Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Revivals: Second Third

Hey all. Mike here with a list of revivals in May. Not the rest of the month, just leading up to Memorial Day weekend without going over. But it's a somewhat long list, so I'll break it up into three parts: the Stanley Kubrick section (which is short), the Rainer Werner Fassbinder section (which is not short, though a few of the films are), and films not from Kubrick or Fassbinder (also short). In fact, I'll start with others:

LOGAN'S RUN for $8.00- Thurs May 15 at 7 and 9:30- Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas- A cheap screening of the sci-fi film from 1976. Not what I would consider a classic among the greats by any stretch, yet too popular to be consider a cult classic as well. Kind of in-between. Your choice of screenings: the 7pm with a Hedda Lettuce intro, 9:30 without Hedda.

Set in the late 23rd Century, where people live in a futuristic city. A Utopian city where the beautiful young people can carry out and fulfill their non-violent desires, and a computer smarter than even Hal-9000 runs every other facet of their lives. This includes having every citizen on their 30th birthday, go through a ritual called Carrousel, where om the citizen's Last Day, they vaporize with the hopes of being Renewed. Some citizens see Carrousel as a way of maintaining population control through false ceremony and incineration, and decide to run and escape the city. Some of them are Running to a place called Sanctuary, where they would be safe. All of those who Run are chased by a kind of police called Sandmen, who either bring the Runners to Carrousel, or execute them on the spot. 

Were these Sandmen characters an uncredited (unconscious?) inspiration for Judge Dredd perhaps? Either way, this is the part of the story where Michael York's title character comes in. Logan is the best of the Sandmen, who enjoys his life and his job, but is puzzled about this Sanctuary. He's also fascinated by Jessica, who believes in Sanctuary. She's played by Jenny Agutter, who some of you may know now as an older woman in Call The Midwife and Captain America: The Winter Solider, but who is almost insanely beautiful here. Anyway, Logan is forced by the computer to investigate this Sanctuary, by changing his lifeclock (don't ask) and forcing him to become a Runner. He takes Jessica with him, but both are vulnerable from people seeking revenge on Logan, from the forces on the outskirts of the city and beyond, and from his fellow Sandmen. One in particular (played by Richard Jordan), Logan's best friend who is unaware of Logan's mission, and is taking this seeming betrayal VERY personally.

Honestly, I'm doing my best to make this sound great, but the film does become quite silly and/or over the top at times. The 70s vibe here is more kitschy at times (something Hedda will have fun with I'm sure), and most of the Oscar winning Visual Effects don't hold up. How much silliness you can take may depends on the individual, and that's before we get to the three quarter mark of the film, and Peter Ustinov's character gets involved. Luckily, the Oscar nominated Art Direction and Cinematography still hold up, and York and Agutter give the film enough earnestness, energy and enthusiasm to get us over some rough patches:   

THE WARRIORS- Fri May 16 and Sat May 17 at Midnight- IFC Center- A midnight screening of the cult film. The 1979 movie from director Walter Hill. An update of Xenophon’s Anabasis (the route duplicated in a passable manner on the late 70s MTA subway maps), finds our title group framed for killing a powerful gang leader. The Warriors spend the night going from the Bronx and through Manhattan, trying to get back to their home turf of Coney Island. With the cops and some bizarre looking gangs nipping at their heels. A few great performances, but a lot of huh? type of perfs as well. Some really good action scenes. On one of my trips to see this, one of our crew described the film as such: "Sometimes the film goes from good to great to crap! Sometimes all in the same scene. Sometimes in the same shot!".

Was the Grand Theft Auto of its day. The commercials had to be taken off the air at a certain time. Some people didn't like the depiction of New York as rotting to the core, with inefficient police. It would have been a bigger hit, if gang violence in New York and Boston, hadn't caused the film to be pulled out of theaters. Reviled by critics then, praised as fun junk now:

DR STRANGELOVE- Fri May 16 at 7:30 (maybe) and 9:45, Sat May 17 at 3, 5:15, 7:30 and 9:45, and Sun May 18 and Mon May 19 at 6:30 and 8:30- Film Forum- A new 35mm print. The classic film plays for a full week, but only Friday thru Monday is doable for me. The 7:30 on Friday the 16th is a maybe for me; I won't know for sure if I can do it until around 5:30- 6:15. Tuesday the 20th would have been doable, but the film's only screening is at 10pm, so forget that. Odd that the film isn't screening the 4k DCP restoration, that MOMA, IFC Center, and the Forum themselves have screened in the past, but hey, whatever.

