This week the American Cinematheque celebrates the long and distinguished career of Clint Eastwood, with a handful of his films as director (Breezy, The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter etc). The best of the bunch, however, is the one film in the series in which he only acts, The Beguiled, directed by the great Don Siegel. It’s a weird southern gothic in which a civil war soldier (Yankee) ends up in a house of ethereal women who initially seem winsome and harmless but reveal themselves to be repressed and menacing and the atmosphere of the house dreamy, strange and sinister. It is an appealingly odd film; that it includes amputation and magic mushrooms is all in its favor. It’s presented in conjunction with the premier of a new documentary that I suspect will make up in clips for what it lacks in critical distance, but the real plus is the presence of the man himself for a Q&A between screenings (thus, it has probably sold out by now..)
Friday 6 at 7.30: The Lady Eve (1941)
Preston Sturges is fantastic. So is Barbara Stanwyck. Less so Henry Fonda, but as he just plays a schmuck in this, it’s ok. Stanwyck and father Charles Coburn (also reliably great) are card sharps who take in Fonda’s brewery heir on a cruise ship and then again back home in Connecticut. Much hilarity ensues. It’s slick and sexy and almost literally a laugh a minute. This is exactly the kind of movie like which they don’t make ‘em any more, but truth be told no-one ever made them like Sturges.
Saturday 7 at 1.00: The Damned Don’t Cry! (1950)
Joan Crawford is always great in a rags-to-riches story, as at home on the skids as she is in mink (Mildred Pierce, Flamingo Road). It’s even better when she gets to play a disappointed mother or tote a gun, and here she has both, working her way through the “gentlemen” of a crime syndicate to the catastrophe that’ll send her sliding back down to the bottom (who can suffer like Joan?) She was getting on a bit by this time, and the hysteria of her desperation to remain something like the young and beautiful star she’d always been starts to show through. Which only makes her better.
Cristi Puiu’ The Death of Mr Lazarescu was the first international sign of a renaissance in Romanian cinema and despite it’s apparently depressing premise – a sick old man travels around the hospitals of Budapest one night in search of treatment – made quite a splash at Cannes a couple of years ago when it won the “un Certain regard” category. Its virtues are a documentary-esque realism, sharp observation and warm and funny humanism which never, as the title suggests, shies away from the harsh realities of living (and dying) in the medical system of the former communist block. Puiu’s debut, Stuff and Dough, treats of the same socio-economic circumstances, but in the form a road movie with gangsters, a mysterious package and almost a snail’s pace, but it reveals itself to be a controlled and rewarding experience if approached with patience.
Saturday 7 at 9.00 (gates 7.30): The Hunger (1983)
A great slice of 80’s pop video cinema, with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as centuries-old vampires seducing young Susan Sarandon (yes, she and Deneuve do get it on). It’s hokey and mannered and too flashily shot for its own good (that’s Tony Scott for you) but the opening credit sequence is awesome as a dark figure dances moodily in a cage and Deneuve and Bowie stalk the moody early 80’s Berlin goth club crowd in their sunspecs, to the strains of the Bauhau’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (the dude in the cage is lead singer Pete Murphy). Terrific. It goes rather downhill from there, but at least it looks ravishingly moody throughout, and the Thin White Duke is perfect (natch). A cemetery is *obviously* the best place to watch it.
Thursday 5 at 7.30: Jazz On Film (free!)
Lots of footage of jazz performances including Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Louis Armstrong, Dexter Gordon, Buddy Rich, Bob Crosby and Lee Morgan, all from the collection of jazz historian Mark Cantor in his ninth annual appearance (sponsored by the Playboy jazz festival). It’s a good week for jazz fans (see Seven Dudley, below)
Friday 6 at 7.30 (parts 1&2); Saturday 7 at 7.30 (parts 3&4): War and Peace (1965-7)
Sergei Bondarchuk’s massive 70mm, 7-hour epic, never until recently seen in complete form outside Russia, is split over two indulgent evenings at LACMA. With a cast of thousands, sumptuous art direction, exhilarating camera work and a story that attempts to say it all, it should quite an impressive experience. That it won the best foreign film oscar during the cold war deep freeze is some testament to its achievements. The appalling dubbing of versions previously available in the west has finally been replaced with subtitles and the original Russian soundtrack. Hooray!
