Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dec. revivals: second half

Hey all. Mike here with what to catch for the rest of the month. Not a complete list: I left out It's A Wonderful Life at IFC Film Center (after the grief I took last year for bringing it up after it plays on TV all the time, forget it), the director's cut of Bad Santa also IFC Film Center (it essentially plays with Wonderful Life, yet they're charging separate admission- BULLSHIT TO THAT!!! AFTER THEY COULDN'T KEEP THE FIRST SHOT OF ERASERHEAD IN FOCUS ON WED NIGHT OF DEC 19, THEY'VE ONLY BEEN SHOWING THIS FILM FOR 2 WEEKS NOW! AND THEN YOU DOUBLE CHARGE WITH THE XMAS FILMS?!?!?! I'M GETTING ANNOYED BY THEM NOW!), Hannah and Her Sisters at Film Forum (Uuuuuhhhhh, no) or Ratatouille or Disney cartoon classics from 1932-1940 at AMMI (seen most of them, loved most of them, but no time).

So here's what I want to see in the limited time I have. And I mean, want to see them with a passion. Here we go:

CITY LIGHTS- Wed Dec 26, Thurs Dec 27 and Sat Dec 29 at 3:25 and Sun Dec 30 (maybe, as long as it doesn't interfere with what's below) at 7:15 and 9:30- Film Forum- 209 W Houston St.- A new 35mm print of what's considered by some to be Charlie Chaplin's best film. Being shown on the 25th anniversary of his death, it plays from Christmas Day through New Year's Day. I'm just list the screenings I can probably make. Go to the Forum website to see the other times for yourself. It is a silent film, but Chaplin's first with recorded music and sound effects. Basically, Chaplin's Little Tramp goes through various trails and tribulations, all for the love of a blind flower girl. Chaplin and blind girl actress Virginia Cherrill hated each other with a passion, but since she was the only one who could play blind without looking like a joke, he was stuck.

A comedy classic that's on both AFI Top 100 lists. Sorry, I don't feel like going into more about this. Basically, City Lights is not a film you say no to. It doesn't play frequently enough to just let this go by.

CABARET- Wed Dec 26 at 6:15- Walter Reade theater at Lincoln Center- Studio Print- Part of the Bob Fosse retrospective. He spent decades working on the stage, but Bob Fosse only lived long enough to direct 5 films. I don't have the time to go his first one, Sweet Charity, or any of the films in the retrospective that he choreographed and/or danced in, like The Pajama Game and My Sister Eileen. Luckily, I have time for the best ones, for in all. To some of you who might read this, Fosse might be just the guy involved in Chicago, that mediocre film (not in my opinion) or that musical that casts hacks, soap opera types, singers who can't act, and actors from The Sopranos who can't sing. Fosse was/is much much more. Consider Cabaret as film lesson 1 for this post.

Cabaret, along with Grease and All That Jazz, were the only successful musicals of the 1970s. Sorry, I don't consider Saturday Night Fever, Woodstock or The Last Waltz as musicals, and Willy Wonka and Rocky Horror I consider to be cult films, not bonafide hits. The classic Fosse-Minnelli musical, gets a nice screening on the Walter Reade's large screen and quality sound system. 8 Oscars, in the year of the Godfather. Among the winners were Liza for Actress, Joel Grey in his signature role for Supporting Actor (over Caan, Duvall and Pacino for Godfather!), Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, Superman)for Cinematography, and Fosse for Director. This was the year Bob won the Oscar, Tony and Emmy for Best Director, a feat never pulled off before or since.

Number 5 on AFI's recent Top Musical list. I've never seen all of it in one sitting from beginning to end, but would like to. Note that I probably will have to bolt from the film the second the end credits finish, but I still want to catch it.

STAR 80- Fri Dec 28 at 4 and Sun Dec 30 at 8- Walter Reade theater- Part of the Bob Fosse retrospective. A studio print. Consider this film lesson number 2 for this post. A well done bio-pic. One of the best of 1983, but probably the darkest and least-seen of the Hollywood films from that year as well. Fosse's last film; he was supposedly depressed for a while after the box office tanked. By the time he was up for another film (the development of Chicago with possibly Madonna and Goldie Hawn in the leads), he died of yet another heart attack in 1987.

This film, shot in part in a faux-documentary style, focuses not so much on Playboy Playmate of the year for 1980 Dorothy Stratten, but more on the man who murdered her, Paul Snider. A sleazy type who "discovered" Stratten, got lucky that she was the perfect type for Playboy, tried to ride her coattails of B and C level stardom that turned out to be more embarrassing then anything else, and couldn't stand it when she left him for a director.

The attention on Star 80 at the time was focused on two things before the film came out. One, Mariel Hemingway and her newly-bought breast implants; she claimed they weren't for the role. Two, the real life people who really ticked off by this movie: Peter Bogdanovich, the director who Stratten fell for, and Hugh Hefner, the Playboy publisher who sued (unsuccessfully I think) because of the film's depiction of him.

