Thursday, November 14, 2013

November revials: mostly European edition

Hey all, Mike here with a list of November revivals, taking us right up to but not going into, Thanksgiving weekend. I haven't determined whether my Thanksgiving weekend list, which for my purposes will be Wednesday November 27th thru Sunday December 1st, will include holiday revivals from the first few days of December. I haven't decided that yet, but I will in the next week or so.

As for this list, I didn't intend it to be mostly comprised of European films, that's just what these theaters and/or museums are showcasing at the moment. One Italian film, one compilation that is most certainly American yet popular the world over, and the rest are British. Here we go, starting off with a film from the last list:

LORD OF THE FLIES (1965) for a 7 dollar bar minimum- introduced by Rachel Dratch- Fri Nov 15 at 9:30-Rubin Museum of Art- A cheap screening of the original Lord of the Flies, a seven dollar bar minimum. Tickets will be distributed starting at 6:45 for the 9:30 screening. Basically order your drink at the bar (doesn't need to have alcohol in it), and walk a few feet over to the easily indicated stool/desk/whatever and request your one ticket for your one drink.

The screening will be introduced by Rachel Dratch. Because of her popularity, I'm expecting tickets to move quickly. I've experienced crowds before with screenings at the Rubin, but never a sell-out. Not until last month's screening of Cabaret when I got there at 7, and by 7:10 I finally received my drink, but I was too late. So I won't be surprised if a similar deal occurs at this screening if I arrive too late.

For this night, we're getting Peter Brook's adaptation of William Golding's book. Shot in black and white, but not necessarily black and white in tone. The idea of a kid doing whatever he wants is not unfamiliar to us. Millions ran to see the light version of this story in Home Alone. Consider this a much more bitter pill to swallow. Using amateur young actors whose improvisations provide most of the dialogue, Brook successfully tells the story of a group of boys, marooned on an island with no adults. They split into 2 tribes, until baser instincts and survival of the fittest prevail. Ignore the 1990 remake and go for this:

DEMON SEED with Let's Groove- Fri Dec 15 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- Since I'm posting films in order of screening, this should technically be listed ahead of Lord of the Flies. But I found out about this at the last minute, and I already had a kind of symmetry set up, so screw it.

Part of the Museum's Early Computer Films 1953-1987 retrospective, and the only film in this retrospective that I'll have any time to catch. Demon Seed, from 1977. Directed by Donald Cammell, adapted from a Dean Koontz novel. An underrated sci-fi film that was a little ahead of its time in terms of computers and how they much use they are in our everyday lives. In the story, advances in artificial intelligence result in a computer, Proteus IV, that is more advanced then his creator expected. It can cure cancer and help humanity in other ways, but it is developing a mental facility that said creator (Fritz Weaver) can no longer control. It's more interested in evolving then being taken over by the military, and will use his creator's wife (Julie Christie) against her will to do so. And by using her, I'm mean attempt to impregnate her with a hybrid form of life.

Creepily effective film, with bits of Rosemary's Baby and HAL from 2001 combined. Christie is good, but she's forced to play more of a victim for my taste. But considering her character had a miscarriage, isn't in a great marriage and is being threatened with rape and imprisonment in her own home by a killer super-computer of her husband's creation, you'd probably be a little hysterical too. A situation studio films wouldn't dare do two-three years later (this was made by MGM/ United Artists). Robert Vaughn stands out as the ominous voice of the computer, Proteus IV; he makes HAL 9000 sound like a benevolent choir boy in comparison.

Preceding Demon Seed will be Let's Groove, an Earth Wind and Fire music video from 1981. Aside from using early computer graphics and being directed by Ron Hayes, who did the visual effects for Demon Seed, I don't know what else it has to do with this retrospective. But hey, who's not into Earth Wind and Fire? Or to be more specific, who's not into Earth Wind and Fire that's worth knowing? And hey, this will certainly be more upbeat than the bulk of Demon Seed, and it's only about four minutes long:

DISNEY MOUSE PARTY: MICKEY'S 85TH ANNIVERSARY- Mon Nov 18 at 7- Film Forum- In honor of the 85th anniversary of Mickey Mouse, the Film Forum will show a best of Walt Disney shorts. The Forum doesn't specify which shorts will be screened beyond 1928's Steamboat Willie. But there's likely to be an emphasis on Walt's early black and white animated shorts, particularly those that feature the world's most famous mouse and those shorts that may feature his supporting cast of characters more. In addition, the Forum claims they will also screen "Technicolor breakthroughs, and surprises galore". Don't know what that means, but I'm guessing this is the kind of screening that will sell out fast, so it will be best to but ahead of time and not wait for the last minute:

