6. Steaming (1985, Joseph Losey)
Losey’s swan song about middle-aged women exploring their lives, love, men, and fighting to keep their spa alive over the course of day is theatrical independence at its finest. Teaming up with Roger Corman’s company New World Pictures, Losey holds nothing back in this film.
With a terrific cast featuring Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Diana Dors, and Brenda Bruce, these women might be different in their social lives and standings, but here, literally stripped down to the naked body, these woman bare it all on the line, in their lives (no pun intended) due to the sexual intrigue and talk of desire throughout the film.
Themes of loneliness, aging, isolation, relationship status, and the everyday routine are discussed in the film and with great essence; it’s hard to reflect on your own life when certain moments come up. Nell Dunn’s play adaptation is certainly a success due to Losey’s direction and, of course, mirror usage and the superb cast at play.
7. Eating Raoul (1982, Paul Bartel)
Black comedy and absurdity are only the tip of the iceberg in Bartel’s cult classic exploring a murderous couple finding bizarre ways to finance their dream of opening a restaurant in Los Angeles.
Whether it be electrocuting swingers in a hot tub to luring all the weirdos of Hollywood into their homes, we are somehow with Bartel and his wife Mary, played by Mary Woronov. Its delight and charm amidst all the killing and debauchery is what makes us keep coming back for more, much like what they hope to achieve with their restaurant.
If one is interested in physical slapstick, oddball characters, one-liners galore, look no further than this black comedy and totally independent film.
8. Variety (1983, Bette Gordon)
Years of making experimental short films focusing on women, violence, and relationships, she makes her debut with her culmination of themes in this nocturnal odyssey of Sandy McLeod’s Christine as an aspiring author working at a porno theater in Times Square.
From the frequent perverts and stalking around the still shady midtown Manhattan; dealing with a kind of boyfriend played by Will Patton; suave talking ticket clerk played by Luis Guzman; and Richard M. Davidson’s man who might be involved in organized crime, Christine draws attraction to these worlds.
This film shot in this gritty, lite urban underbelly, by no other than future indie filmmaker, Tom DiCillo; it starts to explore more experimental approaches as it unfolds. All that is certain is that Christine is a woman who is drawn to danger in the pursuit of art and adventure, much like Gordon herself.
9. Another Country (1984, Marek Kanievska)
With charming lead performances by Rupert Everett and Colin Firth, Julian Mitchell adapts his own play as well as Everett returning to explore a budding relationship, hiding political and homosexual scandal in 1930s English school.
Though the film condemns the English public school system, it’s truly about how two individuals with different views and choices in life that go against the system become friends that will have an impact for the rest of their lives. With dialogue down to the British syllable and a film that is undeniably British, it speaks on universal themes.
With inspiration from the real life story of Guy Burgess, it never loses sight of a larger-than-life scope, but instead with two boys that simply couldn’t live freely despite hypocrisy around them. That is captured in this film that was acclaimed upon release but fallen over the years due to obscurity.
10. Matewan (1987, John Sayles)
A list of 1980s independent films without John Sayles is just no list at all. After a little break, Sayles made a film about the coal miner’s strike in West Virginia during the 1920s that ultimately led to the bloody Battle of Matewan.
Featuring Chris Cooper’s debut and starting their collaboration, with a terrific cast of Mary McDonnell, James Earl Jones, a young Will Oldham, and David Strathairn, every actor is almost captured by their characters. Therefore, a true story that is inspirational, informational, and inspiring unfolds during the film.
Filmed stunningly by Haskell Wexler, capturing the difficulties of coal miner life through the hills of West Virginia, every frame can be a painting on the wall; never in a distracting way, but enhancing the world in which these characters live and are fighting for.
Sayles knows how to do indie film and create a film against the system, therefore, here he thrives.