The man who shot Chinatown, John A. Alonzo, also shot the charmingly whimsical Harold and Maude, that perennial favourite with adolescent Bud Cort (death-obsessed and generally weird) becoming best friends with peppery old Ruth Gordon (essential viewing – if it’s so far passed you by, check the trailer). Alonzo (1934-2001) also shot such classics as Vanishing Point, Wattstax, Farewell My Lovely, Bad News Bears, Tom Horn, Scarface, Overboard, Steel Magnolias and, ahem, Star Trek: Generations. He was also the director of FM (1978), a slice of the late 70s LA rock radio scene (with a Steely Dan theme song!) Expect luminaries from throughout his career (tho maybe not the Dan) to pop up in this documentary tribute, and a host of great clips.
Arranged as a handy double bill, Francis Coppola’s Godfather movies are a bum-numbing six hours plus. So where better to see them then in the plush splendor of the Cineramadome? The rollicking saga of the Corleone family becomes in turn the rollicking saga of the immigrant experience in America, of how crime becomes big business, and of the damage each does to men’s souls. The sweep is epic and the set-pieces fantastic and numerous; from Brando, Pacino and de Niro on down the cast is excellent throughout and packed with great names (hooray for Sterling Hayden, I say!). One question remains: which is better, part 1 or part 2?
Wed 24 at 8.00: Red Heroine (1929)
The Cinefamily serve up yet another rare treat and a splendid evening’s entertainment rolled into one. Red Heroine is the only surviving kung fu movie from Shanghai’s golden silent period. The young woman of the title is kidnapped when her village is pillaged and her grandmother bumped off by bandits. A bit of sword-study later and she’s ready to take revenge. This would be fun enough in itself, but the movie is presented with live accompaniment by the Devil Music Ensemble, three multi-instrumentalists from Boston who spend their time making up music for silent films. What a nice way to spend one’s time. Reputedly, their scores are particularly thoughtful and sensitive to the each chosen movie and its action; their current show is flavoured with but not restricted to the instruments and intonation of traditional Chinese music and they only come to LA once a year so don’t miss your chance!
Two excellent reasons why despite Pirates, Bitter Moon and The Ninth Gate Roman Polanski is a top-flight fim-maker. There’s not many movies can match the psychological chills and paranoid terror of Rosemary’s Baby, in which pregnant Mia Farrow starts to worry she’s carrying the devil’s child (satanic husband John Cassavetes and the bunch of witches who live next door don’t allay her fears). That the movie plays out in an upscale New York apartment building makes it all the creepier. Out west (and just prior to his flight from the country) Polanksi looks at the birth of modern LA though the eyes of a sadsack detective (Jack Nicholson) investigating corruption in the business of providing the city’s water. In fact, he discovers corruption everywhere he goes, and of the basest kind. Polanski gives himself a great cameo, John Huston is magnificent as a reptilian version of William Mulholland and Jack manages to mix effortless hard-boiled cool with thick-headed vulnerability. It’s a melancholy film disguised as a thriller, about a man discovering he can make no difference.
Fri 19 at 7.30: La Collectioneuse (1967)
Fri 19 at 9.10: Pauline à la plage (1983)
Sat 20 at 7.30: Full Moon in Paris (1984)
Sat 20 at 9.20: A Summer’s Tale (1996)
LACMA’s Eric Rohmer season continues with another fairly random selection, but as most Rohmer films are pretty similar anyway – and always excellent -that hardly matters. From the series of Moral Tales comes his first classic, La Collectioneuse, about two young men sharing a friend’s holiday house near St Tropez, and the young woman they find also staying there. She doesn’t so much collect men as toy with them and move on (one a night, for preference). The two males, one insufferably arrogant, the other terminally intellectual, flip-flop between wanting to take her moral improvement in hand and willingly succumbing to her charms. Pauline à la plage is also set on holiday – no-one can capture the lazy, carefree summer holiday feeling of potentiality like Rohmer. 15-year old Pauline observes and occasionally partakes in the roundelay of courting, mating, rejection and self-justification indulged in by her grown-up companions. Full Moon In Paris follows the fortunes of couple Tcheky Karyo and Pascal Ogier trying to adjust their relationship to a house in the suburbs, his demanding career as a tennis pro, and her uncertainty as to what it is will make her happy. Karyo is far more bullish protagonist than Rohmer usually uses, but he’s offset by the fey and sly Fabrice Luchini, as reliable as always. Rohmer returns to the beach for A Summer’s Tale, and another look at the fleeting passions of the young. In the same way as his films appear deceptively simple, so it is impossible to convey the elegance and wit of their content and execution, and the perfection of a style more invisible even than Buñuel’s; they ring constant and illuminating changes on the perennial subject of male-female relationships, whilst managing to appear as featherlight, fleeting and charming as a holiday romance.
