If you see one film this week or even, I am tempted to say, this year, make it La Roue (1924) at the Silent Movie Theatre on Sunday 13th at 6pm. Yes, it’s silent, yes it’s four hours long but yes, it’s one of the greatest pieces of film-making ever (and there’s a supper break). Abel Gance is most famous for Napoleon, but he was already on top of his game four years earlier, setting a highly-wrought love-quadrangle melodrama plot against the backdrop of the (real) marshalling yards outside Nice and the blank canvas snowfields of the high Alps. No-one could match Gance (not even Murnau, later on) for visual poetry and the amazing way he manages to get the characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings up on the screen without even the use of words, and no-one, not even Griffith, was such a master of all the techniques of film-making at his disposal. Terrifically exciting and simply fantastic.
Everything else rather pales by comparison, but the Film Noir Festival rolls on at the Egyptian, with James Mason starring in Carol Reed’s excellent The Man Between (1953), set in cold war Berlin, on Thursday 10th at 7.30, followed by the middling One Way Street (1950), in which he’s on the run from LA gangsters (and heads for Mexico, of course, with a load of cash and the mob boss’s dame). Saturday’s double bill (12th, 7.30) starts with the interesting Stranger On The Third Floor (1940) in which Van Nest Polgase’s expressionistic art direction is spectacularly shot by noir whiz Nick Musuraca, most effectively in the long and fantastical sequence that takes place in the mind of the protagonist, a journalist who’s caught a break as key witness in murder trial but is no longer so sure what he’s doing. Ultimately it’s not that great a film, but throw in slimy Peter Lorre and a 64 minute running time, and what have you got to lose? Particularly as Lorre stars in the second half of the bill (The Face Behind The Mask, 1941), superb as a disfigured immigrant in a poetic tale of tragedy and revenge.
The Aero meanwhile starts a mini season of movies connected to the Louvre, with documentarist du jour Nicolas Philbert’s 1990 look at the behind-the-scenes running of the great museum, La Ville Louvre (1990) (Thurs 10th, 7.30) followed by a discussion with the Louvre’s deputy boss in person. The following night has a fantasy film set in the museum (Belphegor, le fantome du Louvre, 2001, starring Sophie Marceau and Julie Christie) but the real treat is the chance to catch Godard’s irrepressible Bande Ã Part (1964) on the big screen (Friday 11th, 7.30). It’s got very little to do with the museum apart from the celebrated game of dash-through-the-Louvre-as-fast-as-you-can, and everything to do with american gangster movies, musicals, and the joy of cinema in general. Splendid. More Frenchie stuff on Saturday afternoon (4.00) with an Albert Lamorisse double bill, the wonderful half-hour Le Ballon rouge (1956), about a boy and the red balloon that follows him around Paris, paired with a tale of friendship between a boy and a wild stallion in White Mane (1953). And to cap a great week, The Searchers (1956) is showing on Wednesday 16th at 7.30. It’s John Ford, it’s a long-established classic, but by god is it good, and it gets better ever time you see it. Natalie Wood is kidnapped by Indians as a child. Uncle Ethan (John Wayne) hunts for her for years, in the process isolating himself from humanity and growing bitter and twisted with obsession and revenge. And that’s only the obvious stuff. Truly great.
LACMA have a strong hand this week as well, with a couple of treats to continue their British directors season: James Whale’s The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) on Friday 11th at 7.30 is in many ways better than its predecessor, not least due to the presence of the shock-haired and wonderful Elsa Lanchester in the title role, but there’s also plenty of subtext (homosexual, necrophiliac etc) for those who want it, and it’s hugely enjoyable. This is followed (at 9.00) by another rare big screen opportunity, the weird and wonderful Nightmare Alley (1947) starring Ty Power as a carnival conmen whose hubris is his downfall, of course, and a trio of great females, including the delectable Colleen Gray and the scrumptious Joan Blondell. Utterly unmissable for fans of circus/sideshow/freak movies, and only marginally less so for those partial to a great noirish melodrama.
For direct cinema fans, there’s a night devoted to Albert Maysles at the Hammer (Thursday 10th, 7.00), most famous for the Stones film Gimme Shelter but who together with his (dead) brother David, and in parallel with Frederick Wiseman, really created the great American documentary tradition. UCLA continue their tribute to centenarian (in August) and still-active film-maker Manoel de Oliveira, with No, or the vain glory of command (1990) on Saturday at 4.15 and a bumper evening of two shorts and a feature on Sunday 13th at 7.00. The acme of European art house cinema, Portuguese de Oliveira has been making movies since 1931 (his first, Labour on the Dourio is on the programme on Sunday) but not many people watch them. Do him a favour.
And finally, a great shout-out for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (Nuart, Friday 11th). The hero (Peter Weller) is a brain surgeon, a rock star and something like a superhero, and he and the Hong Kong Cavaliers have to save the planet from alien invaders. It’s a comic book movie, full to the brim with lovable trash, quotable lines and borderline insanity. What’s more, it also has John Lithgow and Jeff Goldblum on top loopy form in support. Tremendously enjoyable.