Tuesday 10 at 1.00: Macao (1952)
A delirious late RKO thriller, directed right off the rails by loony von Sternberg (with some salvage work from Nick Ray) this has Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell caught up in gambling and jewel-smuggling intrigue in the wickedest city in the world. amongst the nonsense plot, shots through fishing nets and a song or two from Russell, there’s some seriously sexy stuff going on between the two leads – with her statuesque frame and that magnificent chest, Russell looked like she could eat most of her leading men for breakfast (and would do so with relish) but the wolfish eyes of Robert Mitchum’s and his unshakable insouciance are a worthy match. The sparks fly. It’s not quite on a par with their only other appearance together (His Kind of Woman) but my favorite “why? why not?” moment is when Mitchum enters Russell’s cabin on the boat to find her in heels ironing dollar bills.
Friday 6 – Thursday 12 at 5.00, 7.30, 10.00 plus midnight, 2.30am (fri-sun only): Mother of Tears (2007)
I’m really looking forward to checking this out as it is the latest from giallo legend Dario Argento. It popped up at some festivals last year, and opinion was divided as to whether it was a return to form or just trash. Even his best films teeter on the edge of watchable, thanks to risible dialogue and acting, but even the worst have their moments. This one stars daughter Asia, which bodes well, as she always seems to act as though her life depended on it, and my hopes are tentatively high..
Monday 9 at 7.00: Avant to Jazz (free!)
If the programme at LACMA tonight seems rather staid, perhaps the Seven Dudley’s offering is more in your line, a compilation of clips featuring the far-out sights and sounds of the likes of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra with his Arkestra. Should be pretty rad.
Tuesday 10 at 1.30: Muscle Beach Party (1964) (free!)
It’s a mystery to me how the Skirball centre tied first Jailhouse Rock and now this to their Bob Dylan exhibition but I’m not complaining as I’ve a real soft spot for Frankie and Annette and their beach movies. This one even features little Stevie Wonder and Dick Dale. The plot is far less important far than the fact that the gang get show the man how to have a good time down at the beach and listen to surf music. What fun.
Sunday 8 at 9.00: Forbidden Planet (1956)
Terrific retooling of The Tempest in space with Leslie Nielsen, Robby the Robot, space bikinis and monsters from the Id. It’s loopy and really shouldn’t work but it does.
UCLA at the Hammer:
Because they can’t get a print of The Naked Spuron 35mm, the UCLA archive is screening it on DVD and thus offering the whole double bill for free. Which is a real treat, because these are both from the terrific cycle of westerns Jimmy Stewart made with Anthony Mann, and The Man From Laramie is one of the best westerns full stop. In each of the cycle, Stewart plays a neurotic obsessive seeking revenge; the psychology is full-blown in the first film, with a dying cattle baron and villainous son (Arthur Kennedy – terrific) but pared down to essentials in the second as bounty hunter Stewart and a couple of misfits attempt to escort outlaw Robert Ryan – steely and manipulative and always great – cross-country and back to justice, accompanied by the troubling presence of Janet Leigh. One gets the impression Stewart relished roles such as these, too rarely offered, one must suppose, into which he could really sink his teeth, and Mann’s direction in the latter film especially stands as a model of economy and control.
Sunday 8 at 7.00: Harvey (1950)
One also gets the impression that Stewart enjoyed playing the charming drunk in this, the greatest 6-foot invisible rabbit movie ever. What should be a complete mess of cutesy whimsy is turned into featherlight gold by the entire cast, who ring every one-liner out of the stagey script with apparent effortlessness. Stewart’s musing on the phrase “and the evening wore on” epitomises the character who can see only good in people and in life and the world in general; he’s impossible to dislike and so is the film. Marvelous.