fb pixel

Log In


Reset Password

The Fourth Wall: Picking your own film festival can prove a Challenger

A few moons ago, when there were still Blockbusters outside of Bend, my brother-in-law and I were tasked with picking out a movie to watch that night with our wives.

We had picked a couple of titles that we knew would be safe choices when, in the Staff Favorites section, we spotted a title that made both of us stop in our tracks.

“Vanishing Point.”

And so it was that this would be the night two sisters realized that they married guys who not only shared the same first name ... but also unplumbed depths of questionable taste.

I recall the word “Umm ...” (ellipsis included) was dominant in the post-film conversation, as we moved onto one of the safer alternatives we had picked up that night at the video store.

“Vanishing Point,” for those who have yet to experience the 1971 classic, is the story of a 1970 white Dodge Challenger that simply wants to get from Point A to Point B with the help of a driver named Kowalski and a radio jock named Super Soul.

It is a mystical, metaphysical journey; not much in the film is truly what it appears to be. And it’s not spoiling anything to tell you that there are two “endings” — a doubly dramatic deus ex machine that, when The Other Robert and I saw the movie separately in the mid-’70s, struck us both as mind-blowingly meaningful.

A few decades later, though, munching popcorn with our beloveds ... well, let’s just say that the mystique had turned into a mistake.

I recall the word “Umm ...” (ellipsis included) was dominant in the post-film conversation, as we moved onto one of the safer alternatives we had picked up that night at the video store.

I still contend that “Vanishing Point” is a movie you should see to understand the mindset of those times, even if it seems now like an overtly anachronistic and metaphor-laden exercise in existentialism.

The film came to mind as I thought about the upcoming Ashland Independent Film Festival. The lineup for such events depends on the tastes of those choosing the pictures, and so I wondered — if I could select the slate of movies for a festival of my own, which films would I choose?

Bodies pile up, a guy locked in a trunk never stops talking, and you never know who will survive the night. But at least they serve pancakes in heaven.

Anyone can list well-known great films, so I’m not going that route. Along with “Vanishing Point,” I came up with these:

“Cheyenne Social Club” (1970): A comic western (directed by Gene Kelly!) gives us James Stewart and Henry Fonda as a couple of cowhands who ride to Wyoming to discover what Stewart inherited from his late brother, and getting more than they bargained for when they get there. A whole lot of fun, which gets a jump-start from an opening scene that plays off the Stewart-Fonda off-screen friendship.

“Local Hero” (1983): This low-key whimsical character study from writer-director Bill Forsyth is my go-to answer for all-time favorite movie. A junior oil executive travels from Houston to the Scottish coast to purchase an entire town so that a refinery can be built. And then nothing (and no one) turns out to be as simple as it seems on the surface, leading to a final shot that strikes straight at the feels in the solar plexus.

“A Shock to the System” (1990): Michael Caine stars as a man who has reached the end of his professional and personal growth ... until he discovers an ingenious (albeit illegal) method of advancement. In the true spirit of the best dark comedies, you find yourself rooting for the villain and feeling a guilty level of glee as he succeeds.

“Joe vs. the Volcano” (1990): In the nearly 30 years since its release, this has gone from a failure to a cult favorite — or, rather, as much of a cult favorite as a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan collaboration can be. From the infamous “brain cloud” to the Waponis, the journey to the titular moment has taken on a skewed philosophical relevance which makes the rebirth of this one-time bomb very exciting ... as a luggage problem.

“Soapdish” (1991): A criminally underrated screwball comedy, now relegated to weekend showings on obscure cable channels, it truly deserves to be seen without commercial breaks. By the time soap opera writer Whoopi Goldberg asks TV exec Robert Downey Jr. how she is supposed to write dialogue for a character who doesn’t have a head, you’ve long-since stopped worrying about logic.

“Michael” (1996): So much in this movie depends on one moment. It’s when an archangel played by John Travolta descends the stairs to be seen for the first time by a trio of staffers from a tabloid magazine. If Travolta can’t sell the character, or the reactions don’t work, the movie goes off the rails. Needless to say, the scene works and you become invested in the journey that follows.

“The Ice Harvest” (2005): There is nary a redeeming character in this dark and chilly comedic thriller as shady characters played by John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton try to escape a mob boss in Wichita Falls, Kansas, on Christmas Eve. Bodies pile up, a guy locked in a trunk never stops talking, and you never know who will survive the night. But at least they serve pancakes in heaven.

I could go on. I wish I had room for Stanley Tucci’s marvelously incompetent hitman in “Undercover Blues”; or Meryl Streep, dressed in police blues, hanging by her fingertips from the side of a building in “Postcards From the Edge”; or a robotic garbage collector encountering a Rubik’s Cube in “Wall-E” ... well, perhaps at next year’s festival.

In the meantime, if you see “Vanishing Point” ... blame The Other Robert.

Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin, who spends far too much time in front of screens, can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.

"Vanishing Point" (1971) (moviestillsdb.com)
Robert Galvin