Now as for Dr. Strangelove, if you ever bother to put your eyes on this list more than two or three times a year then you know what this film is, and you don't need me to describe this to you. Several of you have seen this in theaters with me before. Some of you have even seen it twice with me before. One of the few dark satires to get it exactly right. Just the everyday story of an insane general, who sends out his bomber unit to attack Russia. Considered one of the best anti-war films ever made. But for those who hate that term (seriously, are you that dumb to refuse to put this into historical context), then consider this an anti-rigidity and anti-stupidity film instead, OK? An excellent mixture of farce and action. And accurate enough in terms of military capability and military speak, that the Air Force demanded answers and questioned Stanley Kubrick.

If you've never seen it with an audience, make time for it. On as many AFI Top 100 lists that it could qualify for. One of the prime examples of Oscar screwing up, when it comes to not giving a film Best Picture. Strangelove is usually Exhibit A, while something like Goodfellas and Raging Bull would be considered Exhibits B and C, respectively. One of my top 5 favorite films ever, and my second favorite Kubrick film, after 2001. And as good a cast as this has, 3 top performances from Peter Sellers . . . , the range this man had is stunning. I dare any of you to find the seams where his performances don't work. Though some of you may prefer George C. Scott's performance; forced out of his comfort zone by Kubrick to get progressively more over-the-top, and is funny as hell:

SPARTACUS- Wed May 22 at 7- AMC Empire- A DCP screening. The Starz version has its cult following and is quite an underrated series. But this film version has its virtues. Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Herbert Lom and Peter Ustinov. Kubrick replaced Anthony Mann at the beginning of production on this spectacular epic about a Roman slave revolt, based on Howard Fast's thinly veiled McCarthy-era allegory, and scripted by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. Oscars for Ustinov, Art Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography (of which Kubrick actually did all the work, but the union man Russell Metty received the actual award!). A bit slow, even by Kubrick standards, but worth the time. This is the 3 hr restored version, which includes the scene where Olivier attempts to seduce  Curtis while they bathe together. Originally edited out due to pressure from the Production Code and the Legion of Decency, it was restored with Anthony Hopkins dubbing in Olivier's voice (he died a few years earlier):

Next are films from Lincoln Center's Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective, entitled Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist Part 1. A film buff who came out from Theatre, not Film School. A highly prolific writer/director as well as actor, editor, and cameraman, who jammed a number of stage and radio plays, TV movies and one notable limited series, and forty theatrical films over a thirteen-plus year career, until his death in 1982. He tackled a variety of topics head on; from labor, to race relations, to immigration, to terrorism, to life in Germany before, during, and/or after World War 2, to romance (between men and women, and between men and men). He had immense empathy for those on the margins of society, and distaste for those who abuse their power over others. He told these stories through various filters: through film noir, through science fiction, through the filter of a Douglas Sirk-like romantic drama (after a conversation Fassbinder had with Sirk himself), through an almost clinical fly-on-the-wall approach. Even a German style American Graffiti-like film about young people, though with hardly the same amount of good times on display. And as Fassbinder grew more confident with his abilities, he mixed and matched his approaches. Not science fiction; that he dabbled with only once, in World On A Wire for television, which unfortunately I won't be able to catch. And he did all of this with an unofficial stock company, of which the likes of Hanna Schygulla and Margarethe von Trotta are among the best known today. None of these were easy relationships, because he tended to do what he wanted to do with the audience: to provoke a reaction.

Now most of these mixes came later in Fassbinder's career, which will not be cover in this particular retrospective. We'll have to wait for those come Part 2 of Lincoln Center's retrospective come November. Here are some of his relatively earlier works, or the ones to first hit New York. Don't be surprised if most or all of these films are unknown to you. There hasn't been a retrospective of Fassbinder's work since MOMA's around 2007. There hasn't been anything new of Fassbinder in New York since 1983-84, and unlike Truffaut or Kurosawa, no one has been willing or adventurous enough to carve a similar career path or touch hot button topics with frequency like Rainer did. And unless you're a fan of the Criterion Collection, you're not going to try to find his work. I won't go into how much cocaine and alcohol probably fueled him, or made him a cautionary tale to perhaps a few, I'll stick with the films. Only a few of which I'll post here. Mainly because of time, and partly because there will be one or two more on the next list. I'll try to keep these posts as brief as possible.

