recommendable movies of this list, (and definitely not an “oldie” oldie) but I wanted to include it. The feel is not as “professional” as what most people would expect. It is a Korean film subtitled in English, but like most things from the Tartan Asian Extreme company, there is something else happening on the screen that you can’t quite explain beyond the word, well, “extreme.” Koma leads you through an investigation about a woman whose kidney was stolen. I must admit that I was sitting alone in the dark watching the movie and often thought, “Meh!” However, I realized only at the end that I was nervous, sweating, and that I had opened every light in the apartment on my way to the bathroom just in case someone was hiding behind the door. That’s gotta mean something.
Brief Encounter (1945) – directed by David Lean
This is mostly a romantic noir. There’s no gruesome murder or serial rapist anywhere in the story, still it is worthy of mention if only because of the quality of the photography, settings, and emotional tone. It is a great noir movie in which morals are questioned, torn, and revisited. I am one of those who believe that great fiction is not only based on shock value (like who can kill the most people in the worst ways imaginable) but in the mental/emotional process that characters go through. If you agree, watch Brief Encounter; if you’re mostly looking for violence, go right away to the last pick on this list.
Carnival of Souls (1962) – directed by Herk Harvey
Carnival of Souls might not be as entertaining as it is cinematically significant. Or at least I found it interesting because of the setting. A good portion of the story takes place in an abandoned amusement park in the middle of Great Salt Lake. Yes, in the middle of the lake. “Saltair” as it was known, had been built on piers and was rumoured to be doomed. The first phase was destroyed by fire, then the waters receded, turning the land to mud (and a perfect nesting ground for mosquitoes) without mentioning the impact of the Great Depression on the number of visitors. The setting alone is worth watching the movie for, and you’ll be surprised how good and horrific the movie truly ends up being.
The Yakuza Papers (1973) – directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Willingly saving the best for last, we have The Yakuza Papers, a full-length series (feel lucky if you stumble on the full box set) that tells a true-crime history of the Yakuza far from the young, slick, styled, Mercedes-driving image you so often see in modern Hollywood depictions. The series follows the life of a young ambitious man who was destined to be a kamikaze in World War II. But as the war ended before he was to go on his suicide mission, he wanders the A-bomb slums of Hiroshima in search of employment and most of all, respect. “Battles Without Honor or Humanity” being one of the series’ titles, you can expect plenty of realistic violence and power struggles among the families. While this is not necessarily an easy series to watch from start to finish (because of its violence, tone, and bleakness) it remains a very rewarding piece of cinema history.
That’s pretty much it for now, I hope 2013 will bring plenty of good, new stuff for us to watch and read.
Ian Truman is a hardcore kid turned writer. He has been straight edge and vegetarian for at least a decade now and hopes to bring the passion, verve, and dedication of hardcore into the art form of the novel. You can find him in Montreal, Quebec, with his wife Mary and daughter Kaori or on his website at iantruman.wordpress.com.
Read all posts by Ian Truman for Criminal Element.