BRING OUT YOUR DEAD

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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In the last year, two viral outbreaks, Ebola & Zika, have spread rapidly through the tropics, killing thousands, maiming unborn babies, and gaining worldwide attention.

Welcome to the new age of contagion. In the 14th century the Black Death killed almost one third of the population of Europe – but it took five years. Today trans global air travel raises the specter of disease leapfrogging from continent to continent with the speed and efficiency of overnight package delivery.   

Equally sobering is the suspicion that vaccines for Ebola and Zika could have been developed by now – but weren’t.   Big Pharma didn’t see them as potential profit centers.    

With this week’s release of Pandemic, we at The Thread decided to explore films that have dealt in that perennial modern bugaboo: viral apocalypse.

And now that we’re done, we’re heading out to stock up on Purell and Deet.

 PandemicPANDEMIC (2016)

John Suits directs this film set in the near future—a virus of epic proportions has overtaken the planet. Pandemic pulls you right into the thick of the action with a unique first-person POV.

There are more infected than uninfected, and humanity is facing the possibility that this could be The Big One. The only hope is to find a cure; and in the meantime desperately try to keep the infected contained. Lauren (Rachel Nichols) is a doctor, who, after the fall of New York, comes to Los Angeles to lead a team to hunt for and rescue uninfected survivors.

iTunes

ContagionCONTAGION (2011) 

Steven Soderbergh’s film, written by Scott Z. Burns, is a dramatic account of a modern day global pandemic. When we first watched this film we were so paranoid that we walked 40 blocks home rather than “risk” the subway. It is that terrifying!

The film starts with a nasty cough over black. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is at a casino in Hong Kong. She heads back to the US with a pit stop in Chicago to visit an ex boyfriend and winds up deathly ill—she dies a gruesome death early in the film.

The film keeps lots and lots of balls in the air as it winds relentlessly through the days and weeks and months ahead as the infection topples one institution after another. We follow a handful of archetypes — the conspiratorial blogger (Jude Law), the overwhelmed head of the CDC (Laurence Fishburne), the WHO investigator (Marion Cotillard), the brilliant vaccine researcher (Jennifer Ehle), the grieving husband (Matt Damon) and the scientist (Kate Winslet).

iTunes    Amazon   Vudu

outbreakOUTBREAK (1985)

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen and written by Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool. The film does not pull any punches—in the mid-1960s, a deadly virus is discovered in Zaire. Government researchers are brought in to investigate, but the military opts to destroy the village rather than risk further contagion.

30 years later, Col. Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and Dr. Robby Keough (Rene Russo) are called in when the virus re-emerges in a small California town via a smuggled monkey.

Gen. McClintock (Donald Sutherland) has his own reasons for wanting to use bombs to contain the epidemic, and Army Surgeon General Ford (Morgan Freeman) is caught in the middle. While we see the infection on its rampage, we also get a glimpse of the ongoing deep government conspiracy that burns African villages down without a second thought.

The most chilling part is not even the outbreak itself but the morally corrupt government response.

iTunes    Amazon    Vudu

Andromeda3THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)

Directed by Robert Wise and based on the best selling book by Michael Crichton—this chillingly realistic account of the world’s first biological crisis was the granddaddy of them all – it launched the genre.

After a satellite crashes to Earth near a remote New Mexico village, the recovery team discovers that almost everyone in the town are victims of a horrible death, with the mysterious exception of a baby and an old homeless man. The survivors are brought to a state-of-the-art laboratory descending five stories beneath the ground where the puzzled scientists race against time to determine the nature of the deadly microbe before it wreaks worldwide havoc.

In the 45 years since, the only major change has been the realization that no extraterrestrial intervention is needed – there’s plenty of rogue viral material right here on earth.

iTunes   Amazon    Netflix   Vudu

black_death03BLACK DEATH (2011)

Directed by Christopher Smith and starring Sean Bean and Eddy Redmayne. The film is set in the year 1348. Europe has fallen under the shadow of the Black Death — otherwise known as the Bubonic Plague.

