Video City A-Z of Film – Staff Picks: B Films (But Not Necessarily ‘B-Films’…) (Pt.2)


B is for Ballast (2008)

B is regretfully not for Billy Brown, “Hero” of Vincent Gallo’s 1998 Buffalo 66, but rather for Lance Hammer’s 2008 debut feature Ballast.

Ballast, which came out on DVD last year, is set in and inspired by the Mississippi Delta, a dreary and downtrodden area of the American south. The region has a distinct cultural heritage and is considered the birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll, with numerous Delta Blues and jazz musicians influencing the early pioneers of the genre.

Today, and shown bleakly through Ballast, this cultural vibrancy is gone. The Delta brought business to it because of the land’s rich fertility, bringing a large slave population with it. Now that the soil is depleted and the production of cotton in the area no longer economically viable, the business has left and the communities raised there have been left without modern infrastructure and without care for their well-being. Houses left to rot, racial inequality in public schools and lack of employment opportunity, leave the area unable to function as a community and care for itself.

Ballast is not a political film, nor is it a film that begs its audience to weep for the characters it portrays. It’s opening half hour feels like the beginnings of a The Wire-esque gangland thriller, chronicling a young man’s descent into crime, but through its sparse language and naturalistic performances, the pace soon decelerates as we watch the family at the films’ centre try to deal with the death of one of its’ members. Over the films’ 96 minutes we are subsumed into British cinematographer Lol Crawley’s stunning photography and the gentle unravelling of the films’ narrative, which upon completion leaves you uncertain of both the family and the regions future. Akin to Debra Granik’s 2010 Winter’s bone, it is an unrelenting portrayal of poverty in rural America, told through deeply affecting visuals and performances of real power.



B is for… Bad Lieutenant (2009)

Don’t be misled by the title. This isn’t a remake or a sequel to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film but it is one of the most waywardly enjoyable films you’re ever likely to see.

Bad Lieutenant could have been yet another corrupt cop flick with a hip hop villain (in this case Xhibit) and a pair of out of favour leading men – Nic Cage and the increasingly wide-faced Val Kilmer. Fortunately Herzog fills it with delirious ideas and lose energy to create a bizarre journey into the ecstatic truth of evil.

Cage is back to his best here, giving the most beautifully unhinged central performance since Christopher Walken in Donald Cammell’s Wild Side (search it out).

Herzog’s instinct is key to this film’s success and Cage commits fully to become his modern-day Klaus Kinski.

This film is no masterpiece – many parts don’t gel and the plot isn’t up to much – but who cares about plot when Herzog delivers a perfect antidote to Hollywood blandness. Bad Lieutenant wallows in personal lunacy with unflinching, gob-smacking, brilliance. One line to whet your appetite:

“What are those iguanas doing on my fucking coffee table?!”



B is for Black Orpheus (1959)

Black Orpheus  – set at the carnival in Rio; an amazing combination of music, colours and tragedy. Based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, it won an Academy Award in 1960 for Best Foreign Language Film.

Watch the original not the remake!


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