Monday, August 03, 2015

August revivals: first half

Hi all, Mike here with a revival list for the first half-ish of August. This list could be much larger, but at some point I'd like to see the sun, enjoy a little warmth, and not just on the subway stations, sweating my way from one place to the next. It was hard to narrow the options, but I had no choice. And no Midnight movies either, I have enough to deal with during regular hours. Here we go:

FANTASIA  (1940)- Tues Aug 4 at 6:30- MOMA- Part of the best of Technicolor retrospective. A 35mm print. If it's the same print MOMA has screened in the past, then it will be a well preserved version of the final 1990 release, with restored drawing and sound, the original narrator, and closing credits. On the first AFI Top 100 film. 2 Honorary Oscars for its then revolutionary combination of music and animation. A flop in its day, a hit and a classic since then. I really want to see this. I saw it on Radio City Music Hall's former 70mm screen and it blew me away. While this won't be a 70mm screening, the Museum's screen can get pretty large and their sound system is pretty darn good. I hate it when I take grief from people, just because I've said that if you give me great visuals and interesting music, I can overlook quite a number of a film's flaws. But a film like this? Bring the kids. Bring the kids-at-heart. 

Now for the rest, I'll quote from the Walter Reade website back in 2006 I believe: "Go and see it, if you're in the business. You can learn more from seeing 'The Dance of the Hours' by Walt Disney than from spending a year glumly staring at the television screen," wrote director Michael Powell (The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) in his autobiography. "Oh that the rest of Hollywood were only like Walt!" For generations now, kids and adults have plunked down their hard-earned dollars to see Fantasia, and emerged a little over two hours later with their minds blown. Vulgar? For sure, and proudly so. This kind of myth-making always is. You could throw almost any adjective at the film and it would be absorbed into its vast mythic territory. One little addendum to Powell's assessment. It's Walt, assisted by a small army of animators. Here are a few names: Bill Tytla, Norman Ferguson, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, Joshua Meador, Fred Moore, Art Babbitt and Wolfgang Reitherman. Not to mention a few composers: Bach, Dukas, Tchaikovsky, Ponichelli, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, and Schubert.":

SWOON (1992) and/or ROPE (1948)- Wed Aug 5 at 5:40 (Swoon), 7:30 (Rope) and 9:10 (Swoon)- Film Forum- The conclusion of the Forum's True Crime series. Both films taking different tacts in telling the story of Leopold and Loeb murder case. Swoon will be screened in a 35mm print provided by the director Tom Kalin, Rope will be a DCP presentation from a few years back, so it looks better than you've ever seen it before.
Next, Rope. Alfred Hitchcock shot this film in a series of 8-minute continuous takes, the maximum amount of film that a camera could hold. Yes, it feels unnatural at times, but the story is compelling enough, so you accept the experiment. The story is a variation of the real life Leopold and Loeb murder. Two men murder a classmate/ friend of theirs, just for the moral superiority of it. They then have a dinner party over his hidden body, which his friend, relatives and fiancee attend. Also in attendance is their former professor, played by Jimmy Stewart. Ruh-roh.

For years I have seen Rope on TV, semi-popular after it's return as part of the Hitchcock 5; films that disappeared for over a decade until Universal Studios were able to re-release them in the early-mid 1980s. Rear Window and Vertigo became instant classics, The Man Who Knew Too Much remake did ok with critics and audiences, The Trouble With Harry, not so well. And Rope was kinda in the middle. The experiment was tolerated by critics (less so as the years went by), the film didn't play well in theaters, but played like gangbusters on home video and syndicated TV broadcasts. Me, I enjoy it. It's less cinema, more like filmed theater. Like a proto- Dial M For Murder. It's fun, despite the content.

Next, Swoon, from 1992. A film I've never seen but am curious about. An indie film that takes a more personal view of Leopold and Loeb themselves. From their romantic relationship, to their plotting of the perfect crime to prove themselves morally superior, to the killing of a 14 year old boy, to the investigation and arrest, to the trial as defended by Clarence Darrow and execution. Like I said, I am curious:

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)- Fri Aug 7 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- The first of the Museum of the Moving Image's See It Big:70mm retrospective series. Very similar to the 70mm retrospective that Lincoln Center held during the holiday season of 2012. After the success of such revival screenings as Hello, Dolly! and The Sound of Music, as well as renewed interest in the format thanks to Christopher Nolan's Interstellar and P.T. Anderson's The Master, the Museum of the Moving Image will screen this special retrospective. While the format has been around since the creation of film itself, it wasn't until the mid-1950s when this became popular for event movies. Consider 70mm as the grandfather of IMAX, which also makes use of 70mm film cameras by the way (the films not shot digitally that is). If you've been to the Ziegfeld, the late Loews Astor Plaza or the Paris theater in Manhattan, then you know what the format looks like in a non-revival house. But unless you've done a previous 70mm revival screening with me, or you saw The Master at the Ziegfeld and/or Interstellar at the Ziegfeld or in a 70mm IMAX screening, you probably haven't seen a 70mm film. Especially if you're under the age of 21.