The plague decimates everyone in its path—in this apocalyptic environment, the church is losing its hold on the people, so a bishop engages a band of mercenaries to investigate rumors of a village, hidden in marshland, that the plague has not touched. There is rumored to be a necromancer who leads the village in human sacrifices and is able to bring the dead back to life.

Sean Bean plays Ulric, the knight who leads the mercenaries. He enlists the guidance of a monk, Osmund (Eddy Redmayne) to lead them to the marshland; but Osmund has other motives for leaving his monastery.

Their journey takes them into the heart of darkness and to horrors that will put Osmund’s faith in himself and his love for God to the ultimate test.

iTunes   Netflix   Amazon

seventh_sealTHE SEVENTH SEAL (1957)

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set in Sweden during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a disillusioned medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with Death (Bengt Ekerot) who has come to take his life.

Bergman developed the film from his own play Wood Painting. The film’s title refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation used at the very start of the film and then again towards the end:

 “And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”.

The knight understands that trying to outwit Death is absurd — but keeps trying to checkmate Him nonetheless.

“Maybe a pandemic plague is part of Nature’s cost- benefit analysis,” says Death.

The Seventh Seal was a benchmark foreign import of America’s 1950s art-house heyday, which helped undermine the conventions of old-school Hollywood storytelling and usher in a new era of American film.

iTunes    Vudu

AFTER THE MIRACLE

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Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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AFTER THE MIRACLE   

We’re coming up to Easter and the end of a pop culture month that has given us The Young Messiah (based on Ann Rice’s novel); the Fox live TV event The Passion (narrated by a cheery Tyler Perry); and Risen, which the NY Times compared to Monty Python’s Life of Bryan (spoiler – it wasn’t a good review).  All of which, in our humble opinion, were preaching to the choir. 

 Here at THE THREAD we (a lapsed Catholic and a sometime member of the church-of-the-month club) are clearly not the choir.  But while we do fall on the skeptical side, we are far from hardcore. 

If you forced us to categorize ourselves, we’d go with “provisionally open-minded”.  Or, as Hamlet quipped: “There’s more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

So when this new Jennifer Garner movie didn’t get out-and-out reamed by the critics, it tickled our neurons just  enough to remind us of some of the films about miracles that have whopped us upside the head over the years.

 

 miracles from heaven
MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN (2016)

We’re open to a movie being moving, uplifting, and even occasionally maudlin – as long as you don’t hit us over the head with a can of corn syrup.

Which this movie doesn’t.  It just tells its story simply and convincingly.  A family, who happens to be Christian, has a daughter who becomes deathly ill.  Just when it seems hopeless, she has a horrible accident, and emerges cured.

By focusing on the family and the mother/daughter relationship, it successfully walks the razor-thin line between having faith and preaching – as it’s fellow faith-genre movies demonstrate, no easy feat.

YouTube

 

 

Resurrection
RESURRECTION (1980)    

 Ellen Burstyn stars as a very ordinary woman who is in a near-fatal accident, which kills her husband and leaves her (after a near-death experience and a vision in the desert) with the power to heal.

We like this movie because it reminds us of the Gospels in an odd way.  The power to heal doesn’t transform her, doesn’t make her “nice” and doesn’t make her life easy – it’s a thorn in her side.   To us it makes the miracles simultaneously more ordinary and extraordinary.  She also rejects any connection to established religious faith – it’s purely about love.

According to interviews, the core of the story came from Burstyn herself – she counterpitched it to producers who had come to her with another, more conventional (conventional in the realm of faith films, anyway) stigmata story.   They took her story to Universal, who commissioned the script from the prolific writer/director Louis John Carlino.

Directed by another talented and versatile journeyman, the film was a dark horse nomination for several Oscars, with Burstyn winning.

This film is surprisingly hard to find – not available for streaming, or even as a Netflix DVD.  To see it, you have to buy it:

Amazon

 

 

Fearless
FEARLESS (1993)

 As a plane plummets toward earth, architect Max Klein (Jeff Bridges) is preternaturally calm, and moves through the plane comforting other people.  After the crash he helps other passengers who have been injured and then simply walks away.

