30-Day Film Challenge: The Most Obscure Film You've Ever Seen

Day 28
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ANPO (2010) by El Bicho

I saw director Linda Hoaglund's ANPO at its World Premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Since then, it has played at a few other film festivals and screened at several colleges across the U.S. but I don't expect a theatrical release in the States because of the unflattering light cast on the government and military.

ANPO, as it is known in Japan, refers to The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, which was agreed to in 1960. It allowed for American troops and military bases in Japan, a proposition that led to massive numbers of Japanese citizens taking to the streets in protest, and still remains a sensitive topic. The documentary examines that civil disobedience from decades ago through the art it inspired across different mediums: painters, photographers, playwrights, and filmmakers.

ANPO is fascinating combination of art history and modern geopolitics that reveals the disconnect between a country's citizens and its leaders.

Summer Children (1965)

This selection seems appropriate, as it's the first film I wrote about for this fine site. As of now, Summer Children has 13 votes on IMDb, which I would say qualifies it as fairly obscure. Of course, that's possible to change as the film was recently re-discovered by producer Jack Robinette after languishing unreleased for more than 40 years.

The film, which is a somewhat awkward blend of European-style art film and American beach movie, is most notable for featuring the beautiful black-and-white photography of Vilmos Zsigmond, who would go on to shoot masterpieces like Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter and Brian De Palma's Blow Out. His work elevates the film from mere curiosity to fascinating early-career entry.

Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) by Amanda Salazar

Years ago a friend of mine made a point to show me this film. In fact, she was appalled that I had not heard of this film being that I watch so many movies. But when I ask anyone that I know if they have seen or heard of this movie they have no idea what I am talking about and the film that I am referring to is Happiness of the Katakuris.

This Japanese film is a weird one, to say the least; summed up as a horror musical. Told from the perspective of a young girl, her family moves into a bed and breakfast to start a business but the customers that come keep dying and it is the family's job to cover up the evidence. The opening sequence to this film is probably one of the best things I have seen in years, where a young woman's tonsils get pulled out of her throat by a mischievous winged creature which is then killed and eaten by a bird and recreated in its egg...all in stop-motion animation I might add. This is a weird film that at times doesn't make sense but is always in good humor and comes with some great musical interludes which hopefully by reading this will not remain so obscure.

Basket Case (1982) by Shawn Bourdo

What is obscure anyways? Definition-wise it would probably be "not readily understood". Or do we mean "hidden"? In the case of "not readily understood" - that could be any of a hundred films that make little to no sense. But I assume we're talking more rare films. The types of films that are good but are not in the popular vernacular. The kind of films that Tarantino saw in his youth and used as reference material for his own films. And then later turned a whole generation of people on to again.

To be truthful - I owned a video store full of films that fit into this category. I think of films like Tribulation 99, the Kenneth Anger films, and animated films by Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer that are interesting but so few people have seen that it's not worth going into details to sell you on them. Plus, there are more films worthy of attention. I'm trying to think of a film that is something that should be seen by a larger audience but has fallen off the radar for some reason or another. I could probably make a whole 30 day list of films that no one watches anymore that should be seen. But I'll briefly mention two and finish with my real pick.

The Navigator. This New Zealand film from 1988 has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth. No one seems to know what I'm talking about when I mention this fantastic film. Set in the 14th century during the Plague - the townsfolk are digging into the earth to excape the sickness. The group digs into the earth and ends up in modern-day New Zealand. There's a fun Wizard Of Oz feeling to the film with some excellent science fiction elements.

Pow Wow Highway. This independent film from 1989 is also one that used to be mentioned along with other important independent films of the '80s but has fallen out of favor. The film plays out as part buddy film, part Western, and part road movie. Buddy (an activist) and Philbert (a young man searching for his "medicine") take a trip from Montana to Santa Fe, New Mexico to get Buddy's sister out of jail. The movie is touching and funny and speaks beautifully to following your dreams.

But the one that's always suggested to me by people who know me is my fondness for Basket Case. The 1982 horror film isn't as obscure as many others. You might not have found it too many places in the Eighties and Nineties, but it did have a video release and it is even available now to stream on Netflix. The Frank Henenlotter film is extremely low budget and twisted. The tagline for the film is perfect - "The tenant in Room 7 is very small, very twisted, and very mad." The film has terrible acting and an outrageous story that involves a conjoined twin. But there's something about the film that captures the spirit of a whole generation of video nasties that arrived in the early '80s courtesy of home video. It was a film that almost everyone I knew had seen up until about 1987 and it has disappeared since. Anyone interested in what that era was like need only spend 90 minutes with this film. You won't hate it - you'll probably laugh even. Don't be fooled by the far inferior sequels. Only accept the original.

I can't let this go . . . honorable mention films that deserve greater attention to current film fans: Andy Warhol's Bad, The Brood, El Topo, Peeping Tom, and Targets.

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