Sunday, January 19, 2014

Revivals: late January edition

Hey all, Mike here with a short list for the rest of January. A small-ish list, but one I'm enthusiastic about. Let's start with the screening I want to catch the most:

ALL THAT JAZZ introduced by Matt Zoller Seitz- Fri Jan 24 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- Part of the Museum of the Moving Image's See It Big series: Musicals Edition. A DCP restoration of Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical film, better than any print previously used in other revival houses. Around 1974, Fosse was trying to direct, co-write and choreograph Chicago on Broadway starring his (long separated) wife Gwen Verdon: while trying to balance his relationship with girlfriend Ann Reinking with the other women he slept around with, keep up a relationship with his daughter, and struggle to edit his film Lenny into something at least watchable. All while being a chain smoker and popping Dexedrine like they were candies. Wanna guess how many heart attacks he had, and how close to death he was?

After he got better and both projects went up, what's a man to do? After he put up the show Dancin', he chose to make all of that into a movie. His friend Shirley MacLaine claims to have given Fosse the idea, he claimed not to remember. But otherwise, change the names to protect the innocent as well as those he might not have liked, such as Michael Bennett, played in a way by John Lithgow. Made sure he came off as the biggest jerk of all, yet still likable. Bring in some veterans who have been around his world, like Ben Vereen, Leland Palmer (who came out of retirement to play the Gwen Verdon type, then went back into retirement), designer Tony Walton to help with the Art Direction, and Reinking to essentially play herself (which she does well, plus dances terrifically). Make the film essentially a flashback from a place that might be in-between life and death, and that might only be happening in the Fosse-like man's imagination, with Jessica Lange as one luscious Angel of Death, and you've got a helluva picture.

Non-original music and newly developed Fosse choreography shine here. For those who have difficulty with musicals where the singing and dancing come from inorganic places, note the singing and dancing only come from the audition/rehearsal of a musical, one moment performing for Dad, and that imagination place between life and death. The best example was the use of Teddy Pendergrass's On Broadway. In another F.U. to Michael Bennett (allegedly), Fosse whittled down the audition process of ensemble dancers as depicted in A Chorus Line (which crushed Chicago at the Tonys and was still a massive hit when All That Jazz was released) into a mere 3-5 minutes of what Fosse thought was more realistic. It's one of the showstoppers of this film.

That said, we're in for the ride, because we buy Roy Scheider as the Fosse type. According to Razzle Dazzle (the Fosse biography by Kevin Boyd Grubb); unlike Warren Beatty who wanted massive rewrites to fit his tempo, or Jack Nicholson who was more interested in watching the Lakers than talking in depth with Fosse, or Richard Dreyfuss who quit before he was fired during rehearsal, Scheider was more submissive. He was actually willing to learn how to be Fosse from Fosse, not impose a character of his own creation. Might not necessarily be ideal, but film is the director's medium. You might not believe Scheider was ever a dancer before the last scene, but you do come away believing everything else.

Which brings me to one particular part of All That Jazz. The two top films for me that came out in 1979 are All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now. The difference for me between Apocalypse being very good and All That Jazz being not only the best film of 1979, but also in my personal top 35 ever, is the ending. Apocalypse is one of the best, until we get to see Marlon The World's Fattest Green Beret, and then Coppola's film deflates and suffers (Redux only partially fixes this). But the ending of All That Jazz is a great finale, the build-up leads to a payoff greater than expected. And when it's time for us to go, what could be better than a send-off with singing, dancing lights, spectacle, and everyone we ever became close to giving us a fond farewell. The little details is what Fosse nailed, while Francis had fat Marlon in the jungle.

Not as big a hit as Cabaret, but successful enough. 9 Oscar nominations, including Picture, Fosse for Director and Screenplay, Scheider for Actor and also for Cinematography. 4 Oscars, including Art Direction and Editing. In fact, it one the first 4 awards announced at the 1980 ceremonies. Don't know why they didn't start with a Supporting Category like in other years. But after that, the Kramer vs. Kramer steamroller commenced, and All That Jazz's commercial momentum slowed. It also won Fosse the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. One can argue what was the first standout, live action movie musical of the 2000s. Whether you think its Moulin Rouge or Rob Marshall's Chicago. But the last great live action musical before any of them was All That Jazz. 

The film will be introduced by Matt Zoller Seitz, TV critic for New York Magazine and, and contributor to He wrote a glowing look-back on All That Jazz for the New York Times, for the film's 30th anniversary. He cited how this and Fosse's other  film work was inspired by the likes of Alain Resnais and Sidney Lumet, and how said filmography has inspired the likes (in terms of narrative and editing room choices) of Steven Soderbergh, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Sofia Coppola. I've included a link to that enthusiastic article below the Moving Image link, and I'm sure Mr. Seitz will bring the same enthusiasm to his introduction:

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE- Sat Jan 25 at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 and Mon Jan 27 and Thurs Jan 30 (both tentative for me) at 7:30 and 9:30- Film Forum- A new DCP restoration. Another John Ford classic in a career full of classics. For me, my preferred classics from Ford's career are Mister Roberts and The Ox-Bow Incident. For the likes of Scorsese, it's The Searchers. For others it might be say, Stagecoach or The Quiet Man or How Green Was My Valley. For the likes of Sam Peckinpaugh and in terms of some shots (according to the Film Forum's website), Ingmar Bergman, it would be My Darling Clementine.

