The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, August 19-25

bucket of blood

A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Directed by Roger Corman
Before he gallivanted into the world of Edgar Allan Poe, Corman made this hysterical, grim comedy highlighting his distaste for the art world and obsession with the macabre. The immortal Dick Miller stars as hapless Walter Paisley, the busboy who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the chichi bohemians at The Yellow Door Cafe. After the slaughter of his landlady’s cat, Paisley creates an avant-garde sculpture—the deceased, clay-slathered feline—and passes it off as his own creative vision. As his contemporaries go wild, they insist on more work from Paisley, and soon familiar faces begin disappearing just as more of his hideous sculptures materialize. Shooting on leftover sets in just five days for fifty thousand dollars, Corman’s subtle, unparalleled genius is in top form, mocking the beatniks of the 1950s, notably without any buckets of blood. Samantha Vacca (August 22, 7pm, at Anthology Film Archives’s tribute to Corman’s American International Pictures, with Corman in person)

secret ceremony

Secret Ceremony (1968)
Directed by Joseph Losey
Almost a two-hander, Losey’s claustrophobic chamber dramedy provides the spectacle of two very different actors (Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow) trying to figure out precisely what sort of movie they’re in. As in Michael Powell’s Age of Consent and Louis Malle’s Black Moon, there’s a hair-letting-down quality, as Taylor and Farrow enjoy free rein. Eventually, an incestually menacing Robert Mitchum lopes in to detonate the fragile female ecosystem, explaining his unruly beard with “I grew up in the City of Brotherly Love.” With its shades of Sunset Blvd., Buñuel and Polanski, the film defies its “camp” reputation. Losey’s is an oeuvre that keeps on giving. Justin Stewart (August 24, 8pm as part of IFC Center’s “Celluloid Dreams,” followed by Q&A with Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry)

leon_morin_priest

Léon Morin, Priest (1961)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
A woman gets the hots for a local priest in a small French Alps town during and after the Occupation in World War II: sounds like the premise of a disreputable exploitation flick. But while it would be a stretch to call Léon Morin, Priest a religious picture, Melville’s drama is hardly blasphemous. Even if the emphasis during the extended verbal tête-à-têtes between the titular priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and widowed single mother Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) is more on worldly erotic subtext than the spiritually lofty surface, the atheistic Melville nevertheless evinces a measure of respect for Morin’s conviction, even as the priest’s awareness of his own sexual magnetism remains tantalizingly ambiguous. Ultimately, though, this is Riva’s picture, with her astonishing emotional transparency giving heft to perhaps the closest Melville came to making a “women’s picture,” one infused with a sensitive feminine perspective mostly foreign from his stoic crime pictures. But Léon Morin, Priest even points the way for later films like Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge and, supremely, Army of Shadows. The emotions his later assassins and resistance fighters repress through actions and ritual, Léon Morin and Barny contain through volleys of words that ultimately conceal more than they reveal. Kenji Fujishima (August 20, 7pm; August 23, 2:30pm at MoMA’s “Scorsese Screens”)

my-dinner-with-andre

My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Directed by Louis Malle
Long before he voiced a neurotic toy dinosaur, Wallace Shawn co-wrote and starred in this unlikely classic. The plot sounds like an one-act play: Shawn and Andre Gregory, a well-known theater director, meet at an Upper West Side restaurant and, well, they eat and talk. Gregory recounts tales of his travels: being buried alive in Poland, hallucinating mystical beasts in England. Shawn prefers the simple pleasures of his small social bubble and even smaller apartment. Roger Ebert once marveled that the film was entirely devoid of clichés, a feat that has as much to do with its meticulous editing as it does with its script. A.J. Serrano (August 22, 4:30pm, 9:30pm at BAM’s “Indie 80s”)

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