Tuesday, October 07, 2014

October revival: part 1

Hey all, Mike here with a revival list for the bulk of October. I intended to post earlier and include one or two additional films, but I just ran out of time. I'm not doing an even split with the calendar. That's because I may not post another October list, or if I do, I suspect it will be a small list. But that's in the future, here we go with the present list: 

MASH for 6 dollars- Wed Oct 8 at 7- AMC Empire- A cheap screening of one of my favorites, MASH, gets a cheap screening at AMC Empire. One of the best comedies ever made, one of the best satires ever made, one of the best anti-war films ever made. More of a mosaic as opposed to a linear story, put together by Robert Altman in what would soon be noticed as a signature style. Overlapping or overlaying dialogue, long shots, music and sound effects drifting in and out and to either obscure or enhance said overlapping dialogue. All in the service of the story of an American hospital unit during the Korean War and the crazy eccentric Army doctors (Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould and Tom Skerritt) doing their best to keep their patients alive, to buck the efforts of ramrod regular Army types (Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman among them), and keep themselves and their friends and colleagues sane. Not a testament to screenwriting, since almost all the dialogue was improvised. More a triumph of editing and of a director who managed to piece together his vision in the editing room. Also a triumph in the casting department, considering how many working character actor types had careers thanks to MASH (use IMDB on your own for this).

Oscar nominations for Picture, Altman for Director, Kellerman for Supporting Actress, and for Editing. An Oscar for Screenplay Adaptation. An award screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. took has sweet revenge for how little of his dialogue was used. Altman was fine with it, crediting Laudner Jr. for providing the template from where all the ideas would eventually spring forth from. In both AFI Top 100 lists, and in my personal Top 40 all time as well:  

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN- Thurs Oct 9 at 7:30- Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington- One of the great comedies gets a relatively rare revival screening out in Huntington. Of the two Mel Brooks comedies from 1974, I prefer Blazing Saddles, but boy is it close. I've seen this enough times where I just smile but laugh out loud? Not so much. But then Marty Feldman comes onscreen as Igor (pronounced Eye-Gore), we have Gene Hackman as the blind man who puts the monster thru Hell, we have Putting On The Ritz, that's pronounced Frank-en-stein, and all is right with the world. Never mind Put The Candle BACK!!! 2 Oscar nominations, for Sound and for Gene Wilder's and Brooks' Screenplay. Can you believe the script lost to Godfather Part 2. You can? Well never mind then, just come out and enjoy:

LOST HORIZON (1937)- Fri Oct 10 at 4, 7 and 9:45- Film Forum- A 4k restoration which kicks off the Forum's Frank Capra retrospective. A plane crashes in the Himalayan Mountains, carrying British diplomat Ronald Coleman (modeled after T.E. Lawrence) and several Westerners (including character actor supremos Thomas Mitchell and Edward Everett Sloane) trying to get away from armed revolutionaries in 1935 China. Coleman and the few Western survivors are rescued by mysterious people taken to paradise. As in Paradise, as in Shangri-La, where the High Lama (Sam Jaffe) tells Coleman that not only was the plane crash NOT an accident, but that Coleman himself has been chosen to become the new High Lama. So how would you feel if you arrived at the fabled paradise and found out you could stay forever? How would you feel if you found out you got to run Paradise? What if you found out if Paradise wouldn't survive for long without you? What if you didn't believe in Paradise or pre-destination at all? Then again, why wouldn't you stay in such a beautiful place if the world you're trying to return to is going to Hell (mentions of The Great War and hints of a second World War are dropped throughout).

Capra's Golden Ticket project after the huge success of It Happened One Night. Columbia Pictures gave it the largest film budget ever (in the mid 1930s), and overruns ballooned the budget. The attempt to make this fantasy/drama look fantastical yet not something cheap on a soundstage had Capra shooting in various outdoor locales, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Mojave Desert. Snow scenes, airplane scenes and even the Shangri-La sets were also outside studio confines, with Paradise depicted with an opulence rivaling a Busby Berkeley film.

Capra whittled down the 6 hours of film he shot (and occasionally re-shot) into a three and a half edit, which had a legendary preview. And when I say legendary, I mean disastrous. Walkouts, laughter in some of the serious parts, the kind of audience reaction that drove Capra and Columbia to anxiety and depression. Eventually, Capra cut away over 80 minutes of footage, and re-shot portions to emphasis how close to war the world around Shangri-La was. Eventually Capra turned in a 2 hour 12 minute cut, but the film tanked as a roadshow attraction. So yes, this qualifies as an entry in someone's My Year of Flops. 7 Oscar nominations and 4 Oscars including Best Picture didn't help, at least not initially. Neither did taking Lost Horizon out of theaters and cutting out 14 more minutes without Capra's approval or input (resulting in a lawsuit and out-of-court settlement).

