Posted by keelsetter on November 20, 2011
Today marks the last day of my Fall calendar film program. Now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get working on the next one. My goal is to find 50 titles that provide repertory programming, community and academic outreach, festival favorites, cult oddities, challenging cinema, quality docs, along with enough arthouse money-makers and crowd-pleasers to keep the whole damn thing alive. The ideal mix honors the past, is grounded in the present, and has an eye for the future. Like a good friend, it needs to have the temerity to confront you with uncomfortable truths, take you to new places, introduce you to new talents, provide a window to other cultures, feed the mind, feed the soul, provide catharsis, tears, laughter, and a wide variety of surprises. A few directors come to mind who try to do all those things in one film, but this at risk of making you nauseous. (I’m looking at you Takashi Miike!) What follows are some of my top-picks (so far) as I consider titles to include in my Spring calendar.
In my book, 2012 will be marked as the year that celluloid 35mm prints were officially tossed under the bus by studios eager to rid themselves of the inconvenience of making, shipping, and storing heavy cans full of organic emulsion. This is how ruthless the transition is: subsidies are being provided by studios that will go directly to a handful of loan-sharks in charge of outfitting theaters with new equipment, and as part of the deal the theater agrees to remove all their 35mm gear. The full details are more complicated than that and fodder for a future blog post. Suffice to say for now that it’s cause for being extra-thankful that a few small companies out there are still making new 35mm prints of older films (and newer ones too) that will continue to service the independent and arthouse theaters who still cater to true cinephiles. These wonderful companies are buying small arthouse exhibitors everywhere precious years to figure out how to handle the monolithic changes ahead.
Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967). This new 35mm print of Godard’s great anarchic satire on social oblivion is an obvious choice. While Godard still carries a lot of cachet with older cinephiles, it’s getting harder and harder to get the laptop generation to come out to play. Still… after seeing Janus’ gorgeous print of Fassbinder’s epic sci-fi, World on a Wire, I know I’m not alone in needing another big-screen celluloid fix from their collection. I’ll even also toss in another new 35mm print from Janus; Red Desert – Antonioni’s first color film. Other new 35mm prints from Janus include Truffaut’s The Soft Skin and Ichikawa’s The Makioka Sisters, but I just screened a slew of Japanese films last week, including one from Ichikawa, and if I’m going to go for Truffaut I need to spread the love around, starting with:
The Bride Wore Black (Francois Truffaut, 1968). This new 35mm print comes from The Film Desk, and features Truffaut’s most Hitchcockian film (with music by Bernard Herrmann), starring Jeanne Moreau. It has a killer poster, too. Other noteworthy Film Desk offerings include Eric Rohmer’s 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle and Le Rayon Vert (Summer), along with a couple things I’ve already programmed in the recent past, such as Godard’s Every Man for Himself and Antonioni’s Le Amiche.
Repertory titles with academic outreach come to me thanks to the following request by two faculty members who are teaching a class for Directing and Acting for the Camera. They selected the following dozen films that they felt would provide great examples of acting:
The Wages of Fear – The poor grunts in Clouzot’s classic from 1953 are a dirty lot, but always compelling. I’d be happy to pair this up with a print of Friedkin’s Sorcerer, if a good one is to be found.
Aguirre: The Wrath of God – Can Kinski’s unique brand of madness really be filed under acting? I’d say yes, as he provides such a satisfying and broad range of crazy. (I’ll probably pass on this one, though, as I already screened an imported print of this last April.)
Seven Samurai – No argument from me there, the great Toshirô Mifune is in a class all his own.
Dr. Strangelove – A singularly great choice for people studying acting, as it has so many great performances from George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers.
Fat City – Although Jeff Bridges will be the guy the students recognize, he is eclipsed by Stacy Keach in this criminally overlooked film by John Huston. Very few films dare to look into the abyss, but that’s exactly what Huston does here. Thinking of the end still gives me goosebumps.
Giant – James Dean’s tragically brief career did not deny him a huge influence and impact on a vast number of emulators. I’ll have to ask why the faculty selected this one over an earlier title, but it probably makes sense to go with the last film he starred in.
The Godfather – As with Strangelove, it’s hard to go wrong with so many great stars, especially when everyone is firing on all cylinders – especially Brando. Although if I’d wanted to showcase Brando’s acting, I think I would have picked A Streetcar Named Desire.
