The Aero:

Patti Smith is now an American rock institution and so naturally she has a documentary. I feel a bit churlish to have gone off her since she stopped sounding like an androgynous angry young thing (right before the Springsteen collaboration) but even if her songs no longer cut like a rusty razor, she’s still a damned cool high priestess of punk. Made over the last twelve years, this promises to be a revealing portrait of the abiding poet and musician.

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre:

A lovely downbeat poem of a film, the first feature from Scottish film-maker Lynne Ramsey, who’s gotten criminally little work since. Once again a Scot shows how to make something captivating and moving from the austere reworking of personal reminiscence, economic deprivation, familial discord and the blighted state of the 1970s nation, all with lovely semi-abstract black and white photography.

The Cinefamily’s Summer “Camp” season is drawing to a close, after weeks of hysterical weirdness picked by underground emperor George Kuchar. I cannot speak with authority on Sextette, but as it features Mae West’s comeback (at age 80) in a sex comedy, it’s not going to be outrageous. I can certainly testify to the lunacy of The Shanghai Gesture, in which Josef von Sternberg finally abandons narrative coherence for a dizzying symphony of gorgeous black and white photography. Set around a gambling den like one of the circles of hell, it stars the luminous Gene Tierney, stiff-backed Walter Huston and louche Victor Mature in a fez as Doctor Omar (best line: “doctor of what?” “Doctor of Nothing!”) There’s also creditable Dietrich-substitute Ona Munson as the club-owner Mother Gin Sling, subject of some of the most avant-garde hairstyling ever seen in movies. It makes no sense at all (really) but that matters little when it plays like a delirious tropical fever dream.

“For centuries they were hunted for bounty, fun and food… Now it’s their turn!” I’ve no idea if this is any good or not; I just like the poster’s tagline.

The utmost silent movie adventure yarn, as many would have it. Acrobatic Douglas Fairbanks seemed born for the swashbuckling title role and while Raoul Walsh never gets quite the praise offered to contemporaries Hawks or Ford, perhaps rightly, he’s one of the great directors of action. The special effects are easily as good for 1924 as they were for the remake in 1941 and William Cameron Menzies’ sets are still a benchmark for Arabian Nights adventure settings. Wonderful, escapist early cinema at its best.

Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery:

A rich and strange film that reveals more elegance and dread in its intricate structure every time you see it. Wintery Venice is forlorn and frightening for grieving Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Who’s that small figure in a red mac running around the canals? What’s with the creepy old psychic ladies who keep popping up? Are they really doing it in the sex scene? It’s totally gripping and one of the least unnerving things about it is Sutherland’s fro, and that’s saying something.

The Egyptian:

A Labor Day weekend extravaganza, this is a hodge-podge of old movies (thirty or so) including silents, rarities and new restorations. There’s Doug Fairbanks, pre-Tramp Chaplin, Harold Lloyd in The Freshman, Tom Mix, Lon Chaney, young Jean Arthur, the final three episodes of The Iron Claw (1941) and even Al Jolsen in Mammy (1930), restored to its original two-strip Technicolor glory. My top tip is an unusual Ealing noir, It Always Rains On Sunday (1947), starring stalwart of post-war British cinema Googie Withers as a woman whose convict ex-lover drops in on her and her new husband with predictably fraught results, all set on one wet Sunday in London’s bombed-out east end.


A biopic of jazz singer Ruth Etting and her manager/gangster husband, as played by Doris Day and James Cagney. If it initially seems like a mismatch, Day shows her mettle in the face of Cagney’s apoplexy, and he in turn can play as tender and vulnerable as she. Undoubtedly soft-soaped to an extent, the ups and downs of their relationship and her career are still rendered with enough bite to make for gripping drama; the leads make an oddly perfect couple and with more emphasis on their relationship than on the (decent) songs, it’s a surprisingly satisfying movie.

New Beverly:

  • Fri 29 at 7.30, Sat 30 at 5.30, 10.00: The Killers (1964)

Don Siegel’s TV remake of the noir classic is a top-drawer picture in its own right, not least because the awesome cast – Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes and Ronald Reagan (in a rare bad-guy role, his last at that). It’s from a Hemmingway story, so expect tough-talking; and from Siegel expect the usual no-nonsense action in a tale of two hitman getting out of their depth as they investigate why their latest mark took his fate with such equanimity, all in an unnervingly antisceptic early 60s setting.

Peter Bogdanovich may have gone seriously off the boil with a series of movies too in love with his own film history scholarship or the delusion that Ryan O’Neal is a good actor, but his reputation was justifiably made with this elegy for a time when the movie theatre was a gathering place for communal dreams, and an escape from the harsh realities of the world outside. As such, he channels the spirit of his beloved John Ford through a coming-of-age story that coincides with the passing of an era, set in small-town ’50s Texas; that it manages to be touching and unselfconscious is thanks mainly to direction that gives ample room to a fantastic ensemble cast including young Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms, grizzled Ben Johnson (best supporting actor Oscar),  vacuous Cybill Shepherd (well-cast), and roles that actually provide some substance for Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan and the wonderful, desperate Cloris Leachman (best supporting actress Oscar).

The Skirball:

Another one that gets better with each viewing. Dull Jo Cotton finds himself in war-ravaged Vienna caught up in an investigation into his old pal Harry Lime, apparently a racketeer, now missing. British director Carol Reed turns post-war Europe into a nightmarish moral labyrinth in support of a pretty decent thriller plot spiced with Orson Welles and lots of shadows and the solo zither score that was a stroke of genius; from script to photography to direction and camerawork, casting, performances and music, it’s pretty much perfect.

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