After the film's release, all attention went to Eric Roberts, in his highest profile role at that point, as Snider. A little man with big dreams, but without the talent or taste to do anything more creative than wet t-shirt contests. He gets his wishes, career-wise and love-wise, fulfilled with Stratten. But she was getting big enough to leave him behind. And Snider fell into the typical psycho thought: if I can't have her, no one else will and it's all her fault. Similar to In Cold Blood, the death scenes were shot in the same apartment where they happened.

Despite good turns by Hemingway (never more beautifully photographed), Cliff Robertson as Hefner, Carroll Baker as Stratten's mother, and Roger Rees as Bogdanovich (renamed in the movie to avoid a lawsuit), all acting praise goes to Roberts. Probably never turned in a better performance. At times it's possible to be both repulsed and empathetic with Snider through Robert's performance, up to a point. Supposedly, Fosse feared if he hadn't succeeded at choreography, he might have gone down a path similar to Snider's. According to the Fosse biography Razzle Dazzle by Kevin Boyd Grubb, Fosse would direct Roberts to act Snider like Fosse himself, how Fosse would have acted and reacted to Snider's situation. "Steal from me!" to quote from the biography. I would say Eric stole well.

As good a film as it is, it does push buttons and it certainly did back in 1983. Despite great reviews from say Roger Ebert and Vincent Camby, other critics were repulsed by the world depicted, as well as the detail shown in the rape and murder of Stratten by Snider. A few weeks into an art house style release, the film was expanded into wide release, and essentially drew no audience. Little in the way of awards, except for a smattering for Roberts and a German award for Fosse. After the inital home video release, it's been ignored ever since. Fosse's death and Roberts and Hemingway's careers falling off the map didn't help. Not a holiday film, since the sleaze practically drips off the screen, but a worthwhile drama nevertheless.

ALL THAT JAZZ- Sat Dec 29 at 8:15 and Tues Jan 1 at 4- Walter Reade theater- Part of the Fosse retrospective. Consider this film lesson number 3 on this post. A studio print of this semi-autobiographical film. Around 1974, Fosse was trying to direct, co-write and choreograph Chicago on Broadway starring his (long separated) wife Gwen Virdon: while trying to balance his relationship with girlfriend Ann Reinking with the other women he slept around with, keep up a relationship with his daughter, and struggle to edit Lenny into something at least watchable. All while being a chain smoker and popping Dexedrine like they were candies. Wanna guess how many heart attacks he had, and how close to death he was?

After he got better, and both projects went up, what's a man to do? Make all of that into a movie. His friend Shirley MacLaine claims to have given Fosse the idea, he claimed not to remember. Change the names to protect the innocent as well as those he might not have liked, such as Michael Bennett, played in a way by John Lithgow. Made sure he came off as the biggest jerk of all, yet still likable. Bring in some veterans who have been around his world, like Ben Vereen, Leland Palmer (who came out of retirement to play the Gwen Verdon type, then went back into retirement), designer Tony Walton to help with the Art Direction, and Reinking to essentially play herself (which she does well, plus dances terrifically). Make the film essentially a flashback from a place that might be in-between life and death, and that might only be happening in the Fosse-like man's imagination, with Jessica Lange as one luscious Angel of Death, and you've got a helluva picture.

Non-original music and newly developed Fosse choreography shine here. For those who have difficulty with musicals where the singing and dancing come from inorganic places, note the singing and dancing only come from the audition/rehearsal of a musical, one moment performing for Dad, and that imagination place between life and death. That said, we're in for the ride, because we buy Roy Scheider as the Fosse type. According to Razzle Dazzle, unlike Warren Beatty, who wanted massive rewrites to fit his tempo, or Jack Nicholson, who was more interested in watching the Lakers than talking in depth with Fosse, or Richard Dreyfuss, who quit before he was fired during rehearsal, Scheider was more submissive. He was actually willing to learn how to be Fosse from Fosse, not impose a character of his own creation. Might not necessarily be ideal, but film is the director's medium. You might not believe Scheider was ever a dancer before the last scene, but you do come away believing everything else.

Which brings me to one particular part of All That Jazz. The two top films for me that came out in 1979 are All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now. The difference for me between Apocalypse being very good and All That Jazz being not only the best film of 1979, but also in my personal top 35 ever, is the ending. Apocalypse is one of the best, until we get to see Marlon The World's Fattest Green Beret, and then Coppola's film deflates and suffers (Redux only partially fixes this). But the ending of All That Jazz is a great finale, the build-up leads to a payoff greater than expected. And when it's time for us to go, what could be better than a send-off with singing, dancing lights, spectacle, and everyone we ever became close to giving us a fond farewell. The little details is what Fosse nailed, while Francis had fat Marlon in the jungle.