Sun 21-Tue 23 at 7.30 (+4.10, Sun only): Decision at Sundown (1957)
Sun 21 at 5.50; Mon 22-Tue 23 at 9.10: Buchanan Rides Alone (1958)
As old Hollywood went into freefall in the late 50s with the onset of television, its founding genre the Western started to seem more troubled, and to take on a more mythic and (ancient) classical tone. This manifested itself most famously in the psychological westerns Anthony Mann made with Jimmy Stewart, but equally superb and even more pared-down was the cycle Budd Boetticher made with stone-faced Randolph Scott (who also produced). Unities of time and place reign in Decision at Sundown, as Scott rides bitterly into town to revenge the death of his wife. His neurotic torment is heightened by the wedding festivities taking place (his target is the groom), and by pointed details of character and plot, delivered in the most succint and incisive way and with all the force of Greek tragedy. What Scott’s hero in Buchanan Rides Alone lacks in sour ambiguity, he more than makes up for in his epitome of manhood: strong, silent, a righter of wrongs, and with an appealing sense of dry humour to boot. Hugely enjoyable, the tone is less fraught here: Scott rides into town, is wrongly accused and marched out, turrns round and rides right back in again on a point of principal and gets caught up in the absurdly complicated town feud. All the moves are plotted with organic precision, the movie unfolds effortlessly and the story is told with an economy that can be achieved only be a master.
Wed 24 at 7.30: Repulsion (1965)
In fact, one of the few films psychologically creepier than Rosemary’s Baby is Polanski’s own Repulsion, made in London with Catherine Deneuve three years earlier. It’s another study in the line between paranoia and insanity in the lonely female. Dislocated from the world – and repulsed by sexuality (hers and others) – Deneuve retreats to her flat and never leaves, where her world becomes an increasing nightmare complete with terrific surrealist flourishes of psychological disintegration punctuated by ghastly intrusions by landlord, boyfriend etc. Horrifying.
Sat 20 at 7.30: His Girl Friday (1940)
Philanthropist Dini Ostrov died last year. She was a generous supporter of the UCLA film archive, with a particular fondness for classic Hollywood comedy. What a splendid tribute, therefore, that one of the finest examples is being shown in her memory. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are just dazzling as newspaper folks in one of the fastest paced movies ever. They used to be married; we don’t know if Grant wants Russell back on the newspaper or back in his bed, and she doesn’t know what she wants either, sidetracked by a hot story on her way to be married to poor slob Ralph Bellamy. Great screwball dialogue and action directed with unobtrusive brilliance by Howard Hawks, it’s delirious and delicious.
UCLA at the Hammer:
Sun 21 at 7.00: Five (1951) / The Trial (1963)
Five is a really weird-sounding movie about a group of survivors (guess how many?) after a nuclear holocaust, allegedly the first movie on the subject. It was made for nothing and shot in the Santa Monica mountains at director Arch Oboler’s Frank Lloyd Wright house, last word in architecture therefore. I’m really bummed that I am unavoidably busy elsewhere on Sunday night. Not least because this is paired with one of my favorite films ever, Orson Welles’ adaptation of The Trial. Welles revels in Kafka’s pitch-black absurdity and the oppressive bureaucracy of dark, dangerous eastern Europe, as he follows to abstraction accused protagonist K down the circuitous byways and dead-ends of a nightmarishly metaphysical legal appeal. Supported by Jeanne Moreau, Akim Tamiroff, Romy Schneider, Elsa Martinelli, Michel Lonsdale and Welles himself, Anthony Perkins plays K as a spikey balance of persecuted righteousness and bullying insecurity as he bumps up against a succession of increasingly strange individuals in one virtuoso scene after another. We don’t know what he’s accused of and we can’t tell if he’s guilty or not, or even if that matters. Introduced by a wonderful pin-screen animation preface of the novel’s introductory tale, narrated in Welles’ ominously fruity tones, it takes the beautiful, mournful march of Albinoni’s adagio as its theme tune, and is hauntingly shot in ancient-looking black and white on scrounged locations from Zagreb to the (then abandoned) gare d’Orsay in Paris, with a constantly exhilirating use of perspective (Edmond Richard also shot Welles’ other European masterpiece, Chimes at Midnight). Fantastic, fantastical film-making and nigh-on perfect.