David Lynch understands outsiders as few other filmmakers, and nowhere did he place us more heartbreakingly in their shoes than with The Elephant Man. John Hurt earned an Oscar nomination for his turn as John Merrick, the disfigured circus performer who escaped his brutal lot to find a life of dignity and acceptance in Victorian England. It opened today in 1980, and its lessons should not be forgotten.
We’re no fans of Jane Fonda around here — for a number of reasons — but it’s still hard to say no to Barbarella, Roger Vadim’s surreal (and very naughty) space opera that moved her away from the good-girl roles she had specialized in since her career began. Her 41st century sex kitten displays the perfect mixture of innocence, strength and curiosity as she explores an entire planet of erotic peril, and the film retains its PG façade while diving deep into a lot of serious kinks just under the surface. It opened today in 1968.
Quentin Tarantino isn’t afraid of a long running time, never morso than with the Kill Bill saga — a film so big they had to break it in half just to squeeze it all it. Turns out, it was a smart choice: Kill Bill, Vol. 1 ends with a suitably epic climax, while still leaving plenty of goodies for the second half of the saga to feast upon. It opened today in 2003, leaving us breathlessly awaiting the finale a few months later.
Finally, there’s Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog’s tender, compassionate story of an odd little man (Klaus Kinski) who decides to pull a ship over a jungle mountain as part of an elaborate scheme to build an opera house in his Peruvian town. The shoot proved even more arduous than the events it depicts and that Kinski/Herzog magic reached a crescendo one afternoon when a native extra offered to kill the actor for the common good. Herzog mulled it over before deciding that finishing the movie was more important. Fitzcarraldo opened today in the U.S. 1982.