Not Coming to a Theater Near You | 2006 in review

by Adam Balz

No matter how long we live, we will never see one-tenth of one percent of all the films ever made. There are simply too many: silent films lost to time; foreign films forever unreleased; personal films the director refuses to discuss. Every film, regardless of its length or content, deserves a viewing—precisely why, every year, throngs of cinephiles descend upon sites like 5 Minutes to Live, all hoping to discover the long-sought subjects of ardent searches. For some it’s an old, short-lived television show; for others it’s a once-in-a-lifetime concert or controversial documentary. And even when the object of desire is a film victimized by its own studio and crew – The Magnificent Ambersons, White Dog – there will always be a devoted following. That’s why, in lieu of a “best of” list (and more fawning over Little Miss Sunshine), I present this hodgepodge of miscellany, all of which I truly enjoyed.

Cremaster 3

When a filmmaker decides to create a story comprehensible only to a select few – namely, the filmmaker – he or she is risking commercial alienation. Only a handful of directors, including Christopher Nolan and David Lynch, can do this with any guarantee of appraisal, and that’s due in part to an already loyal following. The reason Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3 – and, I imagine, the entire cycle – succeeds so well is because of Barney, who’s first and foremost an artist; celluloid and screen are merely his museum. And his canvass? Everything from the Chrysler Building to punk bands to Barney’s own body, all ripe for beautifully mystifying transformations. Cremaster 3 is transfixing, a film that doesn’t need to plead for your attention; it merely stitches itself to your brain and repeats. To this day, Cremaster 3 remains a milestone in my film viewing experience, and I’ve never wished to re-examine a film more than this. But aside from a small portion – a non-linear half-hour that, in my opinion, is the film’s worst scene – Barney’s cycle doesn’t seem destined for a DVD release any time soon. Sacrilege… but then again, when you have a bottle of fine wine, do you wait and savor or simply chug?

New Discoveries

This year, my fervency for the overlooked and abandoned led me to many incredible films, two of which deserve repeated mention. The first, a Japanese take on the Oedipus Cycle called Funeral Parade of Roses, left me both enthralled and shaken. A Region 2 DVD, I was forced to view Toshio Matsumoto’s black and white masterpiece in a public computer lab. Brave at first, I soon found myself wondering how, if questioned, I would explain this film—the opening shot of a man and woman, both blindingly white and moving as one, ends with the man’s nipple, isolated and drifting, dissolving into a white screen. After ten minutes, I couldn’t look away.

When I first reviewed Joseph Sargent’s The Man in March, the national atmosphere was completely different. The destructive fervor over the upcoming elections had barely begun; both political parties were at odds over Floridian Terri Shiavo; and Barak Obama was still just a senator from Illinois. Now, with a new year upon us and significant changes on the horizon, Sargent’s look at the first African American president has acquired an entirely new feeling. Still, it’s distressing that we must look to the fictitious past for symbols of good politics.

Derek Jarman

This year also marked my introduction to the work of Derek Jarman, whose reputation is still indeterminate, with three of his better-known works. The first, Edward II, an attempt at molding Shakespeare around the contemporary theme of homophobia, was boldfaced and stunning but slow. Caravaggio, the story of the controversial artist whose work continues to defy classification (he’s neither Renaissance nor Baroque, but rather a transition between the two), contained scenes so devotedly rendered to match Caravaggio’s art that I watched in inexorable awe. And War Requiem, the story of British poet and World War One soldier Wilfred Owen. Made in 1989, the elegiac pace and beautiful cinematography was interrupted only once, by a furious montage of footage from the Vietnam War. Thus War Requiem became a commentary on the brutality of hate, the destructive nature of ignorance and pointlessness of combat. Undoubtedly the best anti-war film I’ve ever seen.


With the notable exception of Ellen Burstyn, actresses have had an unusually good year. A few examples: Helen Mirren in The Queen, Catherine O’Hara in For Your Consideration, Viola Davis in World Trade Center, Laura Dern in Inland Empire, the cast of Volver, and the women of Dreamgirls. Not to be forgotten are Jill Clayburgh in Running with Scissors and Meryl Streep in A Prairie Home Companion—in my opinion, two of the year’s best performances.

Match Game on DVD

Match Game doesn't receive the credit it deserves. Not only was it a staple of 1970s television (Game Show Network recently declared it the greatest game show of all time), but in an era of war, racial tension, social instability, burgeoning sexuality, and political corruption, Goodson-Todman's Match Game was a blend of cultural satire and boundless hilarity—escapism at its best. Match Game was a half-hour without fears or taboos; entertainers and politicians were harangued as equals, contestants were the butt of jokes, the audience was a volatile punch line. You had Charles Nelson Reilly delivering not-so-subtle innuendos, Richard Dawson beguiling female contestants, Fanny’s Flagg sporting a wardrobe of suggestive T-shirts, and host Gene Rayburn attempting to keep everything under control. (Half the fun is watching his attempts at keeping the peace fail miserably.) Releasing any other game show on DVD would be analogous to burning money; but this DVD is an incredible look at an American era, at the thoughts and wants and atmosphere of an entire generation, and should be given to every sociology student. And, on top of that, it’s damn funny.

Chad Vader

A fan film series made by Matt Sloan (Jedi Master Plo Kloon in Episodes I, II, and III) and Aaron Yonda of Blame Society Films and available on YouTube, “Chad Vader” follows the day-to-day exploits of Darth Vader’s awkward, power-hungry younger brother, the day manager at Empire Markets. (That is, until recently, when a scuffle with arch-nemesis Clint resulted in his demotion to the night shift.) Insulting customers, threatening co-workers, and using a light saber to defeat shoplifters, Chad Vader is the epitome of obliviousness and stupidity.

As someone who worked in a supermarket for two years, Chad Vader is a refreshingly accurate look at the atmospheres and inane ego-struggles of local stores; as someone who finds the entire Star Wars franchise incredibly self-insisting and highly overblown, “Chad Vader” is a great take-up (or, perhaps, satirical ode) to cinema’s great nuisance. Plus, at five to six minutes, each episode is a digestible length for the clip-hungry, attention-thinned Internet populace.