Thursday, May 13, 2010

May revivals

Hey all. Mike here with a few revivals to catch in May. Normally, I break up the month in half, but a busy schedule means I'm only posting a few films this month. If IFC Center decided to have a true midnight film schedule, I could include them too. But they don't, so I won't. So I'll just post the following three films. All restored prints. In the case of the first two, major restorations that ten years ago, I could easily find film buffs who thought these extensively restored pictures might never happen. Here we go:

METROPOLIS- Now thru Thurs May 20 at 1:30, 2:30, 4:30, 5:30, 7:30 and 8:30- Film Forum- In a world where one group of people are in charge of doing all the "thinking" and another group actually has to do the manual labor, not everyone is happy in this city full of skyscrapers. So let's keep the masses happy through the temptations of a beautiful woman, who's actually a robot. Throw in a young man who's not only in love, but also sees for the first time that not everyone is equal.

After decades where this film bounced around, was chopped, and at one point, colorized and had music from Queen and Bonnie Tyler as part of the new soundtrack, a major restoration took place. Not everything could be found, either due to age, no ideas about preserving film history, the flimsiness of the material or the bombings in World War 2. But the original score was found and recorded in stereo. All seven versions were combined and restored, with title cards filling in the story blanks. This 2002 restoration, now returns to Film Forum, and this 2 hour, 19 minute version is as close as we'll probably ever get to definitive.

Fritz Lang was inspired by the Manhattan skyline when he created Metropolis's look. Huge sets that held thousands of extras. Live action and miniatures shot together for the first time. A robot who's initial look influenced C-3PO, and whose existence influenced HAL 9000, the Blade Runner androids and who knows what else. And as influential as the city looks of films like Blade Runner, Brazil, and Dark City have been, they had a source material to work from here. I've caught this before, and may not get to go again this time around. But by all means, go yourselves.

Yeah, that's what I wrote back in mid July 2007. I could have added how the robot in female human form enticing the men seems like it influenced Madonna, and now it appears to have influenced Lady Gaga. Anyway, since then, 23 additional minutes, found in a beaten-up 16mm print down in Argentina, was restored (as much as possible), and edited into the 2002 restoration. This version is being advertised as "Presented in High Definition". Don't know quite what that means, but this means that only about 5 minutes are missing from Lang's original cut. This will probably be as close as we'll ever get to what was screened in Berlin back in '27. It is being screened on two of the Forum's screens, which explains the multiple times. If you're ambitious, here you go.

A STAR IS BORN (1953)- Sun May 16 at 3 and 7- A restored 35mm print in its original 3 hr, 1 min running time. Now that number is according to both Lincoln Center's filmlinc website and imdb, though Wikipedia puts up different running time. For the purposes of my convenience, I'll stick to the 3hr 1 min time. Warner Bros. executives cut out 30 minutes after the film's premiere, before it was released. Director George Cukor fought it, to no avail. Not only was a lot of A Star Is Born cut, but a musical number, Born in a Trunk was added. In 1983, a version that restored all but 5 minutes was released, but the shortened cut seemed to be what was usually screened on some stations and revival screenings. Now, before the film is released on Blu-ray in mid June, the full 1954 version will be screened for one day only, twice. May or may not be the best version of this story, but one that holds up.

Cukor's fist musical and first color film, where Judy Garland plays the unknown who becomes a star, and James Mason plays the leading man who discovers her, marries her, and falls apart due to depression and alcoholism. Bogie, Gary Cooper, Brando, Montgomery Clift and Cary Grant all turned down the role; they all apparently didn't want to be perceived as loser has-beens, though Grant was supposedly afraid of working with a probably unreliable drug addict like Garland.

Grant seemed to be right regarding the difficulties it would take to work with the actress. Illnesses both real and imaginary (or made up?), fluctuating weight and difficulties from alcoholism and drug addiction made it a problematic shoot. And that was before Warner Bros. decided that A Star is Born had to be their first CinemaScope picture, forcing Cukor to scrap everything that had been shot and do it all over again. Oh joy.

Garland (singing mostly Ira Gershwin tunes) and Mason were both Oscar nominated, as was the Art Direction, Costume Design, Music and the Gershwin- Harold Arlen song "The Man That Got Away". That song might just be the highlight of the film. This is rather a unique revival opportunity, and one I hope you take advantage of.

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK- Fri May 21- Thurs May 27 at 4:40, 6:30, 8:20 and 10:10- Film Forum- A new 35mm scope print of a hit 1955 film that doesn't get a lot of play on revival screens, and only occasional play on TCM. A modern day Western for its time, set in the small town of Black Rock. A town controlled by criminal Robert Ryan; who has cronies like Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin, and who has the rest of the population under his thumb. But getting off the train on a 24 hour layover is black suited Spencer Tracy. Nobody knows who he is, but being a stranger is enough to be shunned. When it's discovered why he's in Black Rock, Tracy sees how the townspeople appear to be trying to kill him, or refuse to help. And after being pushed around and provoked all day, Tracy will take it no more.

Not a subtle film. A McCarthyism attack from blacklisted screenwriter Millard Kaufman, which is a bit obvious with Borgnine made up at times, to look like a cartoon version of McCarthy. And I mean that literally. I believe the cartoon strip was Pogo, but I need to do more research and I have no time. Also with the only anti Japanese-American discrimination aspects up to that point on any film, Hollywood or otherwise. And in case you weren't sure, there's all-American Tracy, years of knowledge of the actor and his past roles serving him/us well, in (a) black and white (suit), with a no nonsense approach to justice. And boy, does he have his problems against soon-to-be legendary film tough guys Ryan, Borgnine and Marvin.

But it doesn't forget to be a Western. With shots of large lonely vistas and increasing isolation, our one armed hero must go it alone against the bad guys. He doesn't want to fight, he did too much of it in World War 2, but he will be the only shining light in the corrupt town, even if it's out of self-preservation. Very High Noon-esque. And it's only 81 minutes, so if you have any problems, it's quick. But you shouldn't, I'm preachier here than the actual film is.

3 Oscar nominations, Tracy for Actor (he lost to Borgnine for Marty), John Sturges for Director and Kaufman for Screenplay. Kaufman's son, Frederick, will introduce the 8:20 screening on Friday, May 21.

I stand by all three enthusiastically and would love to catch them all. Let me know. See you next month, where the list should go more or less back to normal. Later all.


JHV said...

What's wrong with IFC Center's midnight film series?

mike said...

Having one schedule for one screen is a VAST improvement over the guesswork I use to have to pull as to whether or not a schedule of any kind when it came to IFC. But last minute extensions of a film may or may not make the cut. Now you must be new, because I have both been annoyed with IFC (problematic projection of the first reel of Eraserhead, last second announcements until late 2008) and praising the Center to the hilt (some choices like In The Loop, the old Buffy-Sing-Along, some midnight choices like the original Battlestar, and last summer's Coen Bros series).

That said, some of the choices in the Nicolas Cage Midnight series, in particular Snake Eyes, Con Air and Bringing Out The Dead, oh please. And even though Leaving Las Vegas is, in my opinion, the best film of 1995, screening it at midnight? Will you have a suicide prevention hotline on standby afterwards? Oy vey . . .