Liberty 37, China 9, and a few more movies

#192  [archive]

Liberty 37, China 9
a/k/a China 9, Liberty 37
Streaming free

Monte Hellman is best known for the hot asphalt Two-Lane Blacktop, but he ought to be better known. He didn't get to direct many movies, but the ones I've seen all had serious humanity — meaning, they're about people who seem more real than movie characters. When the camera zooms in close, you can smell their BO.

"You ain't gonna last long, son. There ain't no softhearted gunfighters."

It's a spaghetti western, with long stretches of minimal thrills, maximal character, and nobody who's larger than life. Warren Oates, Jenny Agutter, and someone named Fabio Testi star. Testi looks so much like Robert Carradine I thought it was him, but the Italian accent is authentic. There's also a brief but amusing cameo from Sam Peckinpah.

Testi plays a gunslinger with a heart of gold, who's about to be hung by the neck til he's dead, dead, dead. He's offered a way out of the noose, if he'll track down and kill Mr Oates, so he saddles and rides, but when he finds the man he's supposed to kill, he starts to like the guy — and also Mrs Oates, who's Ms Agutter. She's naked within the first few minutes, which makes even a good movie better. 

Then things happen, but I won't tell you about any of it, except to say that a scene takes place at a circus, "where people come to laugh at God's little slip-ups." It's unlike a movie circus — there's no barker, no grandstands, no clowns, no animals being tortured, only a freak show and some performers dangling and climbing on ropes, under a colorful tarp. I'm not a fan of circuses, kinda actively hate 'em actually, but this one looks appealing.

This movie is 45 years old, and I'd always heard it's great. It is, but I'd managed to never see it until now, probably because of its off-putting American title, China 9, Liberty 37. It sounds like a flipped scoreboard, right?

Well, the title is based on a sun-dried and winter-worn road sign, seen in the film's opening shot, pointing the way to the two nearest towns. In the normal top-to-bottom, left-to-right reading of our English language, the sign says: Liberty 37, China 9, so lacking any other title card, that's the name of the movie. 

Ronee Blakley, who got sucked through a door in A Nightmare on Elm Street and handled appointments and money laundering for The Driver, co-wrote and sings this movie's rather lovely theme song. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Scarecrow (1920)
Streaming free 

From Buster Keaton a century ago, this remains an exquisite wordless comedy, especially the opening sequence in a house built for convenience.

There's a phonograph that's also a coin-operated oven, a bookshelf that doubles as an icebox, a couch that's also a bathtub, napkins on bungee cords so they're always within arm's reach, and no more asking anyone to "pass the butter, please" — it's in a mini-trolley, controlled by a handcrank at each dinner plate.

After the first seven minutes, The Scarecrow becomes a more ordinary (but still very funny) short, involving romance with a pretty woman, and Keaton finding work as a scarecrow. Maybe you think you know all the sight gags for a man working as a scarecrow, but you don't.

There are also several minutes of man and dog antics, with a dog climbing a ladder, running atop the ruins of an abandoned house, and otherwise keeping up with Keaton's famous skill for physical gags. The dog was Fatty Arbuckle's pet, on loan for this movie.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The YouTube Effect (2022)  
Streaming, for a price 

This is YouTube's biopic, following it from the invention of streaming video as an indy startup, to its purchase by Google, and into the monstrosity it's since become. The film is fair and reasonable in its coverage, but I'll tell you up front that I enthusiastically hate YouTube.

What's not to hate? Annoying advertising, tedious recommendations, eternal autoplay, intrusive tracking, brain-deadening clickbait, copyright strikes, glib hosts who think they’re stars, the internet’s dumbest comment section, and so much more, as detailed in this film.

YouTube made stars of Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, and made K-Pop popular in America. YouTube fueled and maybe made possible the 'Arab Spring' of 2010-2012. YouTube gave us QAnon, and made COVID denial famous.