Popularity waned in the 1970s, and the format wasn't used for a while, except horizontally in IMAX cameras. By the time I read how the original 70mm print of Star Trek: The Motion Picture was chopped up and pieces were individually sold, I figured the format was as dead as the Betamax. But directors like Anderson, Nolan, and Martin Scorsese still champion the format, and curiosity and changing technologies has fueled renewed interest 70mm. Much like IMAX, 70mm was reserved for event films, and some of those very event films will be screened at the Museum. I've posted a couple of these films on this blog over the years. But most of these films haven't been screened since the early 80s.

Now almost everything screened in this retrospective also screened at Lincoln Center back in 2012, but not every film from the 2012 retrospective will screen here. Either because the 70mm screening of Sound of Music has been screened before at the Museum this year (and probably again next February), they won't settle for any kind of print (no thanks to a grainy My Fair Lady print with Swedish subtitles) , or they're going with most mainstream choices. I admired Lincoln Center's choices of Khartoum and Ryan's Daughter, but Lord Jim? Interesting . . . I won't post all the films from this retrospective. Partially because I'm splitting up their list into several parts to fit mine so there would be no point listing everything now, and partially because I have neither the time to do The Master and Interstellar, nor the burning desire to see Brainstorm. i saw Natalie Wood's last film recently on TCM, and it hasn't held up compared to when I saw it over twenty five years ago.

Now as for 2001, I have nothing new to say about. It's one of my favorites, I've seen it multiple times over the years and I'm willing to go again, it's a great film, if you've never seen it on the big screen, see it once, that's it. What I will do is reprint part of what I wrote regarding this 70mm restoration back in January 2013:

Overall, a quality restoration, but I feel a better job was done with the Hello, Dolly! restoration I saw this past summer (not sure who did the respective restorations). Sound quality was equally superior, but there were noticeable image issues with the 2001 print that didn't crop up with Dolly. In particular the colors red and white were difficult to pull off without some sort of cloudy distortion. Not every time mind, you. No issues with the color red when it came to anything involving Hal, but with the trip at the end. And as for white, there were no issues with say, the space station or the various shuttles.  But anything lit with what appears to white halogen lighting (or the mid-1960s British equivalent), such as the lighting in the station, the moon base meeting room, and especially the French suite environment the Monolith creates, the restoration wasn't that effective. Or the restoration wasn't able to fix all the problems of the original negative, not sure what the reasons are. The colors were more effective overall with the Digital restoration of 2001 that I saw in March. Sound quality was about equal, but I consider the 70mm print superior to the DCP print in one section: The Dawn of Man. For some reason all of it looked completely fake on the DCP, even the leopard and the second unit footage. Not so with the 70mm, the textures of everything, the sets, the matte paintings and the incredible make-up, all looked more realistic. Enough texture to allow one to believe the illusion quickly, without distraction.

METROPOLITAN (1990)- Sun Aug 9 at 7 (introduced by Whit Stillman) and 9:30- and Mon Aug 10- Thurs Aug 13 at 7 and 9:15- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- A digital restoration of the 1990 indie hit. Minor hit, but a big deal for independent film. A class-conscious comedy of manners not too different from something like The Rules of the Game. A middle class Princeton student accidentally becomes involved with a group of young wealthy Upper East Side socialites during the debutante season. A group that might call themselves the Sally Fowler Rat Pack, but are more like U.H.B. (Urban Haute Bourgeoisie). He ends up becoming an accepted part of the group, but despite their wealth and social manners, they're just like their new friend. They feel everything strongly, have crushes, say things that accidentally hurt each other, and step into their futures with some trepidation and nerves. Nothing happens in the film per se, but coming of age is tough all over.

