The title really does say it all. But what works best about Robert K. Elder’s new release The Best Film You’ve Never Seen is that this is not a book about guilty pleasures. It’s about people who make movies, talking about the movies they love and why they love them–good and bad. A follow up to his well-received 2011 book The Film That Changed My Life, Elder’s The Best Film You’ve Never Seen is a similarly unreservedly subjective undertaking, transcending the expected ‘I love this movie because x-y-z’ format by focusing instead on how the thematic elements of this motley crew of collected films have, and continue to, informed their directorial approach.
Elder, a journalist and film columnist, gathered together 35 established feature film directors, many of them among some of the best known names in the business, in brief but stimulating series of tete-a-tetes, giving them a chance to defend what Elder calls “outcast classics”: films that come nowhere near the traditional Best Of lists; hidden gems that the interviewees are keenly interested to see acknowledged and given due consideration.
Elder is a canny, discerning moderator although he doesn’t have to do much nudging to get his subjects to really get to the heart of why they love these films. “Their cinematic defenders want these films to be loved, admired, swooned over,” he writes, and it is highly evident. Danny Boyle, Guillermo del Toro, John Woo, Richard Linklater , Peter Bogdanovich, Arthur Hiller and John Waters are but a handful of prominent directors profiled here, and the results are equal parts surprising and expected.
It is far from surprising, for instance, that the king of transgressive cinema, John Waters, champions the Rotten Tomatoes 8% Freshness winner Boom! (1968) starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, which is a contains all but tell-tale signs of the kind of rapturous camp that would become Waters’ trademark. Indie darling Mark Duplass of the Duplass Brothers makes a highly convincing argument in behalf of the Spielberg-backed box office disaster Joe Versus the Volcano— a movie that is probably one of the most underrated, smartest, subtlest films you’ve never seen. (Just as The Duplass’ The Puffy Chair is one of the smartest, subtlest films you’ve never seen.) The directors also champion films ranking high on the WTF factor–and yet, judiciously. Thematically, stylistically, or sheer balls–uh–ly, the response is never a defiant ‘I Just Like It OK Leave Me Alone’ as might clutter their YouTube comments thread. Brian Herzlinger, who’s choice was the 80s camp classic Killer Clowns From Outer Space, states: “Here’s the thing about Killer Klowns from Outer Space—the whole thing is an homage to ’50s horror movies, specifically The Blob….For me, a successful homage is when the story that you’re telling excels and is original enough to create its own entity and be its own movie. You’re not going to watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space and think of it ripping off The Blob.”
From Old Hollywood’s forgotten gems (Richard Linklater admires the complicated characters structures in Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running) to modern curiosities (Alex Gibney calls Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Orgasm a mixed-up blender of a film) , Elder’s adroitly edited volume is a buoyant, vastly entertaining page turner that holds the delightful singularity of being written by film lovers for film lovers. That fact alone merits its position on the shelf of cineastes everywhere.
Ok, readers: What are YOUR favorite unseen films?