The screening I am most interested in this week is in fact more about music than movies. Alan Lomax, along with father John, were the most important American folk-musicologists of the twentieth century, untiringly seeking out and recording songs all across the country, songs passed down for generations, songs never written down, songs sung only in particular locales and songs that were fast disappearing forever. Thanks to father and son, the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song is a radical collection. Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre are having a Lomax night on Thursday, including a 2004 documentary and choice pieces of film from Lomax’s own archive.
The music is live on Sunday, as Chicagoans (and Drag City affiliates) Plastic Crimewave provide accompaniment to Paul Leni’s 1928 horror/expressionist classic, The Man Who Laughs. Connie Veidt takes the title role, referring to a permanent disfigurement (later borrowed by The Joker) that appears as a grotesque grin. It were the gypsies wot done it. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel and taking in extravagant London sets, aristocracy and intrigue, it’s rather splendid.
There’s more horror at the New Beverly, with HG Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) playing on Tuesday, in a double bill with Laurence Harvey’s final film, “cannibal” saga Tender Flesh (Welcome To Arrow Beach) (1974). The former is a delirious (almost literally) reworking of Brigadoon, with a town full of crazed southerners massacred in the civil war, reappearing every year to hold a festival and murder passing strangers in ever more inventive ways. It’s really quite fun, and a classic, of sorts. As opposed to Tender Flesh which is appalling and to which I recommend giving a wide birth, even the cannibal fans (Harvey murders people and keeps them in his fridge where it is implied he eats them, but apparently all the good cannibal stuff got cut out). Earlier in the week, one of Truffaut’s best (though not an entirely successful film) Fahrenheit 451 (1966) plays on Thursday and the marvelous Forbidden Planet on Friday and Saturday.
Truffaut was so overrated in his day but now seems a bit out of favour; it’d be a shame if his quieter and more thoughtful films like this (and La Chambre Verte) became overlooked. It’s adapted from the Ray Bradbury story about a book-burning society in the future and even if the romance between Oskar Werner and Julie Christie never catches fire (he’s a fireman, funnily enough, set to burning books but wondering if it’s such a good idea) the dreamy scenes of snow falling the forest and the sad hope of those keeping literature alive in their memories are enticing. Forbidden Planet (1956) on the other hand is a riot. The Tempest in space, starring Leslie Neilson, Robby the Robot and astro-cutie Anne Francis (she’s never heard of a bathing suit!) battling “Monsters of the Id”. What more do you need to know? (and it’s actually a rather good reading of the text whichever way you slice it).
The Bette Davis centenary is still with us, and now LACMA get in on the act, with The Letter (1940) on Friday, a terrific steamy melodrama mixing Maugham and Sternberg, and providing a signature role for our lady. Then there’s the old staple, Now Voyager, (1942) on Saturday, where Bette suffers frumpiness and illness and lost love whilst remaining cool as a white linen suit. These are paired with, and followed on Tuesday, by a trio of lesser-known items from her filmography (Beyond the Forest, 1949; Old Acquaintance, 1943; and Front Page Woman, 1935) each illustrating that Hollywood at its best, and Davis in particular, were capable of making watchable even the hoariest nonsense.
But saving the best for last, by far the greatest movie showing this week is John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), wherein Natalie Wood gets kidnapped by indians and uncle John Wayne spends five years looking for her. I find Ford too dull or folksy much of the time, but he is neither here. It’s properly classical: a broad simple story that leaves room for subtly conflicting questions of family, home, race and vengeance, gorgeously shot, and with a deservedly iconic ending. The Arclight Hollywood (on Wednesday) is an appropriately splendid setting.Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre:
- Thursday May 8 at 8.oopm: Alan Lomax Songhunter
- Sunday 11 May at 8.oopm: The Man Who Laughs
- Thursday May 8 at 9.35: Fahrneheit 451
- Friday, Saturday May 8, 10 at 3.25 (Sat only) and 7.30: Forbidden Planet
- Tuesday May 13 at 7.30: Two Thousand Maniacs / Tender Flesh
- Friday May 9 at 7.30: The Letter / Beyond The Forest
- Saturday May 10 at 7.30: Now Voyager / Old Acquaintance
- Tuesday May 13 at 1.00pm: Front Page Woman
- Wednesday May 14 at 8.oopm: The Searchers