Also note that if you want to see three of these films, Lincoln Center offers a deal. I believe it's either 3 for twenty dollars, or 3 for twenty-five. Not sure which, but they do have this offer, with the films listed here and through June 1. The main is below this list, followed by several films:    

THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS- Fri May 16 at 3 and 9:20, Sat May 17 at 2:30, Sun May 18 at 4:45 and Tues May 20 at 8:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- A DCP restoration that put Fassbinder on the map in West Germany. Following the story of a man back from the Foreign Legion. A little man in every way; far from loved by his upper-class mother, married to his physical opposite of a wife (Hanna Schygulla) who isn't his one love, forced to become a fruit peddler when he can't even go back to his former job as a policeman. Realistic, occasionally subtle depiction of depression, suffered by someone with self-destructive tendencies and little hope of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Probably something Fassbinder was familiar with, though this might supposition on my part, when considering his suicide about eleven years after Merchant was released. Definitely Fassbinder's first attempt to make something similar to a Douglas Sirk film. A tough film, but a good one. Yes, it's about small people, but don't say why I should pay attention, since some of you don't have  that issue with the likes of Far From Heaven, Death of a Salesman, or at least a healthy chunk of Fellini's work:

LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH with The Bridegroom, The Comedienne and The Pimp - Fri May 16 at 7, Sat May 17 at 4:30- Walter Reade- Fassbinder's first film, one of four he shot with his group in 1969. An Avant -Garde-ish film noir that's not dissimilar to Band of Outsiders. A pimp/ small time crook named Franz (Fassbinder), refuses to join a criminal organization. He plans a robbery with his girlfriend/prostitute (Hanna Schygulla in her first, nuanced performance in a Fassbinder film), and another man sent by the organization to kill him. Small crimes keep the trio together, but it's the robbery where, like all film noir, things must fall apart. Not liked when first released, what with its long takes and lack of humor. It's long takes might have been a partial by-product of working in theatre, like recording a theatrical performance with few or no cutaways. But praised in later years, when taken in context with Fassbinder's other work.

Preceded by The Bridegroom, The Comedienne and The Pimp. A 1968 short made of three long vignettes; hookers applying their trade, a stage play in performance, and a husband with his wife and her pimp (played by Fassbinder). I have no idea if it's any good:    

GODS OF THE PLAGUE- Sat May 17 at 7- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- A sequel to Love Is Colder Than Death. Also shot in 1969, but methinks we don't have to know the first film to get into this. Franz, played by a different actor (leaner than Fassbinder from the previous film), is out of prison and is ready to go uh, back to work. He's part of a trio again, this one more of a love triangle or quartet. He sleeps around with one part of the triangle, his old girlfriend played again by Hanna Schygulla, as well as with with other women, one notably played by Margarethe von Trotta. But Franz's passion are stirred more by the other part of the triangle, a man he met in prison. A black man who killed Franz's brother (for good reason?). So yeah, things are complicated. Another film noir, a little more structured, perhaps because of the Samuel Fuller, Meville and Bogart influences. Overall, one of Fassbinder's best films from this early period:

WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK- Sat May 17 at 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The last of Fassbinder's four films shot in 1969, co-directed with Michael Fengler. The only one shot in color, and the only one with an outline of scenes and mostly improvised dialogue. We're used to that with the likes of Christopher Guest's films or Curb Your Enthusiasm, but not necessarily in dramas. A black comedy, or dramedy if you prefer, seeing a few days in the life of a middle class, married office drone, and the slow yet seemingly inevitable crash he will undergo. But what the title character does once he hits rock bottom . . . . .

Another film covering depression, but also one that covered what it might take for one to break down and enter a killing spree. Studies on killing sprees and familicides were not plentiful back in 1969, for all I know they may not have existed. Especially in West Germany, so a lot of what is done in this film is instinctual, and not far off. The film wasn't exactly praised in its day, but appears to have had an influence on the Dogme film movement. Basically, if you've seen a Lars von Triers film, or some of the artier work of Gus Van Sant, then you know what you're getting yourself into with Why Does Herr R. Run Amok: 

THE AMERICAN SOLDIER- Sun May 18 at 3 and 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Another Fassbinder film noir, a more self-assured turn than the previous films mentioned. A German hitman returns home from America, after fighting in Vietnam and doing some mob work in the states. He's hired by desperate policeman to dispatch a few men they've been unable to capture. The hitman is warm with his family, cool with the women he sleeps with, and ice cold to those he's paid to kill. This being a film-noir, naturally things go awry. Either The Merchant of Four Seasons or The American Solider is the best of the Fassbinder films listed here. I'll let you decide which is better:  

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

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