Friday, February 9

Random Cinematic Year in Review - 1992

A Random Cinematic Year In Review 


Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

As an 11 year old in 1992 I had very few passions and hobbies. I spent most of my free time watching TV. ABC’s TGIF was going strong at that time; I think this is where I probably developed my first crushes. I wanted to be DJ Tanner’s boyfriend. She was too good for Steve. And I didn’t really care that much for Urkel, but I definitely wanted to hang with Mr. Cooper. “The Simpsons” were just starting to get amazing, “Twin Peaks” was already over and “The X-Files” hadn’t started yet. So I found myself engrossed in the saga of Dr. Fleischman and Maggie O’Connell in “Northern Exposure.”

But my real passion at the time was NBA basketball. And 1992 was an amazing year to be a fan of the sport. The Summer Olympics that year were held in Barcelona, Spain and it was the first year that professional players were allowed to compete. The U.S. sent out what Bob Costas and I consider to be the greatest sports team ever assembled. Co-captained by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, their average margin of victory was 44 points. The entire roster looks like someone asked Christian Laettner to name the 12 best basketball players in the world and he added his own name because he didn’t know how to spell Isiah Thomas. Subsequently, 11 of those players are now in the Hall of Fame...and so is Shaq. They broadcasted each of these games on TV. I had a couple of blank VHS tapes that I illegally downloaded them to. Over the coming years, I wore out those tapes pretty good, all without the expressed written permission of NBC (I looked up the statute of limitations on copyright infringement before I wrote this.).

The other major news story from ’92 began when 4 Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of assault charges even after being caught on video beating black taxi driver, Rodney King. 

“Why did one straw break the camel’s back?
Here’s the secret.
It’s the million other straws underneath it.” – Mos Def “Mathematics”

The jury’s decision was seen by the local black community as the final slap in the face committed by a long history of systemic racial injustice. And civil disobedience erupted in a big way. The L.A. Riots had begun. I didn’t really know what I was watching at the time. I suppose I was about as informed as any normal 11 year old living almost 400 miles away. I saw repeated snippets of footage of a white truck driver being dragged from his rig and beaten mercilessly. Then, I recall the endless mockery that turned Mr. King’s “Why can’t we get along..?” plea for peace into a satirical meme. As I had previously mentioned, most of my exposure to black lives came on ABC on Friday nights. I am sometimes ashamed at how little I was aware and how much I allowed that limited awareness to inform my world view in the coming years. 

If you’re interested, and you should be, I would highly recommend T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay’s 2017 documentary "LA 92". You can watch it on the National Geographic app. It is composed strictly of archived footage, with no talking heads or narrative commentary. It actually begins with the Watts Riots of 1965. It is a far more in depth look at the events leading up to and transpiring in the spring of ’92 than you would likely have gotten from major news organization at the time. Learning about the events that have taken place leading up to the unrest in Watts in ’65, South Central in ’92, and then again in Ferguson, MO in 2014 should at least add to your understanding of the pressure cooker of racial tension that this nation exists in. In my humble opinion, it seems that we have only gotten more efficient at dismissing and deflecting our fellow countrymen and their concerns of racial inequalities and injustices. We don’t yet seem to be any closer to actually addressing the issues. If you don’t believe me, just watch anyone on FOX News discussing the NFL player’s protest of the National Anthem.


10 – BROTHER’S KEEPER (Directed by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger)

4 years before anyone had ever heard of the ‘West Memphis 3’, this documentarian duo made this little gem of a pseudo-who-done-it small town murder film. Delbert Ward is on trial for murdering one of his three brothers in the small farming community of Munnsville in western New York. This is probably the earliest example of this type of documentary revolving around the legitimacy of a questionable confession made by someone who may or may not have had the capacity to comprehend what was happening. If you haven’t seen the aforementioned trilogy of PARADISE LOST docs, watch those first. They’re incredible. But if you are already a fan, like most that grew up following those trials, seek this film out. It is engrossing and provocative and to its credit, it is far less weighted to one side of an argument than the PARADISE LOST films.

9 – BENNY’S VIDEO (Directed by Michel Haneke)

It’s hard to watch this film and imagine that this is still far from Haneke’s most disturbing work. So if you have never experienced his films, this may serve as a good sampling of what is to come later in his filmography. It also serves as a good pre-curser to his masterpiece, FUNNY GAMES (’97). Both center on the concept of media violence desensitizing us to the point of truly horrific consequences. Haneke has a unique way of punishing his own audience. His films are to be more studied than enjoyed, this one in particular. 

8 – MY COUSIN VINNY (Directed by Jonathan Lynn)

If you want to watch a film that simply oozes charisma out of your screen, this is it. Marisa Tomei frankly makes this film. This actually makes for one of the best 90’s nostalgia, breezy watches. It’s like cinematic comfort food… with dessert.

