Wednesday, July 03, 2013

July revivals: first section

Hey all, Mike with some revival options for the first bunch of days in July. At first I was going to stay with the July 4th weekend, with one cheat on July 8. Then my plans changed, the number of titles dropped dramatically, and that made me decide to try for the first half of July. But then this one film was giving me difficulty. It already runs over three hours long, my pitch for it was becoming almost as long as the film itself, and half of what I wrote was barely intelligible English. So I'm cutting my losses, coughing up what I have so far, and see how the rest of my month goes. This list doesn't end at the halfway mark, but I'm sleepy damnit. Here we go:

12 ANGRY MEN- Fri July 5 at 1:30 and 3:20, Sat July 6 at 3:20, 5:10, 7 and 8:50, Sun July 7 at 5:10, 7 and 8:50, and Mon July 8 and Thurs July 11 at 8:50- Film Forum- A DCP screening. 12 Angry Men. After the verdict in the Casey Anthony case was rendered, you probably noticed the internet ablaze with anger. One Facebook friend who I'll leave anonymous, had something interesting to say a while back, among those who did not:

. . . When it comes to small children and animals...expect that case to catch the attention of the country and to get people's blood boiling if they think justice hasn't been done. I'm not saying anything about the verdict one way or the other. I'm just saying that I've ceased to be surprised at what conclusion a jury come to in a case. This is why 12 Angry Men continues to be relevant. I'm not saying I agree with the verdict. I'm just saying that it is what it is...

12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet's big screen debut after years of working on live TV. The story of twelve calmness-free humanoid males expressing displeasure, as they serve as jurors on a murder case. If you're reading this, then you know this courtroom drama, set during jury deliberations, so there's no need to go much further about the story. A fun potboiler of a film. The great acting isn't the amazing part to me; the fact that Lumet kept things cinematically interesting despite being confined to 1 or 2 small rooms is. 3 Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay Adaptation. But it was a flop in its day. Star/co-producer Henry Fonda was so disappointed, he would never produce another film again. But it's considered a classic today, and launched Lumet's film career. . On the second AFI Top 100 list. It probably won't get any easier to catch on the big screen in Manhattan than this:

SUNRISE with a Superman serial- Sat July 6 at 1 (Superman) and 2 (Sunset)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- A restored 35mm print with its original soundtrack. F.A. Murnau's silent film classic. Its views of love, adultery, and temptation might be subtle as a brick, and at times a little on the hammy side in terms of some its performances, but it's still considered a classic (despite its disappointing box office), and hasn't been screened often until the film's recent restoration. George O'Brien plays a farmer who loves his wife. Until he goes into the city and falls for some sort of tramp. She convinces him to kill his wife. But can he?

Winners of the first Oscars for Janet Gaynor for Actress (who also won for two other films she starred in, something that would never happen again) and for Cinematography. It also won for Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production, as opposed to Best Picture as we know it, which Wings had won. The Unique and Artistic Production category was discontinued afterwards by the way.

Sunrise was not on the first AFI Top 100 list, but made it to the second list. I wonder if it should be on that second list, as opposed to films I enjoyed that were dropped, like Fargo, Dr. Zhivago, The Third Man and Fantasia. I'd like to find out.
Playing all summer long, in honor I guess of the recent release of The Man of Steel, are the Superman serials from 1948. With the very first Superman, Kirk Alyn. Very low budget fare, to the point that all the flying sequences were animated. But they were still fun, and popular enough to have not only a sequel serial in 1950 with Alyn, but a TV series in 1952 (with George Reeves replacing Alyn). They play on Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, as well as different times the other 5 days a week. Each episode is about 15 minutes long, and they all screen in the tiny Tut's Fever Movie Palace, on the second floor. For the purposes of Sunrise, you could only catch the 1pm Superman screening without missing the feature-length film:

