Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June revivals: last part

Mike here with what to catch revival-wise for the rest of June. I know I deal with trivial matters here, but sometimes I get annoyed when dealing with this. Tried to catch either 2001 or The Shining two weekends ago at IFC Center, but they were sold out. While it's great that the flicks draw, would it kill them to just write it on paper and tape it to the window, rather than let every chump walk up to the box office and ask? I'm not asking them to install a digital sign, but if the Film Forum can use a pen and paper, why can't they?!?!?!

And speaking of the Forum, I thought I had a chance to win free passes there when I gave the answer to their question of the only Richard Attenborough film shown there in 2008 as The Great Escape. I knew I wasn't the only one who gave that answer, but knew they would draw from all those who wrote The Great Escape. Or so I thought, until they gave the answer as From Which We Serve, from the David Lean retro they did last September. While I forgot that film played there (because I had no interest in it), I knew the the question was flawed. So I wrote and complained, giving them links to their own site from their United Artists retro (Richard Attenborough provides forceful leadership), as well as mine own when I wrote up briefly about the film (it's very good by the way; I'd see it again on the big screen in a heartbeat).

Well, a few days later I got a reply from Jeffrey Cranor, Database Coordinator of the Forum, saying they will apologize in their e-newsletter on Wednesday and have another drawing for those who "correctly answered" The Great Escape. That was a very nice surprise. Now I don't expect to win any Forum drawing, now or ever, but I still feel good about it. Now on with the list. Here we go:

ZULU and/or DR. STRANGELOVE- Wed June 24 at 4:30 (Zulu) and 8 (Strangelove)- MOMA- 2 movies that are part of MOMA's retrospective on British hits of the 60s. One admission for both flicks. The second is a stretch in qualifying, but I'll go into that in a bit.

First, Zulu, one of the best war films ever made. Consider this an early (slightly embellished) variation of Black Hawk Down. Both are true stories, both set up the conflict in the first half-hour or so, and the rest of the film is a brutal, well-edited battle between the sides. Stanley Baker and Michael Caine play the two officers in command of a small British outpost on Jan. 22 1879. Baker's character is an engineer, and not the upper class solider-gentleman Caine's character is. Neither has combat experience. But they must lead their 149 men (about a third were in the infirmary that day), against over 4000 Zulu warriors; who had just massacred over 1500 British soldiers earlier that morning, in the worst massacre the Army had ever suffered up to that point. The rest of the picture depicts the next 12 plus hours as the Zulus attack without relent, while the Brits desperately try to withstand the onslaught.
Despite the vast difference in accents and technology, both in the story and the storytelling, it compares quite favorably to the similar Black Hawk Down. Never are the Zulus depicted as evil savages. We don't get to know them as well as most of the British soldiers and the misguided missionaries, but they are people, and brutal adversaries. Good cast; Baker was the star and co-producer, but Michael Caine became a leading man forever because of this. Narration by Richard Burton. Also, take note of John Barry's very good score, who incorporated actual Zulu chants and songs into his music. Sorry for the awkward timing for this, but its the best I can do.

Next, Dr. Strangelove. Yes, this was directed by an American and it depicts the American military, but because it was filmed at famed Shepperton Studios, it qualifies for this retrospective. Yeah, whatever. Anything that gets one of the funniest films ever made, and one of my all time favorites screened, is fine by me. If you've never seen it on the big screen, now is the time.

10 RILLINGTON PLACE- Fri June 26- Mon June 29 at 7:40 and 9:50 and Tues June 30- Thurs July 2 at 9:50- Film Forum- A 35mm Restoration of a 1971 British film, based on a true story of serial killer John Christie. Stars Richard Attenborough and John Hurt. Never seen it, don't really know it and would really like to. Sorry to say I must be lazy again, and copy and paste from the Forum's website. Hate to do this, but if I knew the film, I'd write something up on my own. But since I want to see it and want others to catch it as well, I do what I must:

An ultra low-key — but all the more menacing — account of the notorious Christie serial murder case; in 1948, Welsh blue collar worker Timothy Evans (John Hurt) and wife Judy Geeson, lodgers upstairs from mousily mild-mannered John Reginald Christie (Attenborough) and wife, already have trouble making ends meet when Geeson discovers she’s in the family way — but ever helpful Attenborough offers a homemade do-it-yourself abortion. The chilling results not only confirmed Christie’s morbid reputation, but ultimately altered the U.K.’s stance on the death penalty.

