Thursday, July 03, 2008

July revivals: first half

Mike here with what to catch for the first half of July. One retrospective I really want to attend is the William Holden retro at the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center. I can't catch most of them, especially I'm afraid The Bridge on The River Kwai. Too many plans for me this 4th of July weekend, so I'm afraid I'm missing that one. In the meantime, here's some good choices here. Now let's go:

THE GENERAL with SALVADOR DALI: HOME MOVIE- Mon July 7 at 6 and Wed July 9 at 8- MOMA- W. 53rd and 5th- A Buster Keaton comedy classic, though I would argue that it's more successful as an action film classic. He plays a train engineer who has a better time showing affection to his locomotive, The General, than with his girlfriend. But the Civil War breaks out, and all the men in her family enlist and are accepted as soldiers in the Confederacy. Keaton tries, but his engineer job makes him more valuable there than as a solider. But the girlfriend thinks he skipped out on enlisting and brands him a coward. He sulks away.

Some time later, they meet again. Somehow, she ends up on his train when it's hijacked by Union spies. Keaton must now to go to great lengths to save his train (and oh yeah, his ex) from the North, then get back to the nearest Confederate general with his train (and oh yeah, his ex) to warn him of a surprise Union attack.

Rooting for the Confederates is not as hard as you might think, this isn't Birth of a Nation folks. It's an action comedy. And there are some good comedy set pieces, such as Keaton in the enlistment office. But it works best as an action film. Wonderful scenes shot in the Northwest; the only place where Civil War style trains and tracks were still in use. Wonderful stunt work from director/lead Keaton. Chaplin's films may be best remembered, but he couldn't do that kind of stunt work on a moving train. Deservedly a classic.

Playing before it is a very short film about Salvador Dali. MOMA is doing a retrospective of his work. It includes this. You now know as much as I do.

ADAM'S RIB and PAT AND MIKE- Tues July 8 at 7 (Adam's) and 8:45 (Pat)- The Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space- W. 95th and Bway- A double feature of two Hepburn/Tracy comedies directed by George Cukor. Both for one admission. First, Adam's Rib, my favorite of the two. Hepburn plays a defense attorney, who turns her loser of a case (a wife shoots her husband when he catches him cheating) into a rallying cause for women's rights and anything else she can think of. Much to the chagrin of her husband Tracy, the prosecuting attorney. The marriage takes a beating, but will it hold up? Gee, what do you think?

My favorite of all the Hepburn Tracy team ups. Some hilarious set pieces, some involving David Wayne as the comic relief neighbor with a longing for Hepburn. Judy Holliday steals scenes as the wife on trial. An Oscar nomination for screenwriters Ruth Gordon and Garrison Kanin.

Gordon and Kanin were also nominated for their Screenplay for Pat and Mike. Another pretty good Hepburn/Tracy team up. Kate plays an athlete who's great at golf and tennis, but cracks when whenever her annoying fiance watches. Enter her new manager Tracy, whose tough ways eventually melt in the face of too much Kate. The script was conceived in part to take advantage of Hepburn's physical skills. She believable plays tennis and golf with the likes of Babe Didrikson.
But two set pieces stand out. One where Tracy imposes the first limits of diet and training on Hepburn, which she hates but has no choice. The second involves a very young Charles Bronson. Hepburn saves Tracy from getting beat on by thugs, one played by Bronson. First you have the thugs beating Tracy, then they get beaten by Hepburn, then they're flabbergasted by the feeling of lost manhood by being beaten by a woman, then you have them trying to explain to Sheriff Chuck Connors why Hepburn should be arrested, then the thugs try to keep from going to jail, then Tracy and Hepburn try to keep the thugs from facing worse criminal charges or perhaps more thugs would come down after them. Got all that? No? See the movie, they do it better then I can explain.

JEAN DE FLORETTE- Tues July 8 at 7:30- Florence Gould Hall- 55 E. 59th St.- Part of the Yves Montand retrospective. A novice farmer battles another farmer for control over a natural spring. Part one of a two part French epic. Starring Montand, Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil. Sorry I'm not describing it well. But it's very good.

S.O.B. and THE WILD BUNCH- Fri July 11 at 1 (S.O.B), 3:30 (Bunch), 6:15 (S.O.B.) and 8:45 (Bunch) - Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the William Holden retrospective. According to V.A. Musetto's NY Post article, all films shown in the retrospective are one admission for each day. 2 films, one admission is what I meant to say. I hope that's true, especially for this pair.