His survival may be miraculous, but what is even more remarkable is that having survived the crash he has apparently entered a state of Samadhi – fearless, completely accepting of the impermanence of life.  But there are side effects — he’s also strangely detached from his wife, his family, everybody except for a fellow survivor, played by Rosie Perez.  He flirts with death, struggles with the mundane world and at moments seems immortal, before he finally comes back to “reality” and reengages with the world, but at the cost of whatever it was that he seemed to have gained from the crash.

This project was a flashback for one of our favorite directors, Peter Weir — sandwiched at the height of his career between his romantic comedy Green Card and his huge dystopian hit The Truman Show.  Flashback because it was a return to Weir’s mystical Australian new wave roots in Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave.  Like Resurrection, it speaks to how it’s virtually impossible to live in the “real” world once you’ve stepped into the world of miracles.

Amazon Vudu Google Play iTunes

 

 

The Virgin Spring
THE VIRGIN SPRING
(1960)    

 This creepy still does the film justice — so damn bleak that we almost didn’t include it here.  Watch it only if you’re feeling very good or very bad about how things are going.  From a Ingmar Bergman.  He made some notoriously grim films, but this just may be the most unrelenting of all.

It’s based on a 13th Century ballad.

In a claustrophobically gloomy and authentic black-and-white middle ages, a devout father (Max von Sydow, of course) sends his beautiful young daughter to deliver Easter candles to the church.  On the way, she is raped and murdered by two goatherds.

The father takes brutal, unchristian revenge, then goes to find his daughter’s body.  When he lifts her head from the ground (spoiler), a spring miraculously bubbles up, giving a miraculous Christian finish to a tale of unchristian sin and revenge.

What hooked us was the extremely matter-of-fact brutality with which the story is told.  There’s just no way to logically or morally reconcile the movie’s primordial contradictions, and yet it is so successful at pulling you inside the moral dilemma of the father that you just can’t stop trying.

Fun Fact: According to certain sources, Wes Craven remade Virgin Spring, turning it into his debut slasher film, Last House on the Left.

hulu iTunes Amazon

 

 

Last Temptation of Christ
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)

So this is apparently the film that proves we’re either crazy or completely morally bankrupt.  To us it’s the most devout telling of the Christ story ever, by far.  And yet each of the several times we’ve programmed it on a cable network, the Church (catholic) has hunted us down and threatened our bosses with boycotts and worse.  Apparently there is an entire order of nuns devoted solely to tracking the  licensing of blasphemous Scorsese films.

It’s based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek).  And yes, there are graphic scenes between Christ (Willem Defoe) and Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey).

But what we find so extraordinarily moving is the extended flash forward toward the end of the film, where Christ marries Magdalene and goes on to raise a family, live an ordinary life, and die of natural causes as an old man.  The way it’s presented he doesn’t just imagine that – he actually does it, lives the out his whole life as an ordinary man.  But then, at the last moment, as the son of God, he rewinds time and chooses to sacrifice his life — not just some hypothetical life, but a real life, full of love and everything that makes ordinary life good.

For us it makes the sacrifice so incredibly vivid and palpable.  And, incidentally, makes the case once more for the incompatibility of the miraculous with what we think of as good and normal.

Google Play Vudu Amazon iTunes

 

 

Teorema
TEOREMA (1968)

 Four years after he made The Gospel According to St Matthew (in 2015 the Catholic church called it the best movie ever made about Christ), Pier Paolo Pasolini made this movie about the transformative nature of the divine.  The title translates as “Theorem”.

“The Visitor” is a beautiful young man (Terence Stamp) who comes to stay with a bourgeois Italian family.  He may be an angel, he may be a devil – but he seduces each member of the family in turn: the religious maid, the uncertain teenage son, the uptight mother, the shy daughter, and the tortured father.  He transforms each of their lives, then he leaves.

After their brush with the divine, some of them are released, some are destroyed, but none of them can go back to living the way they were.

Even though it may have agreed with some of his underlying points, the Church didn’t like this one as much.

On the subject of his supposed atheism, Pasolini had this to say: “If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.”

Not surprisingly, hard to find —  only on DVD at Amazon:

Amazon