- Wed 20 at 8.00: Annie Hall (1977)
Perhaps the primary reason why Woody Allen is actually a significant film-maker, before he started marrying his children and making shit movies. So good you can watch it twice in a row. Brilliant, neurotic, truthful comedy from start to finish, adorned with kooky Diane Keaton (when she too was actually funny), more one-liners (Jeff Goldblum: “I forgot my mantra”) and perfect comedy vignettes than one could imagine possible, sprinkled with awesome cameos (was Christopher Walken ever actually creepier?) and all totally personal. If by any chance you’ve not seen it you must do so immediately.
- Sun 17 at 6.00, Mon 18, Wed 20 at 8.00: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Another totally truthful film, only this time painfully so. The coruscating source play, by brilliant Edward Albee, about a married couple tearing one another apart to the horror (and partly for the benefit of) of their dinner guests, was perfect for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who seem simply to have exorcised their own torturous relationship on screen. George Segal and Sandy Dennis are understandably nervous.
- Sat 16 at 8.30 (doors at 7.00): Badlands (1974)
For years Terrence Malick was a legendary, shadowy figure in the landscape of 70’s American film-making, vanished from the face of the earth, it seemed, after Days of Heaven (1978). He didn’t dent his reputation with comeback The Thin Red Line (1998) or even The New World (2005) but the aura of mystery was dissipated. Nonetheless, his debut remains a strange dreamy film, based on the real-life story of murderer Charlie Starkweather, who took off across the Dakota badlands with his teenage girlfriend having done in her parents and burnt down their house. Martin Sheen is feral and fantastic in the lead, transcending the James Dean trappings of costume and character, and as one has come to expect from Malick the photography (by Tak Fujimoto) is gorgeous. Sissy Spacek’s eerie voiceover narration proved inspirational to countless imitators and the terrific pastoral counterpoint of the plink-plonk score was ripped off almost note for note in True Romance, but it’s closest in tone to the dustbowl oasis of menacing, melancholy calm in Bonnie and Clyde.
Two rare screenings: Deep End is a weird drama directed by a Pole in London, Jerzy Skolimowski (his latest, Four Nights With Anna, marks a return to film-making after a 17-year break). It tells the story of a teenage boy waking up to his sex-drive, and his infatuation with an attendant (the flame-haired Jane Asher, aka Mrs Paul MacCartney) at the run-down swimming baths where he also works. Ostensibly a straightforward coming-of-age drama, it plays out with the strange inferiority of adolescence and culminates in an uncomfortably unnerving climax. This atmosphere is aided immeasurably by the grimy bathhouse setting and the fact that the awesome Can can be heard on the soundtrack.
Quite why it’s paired with The Witches (Le Streghe) is anyone’s guess, beyond the fact that they are both nigh-on impossible to see. This is one of those portmanteau pictures of which the Italians were so fond in the sixties; here however, Dino de Laurentiis brings out the heavy guns in five shorts directed by Pasolini, Visconti, de Sica, Rossi (er, and Mauro Bolognini). Each is about witches and stars the pneumatic Silvana Mangano. As with most of these types of film, it’s not entirely successful – the sets and costumes are exquisitely or excruciatingly of their time, depending on your taste – but Visconti and de Sica deliver the goods, and even second-rate Pasolini is always interesting (The Earth Seen From The Moon is a sort of informal sequel to his terrific The Hawks and the Sparrows). Plus, still kicking around Italy after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Clint Eastwood even pops up in de Sica’s final segment.
- Fri 15 at 7.30, Sat 16 at 3.00, 7.30: Notorious (1946)
- Fri 15 at 9.30, Sat 16 at 5.00, 9.30: Rebecca (1940)
Two of Hitchcock’s greats. Notorious is not his most profound film, but it is one of his most perfect, as Ingrid Bergman is sent to spy on (and then marry) super-suave Claude Rains, who may secretly be a powerful Nazi in the post-war South American community. The government agent who sends her on this mission is Cary Grant, but in typically perverse style Hitchcock makes Rains more urbane, charming and sympathetic. Fantastic suspense, and one of the greatest of kisses in cinema (until, that is, the room starts spinning round Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo).
Rebecca is slightly less pure Hitchcock, due to the power of Daphne du Maurier’s classic story and the limp (appropriately so, but a bit annoying nonetheless) central performance from simpering Joan Fontaine. A mere slip of girl, she meets the dashing and wealthy Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) whilst holidaying, is swept off her feet and soon married; once back in his country pile, however, she finds herself rattling around empty rooms and hallways, cowed by the ÃŒber-stern housemistress Mrs Danvers (clearly a lesbotron) and haunted by the ever-present (not literally) spectre of the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca, tragically drowned in a boating accident years before. Meanwhile Larry has become brooding, distant and most often absent and things don’t look rosy, til the past is brought back to light during a tumultuous thunderstorm. The final section gets a little bogged down in courtroom stuff and the ending is some distance over the top (du Maurier’s fault), but the atmosphere is the thing here, and Hitchcock takes exquisite pleasure in piling mental tortures upon his frail heroine. Plus Judith Anderson’s Danvers is one of the movie villain greats, and good old George Sanders pops up to lend his inimitably insouciant support.
- Wed 20, Thu 21 at 8.00: The Seven Samurai (1954)
Akira Kurosawa’s three-hour epic was the inspiration for The Magnificent Seven, as everyone should know by now, but in his turn he had been deeply influenced by the human dramas and makeshift community dynamics of John Ford’s movies of a legendary America. From the successive introduction and recruiting of each of the samurai – the characterisations are more complete at the start than those of most films by the end, and only deepen as it progresses – to the awesome final battle in the pouring rain, this tale of masterless samurai helping defend a peasant village from marauders for nothing but the honour of a decent cause and a sense of purpose is just great. Quite rightly, Mifune Toshiro’s performance as the young headstrong buck they don’t want on board (who proves himself in the end etc) is usually singled out, but the quiet, serious master swordsman (Miyaguchi Seiji) is my favourite, and Shimura Takeshi as the older leader is wonderfully worldly-wise, pretty much aware from the off of the futility of their fight.
UCLA at the Hammer:
- Thu 14 thru Sat 23 at various times (check website for details): The Exiles (1961)
I’ve not seen this, so I cannot comment in depth – newly restored by UCLA and presented by Charles Burnett, some say it is a lost landmark, a vital piece in the US indie jigsaw puzzle; others bemoan the rambling structure and poor technical aspects (even by US indie standards..) Whatever, it failed to get a theatrical release at the time despite a good reception at Venice, and it will be fascinating to find out for oneself if it is worth the hype. Made on short ends, spare time and a shoe-string by USC grad Kent MacKenzie and friends, it is a semi-documentary look at the lives of young Native Americans living in the poverty-stricken yet hugely characterful Bunker Hill district of LA, bulldozed shortly thereafter. Judging from the trailer it looks like a strikingly photographed record of a community rarely (never?) seen on screen and of a vanished and forgotten time and place.