THE GRAPES OF WRATH and/or EL NORTE with a Superman serial- Sun July 7 at 1 (Superman), 2 (Grapes) and 5 (Norte)- Museum of the Moving Image- 2 more films that are part of the Moving Image's See It Big series. A double feature of two very similar takes on families going through tremendous hardship and struggling to survive in America. The first film listed is obvious, the other is probably forgotten, except by film buffs and PVS fans with long memories, as well native Spanish speakers in North and Central America. Both films can be seen for one admission, which also allows you to check out the museum as well.
First, The Grapes of Wrath. Not a new 35mm print, but probably a respectable one; the Museum of the Moving Image tends not to get sub-par prints. Considering we are far from enjoying prosperous times, it's probably time to revisit this John Ford classic. Recently released ex-con Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) is miraculously reunited with his family. The Oklahoma land has been devastated by the Dust Bowl, Tom's immediate family was evicted from their farm, and Tom joins up with his entire family the night before they have to leave after being evicted. The family moves to California in search of work. They've been warned work is scarce, but they have no choice. They have no money, the family might not make it to California intact, and the camps they visit seem bereft with corrupt sheriffs, unsanitary conditions, and/or a looming threat of violence. But the Joads keep moving forward; almost on blind faith, since there's little around them to give them hope.

We're never going to experience what the average moviegoer experienced when Grapes of Wrath first came out. That sense of You Are There, feeling the Great Depression, we can certainly empathize with. But the feelings of, My God this is how it was, or My God this is how it is, or look how far we overcome, or one thinking back on who didn't survive the ordeal, wow. Arguably John Ford's best. If some of you prefer say one of Ford's films with John Wayne or How Green Was My Valley, I won't argue with you, but I won't agree with you either. With a performance from Fonda that elevated him from leading man to superstar, with the dye of American Icon starting to cast. Oscars for Ford for Director, and Jane Darwell for Supporting Actress as beloved Ma Joad. Nominations for Picture, Fonda for Actor, Screenplay, Editing and Sound. On both AFI Top 100 lists. See it before Spielberg remakes.

Next, El Norte or The North, a 1983 film partially funded by PBS, released in the U.S. in early 1984, and screened on PBS's late great American Playhouse series in 1985. Writer-director Gregory Nava used both his experiences of living in a bordertown and his research into the lives of Guatemalans who entered California illegally to form this film. Mixing gritty realism with an attempt to capture elements of Latin American magic realism elements from novels Nava enjoyed, and bring those elements to life onscreen.
A young Mayan brother and sister escape their small Guatemalan village after their father was killed by government troops and their mother "disappeared". The film is split into 3 parts. First, life in Guatemala, followed by the section where the siblings make an arduous journey into Mexico and an even more difficult (and illegal) crossing into the U.S. The third section is in America, where the stories told to the siblings by their father, do not match the harsh realities of life without official documentation.
A very Joad family-like experience for the family, that touched audiences and critics alike, resulting in becoming one of the biggest art house hits of the 1980s, and an Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay for director Nava and Anna Thomas. A film made independently to avoid possible studio demands for a completely happy ending, and known names in the leads, as opposed to the naturalistic performances delivered by the non-professional actors who played the siblings.
Overall, not an upbeat double feature, but a good one. If you want any kind of cheer prior to the films, there's always the episode of the 1948 Superman serial at 1PM, in Tut's Fever Movie Palace on the second floor. El Norte's budget looks like the budget for the typical James Cameron film as opposed to what they got to make the Superman serials 65 or so years ago. But they're still fun: 

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY for free- Mon July 8 at sundown- Bryant Park- The Gene Wilder cult classic gets a special free screening at Bryant Park. It may not be as loyal to the original Roald Dahl book as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it's a better film. Dahl wrote the original adaptation, but a massive re-write caused Dahl to badmouth the film every chance he got. And while there was better usage of the Oompa Loompas and the budget to go hog wild on the look, the family/daddy issues, especially in the last half-hour, drags the film down when compared to Willy Wonka. Maybe I like this film so much strictly for Wilder's performance. I'm ok with that.

Now considering this was not a hit back in 1971 but only became a cult classic thanks largely to NBC broadcasts in the late 70s into the 1980s, most people have no idea what this film looks like on the big screen. I include myself in that statement, but I would like to change that