Future re-releases and further studio edits, including a 95 minute version from 1949 done to show that Shangri-La did NOT equal Communism, is what finally helped Columbia see profit from this. But some of the footage cut has never been found. Some missing footage has been restored over the years, though some scenes were only reinstated by mixing stills with the original soundtrack. Combined with one recently rediscovered scene is what the Forum will screen. Not the 3 and a half hour original preview, but the original theatrical release; as close to what few audiences paid to see initially as we may ever get. Whether this is a film is something of an undiscovered classic or a film whose strengths far outnumber its weaknesses, is up to you to decide: 

ALIEN: DIRECTOR'S CUT (1979/2003) for 10 dollars- Fri Oct 10 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- Yep, I'm posting Alien again, in part because there are still people who haven't experienced it on the big screen, and in part because I need no excuse to catch this on the big screen. This time it's back as a cheap-ish Midnight screening, at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. A screening of the director cuts release, as opposed to the original 1979 release. It means we get more establishment shots of the soon-to-be claustrophobic ship interiors, more signs of dislike and/or disrespect of Ripley, and the final fates of a few characters. All worked when restored to the film, but not essential to its enjoyment. Whatever cut we get, this film works, better than anything Ridley Scott as ever done. Excellent combo of look, pace and sound all of which as played well before, and should do so again. In my personal top 100. C'mon, it's fun: 

ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970) with LAMBERT AND CO (1964) with post film Q and A with D.A. Pennebaker- Tues Oct 14 at 8:30- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's retrospective of the work of documentarian  D.A. Pennebaker. The main selection, Original Cast Album: Company, was chosen mostly in honor of the late Elaine Strich. A documentary (originally intended as a pilot) covering the 18 and a half hour recording session of the Broadway show Company, with its original cast. You see performers such as Dean Jones and Donna McKechnie record. You see the men running the recording session: director Hal Prince, composer/ creator/ control freak Stephen Sondheim and album producer Thomas Z. Shepard. But what captured the viewers imagination (then and now), was Elaine Strich, as she struggled to provide an acceptable take of The Ladies Who Lunch. And struggled. And struggled. And STRUGGLED, clashing with Sondheim and Shepard along the way. This film was popular enough at the New York Film Festival for there to be a push to release theatrically, despite its one hour running time. Rights issues helped kill that idea, but you can see it now the way those New Yorkers from 1970 hoped you would see it.

Pennebaker himself will do a post film Q and A about this, mainly about Company. But not entirely, because Company will be preceded by a documentary short Pennebaker released in 1964, Lambert and Co. It is the only record of a 15 minute recording session Dave Lambert did of some new songs of his, in a RCA recording studio. The group performing the songs weren't accepted by RCA, who then erased the tapes of the session. After Lambert died a few months later, this sole record of the session became notable and on demand worldwide. The film itself is a footnote, but an important one. Bob Dylan's manager saw it and hired Pennebaker to document Dylan's 1965 London tour, resulting in the documentary Don't Look Back, changing the careers of both men:

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE(1944)- Wed Oct 15 at 8- Film Forum- From the Forum's Frank Capra retro. This is one of my favorite comedies. Not the best in this weekend series, but my favorite. Thanks to that late unlamented form of home video known as CED Disc from RCA, this was my introduction to both Cary Grant and Frank Capra. I almost wore that disc down, along with other films, but that's for another time.

Despite the play having been done to death in community theater, this Capra comedy is still gold to me. Grant plays a man who comes home to find his beloved aunts are serial killers, who thoughtfully kill lonely old men, and then bury them in the basement with the aid of the uncle who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt. It's a good thing his serial killer brother returns home on the same night; looking like Boris Karloff and accompanied by his "doctor" who looks like Peter Lorre and is played by Lorre.

Grant thought it was his weakest, most over the top performance. History has been quite kind, disagreeing with Cary. Pitch perfect cast and production. If I had to see only one comedy in this weekend, this would be the one, and not just for sentimental reasons. It is available on DVD, but only in a no-frills version put out by Warner Bros over 10 years ago, give or take. So Netflix may not necessarily come through for you right away. Catch this:

PSYCHO (1960)- Fri Oct 17 and Sat Oct 18 at Midnight for 10 dollars- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- Honestly, I'm not trying to make a habit of posting this film each and every time it comes up. It's that I haven't seen it each time I've posted, and I'm gonna try again when it's playing at a convenient time for me. Which it is here.

Familiar to many, but I'm telling you, it's a completely different beast on the big screen as opposed to TV. You're not spending time in your living room, check marking all the familiar aspects of the story. This story sucks you in, lulls you into thinking one way, and then turns it around. Now you know the film's story, you wouldn't be looking at this list if you've never heard of Psycho. But this tightly edited story draws you despite what you know. And if you've somehow NEVER seen it, oh boy I'd like to see this with you.

And despite being an unplanned landmark in the horror genre, slasher sub-section, I would argue that this plays more like a suspense thriller then a horror pic. So those that have problems with horror flicks, should be ok with this. Interesting to watch acting-wise, as well. John Gavin's boyfriend performance hasn't aged too well, and Vera Miles's isn't bad, but definitely more then a little annoying. Not as shrill as Julianne Moore's in the remake, but still. Martin Balsam continued his reliable character actor work here, as a more believable ex-cop then Bill Macy in the remake.

