playtimeTVLN05-14-08The American Cinematheque puts on a show this week with an unmissable trio of 70mm wonders at the Egyptian; all three are serious contenders for inclusion in any “ten best ever” list.

Thursday night, luxuriate in the cool modern world of Tati’s Play Time (1967). Tati’s comedy style and his creation Monsieur Hulot were pretty much unique, pretty much without dialogue, and pretty much hilarious. In the crazy big city set he built outside Paris (Tativille) he shot his masterpiece.

There’s no story as such, just a series of episodes around the city, taking in its offices and apartments, and following various characters about; to the accompaniment of light cocktail jazz, it culminates in an amazing sequence in a smart new restaurant that through a series of banally small events ends the evening in ruins. From the opening clouds to a bus-load of American women tourists’ final exit from the city (with nice visual gag), it’s gentle and charming and rather bemused. It’s also stuffed so full of business (including five “fake” Hulots!) you’re hard pressed to catch it all on one viewing, even in 70mm. What a wonderful film. This is followed Saturday by Apocalypse Now (1979) which surely needs no introduction, but is even more overwhelming and astonishing in its original format; and similarly Vertigo (1958) on Sunday: madness, obsession and memory and nigh-on perfect cinema, it works the exact same mysterious obsessive spell on the viewer as Kim Novak’s otherworldly Maddie does on poor old Jimmy Stewart.

There’s another great triumverate at the New Beverly as well this weekend. Friday and Saturday the double bill is English: O Lucky Man! (1973) was Lindsay Anderson’s follow-up to If, a strange and ambitious picaresque through the life of man, following the adventures of Malcolm MacDowell’s Mick (from the earlier film) and finding room for an irresistibly kittenish Helen Mirren, Alan Price (ex The Animals) and his band providing an on-screen chorus, Arthur Lowe in blackface, an institution for horrific animal/human hybrids and plenty of righteous indignation at The Man. It has enjoyed a chequered reputation, but only grows better with time.

performanceTVLN05-14-08This is paired with Performance (1969), Nic Roeg and Donald Cammell’s terrific debut starring Mick Jagger and Edward Fox as gangster-in-hiding and reclusive rock star. It is a classic swansong for the 60s and a crazy identity headfuck, equally inspired by Borges and some heavy mushrooms. It’s also fantastically shot (Roeg was a cameraman of repute before directing) and Mick is terrific. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we’re back in Los Angeles with Chinatown (1974) another classic that quite deserves its status. Greek tragedy as film noir.

Over at the Silent Movie Theatre, the Psychedelia Italiano season is underway; I am particularly intrigued by Death Laid an Egg (1968) on Friday: it’s billed as the only murder mystery set on a farm for mutant chickens. Looks great. As does Little Murders (1971) playing earlier in the evening, as part of the Solid (Elliot) Gould series. It’s the first film by Alan Arkin and he pops up in support, as does Donald Sutherland. I like Arkin very much as an actor but have never seen his (few) films as director – they have a good reputation and I suspect are well worth checking out. Otherwise, the LA Filmforum continues it’s americana folk presentations with a documentary on Harry Smith on Thursday. Smith was the guy who compiled to Anthology of American Folk Music, so influential to so many people from Dylan on down. He did it in part by amassing an astonishing collection of 78s (friends learnt not to expect back any they let him “borrow”) at a time when few people showed interest in doing so, or indeed in the music itself that they contained. He also made strange abstract films and had strong alchemical and occult leanings. Unusual fellow. Should be interesting, particularly if you want to see footage of contemporary performers like Beck and Elvis Costello performing songs from the anthology. And the femme fatal season continues in the Saturday matinee slot with the terrific Out Of The Past (1947), directed with flair yet economy by Jacques Tourneur (one of the – largely – unsung greats) and starring Mitchum, Douglas and Jane Greer in a moody, obsessed noir world. Its flashback structure gives it a dreamlike feel, but most of the time it’s the feeling of a nightmare.outofthepastTVLN05-14-08

The Egyptian:
Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre:
New Beverly:
  • Friday/Saturday 16th/17th at 3.05 (Sat only), 8.30: Performance
  • Friday 16th at 9.35; Saturday 17th at 5.10: O Lucky Man!
  • Sunday 18th at 2.45, 8.00; Monday/Tuesday 19th/20th: Chinatown

Photos from wikipedia and uncut