DVD Event of the Week: Is it Genius Products new Blu-Ray version of Death Proof, the superior Quentin Tarantino half of the Grind House double feature? Might it perhaps be Paramount's release of The Duchess, starring the alarmingly wan Keira Knightly as the better dressed 19th century version of Princess Diana? Or, for the love of God, Montresor, could it possibly be the inexplicably overlooked Ricky Gervais comedy Ghost Town, featuring yet another Oscar-worthy turn by the perennially undervalued Tea Leoni?
All worthy, to be sure, but for my money, it's a film I've meaning to write about for a while and haven't had the chance until now. I refer, of course, to MPI's terrific disc of Achim Bornhak's Eight Miles High (a/k/a Das Wilde Leben).
The film is the more or less true story of Uschi Obermaier, a German fashion model, groupie and free spirit who apparently pretty much symbolizes the 60s in her home country; she was, as the Brits, would have said, The Face. A drop dead beauty who counted two Rolling Stones as occasional lovers, Obermaier was at the center of just about all the pop and political movements of the decade; if there was an ideological argument to be made or a happening to crash, she was the there, from the studied decadence of the English rock scene (Bornhak stages a wonderful recreation of the record release party for the Stones' Beggars Banquet album) to the sectarian Left wing infighting of a Munich commune.
German actress/singer Natalia Avelon is wonderful in the part, with just the right combo of Candide-ish naif and sybaritic glee, and Borhnak, who co-wrote the script based on Obermaier's autobiography, manages a similarly deft mix of amazed seriousness (there's a hippies-versus-cops sequence that lets nobody on either side off the hook for the ensuing violence) and leering exploitation; there may have been a Revolution going on back then but sometimes a bunch of people boinking like rabbits really doesn't have a subtext, if you know what I mean. My favorite scene in that regard is early on; when a particularly self-righteous radical firebrand asks Obermaier why she's hanging around if she's not a hundred percent behind smashing the patriarchy, she simply says "For the experience."
Here's the trailer to give you a little idea of the film's nifty juggling of the period and the salacious.
MPI's transfer is sharp as a tack visually, and the soundtrack (Avelon does a nice cover of a Nancy Sinatra song, amidst some reasonably well chosen period hits) deserves to be played loud. Extras include an okay making-of doc and the original trailer; language-wise, you can chose between the original German (with English subtitles) and a dubbed English version; the latter, however, sounds like it was done by some community theater rejects from Long Island, so it's probably best avoided.
Bottom line -- if it's true that if you remember the 60s you weren't there, this is a terrific way to jog your memory. You can -- and should -- order it here.
Okay, that said, and because things will be relatively quiet around here till Monday, here's an obviously relevant little project for us all:
Best or Worst (Fiction) Film Reflecting the Spirit of the Sixties!!!
And by that I mean either authentic films of the period (art house or otherwise) or more recent or contemporary period pieces about it.
And my totally top of my head Top Five is:
5. The Strawberry Statement (Stuart Hagmann, 1970)
Loosely based on James Simon Kunen's excellent memoir of the Columbia University student protests and strike of 1968, one of the key events of the decade, with a script by Kunen and the dad of one of the Beastie Boys. I haven't seen this since it came out, but if memory serves it's surprisingly on the money, including a rather harrowing of recreation of the NYPD beating the crap out of the dirty hippies at the finale. Doesn't appear to be on DVD at the moment, so you'll have to take my word for it.
4. Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (Karel Reisz, 1966)
A working-class artist (David Warner), obsessed with Karl Marx and gorillas, tries to stop his upper crust ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave) from remarrying. The commie/ monkey combo is about as Sixties as you can get, and Warner is hilarious.
3. Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler, 1968)
The great and criminally underrated tough guy actor Robert Forster is a TV cameraman whose pose of studied objectivity runs head first into the mayhem in the streets at the '68 Democratic Convention. Wexler's mix of fiction and documentary fact (those are real skulls of real protesters being cracked by real police in the riot scenes) was groundbreaking at the time, and the film raises all sorts of issues (both political and esthetic) that we're still debating. Not to be missed.
2. Riot on Sunset Strip (Arthur Dreifuss,1967)
L.A. police captain Aldo Ray tries to understand the kids that inspired the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," but finds his patience sorely tested when some hippie creeps dose his daughter (the great Mimsy Farmer) with acid and gang rape her. Unbeatable exploitation nonsense from producer Sam Katzman, with an amazing club scene featuring the Chocolate Watchband, a bunch of snarling garage punks whose Jagger-esque lead singer is now a respected astronomer.
And the most memorable Sixties-themed film, it's not even close so don't hassle me cause I really don't need the bad vibes, is obviously --
1. Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1986)
Two unemployed actors (Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) drink, do drugs, and bitch at each other in a squalid flat in London circa the summer of '69. No more accurate (or hilarious) film about its historical moment has ever been made; you can practically smell the sulphurous aroma of Altamont and the imminent collapse of the counterculture to come.
Awrighty now -- what would your choices be?