SANDRA- Fri Nov 22 at 7:30 and 9:30, Sat Nov 23 at 5:30 and 7:30, Mon Nov 25 at 9:50 and Wed Nov 27 at 7:30 and 9:30- Film Forum- A new DCP restoration of Luchino Visconti's 1965 film, released with little impact in the U.S. in 1966. I don't know the film, it seems to have made a bigger impact back in the day in Europe than in America. Claudia Cardinale stars in the title role, returning to Volterra with her American husband to remember her father, a scientist killed in Auschwitz. Sandra has issues with her past, to put it mildly. Especially when it comes to her stepfather, insane mother and her brother. There are secrets that Sandra's husband doesn't know, but they may come to light when Sandra's brother returns, and something funny seems to happen when they meet again.

I wouldn't call this a direct adaptation of Mourning Becomes Electra, but Visconti seems to have taken enough of that story to make it his own. Like I said , Sandra doesn't appear to have made much impact here in the States. One possible reason is that the original subtitles were made in Spain during the Franco dictatorship, and that some "queasy" aspects of the story expressed thru dialogue were deleted. But with this 4K Digital Restoration, this should no longer be an issue. Like I also said, I don't know this film, but I liked Visconti's The Leopard and really liked his Rocco and his Brothers, so I'm willing to take a chance here:

THE GO-BETWEEN- Fri Nov 22 at 9, and Sat Nov 23 at 6:45- Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at Lincoln Center- The first film I can have the chance to make in Lincoln Center's Harold Pinter retrospective. Not every screenplay of Pinter's will make the retrospective, just his comedies. Or "comedies" in the loosest and possibly most melancholy interpretation possible. You can see three movies from this retrospective for 20 dollars, and by sheer coincidence, there are three Pinter films posted on this list.

From 1970, an adaptation of L.P Hartley's novel, the last team-up of screenwriter Pinter and director Joseph Losey (The Servant). Elderly Michael Redgrave looks back at his youth. Specifically when he was 13 and stayed over a friend's home. He becomes friendly with Julie Christie's character, engaged to stiff upper lip Edward Fox's character. Yet the young man agrees to be a go-between, passing messages back and forth between her and rakish Alan Bates. We're talking 1900 for the flashbacks, that last full year of Queen Victoria. And when a young man that doesn't know things asks questions and makes assumptions in any era, never mind the end of the Victorian era.

Don't know this film either but it seems interesting. Sounds a little too close to Atonement for my taste, right down to a Redgrave looking back on something with at least a hint of regret. But a good director, screenwriter, and cast that also includes Michael Gough and Oscar nominated Margaret Leighton, means I'm willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt:

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD for a 7 dollar bar minimum- introduced by British Counsel General to New York, Danny Lopez- Fri Nov 22 at 9:30- Rubin Museum of Art- A cheap screening of the 1965 Cold War spy drama. Adapted from John le Carre's novel, the first successful adaptation of any of his works, directed by Martin Ritt. If you've seen the most recent version of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, then you're already familiar with the world of Control and George Smiley. Both of whom are in this story, that I would say predates by around 11-12 years the events of the Gary Oldman film/ Alec Guinness mini-series. But don't look for them to be major characters in this, look instead toward Richard Burton's character; the almost classic definition of a burn-out. Burton's character has just went thru a failed mission in East Germany, and is done. Control is ready to make him a desk jockey, but Burton will have none of that. He wants to be human again, and makes steps toward that. Right down to starting a love affair with young, naive, English Communist Claire Bloom. But if he won't ride a desk or retire, then back out into the cold he must go . . .

Great cast includes Oskar Werner as an East German opponent/ possible target/ possible friend, Cyril Cusack as Control, Sam Wanamaker, Michael Horden and Bernard Lee. Oscar nominated for Burton for Actor and for Art Direction. About as grim a spy thriller as you can get, the polar opposite of the popular James Bond series. But also pretty darn good. Almost perfect for a cold November night.

The film will be introduced by the British Counsel General to New York, Danny Lopez. He'll probably fill in the blanks and give us a set-up for those of us not familiar with the history leading up to the events depicted in the film. Tickets become available near the bar on the night of the 22nd, around 6:45. Make sure you have your drink (minimum 7 dollars, doesn't have to have alcohol in it) when you request your ticket:

THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN- Sat Nov 23 at 1:30- Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's Harold Pinter retrospective of films that are (extremely dark or melancholy) comedies. I guess I'm missing something if this is included, but I'll take any excuse to squeeze this one in. From 1981, Pinter and director Karol Reisz changed John Fowles' novel a bit. More than a bit actually. Yes you can still make some comparisons to the heroine of this particular book, and the title character of Tess of the d'Ubervilles. But we're talking about a book that gives us three possible endings, and goes on lengthy and semi-discussions of Darwin, Marx, and Tennyson, among others. How pray tell was that going to come off as an interesting movie?

