KinoKultur is a thematic exploration of the queer, camp, weird, and radical releases Kino Lorber has to offer.
Just in time for summer, Kino Lorber has released some wonderfully humid pictures. Filled with dense social issues and steamy sensualities, the four films considered here give us plenty to sweat about.
Out of Sight (1998)
This month’s crown jewel is the 4K release of Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. It’s an ideal film for a 4K upgrade. The colors and hues get even hotter, and we can see with crystal clear clarity that Soderbergh is laying out the visual template for his later heist films that would redefine the genre, perhaps American Cinema as a whole. It has a fully formed sense of signature style with a puzzle-box narrative timeline, witty cynicism, and a score that’s as cool and sly as George Clooney. There can be no doubt this is a Soderbergh film.
The plot seems like a deceptively simple cat and mouse game between Karen Sisco, US Marshal (Jennifer Lopez), and career bank robber Jack Foley (Clooney). With his motley crew, Foley intends to rob some gems from a wealthy businessman. But things don’t go as planned and what ensues is a complex and richly entertaining weaving of events and emotions.
Every performance is ferocious. Clooney is nearing the apex of his charm. Foley’s goofy and mischievous youthfulness shows that Clooney has fine-tuned this persona, adding insightful and sarcastic layers distilled from age and experience. Danny Ocean feels like a wiser version of Jack Foley.
Don Cheadle, who will also appear as a mainstay of the Ocean’s films, is perfectly cast as Snoopy, the crafty fight fixer. He’s able to joust well enough with Foley that the two form a mutual respect. Clooney and Cheadle verbally box like they’ve been best friends for years. Ving Rhymes is similarly an enjoyable ensemble player. While his masculinity will always be beefier than Clooney’s, he’s still able to match the dynamics and transform Buddy Bragg into a three-dimensional character.
Steve Zahn steals the show as the spacey Glenn Michaels, the chaotic foil to Foley’s ordered world. Zahn is the perfect Soderbergh fool. He can play Glenn’s clueless sense of clarity, presenting an upside-down perspective on reality like a finely tuned nose harp.
It’s Jennifer Lopez that has the most startling purr. She sinks her teeth into her role as Karen Sisco, US Marshall. Already she’s fully developed her low, grumbling, tough-guy voice that’ll use Angel Eyes, Shades of Blue, or, let’s not forget, Lila & Eve (featuring Out of Sight castmate Viola Davis).
The action elements allow her to show off her dancerly qualities, which work perfectly with Soderbergh’s elegant tracking shots. Notice the scene after the breakout when Foley and Buddy hoist Karen into the air, her legs bent like Peter Pan flying as the camera glides with her. Not only does she give a sleekly settled performance, but her chemistry with Clooney is off the charts. The red-lit scene in the trunk is proof enough that Lopez can deliver when she’s comfortable and under good direction.
With a well-crafted mix of action, comedy, steamy eroticism, Out of Sight has it all. It’s an incredible archive of the mid-1990s that, with this new upgrade, still feels fruitful and fresh. We can see the past in it, but now we can fully know the future that was just out of sight when Soderbergh first made it.
The UFO Incident (1975)
If it’s ensembleship you’re after, there’s no better pairing this month than James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons in The UFO Incident. This delightful made-for-TV movie reenacts the 1961 alien counter of Barney and Betty Hill, as they recounted it under hypnosis. Sure, there are moments when the medium is too constricting for the otherworldly performances. But director Richard A. Colla leans into the genre and plays with commercial breaks to act like gaps in memory common during alien abduction stories.
The outdoor set isn’t terribly alive, and the Hills don’t have to worry about the rules of the road because their car is on a rocking machine. Nevertheless, Colla and composer Billy Goldenberg set an eerie, unsettling mood that matches the uncanny eyes of the aliens. The UFO Incident builds to terrifying crescendos through its central performances and what Colla and writers Hesper Anderson and Jake Justiz bring to the story.
Hovering around all this is a richly probing examination of Black trauma within interracial marriages. Their abduction stories are more than just curious stories. They’re webs of deeply rooted anxieties. The abduction threatens Barney’s masculinity, which has already been hurt, caged, and silenced by white people, even his wife. The cosmic horror of his domination and inability to protect Betty tears him open.