First, S.O.B.: Holden's final film. This rarely gets a revival screening, and I'm glad this is will play now. A forgotten Blake Edwards comedy from 1981. His previous films from 1975 up to that point were all Pink Panther sequels. But this was different, this was more in the vein of acidic Hollywood films like Sunset Blvd. and The Player. Oh, and don't think the initials in the title stand for the obvious.

He based it on his previous experience directing his wife Julie Andrews in the film Darling Lili. Big budget, big promotion, big expectations, big bomb. It was re-edited and re-released, to no avail. In this film, Richard Mulligan plays an Edwards-like director who directed his Julie Andrews-like wife, played by Andrews herself, in a big budget musical disaster. After several days of suicidal depression, he comes out of it (though not necessarily sane) with an idea to save the picture. By remaking it as an X-rated film, with his wholesome wife showing her breasts. And the film goes from there. Cynical to be sure, and it does get silly in the last 20 minutes or so, but I like this film a lot. Great cast. While Holden (as a liked but somewhat burned out veteran producer) and Andrews got top billing, it's more of an ensemble cast. Along with Mulligan, you had Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters, Loretta Swit, Larry Hagman, Edwards veteran Robert Webber, Larry Storch, Marisa Berensen and Rosanna Arquette in her film debut. But the standout among the supporting players is Robert Preston, as a quack of a doctor, with as many punch lines as drugs in his medical bag. In other words, plenty.

Paramount distributed this film. For weeks during the summer of 81, they had sneak previews with nothing in the ads but a time, night, location and a hot chick. Played out in the media, just like in the film, was Andrews throwing out her Mary Poppins image, to show the world her tits on screen. Then the film came out. The reviews were mixed, though the overall ones are better now. The business was non-existent. It's become a footnote, both for Andrews' nudity and for being Holden's last film (he died about 3-4 months). You probably never saw this comedy, especially if you're under 34.

Next, The Wild Bunch, the film that John Wayne complained destroyed the myth of the Old West. Follows a group of older outlaws, still robbing and shooting to make a living. The times have changed, they've gotten a lot older and their foes are seemingly younger and stronger. They want to rob to retire, but that only gets a group of bounty hunters after them, led by a former member of the group. They escape to Mexico for one last go. But dealing with the corrupt forces there and the bounty hunters on their tail, the old group of outlaws basically to go out on their own terms. Violent, bloody, and taking hundreds of the enemy with them. Holden is the leader of the Bunch, Ernest Borgnine is his best friend, and Robert Ryan is their former friend. Plus Western stalwarts like Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin and future director Alfonso Arau (A Walk In The Clouds) in the cast as well.

Sam Peckinpah's film was approved mainly to compete with what they thought was the similar Buthch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Similar, Warner Bros.? Oops. He wanted to show a certain macho code that was not holding up in the start of the 20th Century. But no matter what code you live by, betrayal is unacceptable. From others and especially from yourself. Another thing Peckinpah wanted to show was the violent world of this time. Not sanitized like in most Westerns, but closer to what was shown on the news in Vietnam. He wanted to horrify his audience with its brutality. The climatic shootout was supposed to convey this. With 6 different cameras all shooting at different speeds, its an amazing combination of choreography, cinematography and editing. Despite about 20 minutes cut before its release to avoid an X rating, the violence was still considered controversial. But what shocked Peckinpah was how much of his audience was thrilled by the violence as opposed to being repulsed by it. Oops for Sam. When Warner Bros tried to re-release the film back in 1994 with 10 extra minutes, the MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating, complaining about the violence! It took a year of resubmission before an R rating was finally granted.

I'm sorry to say, it appears Lincoln Center will only be showing the original theatrically released cut, as opposed to the longer, more accepted version. A version still good enough to get 2 Oscar nominations, including Screenplay. On BOTH AFI Top 100 lists. Seeing either film separately is ok I guess. But I REALLY prefer seeing S.O.B. and The Wild Bunch together. There is an alternate day and time regarding Wild Bunch, but that's later in this post.

RAN- Sat July 12 at 4:30 and 7:30- Film Forum- Part of the Tatsuya Nakadai retrospective. Considered Kurosawa's last standout film. Basically King Lear set in Japan with sumptuous visuals, with Nakadai as the old king. Oscar nominations for Cinematography, Art Direction, and Kurosawa's direction. An Oscar for the costumes. A visual spectacle worth catching, even on the Forum's smallish screen.

SABRINA (1954) with or without STALAG 17- Mon July 14 at 6:15 (Sabrina) and 8:30 (Stalag)- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the William Holden retrospective. Another double feature, though this time, I want to catch the former, and wouldn't mind seeing the later. But only if it's convenient.