No wonder it took about ten years, after many different directors and actors names were bandied about, before Pinter came on in 1979 to crack the nut. His and Reisz's solution: change it. As in keep the basic story that seems maybe a little too similar to Tess, have the story serve as the film-within-the-film for as we follow the two actors playing the leads engage in their own love affair, and blur the line between what is the film, what is the life of f-screen, and the lives of the actual Victorian characters. All this while never failing to compare and contrast the mores of Victorian England with England/America/ Hollywood circa 1980.

Whatever you do, make sure your director is competent, which Reisz certainly is. Make sure you have a great cinematographer to capture both periods, and this film does in the great Freddie Francis (Glory, The Elephant Man). And make sure you have talented actors who can pull off both variations. Which this film did, with the casting of two rising talents in some of the earliest lead film roles: Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. The film became a critical darling and did respectable business in the fall of 1981/award season of 1982. 5 Oscar nominations including Streep for Actress (no way she was beating Kate Hepburn for On Golden Pond), and Pinter for Screenplay Adaptation.
Then a funny thing happened, the film seemed to completely disappear in America. Ok, it didn't help that this was a United Artists film that was lucky to find any kind of audience after the company was sold to MGM post- Heaven's Gate. It's lack of audience and no one to champion the film here in the states in the mid and late 80s doesn't help. But this might be the least remembered of Meryl Streep's great performances. You might argue her role in Ironweed is less known, and I won't fight you there. But c'mon, more people know Streep's line of "A Dingo ate my BA-BY!" from A Cry in the Dark than actually saw the film itself. More people know the damn Dingo line than The French Lieutenant's Woman, unreal. Anyway, you got the chance to change that now. Sorry that this is the only date and time I can do:

THE HOMECOMING- Mon Nov 25 at 6:30 and Wed Nov 27 at 9- Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's Harold Pinter retrospective of films that are (extremely dark or melancholy) comedies. And among Pinter plays, you don't get much darker than what I would say was arguably his biggest hit play, The Homecoming. The first I believe of the American Film Theater's adaptations of major plays. In the early and mid 1970s, a number of these came out to varying levels of success and acclaim. I've posted a few in the past, including The Iceman Cometh and A Delicate Balance, and now the first of these adaptations, The Homecoming.

When I've done write-ups in the past regarding All About Eve, I'm usually comparing the verbal attacks as being splashed with acid blood, like those creatures in Aliens. But with The Homecoming, the verbal attacks feel backed by threats of violence, and the pauses (a Pinter staple) can mean even more than some of the words. A working class family filled with two older brothers, one a brutal patriarch the other a bit of a rake, and the patriarch's two sons, one supposedly training to be a boxer while the other appears to be a pimp. The dynamic is shaken up with the return of the third son, a philosophy professor, returning from America with his wife. The wife is left to fend for herself, as each relative comes on to her. But don't think of her as powerless, as she can use words and gestures with just as much force as any single one of them could use violence.

This view of family dysfunction and family values might have been considered bizarre, at times over the top yet always fascinating, might seem a little too realistic today. Or perhaps, like with Network's depiction of TV news and reality TV being outrageous back in 1976 yet fully believable by 2001 at the latest, The Homecoming seems akin to other fictional dysfunctional families on TV and the big screen. Perhaps a bit more English, perhaps more eloquent or more likely to use words like hand grenades or knives, perhaps more willing to use silence as a weapon, but realistic none the less.

The idea was to preserve as much of the original production of The Homecoming on film as possible. The film's director and the play's first director, Sir Peter Hall, alongside screenwriter Pinter, worked to bring us closer inside this decaying house/family, while avoiding as many stage-bound story traps as possible. Bringing in acclaimed stage actor Cyril Cusack as the abusive patriarch, and four actors from the original West End production also helps greatly. Of note, Pinter's then-wife Vivian Merchant as the lone female in the film, and especially Ian Holm as the pimp son. If you think of Holm as merely Bilbo Baggins, you're in for a shock/treat. Yes, he's more violent in Alien. But in terms of a complete character with a near constant tinge of menace, as well as being the only family member who can stand up to the tough patriarch, well there's a reason why Holm's career shot up in England and The Homecoming is it. Overall, the Pinter film out of everything I've posted worth catching the most:

Let me know if there's interest. Take care.

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