Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November revivals: pre Thanksgiving edition

Hey all, Mike here with a list of revivals for the part of November before Thanksgiving weekend. Consider this list in three overlapping sections: John Huston films, bat-shit crazy films, and Fame, which fits in neither category. Here we go:


JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)- Fri Nov 13 at 8 (introduced by Charles Busch) and 10:15 plus Mon Nov 16, Wed Nov 18 and Thurs Nov 19 at 8 and 10:05- Film Forum- A new 4k digital restoration A simple Western, starring Sterling Hayden, Joan Crawford, Ernest Borgnine and Mercedes McCambridge, and directed by Ray, that was successful back in 1954, then went away. Until Francois Truffaut and some gay film buffs got ahold of it. They're the ones reminding us about the hidden lesbian story, the links to the HUAC hearings, and the irony of casting HUAC namer of names Hayden as the possible hero (though we didn't know until recently that he was an actually secret agent of some sort who actually knew at least a little something about Communists). Though no male hero would DARE upstage Joan Crawford by this time!

So is it a simple, entertaining Western? Is it an allegory of the Blacklist and the McCarthy witch hunts? It was written unofficially by black-listed screenwriter Ben Maddow. Is there high entertainment value from the over-the-top perfs of both Crawford (is it me, or does she play most scenes like she were the Queen of England or Cleopatra?) and McCambridge? Both ladies hated each other. They fought constantly, and according to IMDB, Crawford was so mad (and drunk), that once she flung McCambridge's costumes along a stretch of Arizona highway. And is it true that the real story of the film, is that McCambridge's character is actually a closeted lesbian, spurned by Crawford, and now seeking revenge? I would say, yes to all of the above. It works as a Western, the allegory is right there, the lead female perfs have high camp value, and you could say no about the lesbian overtones, but there's enough there to read that into it. But whether the film is actually good or great is not something I can help you with. But it sure as shit ain't dull. Worth catching in any case:

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) for 10 dollars- introduced by Francesca Granata- Fri Nov 20 at 9:30- Rubin Museum of Art- A cheap-ish screening of the John Huston classic. If you get there earlier, the Rubin Museum will be free for you to see, after 5pm. Francesca Granata, assistant professor at Parsons School of Design and fashion critic, will introduce the screening. 

One of the best ever and an AFI Top 100 film (both lists), Falcon made Bogart a leading man for life and was also Huston's directorial debut. Proof that Tarantino did not have the best start to a film career. Okay maybe Welles did, but no one went to see Citizen Kane when it came out, but they did go to see Falcon in the same year. And oh by the way, its one of the best films ever made. I'm sorry did I say this already instead of going on about the film? If you know this site is known to you at all, then this is the kind of film you know well. "The kind that dreams are made of". I hope we can go:

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)- Sat Nov 21 at 9:30 (introduced by Todd Haynes) and Sun Nov 22 at 9- Francesca Beale Theater in Lincoln Center- From the Todd Haynes retrospective, not just of his films, but also some of his cinematic influences. I'm sorry I don't have time for Todd's films, and probably don't have time for most of the influences (we'll see about Fassbinder's Fox and his Friends). But if I have time for only one of his influences, this nut job of a film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, will deliver a good (NC-17 rated) time. 

From 1970, 3 hot chicks (played by 2 Playboy Playmates and a model) and a boyfriend of one of them, form a band, graduate from high school, move to L.A., and try to make it big in the music business. Once they get lucky and capture the interest of a Phil Spector-esque producer, the world opens up to them. And by that I mean sex, drugs, double-dealing, emotional upheaval, violence, Nazis, and more. And since we have the duo of screenwriter Roger Ebert and director Russ Meyer, we have stacked women, mediocre acting (with a few exceptions), and a script that plays with cliches, piles on the inanity, throws logic out the window, and moves everything along at an accelerated pace. 

For decades I didn't know the film existed. A financial smash in its day, a cult classic ever since, but I didn't know about it until the early 00s. 2000, 2001, something like that. And that's when I thought I found a gem of a bad movie. Mostly craptastic acting, great music (score by Stu Phillips, songs from the Strawberry Alarm Clock), over a dozen hot chicks, direction that knows how to move the story visually even if its tone deaf toward the non-musical sounds, plus the occasional Nazi. And one can't forget the way the stand-ins for Muhammad Ali and Phil Spector act here. Especially the later, in ways that mix Manson with the events that resulted in two murder trials. 

The progressive aspects should also be noted positively alongside the fun bizarro ones. For one, you get a real relationship between an African-American couple, right down to a love scene. Never done before in a studio-backed film (Fox is said studio), and rarely depicted in a studio film since. You also have a lesbian relationship that is actually treated with respect, another Hollywood rarity in its day. Both within the limits of a craptastic film. 