One of the better romantic comedies. Young servant's girl falls for the youngest of 2 rich brothers. Gets a little older and goes off to Paris. Comes back full of life and self confidence. The younger brother is now attracted to her, but things get complicated when the older brother gets involved. There, that's the Cliff Notes version. Audrey Hepburn plays the girl, Holden is the younger brother, Humphrey Bogart is the older brother. MUCH older brother; you're gonna have to let some stuff slide to enjoy.

It's a miracle this got made at all. Director/Co-Writer Billy Wilder had to settle for Bogie when Cary Grant wasn't available. Bogie didn't get along with Wilder, especially when Billy refused to cast Lauren Bacall in the title role. Bogie didn't respect Audrey, and he and Holden hated each other with a passion. Speaking of passion, Holden and Hepburn started a heated affair on this film. It supposedly ended shortly after the film ended, but I thought it picked up later on; I could be wrong on this. Anyway, Oscars nominations for Wilder for both Director and Screenplay (along with Ernest Lehman and Samuel A. Taylor), Hepburn for Actress, Art Direction and Cinematography. An Oscar for Edith Head's Costume design, though most of Hepburn's costume were designed by someone else who DIDN'T win.

The other film in this double feature is Stalag 17. I'm not dying to catch this, but I wouldn't mind. It's pretty good and doesn't feel like the typical stagy adaptations. Especially if the alternative is to walk around on a potentially hot sticky night away from the Walter Reade's air conditioning.

One of Billy Wilder's biggest hits, about a group of American P.O.W.s living in the title German camp. One part dramedy/slice of life during WW 2, one part mystery as the prisoners try to figure out who informing to the German guards.

An Oscar nomination for Wilder for Director, an Oscar for Holden for Best Actor. Won in part probably making up for losing the award for his performance in Sunset Blvd. three years earlier. Also won in part for his twenty minute scene where he reveals who the rat is. Holden plays this with two themes in mind. One, as though he was the detective in an Agatha Christie murder mystery, delighting as he shows off his smarts. And two, as a giant F.U. to all the guys who thought HE was the traitor and beat him for it.

Like I said, I'd really like to catch Sabrina, and wouldn't mind staying for Stalag 17. Unless you prefer to catch the following after Sabrina . . .

FAIL-SAFE- Mon July 14 for free- at Bryant Pk- park opens at 5pm- Part of the free film series at Bryant Park. An unusual choice as far as I'm concerned. So talky for a park film. From the same year and studio as Dr. Strangelove, with the same brutally dark black Cold War atmosphere as well. But while Strangelove treated it's material as black comedy, Fail-Safe treated its material as dark suspense thriller. A thriller where our technology is stronger than our ability to fix it. A thousand to one electronic glitch causes a bomber group to go past its fail-safe marks, and proceed to bomb the Soviet Union. A nervous general tries to help the Soviets shoot them down, civilian expert Walter Matthau advises to let the planes hit their targets to force a showdown once and for all; and President Henry Fonda must talk to the emotional Russian premier (with the help of nervous translator Larry Hagman), and eventually must make an offer of atonement that's should make every New York viewer very uncomfortable.

In fact, even if I don't do the film at all from start to finish, I might want to race down there for the last 10-15 minutes and see the viewers in the park squirm.Sidney Lumet's film is well acted and well crafted. Because of Strangelove, a flop in its day, despite great reviews. But I'm guessing most of you reading this aren't very familiar with this film, so it's time to play catch up.

SABRINA (1954) and THE WILD BUNCH- Tues July 15 at 1 (Bunch) and 3:35 (Sabrina)- The Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The end of the William Holden retrospective. If The Wild Bunch isn't doable on Fri the 11th, then it can be done in the afternoon with Sabrina. A more out of whack double feature then S.O.B. and Wild Bunch, but these are two good films, so I'm ok with that.

MANON OF THE SPRING- Tues July 15 at 7:30- Florence Gould Hall- Part of the Yves Montand retrospective. The sequel to Jean De Florette. I prefer this one to the first. Don't get me wrong, they both get thumbs up from me. But I suppose since this film puts the story to a satisfying end, I prefer Manon. That and having Emmanuelle Beart in all her nubile glory helps. What can I say, I'm a pig. Sue me. She plays the title role, seeking revenge on Montand and Daniel Auteuil what they did in the first film. Both French classics were released in the US in 1987, and both won Best Foreign Language film by the National Board of Review.

Like I said, the Holden films have top priority for me. Anything else is a bonus. Later all.

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