Thursday, December 24, 2015

Revivals: holiday season edition

Happy Festivus everyone. Mike here with a holiday season revival list. Not Christmas films mind you, but this list takes us thru New Years Day weekend. Here we go:

THE WILD BUNCH (1969) with or without SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (2015) and/or THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)- Sat Dec 26 and Sun Dec 27 at 12:30 (Shaun) 3:30 (Wild) and 7 (Picture)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- A potential triple feature at the Museum of the Moving Image, all for one admission. An insanely long day into night, and one I'm not exactly up to. Now this is someone who not too long ago, did a triple feature of a compilation of Rowlf the Dog clips, Far From Heaven, and Boogie Nights. I also did a double feature at the Museum pf Godfathers 1 and 2. So just because I'm not planning about doing it, or I'm complaining right now about doing such a thing, doesn't mean I won't do if talked into it properly. This triple feature will be done on both Saturday December 26th, and Sunday December 27th. I prefer to do Saturday, but I post Sunday as well.

First you have Shaun The Sheep, which came out to critical praise and audience indifference this summer here in the States. Not sure how it did in the U.K., where the character is used in a TV series of the same name, and was originally from a Wallace and Gromit short. The same Wallace and Gromit company made this film, where Shaun and his flock decide to vacation in the big city, and get into trouble. Especially when the Farmer who looks for them is missing. For the Wallace and Gromit/ Chicken Run fans, this gets attention for not only the critical praise and Oscar nomination talk for Best Animated Film, but the Museum will also do hands-on Claymation Creatures workshops after the film. If you can't do Shaun and the Workshops on either the 26th or the 27th, it will play every afternoon after that, thru New Year's Day.

Next is The Wild Bunch, from 1969. For months, in anticipation of Quentin Tarantino's upcoming 70mm release of The Hateful 8, the Museum had been touting their own 70mm screening of the Sam Peckinpah classic. Thematically, they're of kindred spirits, so it makes sense to whet the cinematic appetite this way. However, the Museum recently announced (sometime between the morning of the 21st and the afternoon of the 22nd) that the 70mm print of The Wild Bunch is in such poor condition, it has been pulled from distribution, and the Museum will screen a 35mm print instead. Wow, not even a DCP. Oh well, it still works seeing before Tarantino's new film.

The Wild Bunch, the film that John Wayne complained destroyed the myth of the Old West. Follows a group of older outlaws, still robbing and shooting to make a living. The times have changed, they've gotten a lot older and their foes are seemingly younger and stronger. They want to rob to retire, but that only gets a group of bounty hunters after them, led by a former member of the group. They escape to Mexico for one last go. But dealing with the corrupt forces there and the bounty hunters on their tail, the old group of outlaws basically to go out on their own terms. Violent, bloody, and taking hundreds of the enemy with them. Holden is the leader of the Bunch, Ernest Borgnine is his best friend, and Robert Ryan is their former friend; a bounty hunter forced to pursue them without relent. Plus Western stalwarts like Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin and future director Alfonso Arau (A Walk In The Clouds) in the cast as well.

Sam Peckinpah's film was approved mainly to compete with what they thought was the similar Buthch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Similar, Warner Bros.? Oops. He wanted to show a certain macho code that was not holding up in the start of the 20th Century. But no matter what code you live by, betrayal is unacceptable. From others and especially from yourself. Another thing Peckinpah wanted to show was the violent world of this time. Not sanitized like in most Westerns, nor in TV Westerns of the time like Gunsmoke, but closer to what was shown on the news in Vietnam. He wanted to horrify his audience with its brutality. The climatic shootout was supposed to convey this. With 6 different cameras all shooting at different speeds, its an amazing combination of choreography, cinematography and editing. Despite about 20 minutes cut before its release to avoid an X rating, the violence was still considered controversial. But what shocked Peckinpah was how much of his audience was thrilled by the violence as opposed to being repulsed by it. Oops for Sam. When Warner Bros tried to re-release the film back in 1994 with 10 extra minutes, the MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating, complaining about the violence! It took a year of resubmission before an R rating was finally granted.

2 Oscar nominations, including Screenplay, but NOT for Editing. On both AFI Top 100 lists. May or may not be on my Top 100 list, but very close. If you don't know it, this is a great chance to change that, even if it's only with a 35mm print.