There is a reason why this is Janet Leigh's most memorable performance, and it's not because of the shower scene. Go ahead, name another memorable performance of hers. Oops, Touch of Evil, not quite. Being part of the memorable opening scene doesn't qualify as a performance. And Manchurian Candidate doesn't count either. Being the red herring of a story's plot, eh, whatever. Despite Hitchcock's (alleged) feeling about actor being cattle, Leigh gets to play a truly conflicted person. Decent, wanting more out of life, caught up in temptation, then over her head looking for a way out, which is about when she pulls into the Bates Motel.

But Anthony Perkins' performance feels modern today. Creepy, alive, desperate to open up, yet jittery within his own skin, and with just a little anger threatening to bubble up. Ole' Hitch may not have understood what Perkins was bringing to the table, but Alfred was patient enough to give him free rein. Thanks to the success of this, Tony could never be free of the typecasting. Oscar nominations for Leigh (her only one), Hitch for Director (his last nomination), Cinematography and Art Direction. On both AFI Top 100 lists and in my personal top 100:

EL TOPO- Fri Oct 17 and Sat Oct 18 at Midnight- IFC Center- The start of Midnight movie screenings are usually traced back to this Mexican film, El Topo, from 1970. Starts off as a somewhat slow moving Spaghetti Western, as a man seeking revenge against bad guys, and then it gets progressively weirder. If you don't know what goes in the film, I won't spoil it for you. The swinging in tone, from comedy to action to drama to metaphysical to romantic to tragic and back to any of the other types I've just described, might drive you nuts. And because it was shot in the late 60s, it has a very trippy quality to it as well. But the episodic style and part-time trippiness does help as does, for me, what writer/director/star/ costume designer/production designer/co-composer Alejandro Jodorowsky said about it: "This is the story of a man searching for peace, and can never find it.". At the very least, you'll walk away from the screening saying, I've NEVER seen a film like El Topo before, never. And I don't think that's a bad thing. Screened in a beautiful looking digital restoration:

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH- Fri Oct 17 and Sat Oct 18 at Midnight- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's series of stoner comedies (partial or totally stoner) screened at Midnight. Here we get a sleeper hit from the summer of 1982. A film Universal had no confidence in, and seemed to try to just dump out there. Word of mouth, plus some key good reviews from Siskel and Ebert among others, turned the distribution scheme into a happy accident. Just as the film was dying out on the West Coast, it starts to play big in the East Coast. Sometimes, studio execs are so lucky . . . From Amy Heckerling, who would never direct a better film. So what is this film best remembered for? The realistic glimpse of high school life during a certain time from soon-to-be-very-well-known Cameron Crowe? The compilation of young acting talent, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stolz, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage, and Anthony Edwards? The shots of Cates rising from the pool, and Leigh lying on the couch? Or for the casting of Sean Penn? His ascent in the acting world, begins with his perf as the iconic partying surfer dude. His scenes with Ray Walston as Mr. Hand still hold up today. I'm guessing all who read this have seen this film. I'm guessing maybe one at best, actually saw this film on the big screen. Time to correct this:

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)- Sat Oct 18 at 7:10 and 9:20- Film Forum- Part of the Frank Capra retrospective. A 4K digital restoration of the Capra classic. Possibly Capra's best film, possibly the best romantic comedy Hollywood ever produced. I'm not exactly sure which Capra film I'd pick as my favorite; maybe Arsenic and Old Lace in terms of repeat-ability, but I'm not putting over Mr. Smith Goes To Washington or this in terms of best. And in terms of best romantic comedy, I lean to The Philadelphia Story but I can be persuaded to change my mind with a screening of It Happened One Night.

Spoiled heiress Claudette Colbert marries against her father's wishes. She escapes from Dad's clutches, only to eventually end alone and penniless. She doesn't like the man she meets on the road, cynical reporter Clark Gable. But she agrees to have this unemployed man accompany her to New York and write a story about her. Unpleasant, but not as unpleasant as the alternative: that he 'turns her in' for the $10,000 reward (a lot of money during the Depression) offered by her father for her safe return. These two opposites bicker along the way, but will they get along? What do you think, especially after Colbert shows how she successfully hitchhikes, in the film's most memorable scene.

Romantic comedies might not be respected or as popular as they once were, but it's about the writing, the execution, the casting. It Happened One Night has all that in spades, arguably Capra's best. The first film to win all the major Oscars: Picture, Capra for Director, Gable for Actor, Colbert for Actress and Robert Riskin (Capra's collaborator on films like Meet John Doe and You Can't Take It With You) for the Screenplay. Only One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Silence of the Lambs have matched it. On both AFI Top 100 lists. People, this is not one of those films you say no to. Especially with a pristine digital restoration :

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

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