Wednesday, May 01, 2013

May revivals: first half

Hey all. Mike here with a revival list for the first half of May. I thought this would be a short list, and a mostly Film Forum list at that. But then the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria finally came out with a screening schedule that extends beyond Sunday April 28th, and a couple of them put a smile on my face. So here we go:

VOYAGE TO ITALY- Wed May 1, Fri May 3, Sat May 4, and Wed May 8 at 7:30 and 9:30- Wed May 1 at 7:30 introduced by Isabella Rossellini- Film Forum- This film plays for 9 days. I'm listing the dates I'm pretty sure I can do, despite Saturday the 4th to be a bit of a question mark, in part because of the two films I list directly below this.
A restored DCP screening of Roberto Rossellini's 1954 film. His then wife Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders, play a married couple. They're bored with their marriage prior to the start of the film, and we watch it further disintegrate over the bulk of the running time. Bergman's character pines for a young lover who died long ago and much too young, and Sanders' character is far more comfortable with his work than with the growing distance between them. They take a trip to Italy to try to repair the damage, but can the beauty of Naples, the ruins of Pompeii and other sights be enough to spark their marriage from the brink? A flop in its day, the film has since been championed by Martin Scorsese (the first modern film as far as he's concerned), as well by British film critics to make Voyage To Italy a classic in Britain and put it in their Film Institute's Top 100. Ingrid and Roberto's daughter, Isabella Rossellini, will introduce the 7:30 screening on Wednesday, May 1st. This particular screening will probably sell out quick, so this requires planning: 
FAHRENHEIT 451 (for free on a first come first served basis) and/or HELP!- Sat May 4 at 2 (Fahrenheit) and 4 (Help!)- Museum of the Moving Image- 2 films that have only 4 things in common: that they were both released in the 1960s, that both films had high expectations from audiences upon release, that both films received very mixed reactions from said audiences upon release, and that both are playing on the same day at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.
First, the rarely screened Fahrenheit 451, from 1967. The adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic novel, which he said wasn't a book about censorship, but a depiction of a possible future where a society is taken with television. So taken that not only is literature burned, but information is doled out only by image and sound bite (seems like the later has been going on for a while, in and out of politics, but anyway). Oskar Werner is Montag, a fireman whose very job of burning books is questioned; first by a beautiful stranger, and then by himself.

Probably the most difficult film in Francois Truffaut's career to make. His only English language film. It took about six years for him to adapt it properly in his mind. Some of the changes he made, like tweaking the ending and not only having the beautiful stranger live beyond the start of the story but to have her and Montag's wife be two sides of the same coin, work. Having Julie Christie play both roles makes Truffaut look like a genius. The world we see is unique: European looking, not overly futuristic but not alien either. Nicolas Roeg's cinematography and Bernard Herrmann's score help greatly. Good film, but how good you think it is will depend on how you feel about Werner's lead performance. Oskar went with an approach that Truffaut quipped was like a monkey sniffing a book. Whether you think his performance, which caused actor and director to feud throughout shooting, helps or hurts the film, is up to you. I don't hate his performance, but I'm curious to see what a different approach to Montag would look like. We've been hearing for decades about other directors' attempt to remake this, with Mel Gibson coming the closest allegedly. But this will probably be years down the line, so now's a good time to check this out.

The screening of 451 is sponsored by the Queens Public Library, with funding from the National Endowment of the Arts. It is free on a first come, first served basis. Members of the museum can reserve tickets ahead of time by calling 718-777-6800. Two tickets max, have your museum ID number ready. The free ticket may or may not allow you to check out the museum itself, but it won't let you see the next film playing that afternoon. That you would have to pay for.

Next, "Help!", the Beatles and director Richard Lester's follow-up to the hit A Hard Day's Night. This starts the Museum's Play It Loud series of films; mostly rock films, some fictional and some documentaries, mostly in stereo. 

But first, let me sidetrack for a bit. The second time I ever saw A Hard Day's Night in a movie theater, it was at a revival screening at the Forum, double-featured with The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, an almost perfect double feature as far as I'm concerned. The films were like kindred spirits to one another, even if Hard Day's was more rooted in reality, or a kind of reality at least.

Going through the plot of Duck Soup, like with all other Marx Bros films, is pointless. And that applies to the Marx Brothers-esque Help!. Yes, there's a plot involving a magic ring stuck on Ringo's finger, and the Fab Four are being chased by a Thugee-type of cult led by the future Rumpole of the Bailey, but whatever. Just keep the movie flowing (which it does, but not to the level of Hard Day's), keep the jokes coming (which don't always work, though maybe the boys shouldn't have been stoned for the whole shoot), and bring on the songs. Oh yeah, the songs. You're Going to Lose that Girl, Ticket To Ride, I Need You and the title song are among the highlights. Not on the level of Hard Day's but still fun:

BADLANDS- Fri May 10, Sat May 11, and Tues May 14 at 6:30, 8:20 and 10:10, plus Wed May 15 at 8:20- Film Forum- A 4K restoration of Terrence Malick's film on its 40th anniversary. The restoration was supervised by Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot Malick's The New World, The Tree of Life, To The Wonder, as well as Children of Men.