No real bad people here, selfish and/or oblivious at best. All highly literate, or at least articulate. Whit Stillman's first film, drawing enough attention at Sundance that New Line Cinema took a chance that paid off. Not as sunshine-y as Barcelona, and not quite as good as Last Days of Disco, but a very good debut. Stillman, who received an Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay, will introduce the 7pm screening on August 9th: 

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966)- Sun Aug 9 at 8:45- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Richard Lester retrospective at Lincoln Center. A retrospective that gets less attention here, in part because of other films, and partly out of my desire to do things other than watch movies this summer. I would have loved to have posted the likes of Robin and Marian, Juggernaut, How I Stopped The War and the 2 Musketeers films from the 1970s. Not everything on this retrospective grabbed me. No way would I fake interest in the third Musketeers film from 1990, and I have trouble rustling interest from both Lester films from 1979: Cuba and Butch and Sundance: The Early Years. Plus I did A Hard Day's Night already one year ago, so not again, not this summer at least.

But I will make time for this, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a musical farce from 1966. Simple story of scheming slave Pseudolus, willing to do whatever it takes to win his freedom. When the son of the family that owns him offers freedom for a simple task, Pseudolus jumps at the chance. Even though the task is his helping his young master  win the heart of the girl next door. A girl who is a courtesan, sold into marriage to a vain Roman general. A girl he must get away from her pimp, er, procurer, while avoid trouble from said procurer, the young man's parents, the slave-in-chief, a confused and nearly blind old man, and the general ready to burn down the entire block of houses if he doesn't get his bride.

The devil-may-care, somewhat improvisational style Lester did with the Beatles, works just as well with scripted material. Not that Lester is working with heavy material. Gussied-up Burlesque shot on location in Italy. But Lester and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (after Dr. Zhivago and Fahrenheit 451 but before his own directorial career), came up with their own aesthetic. Mixed with some (but not all) of Stephen Sondheim's songs, and the notion that no historical anachronisms can appear, and you have something out of what Abrahams  and the Zucker brothers did with Airplane. Jokes coming out a mile a minute. Many jokes are verbal, some visual; whether from reactions, one shot setups, jumpcuts, widescreen shots where the joke is in the corner. Whatever it takes, laugh!

Lester certainly had a game cast. A good deal of talented British actors, including Michael Hordern in the first of 6 team-ups with Lester, and Michael Crawford in the second of three team-ups with Lester. If you thought Crawford was muggy in Hello Dolly, he's subdued here. Well not that subdued, just in comparison to the Americans in notable roles. Phil Silvers, full of energy as the procurer. Jack Gilford stealing scenes left and right as the major domo/ slave-in-chief. Buster Keaton in his last role as the nearly blind man.

And then you have Zero Mostel, recreating the role that made him a bigger Broadway star, before Fiddler on the Roof made him a Broadway icon. But there's a reason why you could subtitle Forum "Zero Mostel goes nuts". His clown instincts work well here. He might be subtle as a brick and it might take a little time for you to warm up to such broad comedic acting (especially if you never saw Zero in The Producers). But dammit, Zero is gonna make you laugh! And often, the humor may be low brow, but funny is funny and, Mostel might be the funniest actor you're not aware of.

Now Forum was a hit in its day. The only onscreen hit Mostel ever had. An Oscar winner, but only for the adaptation of Sondheim's music. But by the late 1970s, with Mostel's death and with Lester lacking hits both then and later on (unless Superman was in the title), Forum drifted into obscurity. Token home video releases didn't help. The show itself would have successful revivals and become a community theatre staple, but this list might be the first time you heard of it. Admittedly, it's not the best movie musical, and fans of the show don't appreciate how many Sondheim songs got the axe. But this isn't a tone-deaf adaptation of a Sondheim musical, that would be Sweeney Todd.  The lightest film on this list, just join me and have fun:  

HELP! (1965)- Mon Aug 10 at 7- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Richard Lester retro at Lincoln Center. "Help!", the Beatles and director Richard Lester's follow-up to the hit A Hard Day's Night. This starts the Museum's Play It Loud series of films; mostly rock films, some fictional and some documentaries, mostly in stereo. But first, let me sidetrack for a bit. The second time I ever saw A Hard Day's Night in a movie theater, it was at a revival screening at the Forum, double-featured with The Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, an almost perfect double feature as far as I'm concerned. The films were like kindred spirits to one another, even if Hard Day's was more rooted in reality, or a kind of reality at least.

Going through the plot of Duck Soup, like with all other Marx Bros films, is pointless. And that applies to the Marx Brothers-esque Help!. Yes, there's a plot involving a magic ring stuck on Ringo's finger, and the Fab Four are being chased by a Thugee-type of cult led by the future Rumpole of the Bailey, but whatever. Just keep the movie flowing (which it does, but not to the level of Hard Day's), keep the jokes coming (which don't always work, though maybe the boys shouldn't have been stoned for the whole shoot), and bring on the songs. Oh yeah, the songs. You're Going to Lose that Girl, Ticket To Ride, I Need You and the title song are among the highlights. Not on the level of Hard Day's but still fun:

THE RED SHOES (1948)- Wed Aug 12 at 8- MOMA- Part of MOMA's influences on Martin Scorsese retrospective. If it wasn't a heavy influence on Scorsese growing up or in film school, it's probably in this retrospective. The Red Shoes is respectable on TV, especially with a decent TV and a good sound system. On the big screen is where it's a cinematic revelation. The restored version that played at the Film Forum a while back, will play in Astoria, in a DCP format.