Or so I thought, if I'm to believe otherwise. I honestly didn't (and don't) believe that director Meyer intended this to be a satire of all things Hollywood, and that all of this was intentional. I believe it when cast members and Ebert talked about how Meyer would change story and character motivations, despite it not necessarily matching up with what had been previously shot. Having the idea of "let-the-actors-play-it-straight-no-matter-what" works when everybody is on the same page, like in Airplane. But despite what the actors say on the 2006 DVD extras, this is a bad film. But a gloriously fun bad film that cranks it up to 11 from the start, and then tries to raise it to 12 and beyond. You will not leave bored. Stunned and in disbelief perhaps, but not bored. 

Haynes himself will introduce the Saturday night screening. Because he's introducing another screening beforehand, there is a possibility of a sellout. Or at least a crowded theater, so planning would be needed. Luckily, there's also a Sunday night screening that probably won't be as crowded. I'm prepared to go for either one:

FAT CITY (1972)- Mon Nov 21 and Wed Nov 23 at 4:50, 7 and 9:15, plus Tues Nov 22 at 9:15- The Mon Nov 21 7pm screening with a post film Skype Q and A with Stacy Keach- Film Forum- A 4K digital restoration. Not a hit back in 1972, and frankly, not really remembered today. But for those who have seen it, it's cited as one of the films that made 1970s the best decade for American film. I won't exactly go that far, but to say alongside Blue Collar as one of the best American 70s films no one knows would be accurate. But it's also one of those films that shows director John Huston was doing work that was just as vital near the end of his career as it was in the beginning. 

Please, it's more than just Death of a Salesman or Requiem For A Dream, set in boxing. There's just enough levity to make it 70s palpable. Based on Leonard Gardner's successful book, Stacy Keach stars as a boxer, never the biggest name in his division, trying to restart his career in one of the most dusty, and drabbest (not a word but whatever) towns in all of California. He meets a younger version of himself, played by Jeff Bridges. Jeff's character may be up and coming, but is that only because he's so young? In a sport where one knockout can change anything, who's to say how long Bridges' character will have a bright future. And if Keach's character wins, whose to say that that would be enough to get him out of dive towns and into better fights? 

Two aspects of Huston the man and director have served the legacy of this film well, for those who have seen it. One, Huston's past as a former boxer, led him to shoot the fight scenes as realistic as possible. Not with the power punches of a Rocky film or The Contender TV series, or with the bloody artistry of Raging Bull. But if you're familiar with the barroom fight in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, then you have the idea of the kind of fights depicted. Ugly, and sloppy. 

Two, Huston cast many of his films well, and this is no exception. He took chances casting Bridges and Keach, back when they were mostly unknown. Their breakout films, Last Picture Show for Bridges and Doc for Keach, had not been released when cast. It also helped Keach that Brando was unenthusiastic about taking the role. An Oscar nomination went to Susan Tyrell for playing Keach's 'squeeze', the barfly of all barfly. Before American Graffiti, Candy Clark made her screen debut as Bridges' screw-up girlfriend. With Nicholas Colastano (years before Raging Bull and Cheers as coach) as Bridges' trainer, and a number of welterweight, middleweight and lightweight boxers in small roles throughout.

After the Monday 7pm screening on Nov 21st, Keach will take part in a Q and A via Skype: 

FAME (1980) with post film Q and A with Kia LaBeija- Mon Nov 21 at 8- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's Queer/Art/Film series, where a film that influenced the community or a particular individual gets screened. Which gives us Fame, which artist Kia LaBeija will talk about afterwards. I wrote about All That Jazz back in December, stating basically that there were no great live action musicals between the Fosse film and fill in the blank from this century (Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Once, Le Miz). But I didn't say there wasn't anything good or successful in-between. Fame is one of them. Not the blockbuster like Empire Strikes Back, or the big hit like The Blue Lagoon. But it held it's own; playing, like Airplane, for months until it could be considered successful.

Depicting several students studying to become actors, singers musicians etc., at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. It seems like an Andy Hardy-like musical (especially the end), but it doesn't shy away from the idea that failure and/or emotional collapse are around the corner, and none of them are immune. Must be the working class influence of director Alan Parker. Some good musical numbers, especially the one pictured here, that takes place on W. 46th St.

It covers a New York that is essentially gone now, but the feelings of struggle by students and teachers alike are timeless. Great cast but it's telling to me, that for a story where the promise of a career may not last beyond school, some of the actors in the best roles or give the best performances, disappeared fairly quickly after the film's release. The more recognizable people include Irene Cara, Broadway actor Boyd Gaines, Paul McCrane (Robocop, ER, 24), the late Gene Anthony Ray and Anne Meara, Debbie Allen, Issac Mizrahi, Meg Tilly, and Holland Taylor.
6 Oscar nominations in total. I was definitely surprised by that number when I looked it up. Nominated for Original Screenplay, Editing, Sound, and for the song "Out Here on my Own". 2 Oscars, for Original Score and for the title song that gave Cara a career for a few years.

Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

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