- Sat 2 at 5.00: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) / The Two Towers (2002) / The Return of the King (2003)
I think I’d rather poke my eyes out than sit through even one of these again, but I admit I am in a minority. I was a great fan of the books, though I didn’t feel overly proprietary when the movies appeared; simply a bit numbed by the escalating tedium of battle after battle. But most of the world seems to have taken the films and Tolkien’s mythology to their bosom, and even if one finds elves mimsy rather than magical, and the middle earth humans more over-earnest than heroic, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the story itself, committed playing, impressive effects and awesome New Zealand scenery. I’d be hesitant to recommend this 11 and a half-hour programme to newcomers, but it will undoubtedly be an awesome experience for those well-disposed towards it. Not only that, but The Return Of The King is playing in its extended version (er, what does that mean? an extra 50 minutes of battle scenes?) and the whole shindig’s a mere $3!
Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre:
- Sun 3 at 8.00: George Kuchar in San Fransisco (1977-87)
This has been the Summer of Kuchar. Following the splendid programme of early shorts at the LA film festival, we’ve had a bunch of his late 60’s work, and now this, the second of the LA Film Forum’s presentations at the Silent Movie Theatre. George lost his job as a commercial artist at the end off the sixties and moved to California, where he found a professional home at the San Fransisco Art Institute. With the resources at his disposal (including willing students) he became even more prolific, churning out countless short films filled with fear, lust and insanity, still inspired by the Hollywood melodramas of his youth, and still adhering to the cheerful trash aesthetic that he and his brother pioneered (and that John Waters borrowed more or less wholesale). Let him be crowned Emperor of the Underground.
Cinespesia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery:
- Sat 2 at 9.00 (doors 7.30): Touch of Evil (1958)
A nasty little thriller with a white actor masquerading as a high-ranking Mexican policeman facing off against an obese corrupt sheriff. Except the the sheriff is played by Orson Welles, who also directs, brought in by his co-lead, Charlton Heston, who makes a surprisingly effective Mexican. It was cut up by the studio (not too badly, as comparison with the slightly unnecessary 1998 restoration shows) and sent out as a B picture, but it is absolutely fabulous. The famous opening has the camera receding from the action (a bomb going into the trunk of a car) and winding through the crowded streets of a bordertown to pick up newlyweds Heston and Janet Leigh as they cross in the the US, all in one exquisitely but formally appropriate complex shot, accompanied by ever-changing diegetic sounds as we pass bars and juke joints. The music is by Henry Mancini, and it’s his best work.
The fantastic black and white camerawork (by Russell Metty) uses Welles’ favoured short lenses and startling angles to turn the promenades and collonades of then-abandoned Venice into a shadow-filled netherworld (it’s often cited as the last film noir), culminating in a hallucinatory murder in an upstairs hotel room, set against the chaotic lights and sounds from the streets that never sleep outside. The cast is a terrific gallery of grotesques and oddballs, from Joseph Calleia as Welles’ deputy, fawning and defensive but not entirely spineless, and Akim Tamiroff providing marvellous comic relief as the boss of the Grandi family, his brother recently banged up by Heston; to the rest of the gang of menacing leather boys (and one girl! Butch Mercedes MacCambridge is the scariest of the lot), throwing a wild party for negligee-clad Leigh in a remote motel (yes, there’s reefer) right down to the creepy blind lady in the store where Heston uses the phone (plus a super-weird Dennis Weaver as the motel night man, the secret inspiration for Hitchcock’s Norman Bates). Aside from the plastic thrills of the film, it also performs an extremely skillful juggling act with audience sympathies; just as it slips with ease from one side of the border to the other, so the motives and and actions of the principal characters constantly slip between understandable and indefensible, particularly in light of notions such as justice, fidelity, self-respect and racial prejudice. Plus, there’s a tiny cameo for Zsa Zsa and a poignant one from Marlene Dietrich, whose final enigmatic pronouncement is a question for the ages. It’s often called a baroque masterpiece. Because it is.
- Tue 5 at 1.00: Clash By Night (1952)
An unusual film for Fritz Lang: even though he adapted himself successfully to American film-making and subjects – his Western Union (1941) was praised for its authenticity by old-timers who were actually there – this is a thick slice of 50s Millerish adult drama. The script by Clifford Odets is fine and intelligent if a little uninspired, but the heavy focus on male/female relationships make this an actor’s movie; fortunate then that the leads are the ever-excellent Robert Ryan and Barbara Stanwyck (plus Paul Douglas and, in support, Marilyn Monroe). One misses the action sequences at which Lang was so expert, but the cynical tone is right up his street, and the texture of the film gains immeasurably from his decision to present the fish cannery town setting in full documentary fashion.
Curse of the Demon, or Night of the Demon as it is also known, is yet another fantastic, mysterious thriller from Jacques Tourneur, showing here in its original cut; later, the trashy English producers added footage of the demon right at the start which completely undermined Tourneur’s intention of creating an uneasy tension between rationality and superstition (happily it doesn’t ruin the film). Dana Andrews plays a psychologist travelled to London for a symposium, deeply sceptical of the purported black magician/devil worshipper in whose house he is invited to stay the weekend. His uncertainty escalates into panic as he is handed a piece of paper which may or may not be a genuine death curse, and the superb direction keeps the audience in the same state of uncertainty and heightened anxiety right up until the genuinely terrifying ending. That, plus the wonderful, sexy Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy) in support. A fantastic film.
The Lineup I’ve not seen, but it will be worth staying for as it is directed by the extremely reliable Don Siegel. Plus it’s a San Fransisco movie, and everyone likes those. Eli Wallach and Robert Kieth are hitmen recovering a dope stash. Expect it to be fast, brutal and more substantial than your run of the mill B movie, because Siegel never made anything less.
- Every day until Thur 7 at 5.00, 7.30, 10.00 (plus Fri-Sun at 12.00, 2.30): Boy A (2007)
A quite remarkable British film from director John Crowley about a young man released from prison, trying to start his life over under a new identity. As a child he and a (very unpleasant) friend had murdered a schoolgirl, and public feeling runs high on the news of his release. The subjects of child murder and tabloid-driven witch-hunts recall real-life episodes in British public life of the last ten or so years, but the film concentrates equally as much on the boy himself, his relationship with his counselor (Peter Mullen, superb as always) and the puddingly blonde who takes a fancy to him at work. Andrew Garfield is hugely appealing in the lead; the script is superb in its meting out of information in the right doses; the milieu and relationships are evoked to perfection; and the film is engrossing, painfully real at times, and shot with a beautiful muted lighting palette that occasionally blossoms into compositions of real poetic substance. A film to give you plenty to talk over in the pub afterwards: how much can one forgive? are second chances deserved? can a person change? do the actions make the man? is the ending shit? (er, unfortunately, yes)
UCLA at the Hammer:
If all of the above sounds a bit heavy, here’s the perfect antidote. Pure wonderful froth, courtesy of Warners and Busby Berkeley, all those geometrically-arranged dancing girls and fantastical production and costume design. They’re both backstage musicals with plots you can write on a matchbook and they’re both the sort of gold-standard borderline-surreal escapism that Depression-era audiences craved. Both star Joan Blondell as the female lead, with those wonderful big eyes and sassy mouth of hers, and the appealing Dick Powell in support; Ginger Rogers pops up in Gold Diggers and Jimmy Cagney is a terrific fireball in Footlight Parade. They should really be a Sunday matinee, but who says you can’t indulge yourself on a Tuesday night?