Who better to deliver this than James Earl Jones? In his trances, he gives monologues verbatim from the Hill recordings that don’t need to be dramatized. His language and intent are so clear that his words paint the picture; his eyes see the terrifying ship; thus, we see it. Jones knows Barney is also a metonym, a surrogate for the Black middle class struggling to maintain mobility. From this mold, Jones can handcraft a four-dimensional character. Barney is a human character of flesh, mind, spirit, and history. It’s a masterful performance that peels layers of psychological and social meaning.
While Barney is a character of depth, Betty is one of breadth. Though she may be much smaller than her colossal co-star, Estelle Parsons stands eye to eye with Jones. Parsons must be vulnerable, anxious, tender, and blind to her faults. While we experience the threat of gendered/sexual violence through her perspective on the abduction, she mainly functions as a critique of white womanhood, which Parson plays with undeniable courage of conviction and belief in the script’s themes. Betty may not learn the truth about aliens or her abduction in the end, but she does know more about her race, her husband’s Blackness, and what it means to build a better life together.
Savage Sisters (1974)
Similarly, legendary Filipino director Eddie Romero similarly envisions a multiracial coalition to build a better world. In the funny, salacious exploitation classic Savage Sisters, Jo Turner (Cheri Caffaro), Mei Ling (Rosanna Ortiz), and Col. Lynn Jackson (Gloria Hendry) join together to topple the military dictatorship, foil the Americans playing both sides, and fund the revolution. All while looking gorgeous, of course.
In the opening minutes, nay seconds, we’re treated to a tres groovy 1970s soundtrack by Bax over images of sex, politics, and money. Immediately we know we’re in classic exploitation territory. Though famously filmed in the Philippines, as detailed in James G. Chandler and Ash Hamilton’s insightful and humorous audio commentary, the setting is more of a playground of genre tropes. With that comes the typical problems of over-sexualization of women and racist caricatures. It conflates kink and coercion. It will allow the nowhere “banana republic” setting to be an avenue for white folks to play up schticky stereotypes. So, if you were wondering, no, a movie called Savage Sisters is not ideologically sound.
Yet it offers some well-timed broad comedy that mischievously critiques military hubris. But more importantly, it supports the revolution at its center. It imagines a world where the revolution keeps going. The revolution is already brewing when we’re dropped into the story alongside Jo. She may not be fully invested in the cause personally but understands its purpose and endorses it. She sees how important it is that Mei Ling and her fellow people deserve self-determination. Even the US Military member of the threesome eventually comes to the cause. That’s pretty remarkable, even for a genre that regularly supports armed struggle.
Underneath the clothing of a traditional exploitation narrative, Savage Sisters teases us with the provocative possibility of revolution. It engenders the struggle and strips away any oppressive opposition to its cause. That’s the most erotic part.
Stunt Rock (1978)
Should you want more high-flying action this hot summer, Stunt Rock is likely to give you that stunt-happy, rock ‘n roll adrenaline fix you’re looking for.
The film is a mockumentary-style highlight reel of Australian super-stuntman Grant Page’s exceptional feats, interwoven by set performances by the magic act rock band, Sorcerer. Sorcerer’s performances feel charming and dated in the weird way that their act anticipates the antics mocked in This Is Spinal Tap. There’s not much else in between the stunts and the rock. Thanks to Page’s down-to-earth persona and high-flying feats, it’s a bizarre movie that is graciously aware of its own oddity.
Watching this at home was strange. The scale of the film seemed way too large for the small screen. Stunt Rock rides the rails of spectacle from start to finish; it needs a much bigger space to show off. But while repeat split-screen perspectives of a stunt played over screaming guitars tire in their novelty after a while, what moves to the fore in place of spectacle is the film’s primary intent is to show stunt-work as an art form.
As an expert in his field, Page inserts clips from current and historical films to emphasize stunt work’s contributions to cinema from the beginning. He successfully argues that what these folks do takes skill and dedication. We may be more accustomed to thinking about on-set safety (though not much more), but in Stunt Rock, we see just how little insurance these artists had and why they needed to argue for more recognition.
I wanted to know more about this world of stunt work that Page and Ozploitation legend Brian Trenchard-Smith tease in the film, and the commentary tracks on Kino Lorber’s new release certainly fit the bill. Page’s wry, frank reflections on his work and the trends and changes in the field of stuntwork enhance the viewing experience.
These addendums catapult Stunt Rock from a mockumentary to a documentary proper, brilliantly cataloging the history of stunts and the hard-working people who perform them on the brink of a changing industry. In that respect, it definitely rocks.