Arguably the most important film featuring dance ever made, and supposedly one of the films that inspired Martin Scorsese to become a filmmaker. The restored version that Scorsese himself described a few years back at the Cannes Film Festival: "There's no question that it's one of the most beautiful color films ever made, and one of the truest to the experience of the artist, the joy and pain of devoting yourself to a life of creation." We're not getting the DCP restoration, but a restored 35mm print.

The lush colors, and the breezy cinematic manner that directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger tell this story keeps it somewhat timeless. Sorry, you just can't have people riding in trains because they have to, and still be considered completely timeless. One of the few films to pull off both the ballet on-stage and the work and/or the passion behind it successfully. This is despite having relatively less on-screen staged ballet than what you might remember. There are very few dancers worth a damn who haven't been inspired to join the profession since it's release in 1948. Maybe a little too girly for some of you, but it's a classic, so deal with it and catch it. For all the physical beauty and wonderful performance Moira Shearer provided, you might come away remembering Anton Walbrook, as the domineering head of the dance company, even more. For the rest, here's what I wrote someone a few years back when discussing the film. I apologizing for any repetition on my end:

But on the big screen, the pacing is very good. The artistic risks taken are stunning, especially for something in the late 40s. Limiting what we know of people based mainly on what we see, with little in the way of exposition. Jamming a 15-plus minute ballet in the middle of the film. Unafraid to make the main characters unlikeable, or at least weak. But if one cares about film, just wait till they see this. The dancing is terrific as well."

THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS (1982/83)- Wed Aug 12- Tues Aug 18 at 5:10, 7:30 and 9:40- Film Forum-  A DCP restoration by brothers/writers/directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.  The 1982 Italian film that was an art house hit here in 1983. Grand Prize winner at Cannes in 1982. Never seen it and would like to. Here's the plot of this film, according to imdb:

The Night of San Lorenzo, the night of the shooting stars, is the night when dreams come true in Italian folklore. In 1944, a group of Italians flee their town after hearing rumors that the Nazis plan to blow it up and that the Americans are about to arrive to liberate them

IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963) and/or TRON (1982)- Sat Aug 15 at 2 (Mad) and/or 7(Tron)- Museum of the Moving Image- A potential double feature for one admission, from the Museum's See It Big: 70mm retrospective. Though if one prefers to do only one of these films, i can work with that.

First, It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, one of the biggest hits of 1963. I don't know if we're getting a new print or not, though a new one was struck back in 2012, so whatever we get here should be in very good shape. According to the Museum website, we're getting the 3 hour 25 minute version, not the 2 hour, 34 minute version that's normally available, other edits that were either on laserdisc, or the original director's cuts that were over 3 hours long. We're getting the overture and intermission music, not sure if we're getting an actual intermission. Around the World in 80 Days might have started the craze of all-star casts in epic comedies, but Mad World seems to be the only one to have survived the test of time in a positive way. It doesn't rely on a retrospective of Oscar winning films like 80 Days in order to be screened, though this was nominated for 6 Oscars (including the Cinerama-style Cinematography, Editing and it's Music), winning for Sound Effects.

Spencer Tracy leads an all-star cast, as a Police Captain ready to solve the fifteen year-old case of a robbery of $350,000. When 5 cars of motorists discover the dying robber (Jimmy Durante), he gives them barely coherent clues to the location of the loot. The motorists' greed overtakes them as they go off to find the loot. Each way more disastrous and destructive than the other, with the police in full observational mode. Not everything works, with a film this long that takes a sledgehammer approach to comedy at times. But some scenes still shine, especially for me the desert fight between two men (Milton Berle and Terry-Thomas) who can't fight. And anything Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Dick Shawn, Peter Falk or Tracy do puts a smile on my face. I could do a separate post just on the cast and its tens of cameos alone. But suffice to say, I recommend it.

Next, a rare screening of Tron. Rare not only because one can see Tron in 70mm form, but also because this is NOT a Midnight screening. Now here's some 80s throwback fun. The 1982 Disney film that was a disappointment at the box office, but has a cult following so strong, we ended up with Tron:Legacy. This is literally the kind of film that gets screened either at 11AM or Noon for families, or Midnight, rarely any in-between. A lot of hype for the film, but the video game was/is a bigger hit. But it is fun, and for its time, it's look was a singular standout.