Malick's feature length directorial debut from 1973. In 1959, a 25 year old drifter (Martin Sheen) who idolizes James Dean, runs off with his 15 year old girlfriend (Sissy Spacek). This might sound like romantic, but once you know going in that Badlands is a dramatized version of the infamous Starkweather homicides of 1958, you know you're in violence-with-consequences territory. Moving around and interacting with each other and the open road in an almost dreamlike state, but Spacek's off-screen narration tells us that at least one half of the couple knows they have a dark future ahead.

Kind of a response for those who felt the main characters in Bonnie and Clyde were too romanticized, and a clear inspiration for the ultra-heightened Natural Born Killers. With some of the best acting work Sheen and Spacek have ever done. Among debut films for directors, I would argue that only Welles' Citizen Kane and John Huston's The Maltese Falcon are better films than Badlands. Boy do I hope I'm not misquoted or taken out of context with that sentence . . . . . Most Malick revivals play for one, maybe two screenings, and those screenings tend to sell out or come very close. But Badlands, Malick's most accessible film, plays for a full week. So the sell-out aspect shouldn't be an issue:
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and/or (though I prefer doing both) GIMME SHELTER- Sat May 11 at 2 (Night) and 5 (Shelter)- Museum of the Moving Image- 2 more films from the Museum's Play Loud Series of modern rock films and/or documentaries. First, A Hard Day's Night from 1964. The Richard Lester classic that defined Beatlemania, influenced MTV until it became a place for reality shows, made most musicals that told their stories in stodgy ways to become Dead Musicals Walking, and briefly made the Beatles the seeming heir to the Marx Bros in comedy. Ok, Paul is stiffer then a tree in Yellowstone here, but John, Ringo, and especially George, make up for that. And oh yeah, there are few decent songs. All My Loving, And I Love Her, Can't Buy Me Love, the title song, and others. C'mon folks, this film is fun.
Next, Gimme Shelter, the powerful documentary from 1970, showing part of the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour, with much of the focus on the tragic concert at Altamont. From the Maysles brothers, the documentary they're probably best known for, even more than Grey Gardens, sorry Broadway/ HBO/Drew Barrymore fans. In December 1969, 4 months after Woodstock, the Stones and Jefferson Airplane gave a free concert in Northern California, east of Oakland at Altamont Speedway. About 300,000 people came, and the organizers put Hell's Angels in charge of security around the stage. Armed with pool cues and knifes, Angels spent the concert beating up spectators, killing at least one.
The film intercuts performances, the violence, Grace Slick and Mick Jagger's attempts to cool things down, close-ups of young listeners (dancing, drugged, or suffering Angel shock), and a look at Jagger as he watches concert footage and reflects on what happened (that's how the film starts). We see the set-up of the concert, the negotiation for which site, complete with preening lawyer Marvin Belli. But as great as the music is, as the concert goes on, the sense of foreboding grows, and tragedy is ripe to happen. The whole idea of Peace Love and Understanding from Woodstock? Watch that slowly die away of the course of Gimme Shelter's running time. Up until recently, this film has only been available on long out of print VHS and DVD copies. But still, unless you sought out this film on Netflix, you probably only have a vague idea of the film, the concert, or the killing. Now is a great time to change that:

CLUE: INTERACTIVE SCREENING WITH HEDDA LETTUCE- Sat May 11 at 10 for 10 dollars- Chelsea Clearview Cinema- A special Saturday night screening, thus the $10.00 charge. Like the regular 7PM screenings on a Thursday night, only with not only an opening monologue of some sort from Hedda Lettuce, but also an MST3K kind of talk back-vibe to the screening. Of course it's Hedda doing the talking, so long portions of the film will probably go uninterrupted  And realize that it's Hedda doing the talking back, not you. If you want to talk back to the screen, go find yourself a screening of Rocky Horror or The Room. This may sell out so planning ahead would be necessary. 

Now as for Clue, the film itself, I have happy sentimental reasons to post it. It's no Citizen Kane, but it's fun. But compared to other films based on toys, like Battleship or Masters of the Universe, this is the Citizen Kane of toy films: take that comment however you will. This has a major cult following in L.A. In NYC, not so much. I don't know why I like the film so much. It has a good beginning, an extremely mixed middle (Hedda Lettuce should be very helpful there) and endings of varying quality. But I like it, no rational reason why. Just makes me laugh more often than not. Though its cast (Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Lesley Ann Warren, Michael McKean) sure helps. From director Jonathan Lynn of future My Cousin Vinny fame:

 Let me know if there's interest, later all.

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