By way of introduction, half the delight with obscurer films is how you come across them. The point of a handful of recommended films like this is that they probably won’t come to you through Netflix’s algorithm of suggestions or through IMDB’s top 250 – at least that wasn’t how they arrived on my screen. The personal angle of this piece is that it’s as much about how I came across the films as it is about the films themselves. And to clarify, these films are not unknown to all; we might consider them more or less ‘obscure’, and certainly deserving of more attention.
Local Hero (1983) directed by Bill Forsyth
First up on the list is a film that – in all fairness – has two big things to its credit: a BAFTA and a soundtrack from Mark Knopfler. It might be thought of as a mix between In Bruges (2008) and The Wickerman (1973), minus the murdering and whilst a ‘Dire Straits’ fan would have the sense to eventually seek this one out, it seems to seldom come up in discussions of 80s quality cinema.
It is a film that relishes in the charm of its setting and its cast and lets all the corners of this quiet Scottish town come to life in front of the camera
Local Hero was accredited early ‘favorite film’ status from a good friend of mine and his praise for it felt as though it couldn’t possibly be met by the film itself. Needless to say I was proven wrong and whilst it may not take up the same number one spot in others’ or my own lists of GOATs, it does fulfill that feel-good criteria for a movie that we’re all in need of sometimes. Local Hero might also be thought of as an antidote to the bland personalities on display in a lot of ensemble studio pictures at the moment. It is a film that relishes in the charm of its setting and its cast and lets all the corners of this quiet Scottish town come to life in front of the camera. The small town versus big oil conglomerate plot may sound trite at first upon a synopsis reading, but the way it employs its mystical imagery, vinyl-worthy score and colorful characters ends up giving its social commentary and ‘fish out of water’ premise a kick of life. A movie well worth anyone’s time, and the lesson learnt from discovering it might just be to really take your friends’ recommendations to heart. Also seeing as that same friend has lent me a copy of Diva (1981) which I’ve yet to watch, I will probably need to heed my own advice here.
My Love (2006) directed by Aleksandr Petrov
I think that we’ve all experienced the wonders of going down the YouTube rabbit hole, letting the sidebar take you on a magical adventure of weirdness where the view count on each video seems to shrink by each new click. The starting point for me on this one was looking up video essays on Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ which eventually brought me to the 1999 animated adaptation of the novella by Alexander Petrov.
this quintessentially Russian masterpiece about a young boy’s infatuations in a small village where its twenty-seven minute length feels like a beautiful eternity
This is a director worthy of a binge, and whilst there might be some of you who have come across his Oscar winning Hemingway interpretation, exploring the rest of his filmography is highly rewarding. Case in point being this quintessentially Russian masterpiece about a young boy’s infatuations in a small village where its twenty-seven minute length feels like a beautiful eternity. His romantic realist style most felt through his paint-on-glass technique serves the film wonderfully, and at the time of writing this it can be found on YouTube for anyone who wants to check it out.
The Panic in Needle Park (1971) directed by Jerry Schatzberg
It may seem odd to include a film starring Al Pacino in a list of obscure films but I think this one might be justified given how it seems to be so rarely mentioned in tandem with his career retrospectives or alongside classic roles like ‘Sonny’, ‘Serpico’ or ‘Don Corleone’. Nonetheless he’s just as worthy of praise in his turn here as heroin addict ‘Bobby’, where my point of entry was the grim subject matter itself. Reading Bill Eppridge’s brilliant ‘Needle Park’ photo-essay in ‘Life Magazine’ where he covered the relationship between two heroin addicts in New York, took me with force and promptly led to some further research on its background.
it captures desperation and the unlikely love story at the heart of the picture
Along with some discoveries of interesting tidbits about the photographic process, the best surprise was finding out that the essay had formed the basis of a film with Al Pacino and Kitty Winn. After a single watch I feel like its merits need to be conveyed to more people so that its unvarnished raw portrayal of addiction can find its way onto more screens. The grit you find in 1970’s New York films is one reason alone to take on this movie, but the way it captures desperation and the unlikely love story at the heart of the picture is the real core of the experience. Going out of your way to watch this means watching something that feels unique and special which, if anything, might be the purest motivation behind seeking out ‘obscure’ films.
Hundhotellet (2000) directed by Per Åhlin
Maybe it’s cheating to go for another animated film in this list. Most non-Disney, non-Laika, or non-Ghibli animated films tend to veer towards the obscure in the general public’s grasp of releases. I’m also guilty of it. More often than not, they seem to slip past my radar as well so I’m grateful that Hundhotellet managed to make its way into our childhood VHS collection through my grandfather (who in all fairness probably didn’t think twice to actually watch the movie and check it for profanity or weird sexual innuendo). It might’ve been too scary to watch at the time, but revisiting it now what I see is a great display of Per Åhlin’s craft and another reason for why he should be cherished in the history of Swedish cinema.
a fantastically paced and mildly edgy Swedish cartoon
Hundhotellet, with its modest single locale setting, its jazzy soundtrack, cozy atmosphere and hilarious characters makes for one of those few movies I love to return to every year just for comfort. It’s not as revolutionary as Åhlin’s Dunderklumpen (1974), but it is a very tight movie with a perfect balance between comedy and mystery with its Agatha Christie-esque plot of strange happenings in a gothic hotel forming the basis for both. This one might be trickier to find in subtitled form, but if you ever get the chance to watch it you should seize the opportunity to experience a fantastically paced and mildly edgy Swedish cartoon.
Hopefully this serves as a prompt to not only watch the films I’ve mentioned, but also as a push to seek out and recommend movies that deserve a larger audience; to share our collective discoveries with each other – as corny as that may sound.