A telling of the Wyatt Earp/ Doc Holliday story, culminating in the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. Plays around with facts, makes up or combines characters, the later in the case of the title character, Clementine Carter. Seems this story gelled together in part thanks to Wyatt Earp's widow stymieing all screenplay efforts prior to her death in late 1944, in part out of memories of Ford talking to Earp on Western film sets back in the Silent Era, and because of the popularity of the Wyatt Earp books from author Stuart Lake (now "considered largely fictional"). Even then, it probably wouldn't have been made by Ford if he didn't have one more film left to make as part of his contract with 20th Century Fox, so he stuck with a genre and man he felt comfortable with.

Heavy on atmosphere and dealing with absolutes, especially against dastardly Old Man Clanton (Walter Brenann) and his sons. Two different love-crossed relationships involving Wyatt, Clementine, bucolic Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) and a Mexican hooker. And stoic Everyman Henry Fonda as Wyatt, riding through Monument Valley to the lawless town of Tombstone. Great Cinematography as well.

A film generally on the short list among the best Westerns ever made. This DCP restoration is the 104 minute archival cut from UCLA's film archive, as opposed to the 97 minute theatrical release. Ford's original 127 minute or so cut, taken away from him by Fox, seems forever lost. But we have something good here:
THE MUPPET SHOW episodes with Rita Moreno, Steve Martin and Carol Burnett- Sun Jan 26 at 1- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- A chance to see 3 episodes of The Muppet Show, uncut. At least how it was aired in America, they tended to be a little longer in Britain. The first official episode with guest star Rita Moreno, with our first Veterinarian's Hospital, first Muppet News Flash, first Swedish Chef, and the first time Fozzie bombs onstage. Followed by the Steve Martin episode, where the Show is "Closed for auditions". Martin shows off his banjo skills and Statler and Waldorf make a rare appearance out of the balcony. The day concludes with Carol Burnett episode, where all attempts to perform are blocked by Gonzo's impromptu dance marathon.

Moreno received her first Emmy for her work here in a performance that made her an EGOT, the Burnett episode won an Emmy for its writing, and I've enjoyed the change of pace from the usual format with Martin's episode. All will be introduced and explained by Craig Shemin, president of the Jim Henson Legacy:

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE for 7.50- Thurs Jan 30 at 7 and 9:30- Bow Tie Cinemas- I tried to see this a couple of years ago at Lincoln Center, but Hurricane Irene hit so bye-bye went that opportunity. Aside from one or two Midnight screenings at Landmark Sunshine Cinema, the other screenings of this film have been at this Chelsea location. Those screenings were not convenient for me, and these two screenings might be just as inconvenient for me. But since I'm not exactly sure how my life will go on that day, I will post this film and see what happens. 

Either the 7pm screening with a Hedda Lettuce intro, or 9:30 without it, both for 7.50. I don't know if there will be discreet-ish commentary in the style of MST3K by Hedda for the 7pm show; the film doesn't entirely need it, but there are sections where it wouldn't hurt.

As for The Poseidon Adventure itself, I've been waiting to see this film on the big screen for a while now. The best disaster film ever made. One part action film, one part adventure film and one part religious parable, a group of passengers try to survive when the ocean liner they were on completely capsizes. They're attempting to reach the bottom or outer hull of the ship, which is the thinnest part of the ship and is above the surface. It's a theory that help will come in that direction, and that theory comes from a young boy, but those who haven't given up feel it's the only way to survive and see The Morning After (the title of the Oscar winning song). Gene Hackman plays an atypical hero, an ultra-self-righteous, Captain Ahab-esque, defrocked preacher whose personality clashes with loud doubter Ernest Borgnine may proof more problematic than the fires and leaks the group encounters. Throw in aspects of The Flying Dutchmen, Ship of Fools, other survivors wandering the ship like they were in the desert, and all the survivors looking for salvation of some sort, and you got parables right in your face. Or you can enjoy the strong acting and good action set pieces. Fine cast that includes Red Buttons, Jack Albertson, Leslie Neilsen, Roddy McDowell and Oscar nominated Shelley Winters. A special Oscar for its Visual Effects. 8 nominations in total, including Cinematography, Editing and for John Williams' fine score:

A STAR IS BORN (1954)- Fri Jan 31 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image- A 35mm print as part of the Museum's See It Big series: Musicals edition. 2 hours 56 minutes long; a little shorter than the advertised cuts at Lincoln Center a year or two ago of 3 hours 1 minute. I don't know what exactly stays in or out. Hell I'm guessing that I can do this screening at all, so I'm posting this just in case. 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. This cut is longer than most of what has been screened in other revival houses prior to 2008.

Chances are you know the story, whether it's this version, Janet Gaynor's, Streisand's or some variation so I don't have to go into it too much. 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. Overall, may or may not be the best version of this story, but one that holds up:

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

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