7 – CANDYMAN (Directed by Bernard Rose)

This film is the perfect blend. One part horror, one part cool, poured evenly over a base of social commentary. The film is adapted from a short story by Clive Barker called “The Forbidden”. Barker’s work takes place in England. The setting of the film was moved to Cabrini Green, a housing project in urban Chicago. In 1992, the horror of the environment existed with or without any supernatural element. Tony Todd may be the best cast horror villain in cinematic history. The danger is always imminent…. But I still kind of want to hang out with him.

6 – LESSONS OF DARKNESS (Directed By Werner Herzog)

“Two figures are approaching an oil well. One of them holds a lighted torch. What are they up to? Are they going to rekindle the blaze? Is life without fire become unbearable for them?...Others, seized by madness, follow suit. Now they are content. Now there is something to extinguish again.”

Honestly, my only complaint about this Herzog documentary is that it just isn’t long enough. I could listen to him ramble poetic forever. This film takes us into the blazing oil fields of Kuwait directly after Operation Desert Strom. It has a narrator but no distinguishable narrative, mainly just good old Werner, talking about the beautiful moving pictures flashing across your eyes on the screen. I could have used about an hour more of it. 

5 – THE LONG DAY CLOSES (Directed by Terence Davies)

Surrealist, meta-arthouse pieces that take place in 1950’s working class England don’t get any better. The characters in this picture often gaze straight into the camera, looking right at you, sometimes literally winking as if to say: “I know you’re just watching a movie, but I couldn’t be happier about it…” Our main character Bud, takes the center of both the screen and his adoring family’s attention. And we see the film, not through his eyes but through his cinematic dreamscape fantasies. I think Michael Coulter’s cinematography is the best of 92 and the film’s score (Bob Last and Robert Lockhart) is just as expressive. This is the only Terence Davies film I’ve seen so far. I’ll be catching up over the coming year for sure.

4 – ARMY OF DARKNESS (Directed by Sam Raimi)

It’s a little too easy to write this one off by comparing it to the two EVIL DEAD films that preceded it. This is selling it short. I actually watched this one in ’92 or ‘93, a few years before I had ever discovered that it was even part of a trilogy. 25 years later, I still revisit it just as often as EVIL DEAD 2, and more often than the EVIL DEAD. The reason that the comparison sells AoD short is because these films have vastly different intentions. They are attempting different things, celebrating different cinema, speaking different languages. I can see why AoD would have been disappointing to someone that was expecting a sequel to the beloved Ash saga that began in the cabin. But I didn’t discover these the same way. And this film will always be something special to me.

SIDE NOTE: I wrote a piece a couple years ago called The Postmodernism and Pastiche of Army of Darkness. I just reread it. I still stand by it. 

3  REBELS OF THE NEON GOD (Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang)

1992 was also a great year for Taiwanese cinema. Most Americans are familiar with Ang Lee’s more recent international success with films like 2012’s LIFE OF PI. Lee actually got his start in ’92 with PUSHING HANDS. Many of his Taiwanese contemporaries however had already been having a lot of critical success since the early-mid 80’s, often times compared to the Italian Neorealism films from the 40’s for their minimalist style. Directors like Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Tsai Ming-Liang are some of the most prolific forefathers of the Taiwanese New Wave. You find a lot of recurring themes in the filmography of Ming-Liang. He reminds me a lot of South Korea’s Kim Ki-Duk. He’s really good at shooting young men riding motorcycles in urban Taipei and many of his films feature flooding and/or flooded apartments. I’m sure this has some sort of culturally significant allegorical value that I’m just too dense to get but I still love watching them. This film tells a sort of ‘coming of age’ story of a semi-rebellious youth trying to find his identity somewhere in between his blue collar parents and the vending machine thieves he’s been following around. I think it has a bit more of a subdued plot than most of Ming-Liang’s other works and his characters are a lot more down-to-earth and unassuming. It really is a film that you can just live in for an hour and a half. 

2 – RESERVOIR DOGS (Directed by Quinten Tarantino)

I like this film a little more every time I watch it. It’s hard for me to imagine something coming together so well for a first time filmmaker but then again, I think producer Harvey Keitel may have had a little something to do with it. He gives the film’s best performance and as a producer, I’m sure his experience was called upon for day to day guidance of the process. Editor Sally Menke’s influence on this film was key as well. 

1 – LA VIE DE BOHÉME (Directed by Aki Kaurismäki)

I’ve only just discovered the films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki a few years ago but since then, I’ve gobbled them up about as fast as I could. He’s kind of like a Scandinavian Jim Jarmusch, only funnier. I think this is the first one I saw. The story centers around three broke miscreant artists attempting to survive in a time and place that doesn’t value their efforts. I’m not sure if this works as a dramatic comedy or a hilarious tragedy. It somehow manages to celebrate the importance of creation while still challenging the audacity of assigning it value.

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