Five Easy Pieces – A lot of people accuse Jack Nicholson of being a bit too successful at cornering a certain attitude and look that always remind you that Jack is back, but that shtick (if I may call it that) hadn’t really been trademarked in the public consciousness yet when he starred in Bob Rafelson’s film. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was still five years away. Back in 1970, his angry energy in Five Easy Pieces was still able to surprise audiences with a hungry and raw performance.
Naked – One of Mike Leigh’s most nihilistic films. David Thewlis blew me away in this. He’s been busy ever since, but I never felt he topped this performance. A very good selection for would-be actors.
Badlands – An interesting choice. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek certainly deliver something special, but I wonder if Warren Oates tipped the vote?
Vertigo – This is certainly one of Stewart’s more celebrated performances, and Kim Novak provides the perfect foil on to which Stewart’s character can project his every desire and neurosis. Had I been the one teaching a class on acting and had to choose one Hitchcock film, I can’t help but think that – as much as I love Vertigo – I may have picked Anthony Perkins’ turn in Psycho instead. That was such a stunning bit of acting that I feel Perkins was never quite able to shake it off for the rest of his career – which can be a bad thing for an actor, but still speaks volumes about the performance itself. But perhaps Norman’s inner-conflicts struck the faculty as a bit too bi-polar and obvious, whereas Mr. Ferguson has to wrestle with much more subtle demons.
Breaking the Waves – Despite the many controversies that Lars Von Trier manages to stir up, year after year, he never ceases to attract top-shelf talent to submit themselves to his peculiar (and sometimes masochistic) directorial style. Emily Watson’s particular trials-and-tribulations in this film were well-rewarded by a slew of award nominations and wins. I wonder how many talented actresses subject themselves to Von Trier’s punishing style as a rite of passage?
Will I have access to 35mm prints for all the films above? No. But hopefully I can get at least half of them. I’ll have far better luck in the next category:
Repertory Titles that tie-in to a community request.
This one comes from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival Guild, and they are asking me to help with a week of films based on Shakespeare’s work. So far, I’m thinking Polanski’s Macbeth maybe double-featured with Scotland, PA (Macbeth, again, but this time with Christopher Walken and the tag line: “Greasy Spoon. Bloody Murder”). Then there’s Forbidden Planet (The Tempest), My Own Private Idaho (Henry IV), Strange Brew (Hamlet), and West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet, and the subject of my last post).
Festival favorites and new arthouse titles would include: Le Havre, Shame, Melancholia, The Artist, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Chico and Rita, The Skin I Live In, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Monsieur Lazhar, Mozart’s Sister, The Conquest, The Green Wave, and A Dangerous Method.
Cult oddities: I’m thinking it’d be fun to bring in a couple martial arts films, pairing up a classic (Master of the Flying Guillotine) with a newer title (IP Man). Then, as a possible tie-in to with what I hope is a visit from Pam Grier alongside Jackie Brown, maybe an old blaxploitation film (I see a film print recently screened in Portland for the “pimp and zombie” Sugar Hill). On April Fools’ Day The Room packed the house last year, so we’ll probably trot it out again. Supposedly it’s “so bad it’s good.” I’ll keep my private opinions to myself on this one. I’m just glad it’s turning a profit.
Challenging cinema: Bela Tarr’s long takes got the extra mile in his supposedly last film ever: The Turin Horse. The Greek director behind Dogtooth has a new film: Alps. Lech Majewski’s latest is The Mill and the Cross. And then there’s two Russian films: Siberia Monamour and The Edge.
Quality docs: Iranian director Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, tries not to make a film in This Is Not a Film. Connected examines our internet addictions. Frederick Wiseman goes to Paris to check out the Crazy Horse (known for its chic nude dancing). Paul Goodman Changed My Life looks at “the most influential man you’ve never heard of.” Flirting with Heights was a favorite at Vancouver. Last but not least, Werner Herzog’s latest: Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life goes to death-row.
So there you have it. About 50 films. Scattered like feral cats in a tall wheat field, I’ll try to gather as many as I can. Many will elude me and that’s okay. There are plenty of other strays out there that desperately need a home and that will hopefully come out to play.
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