It's brought us YouTube celebrities, which is possibly a good concept — instead of a producer or editor or program manager deciding what goes out, you decide, like in the on-paper zine era. Zines were never corporate products, though — designed, like YouTube is, to promote and reward the worst.

Given open access to the whole world, with no gatekeepers, with algorithms that reward only eyeball counts, with all clicks tracked and regurgitated to keep each visitor on the site for as long as possible, what rises to the top at YouTube is often shit. It's the perfect incubator for right-wing lies and hysteria, hate, kooky conspiracy theories, etc. 

The film shows some little kid who earned $22M in one year from videos of him being a cute kid. His mother says, "We really try to keep him grounded, and make sure that YouTube is not an essential part of who he is," but c'mon, that kid's humanity is gone already.

There's an unnerving segment about a man whose daughter was murdered, and her killing was filmed and uploaded and became popular on YouTube. Her father couldn't find any way to can't get through to anyone and have the video taken off-line. 

"So much of it is about generating clicks, even rougher than the news-click bait economy, because you sink or swim based on your impressions, and for a lot of people it's their total livelihood, so everything is this capital letter everything's in sort of bold and italics and exclamation points."

The film remains balanced and cool-headed, even as it explains all this. It offers solutions — regulation, and/or breaking up the tech giants — but there's big money involved, so in reality, any solutions are off the table before the table's been set. 

The film is very informative, but you're left with a better understanding of a problem that won't be addressed. 

Of course, my one complaint is that same that I give almost all documentaries. You might have it memorized:

The YouTube Effect dresses up facts with unnecessary annoyances. All throughout, every person with something to say is introduced on-screen with a snapshot of someone else. The snapshot morphs into a dozen other faces over the course of a few seconds, before finally becoming the person who's talking — but why? 

Face-morphing imagery has jack shit to do with YouTube, and it's a distraction, every time, from the facts we're here to learn. The tech ability to do such tricks doesn't mean such tricks should be done.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Atomic Cafe (1982) 

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

Fog Over Frisco (1934)

God Bless America (2011) 

Hobo (1992)

Invader (1991) 

Jesus of Montreal (1989)

John Wick (2014)

Lady in the Van (2015)

The Last Case of August T Harrison (2015) 

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1941)

Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Motel (1989)

The Naked City (1948)

The Night Strangler (1973)

Nightmare Alley (1947)

9 to 5 (1980)

Risky Business (1983)

The Rockford Files (debut episode; 1974)

Smothered (2002)

Space Monster Wangmagwi (1967)

Special Bulletin (1983) 

Squirm (1976) 

Stephen Fry in America (2008)

Tank Girl (1995)

Taoism Drunkard (1981) 

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) 

The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time (1981)

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

A Better Tomorrow (1996)

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

Alexander Nevsky (1938)

The Bat People (1974) 

The Beatles: Get Back (2021) 

Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)

Brainwaves (1983) 

The Card Counter (2021) 

Cellular (2004)  

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)

Dark Star (1974)

The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009) 

The Decline of Western Civilization (1980) 

Downsizing (2017)

Frankenhooker (1990) 

The General (1926) 

Get Shorty (1995)

The Gorilla (1939)

The Green Girl (2014)

Hiroshima (1953)

Hugo (2011) 

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

The Internet's Own Boy (2014)

Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988)  

Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022) 

The Killing of America (1981) 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)  

Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)

Love Happy (1950)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Man Who Thought Life (1969)

The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

The Manhattan Project (1996) 

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

Not Wanted (1949)

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Phone Booth (2002)

PickAxe (1999)

Poison (1990)

Popeye (1980)

Reflections of Evil (2002)

Revelations (1993)

Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)

Romper Stomper (1992)

Room Service (1938) 

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017) 

Saved! (2004)

Scared to Death (1947) 

Secret Weapons (1985) 

The Shooting (1966)

The Soloist (2009) 

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Street of Crocodiles (1986)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Taken for a Ride (1996)

The Train (1964)

Truck Turner (1974)

Welcome to New Orleans (2006)

Who Farted? (2019) 

Who's That Girl? (1987) 

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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