The Aero:

More on this elsewhere, but I can’t omit it from the week’s highlights, cos it’s really good. It’s like a secret history of LA through the movies – all those backdrops that look so movie-anonymous, or buildings that look so strangely familiar, alongside all the landmarks and neighborhoods that no longer exist except almost by accident in cinema history. The film takes a turn for the political in the last hour (it’s three hours long) – it’s just as fertile an area as the geography and as a result feels a bit skimped and tacked on – but overall, a marvelous feast for the eyes, and a terrific portrait of the home of the movies.

Bay Theatre (Seal Beach):

Mosey on down to Seal Beach for the grand-daddy of film noir. John Huston serves up one of the finest debuts ever, thanks to perfection in cast and script. Bogart defined himself as Dashell Hammet’s private eye Sam Spade; Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (in jeri curls!) are the perfect fat man/little man mismatched bad guys; and Mary Astor incarnates perhaps the ultimate femme fatale. Full of cynicism, snappy one-liners and an evocative McGuffin (the black bird) it’s a sheer pleasure.

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre:

After nine features of outrageous melodrama and high trash/camp, Almodovar surprised everyone with a quiet, tender film about a shy middle-aged woman, secretly successful as the pseudonymous author of a series of popular sentimental novels. This unexpected maturity was rooted in the “women’s pictures” of fifties Hollywood and has more or less been his mode ever since. Unassuming and wonderfully sweet, Flower of my Secret is one of my favourites; All About My Mother is just as good, however. Almodovar is more adventurous with the melodrama here and the passions are heightened in a tale of a woman who, after a tragic incident, journeys to Madrid to find the (transvestite) father of her son. As she becomes friends with the actress for whom she comes to work, the film reveals itselfs to be as much about simple female friendship as it is about love and death. Splendid stuff.

 

The Egyptian:

A great-sounding screwball comedy with Carole Lombard as an inveterate liar, Fred MacMurray as her straight-laced lawyer husband, a ludicrous plot and John Barrymore on ham-tastic form. Need I say more?

Once the producer of Eric Rohmer’s elegant moral tales, Barbet Schroeder has made a bizarre bunch of films ranging from documentaries on Koko, Idi Amin and Jacques Vergès to features on Klaus von Barbie, Single White Female and hippies in the uncharted Papua New Guinea. Maîtresse is one of the weirdest: it stars a virile young Gérard Depardieu as a housebreaker who falls in love with one of his victims, beautiful elegant Bulle Ogier. It just so happens that she is a successful dominatrix and Depardieu becomes increasingly intrigued and appalled by her professional life. Role-play, concealment and uncertainty cocoon a most unusual – and surprisingly tender – love story (banned in England!)

This feast of international Latin cinema is taking over not only the Egyptian, but Grauman’s Chinese across the street. I am particularly interested to see a rare feature from Bolivia, Los Andes no creen en Dios (Sat 13 at 7.15 – Chinese) and a domestic female superhero comedy from Columbia, Te amo Ana Elisa (Tue 16 at 9.30 – Chinese). Others will be attracted no doubt by the well-received Uruguayan comedy El Baño del Papa (Sun 14 at 7.30 – Chinese) about a man capitalising on the Pope’s imminent visit to his village by creating a papal toilet; or the hard-hitting police-in-the-favelas drama Tropa de Elite (Sat 13 at 9.45 – Chinese) from Brazil that has been stirring up controversy for its harsh view of a grim situation (is director José Padilha a fascist? A bitter socialist? An opportunist? There’s only one way to find out).

LACMA:

The great Eric Rohmer gets a season at LACMA. His films tend to be populated by articulate young people conversing intelligently about love and morals, and many viewers find the experience rather like watching paint dry. Others, however, don’t mind at all that the similarity of most of his pictures makes them blend into one glorious mass of Rohmerism, and the similarity of tone makes each new viewing experience one of comfortable familiarity. This is only enhanced by his habit of grouping his films under titles such as “Moral Tales” and “Comedies and Proverbs”.

Ma Nuit chez Maude, one of the former, is one of his best-known, a typical Rohmer tale of a protagonist looking for love in one place only to find it in another. Jean-Louis Trintignant, in love with a woman he has seen at church, is taken by an old friend met by chance to stay the night with divorcée Maud. Much deliberation and discussion of Pascal later and his mind is a bit clearer.