Not as big a hit as Cabaret, but successful enough. 9 Oscar nominations, including Picture, Fosse for Director and Screenplay, Scheider for Actor and also for Cinematography. 4 Oscars, including Art Direction and Editing. In fact, it one the first 4 awards announced at the 1980 ceremonies. Don't know why they didn't start with a Supporting Category like in other years. But after that, the Kramer vs. Kramer steamroller commenced, and All That Jazz's commercial momentum slowed. It also won Fosse the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.

One can argue what was the first standout, live action movie musical of this decade. Whether you think its Moulin Rouge, or Rob Marshall's Chicago, or the new Sweeney Todd. But the last great live action musical before any of them was All That Jazz. That's right, over 20 years and maybe more. Come and see why. Saturday the 29th would be perfect. Let's do this one, folks.

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)- Sat Dec 29 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- E. Houston St. between 1st and 2nd Ave- An offbeat choice that doesn't fit in with the others. Like I care. The remake came and went last year, the little said the better. Audiences staying away in droves speaks volumes I believe. Actually, I believe the Landmark Sunshine Cinema's website came up with a better description then I could, so I'll cut and paste this:

"A new 35mm print. For one ordinary, remote sorority house, the holiday season is going to bring an unwanted visitor, and many of the girls will be going home for Christmas—dead. Margot Kidder (Superman), Olivia Hussey (Romeo & Juliet) and Andrea Martin (SCTV) are among the students in danger; John Saxon leads the cops trying to close in on the enigmatic killer. Arguably the first holiday-themed "slasher" thriller ever made (predating Halloween by four years), Black Christmas (a.k.a. Silent Night, Evil Night) is still one of the best, with stylistic touches and a creepy overtone matched by very few horror movies since. Like the ads said, if this movie doesn't make your skin's on too tight! Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey) co-stars. Ironic but true: director Bob Clark would revisit Christmas territory nine years later with the warm and lovable movie A Christmas Story!"

LENNY- Tues Jan 1 at 8:30- Walter Reade theater- Part of the Bob Fosse retrospective. Consider this the last film lesson on this post. A studio archive print. If you're reading this and your under the age of thirty four, you've probably never heard of this. In fact, if you're under 60 and you know this film, that probably means you're a film buff, or your a relative of Fosse, or one of the two leads, Dustin Hoffman or Valerie Perrine. Now's the time to correct this by catching one of the best bio-pics ever made. It's easy to dismiss flicks like Ray and Walk The Line as mild entertainments, when you catch a film like this.

PaShot in the same faux-documentary style Fosse would later employ in Star 80, and shot in gorgeous black and white by Bruce Surtees (Dirty Harry, The Shootist, Beverly Hills Cop). Hoffman plays stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce, whose style of social commentary and free use of language, that all stand-ups from the 70s to the present take for granted today, handed Bruce into a legal morass he never lived to see end. Just before he left office, former NY governor Pataki gave Bruce a posthumous pardon for the indecency convictions he got. This also covers Bruce's relationship with his mother (stage mother wannabe), his marraige to a stripper (Perrine, never more beautiful and who never had a better role), and his slow descent into drug addiction. But perhaps because it was directed by Fosse, a pill popper himself at one time if you pay attention to All That Jazz, he still found empathy for Bruce, while showing the damage it did in terms of on-stage performance, and premature death.

Fosse and Hoffman supposedly had a difficult relationship. In one of their early meetings (again, according to the Fosse biography, Razzle Dazzle), Hoffman said he came up with a walk for Lenny Bruce, to which Fosse supposedly replied (I'm partially paraphrasing) "Your last 3 roles were fucking walks!". Not the greatest of starts. But Fosse's desire to get every detail right no matter how many takes, blended perfectly with Hoffman the perfectionist, who always seemed to want one more take to get something small right. The two neuroses fed each other, and we, the audience benefit. An excellent performance from Hoffman that never seems to get the credit it deserves.

Not the big hit Cabaret was, but Lenny managed to find an audience. Oscar nominations helped. 6 nominations in all, for Picture, Fosse for Director, Hoffman for Actor, Perrine for Actress (Lost to Ellen Burstyn, but did win Best Actress for this at Cannes), Cinematography and Screenplay Adaptation. But Lenny ran into the Oscar juggernaut that was The Godfather Part 2, plus there was Chinatown and The Conversation getting a lot of attention. This little film didn't have a shot in hell.

Now in case you haven't noticed, I'm saying, let's go to this. I'm really sorry I can't come up with a better day and time, but it's the best I can do.

My push is for City Lights and for the Fosse films. I might have more felxibility in terms of when to catch the Chaplin film, but not from Wed-Fri night and at the expense of any of the Fosse times I listed. My Fosse order of preference, if I must choose, is All That Jazz, Cabaret, Lenny and Star 80. But anything I can catch is good. For those who know me, if you lock me into a time regarding one of the Fosse flicks, I can get the tickets ASAP, 24-48 hours before the scheduled perf. Let me know. Later all. And Happy Festivus.

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