Thursday, August 20, 2015

Late August revivals

Hi, Mike here with a revival list for the second half of August. Technically the last third of August actually. Small list, but all these films are either in my personal top 100, or are potential candidates for such a list. No time to waste, here we go:

WEST SIDE STORY (1961) - Fri Aug 21 at 7 and Sat Aug 22 at 2- Museum of the Moving Image- A classic films from the early 1960s, part of the Museum's best of 70mm retrospective. West Side Story plays alone on Friday the 21st. But it plays for one admission with Lawrence of Arabia on Saturday the 22nd. Sorry I can't stay for Lawrence but if you have the opportunity to do both on the same day, go for it. If you can commit to the time, say 12:15 to check out the museum and guarantee a ticket , sit down around 1:45 for West Side, take a 65 or so minute break, grab a seat for Lawrence around 5:40, keep stretching during its intermission, and finish up around 9:40, then this is the outing for you.

Now yes, I've posted West Side Story every time it's played on a screen of respectable size, and I'm doing so again. I've caught twice at the Ziegfeld where it played great, and I've posted it at MOMA where I'm sure it played great as well. Now I'm posting a screening at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

West Side Story is on both AFI Top 100 lists, and in my personal Top 100. Number 2 on AFI's recent Best Movie Musical list. It is totally different seeing it on the big screen as opposed to TV. I can't describe it very well, you have to go to know what I mean. Sight and sound makes this more of an experience then just passive viewing like on tv. Is it perfect? No. Some of the slang is just too dated, some of the actors had to be painted Latino (get a good look at George Chakiris and tell me I'm wrong), most of the teenagers are either over 21 or pushing 30, and some had to be dubbed. But mix Leonard Bernstein's music, Stephen Sondheim's songs, Jerome Robbins's choreography and Robert Wise's direction and you have a terrific film. Yes, Robbins was a co-director, until his perfectionism resulted in re-shoots and extended shooting, causing the film to go over budget and behind schedule. He was fired 60 percent into shooting and Wise finished it. Stunning use of New York locales and a terrific opening credit sequence and ending. 10 Oscars including Picture and Director. If you've never seen it on the big screen, go with no hesitation:

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957) introduced by Mark Levinson- Fri Aug 21 at 9:30 for 10 dollars- Rubin Museum of Art- A cheap-ish screening of a film I really enjoy. I told some of you when i had my CED collection in the mid 80's, there were films i would watch in heavy or semi-heavy rotation. This film from director Billy Wilder, was one of the later. I saw a revival screening of this 5 years ago, and it holds up quite well. This screening will be introduced by Mark Levinson, director of the documentary Particle Fever and someone credited with working with actors on the ADR side of things on projects like Seven, The English Patient, The Social Network, and House of Cards. 

Ailing attorney Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton-Oscar nominated) has been advised by his doctors to retire. When he's asked to take the case of murder suspect Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power, in his last completed film role), who stood to gain financially from the victim's death, his interest is piqued. But the case becomes even more of an uphill battle when the defendant's supposedly loving wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) decides to testify as a witness for the prosecution. Wilder expanded Agatha Christie's play, creating the role of Robarts' housekeeper Miss Plimsoll (played by Laughton's wife Elsa Lanchester-Oscar nominated), whose back-and-forth with her employer provides a funny counterpoint to the film's melodrama. Also nominated for Picture and Director for Wilder. If you've never seen it, now would be a good time:

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)- Mon Aug 24 at Sundown- Bryant Pk- The film that concludes the free Bryant Park film series. The biggest film of 1985. Came out of nowhere to find not only the family audience, but served as an overall alternative to the other major film from that year, Rambo Part 2. Chances are you know the story, so I don't need to sell this classic. The Lawn opens for patrons at 5, the seats up front should fill up by 7:30 or so, 

ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969/2006)- Wed Aug 26 and Thurs Aug 27 at 3:20, 6:45 and 9:30, Fri Aug 28 at 12:30, and Sat Aug 29 at 9:30, and Sun Aug 30 at 3:20- Film Forum- Another run of Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 film, this time a DCP restoration of the 2006 restoration. Melville took his experiences as a member of the French resistance during World War 2, added them to his adaptation of the book by fellow Resistance member Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour), and filtered it all thru the genre he specialized in: the film noir. So we get a stylized take on the German occupation of France. One where the good looking headstrong heroes are likely to take it hard, while the meeker looking ones tend to have smarts and tenacity. We have a film noir that stays that way as opposed to being a typical war film. Stylized about its take on the War except in a few ways: that the Resistance isn't sure who they can trust among the civilian population and occasionally among themselves, that the Allies are of little help since if the Resistance can't tell the difference between friend and foe how can they, and the brutal and torturous methods used by the Nazis if they got a hold of any Resistance members. 

Army of Shadows never did get a Stateside release in the late 60s or early 70s. Melville was kinda out of favor at this late stage of his career, but why Army of Shadows never received distribution here, I don't know. Maybe no American distributor wanted a non-American war film that wasn't even marginally upbeat. Melville not being Truffaut or as cool as Goddard or Bergman, or down the line not Herzog or Fassbinder didn't help, nor did Melville dying in 1973. When the film finally was released in 2006, it became a very big deal critically in a year that some pretty good but no great films (my opinion). The New York Film Critics named it Best Foreign Film of 2006, L.A. Critics and National Board of Review gave it special citations, and the Criterion Collection gave it a loving release. But if you've never seen it on the big screen, this is one of those films you make time for:

LAURA (1944)- Thurs Aug 27 at 7:30- MOMA- From MOMA's retrospective of films that are favorites of director Martin Scorsese. A digital restoration. A film that, according to MOMA's website, Scorsese showed the cast of Shutter Island to give them an idea of what he was aiming for. With emphasis on the beaten walk from lead actor Dana Andrews. A classic film noir, and one of my favorites of the genre. Detective Andrews is obsessed with murder victim Laura, played by Gene Tierney. Among the suspects are outwardly suave Vincent Price and ultra prissy, ultra acidic critic Clifton Webb (Oscar nominated). We see flashbacks from Laura's life that fascinate the detective more. And then . . . . sorry, if you never saw it, I'm not spoiling it. Though do look for a young (ish, kinda) Judith Anderson.

Among the best of the noirs. Not the best, but alongside say, The Maltese Falcon and Sweet Smell of Success, a noir I can see over and over and never get bored. And as long as some people I know don't know it, I'll keep pushing it. Amazing how much sexual tension there were able to get past the Production Code. Perhaps not as bitter as other noirs, but with a high sense of both romance and disappointment.
An Oscar for the Cinematography, additional nominations for director Otto Preminger (a replacement from Rouben Mamoulian; Otto chucked Rouben's old footage, reshot everything and changed the ending- WOW!), Art Direction and the Screenplay (3 writers were nominated, but not Ring Lardner Jr., who did some script doctoring). What I'm surprised wasn't nominated was David Raskin's score, which includes "Laura's Theme", which is hard to forget if you like the film:

That's all for now. My next list will come out in September, but when is a good question. The U.S. Open is around the corner, so that's a priority for me. We'll see if I have the courage to post Howard the Duck. We'll see, take care. 

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