Le Beau Mariage is about a young woman in the Loire determined to ensnare a good-looking lawyer as her husband. Again, much talk and vacillation and a sweet conclusion.

In Claire’s Knee, engaged Jean-Claude Brialy becomes erotically fixated with the naked knee of a teenage girl staying with a friend. Will he become enmeshed in an inappropriate liaison? As with much of Rohmer, the plot of these films is less important than the ritual dance of courtship and the working towards moral clarity of their protagonists, all presented with the most discrete of film-making styles, and the utmost urbanity of dialogue and intellectual discourse.

The odd one out is one of Rohmer’s occasional forays into period (and his only German-language film) Die Marquise von O. Here Edith Clever is a countess inexplicably pregnant, but saved by an infatuated Russian count (Bruno Ganz). The period detail is exquisite, the conversation no-less thoughtful, and the dramatic irony even more biting than in his contemporary tales. No-one but Rohmer can conjure such charm and apparent significance out of the everyday banalities of human relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

Starlight Studios:

Pay a visit to the lovely little Starlight Studios for a torrid tale of passion in Indochina. Brutish Clark Gable has a rubber plantation, a fling with platinum blonde slut Jean Harlow, and a serious pash on an employee’s wife, Mary Astor, apparently a cold fish (don’t worry, she’s burning up inside). Harlow and Gable exude intense physical sexuality, but you can see why Astor’s repression drives him crazy. Sparks fly and the febrile emotions create a high pitch of melodrama. Lust in the dust indeed.

This is paired with Blondie of the Follies, about which i know little, but it’s directed by Edmund Goulding (who made the great Nightmare Alley1947), co-written by the sparky Anita Loos and stars WR Hearst’s main squeeze Marion Davies, alongside cheerful Robert Montgomery. With Jimmy Durante and Zasu Pitts in support and a gold-digging tale of the lives and loves of stage-folk, I imagine it will be perfectly entertaining.

UCLA at the Hammer:

I am not a big fan of Bernardo Bertolucci, but his strange fable of the seductive charms of fascism (or more generally, conformism), adapted from a novel by the great Alberto Moravia, is something of a masterpiece. Jean-Louis Trintignant is a blank-faced cipher, ready to subsume his personality to the ruling order, and instructed to make a hit on his old professor (who has incidentally, Jean-Luc Godard’s Paris address). The production design certainly makes 1930s Italy seem like the most seductive place around, the film works excellently as a (metaphysical) thriller, and set-piece after set-piece (murder in the woods, visit to an insane asylum, erotic lesbian tango-ing) are simply dazzling cinema, quite aside from the complex web of philosophical and political issues around which the movie dances. Why this is paired with Joseph Losey’s neurotic Eva is anyone’s guess, but stick around to see Jeanne Moreau on top form and the magnificent Stanley Baker tearing each other apart emotionally in wintery Venice.

The first of these is the longest (at 27 minutes) entry in the slight filmography of surrealist photographer Man Ray. Produced by the Vicomte de Noailles, who paid also for Bunuel’s L’Age d’or (1930) and Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un poète (1930), it depicts two travelers (one of them Ray himself) deciding their lives by dice and exploring the strange Chateau de Noailles. Full of surrealist flourishes and undoubtedly a precursor to the dreamworld of Marienbad it’s a charming little oddity (if you can’t be bothered to troll over to Westwood, watch it here).

In another of the week’s eccentric pairings, this is showing with Godard’s folorn love-letter/kiss-off to conventional fim-making, Contempt. Michel Piccoli is the scriptwriter, disgusted with himself for kowtowing to the vulgar vision of producer Jack Palance, in Italy to make an adaptation of The Odyssey with director Fritz Lang, and unable to halt the disintegration of his marriage to Brigitte Bardot. The coastline of Capri is gorgeous, as is the Cinemascope and Technicolor, and Georges Delarue’s tremendous, chopped-up score; even if the bitter tale is full of Godardian elisions and non-sequiturs, the passion invested in the subject matter makes it his most emotionally affecting film.

images: wikipedia, wikipedia, wikipedia, oldroads, brightlights, wikipedia