Filmed in the actual Rillington Place (but at #6, at that time renamed Ruston Close because of the notoriety, and since demolished), Fleischer worked with legendary executioner Albert Pierrepoint as technical adviser. (Because of the Official Secrets Act, no details of the execution were formally known; this would be the first time U.K. audiences would ever have seen a British execution on screen.) 10 Rillington Place also features two tour de force performances; Attenborough, in bald pate make-up, affecting a supremely quiet, unobtrusive manner that renders the brewing of a pot of tea subtly chilling, while Hurt achieves a unique acting coup, making believable a man so gullible and stupid (the real Evans’ IQ was estimated to be 70) as to falsely confess to murdering his own family — without making him a figure of farce.
THE KILLING- Fri June 26 and Sat June 27 at Midnight- IFC Center- More classic Kubrick at midnight. Now, we have The Killing, the first Kubrick film of note. From 1956, Sterling Hayden stars as the leader of a criminal group, brought together to rob a race track. The classic film noir notes are touched on: the likable anti-hero leader, the dumb loser jerked around by the femme fetale, the eccentrics in the gang, the precision of the plan, and the twist of fate that causes things to fall apart. Cited by Premiere, the same website I brought up last week regarding Betty Blue, having one of the best endings in movie history. And for those who can't tolerate Kubrick or can't stand the time, it's only 85 minutes, so you'll get out at a decent time. C'mon, let's do this. Note: if there's no decision made before 10:30, then assume it's sold out. All the Kubricks have been very popular and the odds it will sell out are high.

BIRTH OF A NATION with piano accompaniment- Sat June 27 at 1:15- MOMA-Yeah, you're either going to want to see this or not. The film that D.W. Griffith is best known for. For better (creation of what we think of as film today) or worse (anything involving black people) that is. Two brothers are torn apart, as they join opposite sides of the Civil War. The first half is considered the better part, with battle scenes and mostly successful though melodramatic romance with Lillian Gish. It's the second half, where you have blacks (white actors in black face) either drunkenly running the state legislature, or terrorizing the poor white folk until they have to be saved by the Ku Klux Klan on horseback, that's the tough part to take. Actually, any part where blacks are depicted are not fun to watch; I mean a white guy in blackface playing a Mammy-type? Oy vey.

Yet it was a hit in its day, despite being banned for years in L.A. and Chicago (it didn't play there until 1940). But the label of racist stuck to Griffith. Despite making his next film Intolerance as a response, and re-releasing Birth for decades in slightly edited, shorter versions. But what do you expect when you adapt the book The Clansman, and audiences (even in 1915) take this as though you believe in its story and message, because you gave it life and a metaphorical voice on screen. Griffith as well as Gish, went to their deathbeds denying the film is racist.

Now, if I'm reacting badly to this, why post this as an option to see? Not just the importance of the film, but I figure for myself: if I can handle The Passion of the Christ, Realm of the Senses and Inland Empire, I can handle this. For the record, this print is one minute shorter than the original release, and two minutes longer than the DVD version. But it won't break my heart if I don't catch this Saturday.

THE SECRET POLICEMAN'S BALL and THE SECRET POLICEMAN'S OTHER BALL- Both films for one admission- Sat June 27 starting at 8pm- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- A retrospective of comedy/concert benefit documentaries, all to raise money for Amnesty International. This is the only double feature that I have an interest in catching. And unlike most screenings at the Walter Reade, this one is an actual 2 film/ 1 admission deal.

2 docs, that mix British comedy sketches and British music bands. The first one, The Secret Policeman's Ball from 1979, featured performers such as Pythoners John Cleese (who co-created the benefits) Terry Jones and Michael Palin, and comedian Billy Connolly. But the show is best known in Britain for the work of Peter Cook (at one point doing the impossible, causing Cleese to break up out of character), the mass introduction of Britain to Rowan Atkinson, and the acoustic work of Pete Townsend which supposedly introduced the idea of Unplugged.

This has not been released in theaters, as opposed to The Secret Policeman's Other Ball from 1982. Though this is the original British version, which is 8 minutes longer than the U.S. theatrical release. It has the same comics from the first film, plus Graham Chapman and more Python skits. For musical guests, there was Donovan. And oh yeah, a few rising British performers, like Sting, Phil Collins and Bob Geldof. Supposedly, this gave the future Sir Bob the idea for Live Aid. No great films here, just some fun.

In order of preference, I'd like to catch The Killing, the Wednesday MOMA films, 10 Rillington and the Python docs. Let me know. Later all.

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