ROMAN HOLIDAY for $7.50- Thurs July 11 at 9:30- Chelsea Clearview Cinema-  A cheap screening of the romantic comedy classic. Sorry I can't do the 7pm screening with the Hedda Lettuce intro. I thought it was possible for me, but not anymore. So it's 9:30 or nothing.
From 1953, Gregory Peck plays an American journalist working in Rome, who gentlemanly puts a young woman up for the night on his couch. A woman he finds on a park bench, woozy though unsure from what. A woman he doesn't recognize until the next day as a European Princess who has run away from her handlers. He bets his editor that he can get an exclusive interview with the Princess. Peck ends up escorting the Princess around Rome, without identifying to each other who they really are. What follows is a bit of adventure (including the classic Mouth of Truth scene), as well as a bit of romance. But seeing how these are adults, they realize the romance can't last, but in the moments they do have they try to make special.
Maybe not in the top tier of romantic comedy classics, in part because it's a little light on the comedy. More an emphasis on romance through an adult filter first, then sprinkle in the comedy throughout. If nothing else, it's a Hollywood classic thanks to director William Wyler's decision to cast and gently guide young Audrey Hepburn in a role originally written for Elizabeth Taylor. Audrey had worked in film and TV prior, but never had to carry a film as much as she had to here. Gentle, introverted, waiting for her moment to be free and open to new experiences, yet mindful of the duty she must eventually return to. And yet to have these carefree moments with a handsome stranger . . . a style and film icon was born, imitated, but not duplicated  The film's good too.
Oscar nominations for Picture, Wyler for Director, Eddie Albert for Supporting Actor, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Editing. Also nominated for Screenplay Writing for John Dighton and Ian McLellan Hunter; the later man served as a front for blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Hunter served as Trumbo's front when Roman Holliday won the Oscar for Screenplay Story. Trumbo received his Oscar posthumously as well as his on-screen credit, which you'll see at the screening. Oscars were also awarded to Hepburn for Best Actress, and to Edith Head for Costume Design. Surprisingly no nomination for Peck for Actor. That category was already crowded, what with Brando for Julius Caesar, Clift and Lancaster for From Here To Eternity, and with Holden winning for Stalag 17. Ok, maybe you could replace Richard Burton for The Robe; I don't know, I've tried twice and I still can't get through that damn film. Luckily, Roman Holliday is far better, and it's Roman locales help this light movie go down smooth:  
12 MONKEYS- Fri July 12 and Sat July 13 at Midnight-ish- IFC Center- The only film I can possibly make from IFC Center's Terry Gilliam at Midnight retrospective. I'm more surprised about this than you are. A DCP screening of Gilliam's last hit, from 1995. A sci-fi time travel thriller, possibly a little inspired by the Twilight Zone (even though the story originates from a French short from the same era), with just enough levity to let the kick in the teeth, ER I MEAN THE MEDICINE, go down a little easier. In a future where Earth has been ravaged by a plague, Bruce Willis plays an emotionally damaged convict, who agrees to time travel to help save the planet. But since the humans handling the time travel is imperfect, so is the time travel itself. There's more, I don't feel like spoiling it for you if you haven't seen it by now.
It may not be on par with Brazil and might feel a little draggy, but it's an enjoyable ride, and this film (along with The Fisher King), helped restore Gilliam's reputation with Hollywood and gave him his golden ticket to make Fear and Longing in Las Vegas. Willis is the film's unsteady (in a good way) center, surrounded by a talented supporting cast, including Madeline Stowe (as the doctor who gets dragged in), Christopher Plummer, David Morse, Christopher Meloni and Frank Gorshin. And let's not forget Brad Pitt, who stunned critics and audiences (again, in a good way), by playing way past type to portray an extremely loony mental patient who may have information regarding the virus that threatens the planet. Even those who weren't expecting much from the film, or didn't care for the film, or didn't respect Pitt prior to 12 Monkeys, had to give him credit for an out-of-the-box performance. Nothing from say, Interview with the Vampire or Thelma and Louise led people to expect this kind of work. But put alongside say, Fight Club, we got a movie star who's still has big as he ever was. Pitt received an Oscar nomination (as did the costume design), losing Supporting Actor to Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects. Anyway, it's a long film, over two hours, but if you can stay up, let's do it:
FAHRENHEIT 451- Sat July 13 at 6:30- Anthology Film Archives- 32 Second Avenue on Bond Street- The rarely screened Fahrenheit 451, from 1967 gets its second revival screening in 3 years, which is more than it has previously been screened in at least ten years prior. A very happy change as far as I'm concerned. Fahrenheit is part of a retrospective of films put together by guest programmer agnes b; a fashion designer who seems to be a big fan of avant-garde or art house cinema from 1950s-1970s.
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 with it 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 awhile, 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. With an effective Ennio Morricone score to match the look.

Good film overall, but how good you think it is will depend not only on how chilly you can stand your films, but also 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 for any remake to occur (a big if), so now's a good time to check this out:

Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

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