The story, eh, whatever. Jeff Bridges had his game designs stole, and gets sucked into whatever early-80s-form-of-the-internet world by the evil MCP (Master Control Program) He gets all Spartacus, freeing a few other programs (including the title character/program), and works on a rebellion against the MCP and his henchman (a wonderfully evil David Warner).

Oscar nominations for Costume Design and Sound, but not for Visual Effects, because the Academy said using computers to create visual effects was "cheating". I kid you not. But the look of the computer world, which was shot in black and white then colorized either via rotoscope or early photo-shopping techniques, alongside disc fights and light cycle scenes, are the most fun elements that still hold up. It's also fun to see a lot of The Dude in Jeff Bridges' character. And frankly, sometimes you don't need that much more for a decent movie:

TRON (1982)- Sun Aug 16 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image- If you can't do Tron on Saturday, there's another evening screening on Sunday the 16th.

GREASE SING-A-LONG (1978)- Sun Aug 16 at 7 and Wed Aug 19 at 7- AMC Empire and Regal Union Square- Grease comes back as a digitally restored sing-along, sponsored by TCM with an intro and closing by Ben Mankiewicz. From 1978, a time where the movie musical genre was, if not dead, then definitely on life support. Nevertheless, Paramount was expecting audiences to come out for this adaptation of the hit Broadway show. Especially with the positive vibes of nostalgia for the 1950s that came from Paramount TV series Happy Days, the lightness of the material, and the casting of hot young leads John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Paramount's enthusiasm must have been tempered when a few months prior to Grease's release, American Hot Wax, a bio-pic of DJ Alan Freed with musical numbers from performers like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, flopped despite a heavy ad campaign and respectable reviews. American Hot Wax would have been a good addition to this retrospective by the way, a forgotten film that was never released on VHS or DVD, but I digress. The much lighter Grease did find an audience, but certainly Paramount never expected the level of success. It didn't revive the musical genre, but it became the biggest hit of not only 1978, but also the highest grossing film in Paramount's history (no inflation adjustment), until Raiders of the Lost Ark came along 3 years later. It made Travolta an A lister (until career choices took a toll until Pulp Fiction) and also made Olivia a star onscreen as well as in music (Xanadu took that film career away right quick though).

Now as for the film itself, lets just pile on the cheese here. A few good numbers (including Grease Lightning), the attractiveness of the younger cast (including Jeff Conway and Stockard Channing), and a bone tossed to the non-kids of the day with some names from the 50s (including Eve Arden, Sid Caesar, Frankie Avalon and Joan Blondell), you have something for everyone. Even if it's a guilty pleasure, it's still a pleasure nevertheless. I'm not sure if this is a restoration of the original theatrical release; licence difficulties like the obscuring or blurring of Coke signs or the replacement of songs during the school dance-offs with cover tracks. Not even sure if I would sing myself. Ok, maybe the title song by Frankie Avalon, I enjoy that diity. Come and find out:  

CHINATOWN (1974) for free- Mon Aug 17 at Sundown- Bryant Pk- Another film in the free Bryant Park film series, the best of the entire season. People will be allowed onto the main Lawn at 5pm, though you may want to sit by one of the speakers. Normally you can get there shortly after 7:30 will no trouble finding a seat near the speaker, but that might be an issue with this film, so plan ahead. The screening will start with a Looney Tunes cartoon TBD, the start time will be whenever sundown is that night.

Chinatown, the last of the great film-noirs. Ok, it's more of a modern or neo-noir. While there would be some very good to excellent modern noirs afterwards (L.A. Confidential, Blue Velvet and Fargo chief among them), none would go the dark paths Roman Polanski's film would travel, not even Lynch's film.  Based on events from the California Water Wars of the 1930s, Jack Nicholson's private eye (the role that made him a star forever) is hired by Faye Dunaway to spy on her husband. But nothing is as it seems, and if you don't know the film, I won't spoil it for you here. One of the great period films, one of the great mysteries, and if wasn't for Paramount's own Godfather Part 2, it might have been the best film from that year. An Oscar for Robert Towne's Screenplay; 10 other nominations including Picture, Polanski for Director (who also turns in a memorable performance as a thug), Nicholson for Actor, and Dunaway for Actress. Sorry there was no room for John Huston for Supporting Actor, but boy does he make a memorably repellent villain. On both AFI Top 100 films and in my personal top 100. 

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

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