Next is The Last Picture Show. A new DCP restoration of the 1971 film. I saw the last 35mm restoration of it back in 2011, so I have high hopes for the quality of the look. This doesn't get a revival screening too often. Two milieu are depicted here. Life in high school, as its seniors are finding their way into adulthood, however slow the emotional development. All taking placing in a dying small Texas town, circa early 1950s. Our entry into this world comes from two buddies: the wild jocular type played by Jeff Bridges and the more sensitive one played by Timothy Bottoms. College doesn't seem likely for them. More likely for them, unless they choose to move to larger towns like many before them, is reflected in the lonely, frustrated bitter adults around them. Whose dreams have long since died a quiet death. All here are not depicted as country bumpkins or idiots. Maybe some are more vain, or depressed than others, but such as life.

Peter Bogdanovich jumped to A list status with this film, a status that went bye-bye, thanks to pictures like Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love. But with a great script adaptation of Larry MacMurtry's novel from Bogdanovich and MacMurtry (anyone better in depicting Texas in print than Larry?), and wonderful cinematography from Robert Surtees (black and white, per the suggestion/demand of Orson Welles), you have cinema. If it wasn't for so many good, recognizable actors in the cast, you might think you were watching a documentary, what with the almost subliminal use of music and naturalistic performances. A cast that includes Bridges, Bottoms (Tim and Sam), Cybill Shepherd (ok performance, but perfect as an object of desire), Randy Quaid, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, and Ben Johnson (watch his monologue by the lake, very good indeed).

Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, Bridges for Supporting Actor and Burstyn for Supporting Actress. Oscars for Johnson for Supporting Actor and Leachman for Supporting Actress. On the second AFI Top 100 list. And with everything I said, this may be more of an acquired taste. I invite any and all to come watch this, but this might be better suited for cinephilles (or however you spell it) and those interested in quiet films. I'm not sure if this even has classic status. Two other films from 1971, The French Connection and A Clockwork Orange, may or may not have been loved by critics as much as Last Picture Show, but their classic status is unquestioned. We will be getting the two hours six minute Director's Cut released in 1992, as opposed to the 1 hour 59 minute theatrical release. 7 minutes cut by Columbia Pictures, who insisted that the film had to have a running time under 2 hours. Whatever version is screened, I want to catch this:

BALL OF FIRE (1941)- Mon Dec 28- Wed Dec 30 at 5:15, 7:30 and 9:45- Film Forum- An archival print of the hit screwball comedy from 1941. Professor Gary Cooper is working on a new encyclopedia with 6 other, mostly bachelor, professors (including Max from Sound of Music, Clarence from It's A Wonderful Life, and Sacha and Carl the Waiter from Casablanca). They're on a deadline, but they're distracted by dancer Barbara Stanwyck (stripper? Burlesque dancer? Who knows). She's hiding from evil mobster Dana Andrews (Laura), and seeks sanctuary with the 7 professors, much like Snow White hiding with the Seven Dwarfs (DO YA GET IT?!?!?!). But unlike Disney's version, this not so Snow White falls for a rather Dopey tall professor.

Co-written by Billy Wilder. Based on his short story which was a take on the Snow White story, it would be the last Screenplay Wilder would write without directing the film as well. Luckily for Wilder, the director of Ball of Fire, Howard Hawks, was willing to mentor him and  let Wilder observe how he worked. 4 Oscar nominations, including Stanwyck for Best Actress, and Wilder for Best Writing, Original Story:

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965-67)- Fri Jan 1, Sat Jan 2, Mon Jan 4-Sat Jan 9, and Tues Jan 12-Thurs Jan 14 at 5:10, 7:30 and 9:50- Film Forum- A rarely screened Orson Welles film gets a DCP restoration and a twelve day run (at least) at the Film Forum. Released in Europe in 1965 and 66, released briefly in the U.S. in 67. Welles combined Henry IV Part 1 and 2, Richard II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor to concoct this film. A film where Prince Hal must choose to give his loyalty to either his father, King Henry IV (John Gielgud) or his father figure, Sir John Falstaff (Welles). With Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly, and Fernando Rey as Worcester.

The film was a big deal at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, winning two awards for Welles and a nomination for the Palme D'or. But with most American film critics ripping it a new one, led by Time Magazine and the New York Times's Bosley Crowther, film distributor Harry Saltzman (as in the co-producer of the James Bond films of the 60s-mid 70s) lost faith. Chimes of Midnight barely received a theatrical release in America, and tanked bad. Critical re-evaluation has since occurred over the decades with the likes Camby, Kael, and Ebert praising the film. Welles himself considered it his favorite of all his films, as well as one of his most personal. But ownership rights to the picture has made it very difficult to see the film here in the States. Available on Blu-ray and DVD in Europe, but not here. Two long out-of-print VHS versions is all the home video distribution Chimes of Midnight has had, so forget about finding it on Netflix. But with this DCP restoration, maybe this can be the start of the film finally finding an audience: 

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

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