Harvey Keitel and Ellen Burstyn in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974) dir. Martin Scorsese

This is an incredibly intense scene from Martin Scorsese’s 1974 follow-up to “Mean Streets,” the proto-feminist “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”  The recently widowed Alice, portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, discovers that the man she has hooked up with (played by Harvey Keitel) is married with a child.  Keitel’s character then appears and unleashes a very scary side to his personality that Alice has not seen before.  Even though there’s not a lot of bad language per se, the intensity of this scene is shocking for a then PG-rated film.  Seriously, this entire scene is extraordinarily weird and disturbing for a mainstream film, but then again, that was Hollywood in the 1970s.  Burstyn earned an Oscar for her performance in “Alice,” which while well-deserved, probably should have earned it for “The Exorcist” or “Requiem for a Dream.” Still, a great performance and an amazing look at how ballsy mainstream American cinema once was.

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“Pulp Fiction” (1994) dir. /scr. Quentin Tarantino

In honor of this year’s Cannes Film Festival (taking place as we speak), here’s one of the best-known and most beloved of all the Palme D’Or winners, 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” There’s not much more I can say about the “Star Wars” of the 1990s that hasn’t already been said. I had seen Quentin Tarantino’s first film “Reservoir Dogs” on its opening weekend at an upscale Arlington, VA art theater in the fall of 1992, after reading about it nearly a year before in the magazine “Film Threat.”  After seeing “Dogs,” I obnoxiously demanded that everyone I knew at the time see this film, carrying a VHS copy of the film to practically every gathering I went to for the next year and a half.  A year later, I saw the Tarantino-scripted “True Romance” twice on its opening weekend in 1993 and became an even more annoying (and mouth-breathing) Tarantino disciple.  Needless to say, by the fall of 1994, especially after it won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and had so many major critics vehemently raving about it (or condemning it), I could barely contain my excitement when “Pulp Fiction” finally made its US debut.  This time, I saw it at a Tuscaloosa, AL mall multiplex, which was a real sign that the underground planets had aligned and Tarantino’s blend of violence and comedy had become VERY chic by this point.

Mark Seal recently composed a very lengthy, but immensely entertaining article about the making of “Pulp Fiction” for Vanity Fair’s March 2013 Hollywood issue, which you can read at the link below:

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/03/making-of-pulp-fiction-oral-history

Nearly 20 years later, “Pulp Fiction” still packs a wallop.

Johnny Boy’s Entrance in “Mean Streets” (1973) dir. Martin Scorsese

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Sometimes, one minute of careful editing, brilliant acting, and music tells you everything you need to know about a character in a film. This is the infamous entrance of Robert DeNiro’s character Johnny Boy in Martin Scorsese’s breakout film from 1973 “Mean Streets.” The scene is cut to the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and Johnny Boy enters the club, two girls on his arm, acting like a cocky jackass with a stupid hat and suit. His friend, played by Harvey Keitel, eyes him with the most in-control “Oh s–t! This a–hole better not start anything tonight” look I’ve ever seen.

“Bad Lieutenant” (1992) dir. Abel Ferrara

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“Bad Lieutenant” was one of the best films of the 1990s and a film that continues to fascinate and provide food for thought as the years go on. The plot seems simple (and deceptively Conservative): a corrupt cop (masterfully played by Harvey Keitel) with various addictions: gambling, drugs, sex … reaches a major crisis point, finds Jesus, and understands the true nature of Christianity. The problem (at least of for Christian Conservatives) is that Keitel’s journey is an NC-17 rated charter to Hell, with graphic sex, nudity, violence, and drug use. Keitel’s character’s hallucination / breakdown in front of Jesus, as well as his subsequent giving some crack-smoking rapists $30,000 and a bus ticket out of town, really made me understand the concept of Grace. This will likely offend most people who call themselves Christians, but it also makes me understand what Christianity is about in a way that never made sense to me before. Admittedly, it’s not enough to make me run back to church, but it’s still pretty powerful … and a great testament to Ferrara as a filmmaker and potential (albeit wacked-out) theologian.

The attached red-band trailer is admittedly awful, but it’s at least consistent with most art-house trailers. The film is way better than this trailer would make you believe.

I remember seeing this film on a sleety, gray, miserable day in February 1993 in downtown Washington DC.  The theater I went to see it in (the Janus 3) was pretty run-down.  It wasn’t what I would call a grindhouse, but definitely a venue that had seen better days.  In retrospect, it was the perfect setting to see this f–ked up masterpiece.

This was one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films of the 1990s.

“Hard Working Man” – Captain Beefheart / Ry Cooder / Jack Nitzche, from the film “Blue Collar” (1978) dir. Paul Schrader

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The theme song from Paul Schrader’s mentally brutal 1978 working class thriller “Blue Collar.” One of the great forgotten films of the 1970s, with Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto. As Kotto’s Smokey character famously asserts: “They pit the lifers against the new boys; the young against the old; the black against the white. Everything they do is to keep us in our place.”