The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, April 27-May 3

whokilledteddybear Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)
Directed by Joseph Cates
A scuzzy, lurid low-budget independent film partially shot in Manhattan, particularly the peep shows in Time Square, Who Killed Teddy Bear? is steeped in perversions of the past and present. Norah (Juliet Prowse), a young woman working at a discotheque, starts getting harassed by a garbled voice over the phone. She enlists the protection of a police lieutenant (Jan Murray) who turns out to be a piece of work. Doggedly obsessed with sexual deviancy, the lieutenant pours over testimonials and books freely in his home, exposing his little daughter to the material in the process. Fearful of this fanatic, Norah stays with her considerate boss (Elaine Stritch). But when she makes a pass, Norah leaves in a state of shock. Amid these encounters, Norah keeps bumping into a quiet, soft-spoken waiter at the discotheque. As the waiter, Sal Mineo is the film’s standout performer. Small and muscular, tender and tough, sweet and psychotic, he evokes the shattered innocence suggested by the film’s title. Tanner Tafelski (April 30, 7:30pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “An Early Clue to the New Direction: Queer Cinema Before Stonewall”)

the french-william klein-bjorn borg

The French (1982)
Directed by William Klein
Given total freedom to film the 1981 French Open, Klein directed this intimate and watchful portrait, as incisive, if necessarily less in-your-face, than any of his photographs. From the locker rooms to the stands to the famed clay courts, the great photographer and filmmaker shrewdly surveys the Roland Garros spectacle, underscoring its peculiar exposure—between celebrity (tennis players Chris Evert, Yannick Noah, John McEnroe) and the pressing crowds and grasping press, the players and their pressurized emotions. More than even the dyspeptic McEnroe, this heavy social weight seems to get to the heart of the shy champion, Björn Borg. Klein opens with the reigning French Open winner (on a poster Wes Anderson would love) and returns to him often, presciently viewing the Swede as a weary king. (Borg would retire less than two years later, at age 26.) Ironic and intuitively shot, The French is tennis films’ Greatest Of All Time. Jeremy Polacek (April 29, 7:15pm; April 30, 12:15pm at “Metrograph A-Z”)

Dead-Zone-christopher-walken

The Dead Zone (1983)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Before Christopher Walken was a punchline, he was an actor, an Oscar winner in fact, and the strange way he looked and moved and spoke wasn’t just schtick—it was the moving and unsettling idiosyncrasy of a great performer. (Michael Shannon is his heir.) You get a great sense of how startling Walken can be as a star, of how unusual and unexpected his every choice is, from his turn in this early-career King adaptation, in which he plays a typically Kingian protagonist: a mild-mannered New England schoolteacher, which King once was, pushed into extreme circumstances.

After a car crash, Walken’s Johnny Smith wakes up from a five-year coma without his sweetheart (Brooke Adams)—who moved on and had a baby—but with a psychic superpower that allows him to see possible futures, pasts, people’s secrets, or whatever’s narratively expedient. The story is structured like the three best episodes of a television series played back-to-back: origin story, first big case, last big case. (In fact, USA adapted the novel into a series in 2002!)

The most striking is the last, in which Martin Sheen plays a populist, vaguely Trumpian third-party Senate candidate, whom Smith foresees becoming president and going nuclear—literally. Smith then becomes a hero who ostensibly acts like a villain, a political assassin. Not unlike Oswald (in King’s formation, anyway, in 11/22/63) or Judas (in Jesus Christ Superstar’s formulation, anyway), he’s history’s accidental savior, committing a seemingly dastardly but in-hindsight necessary deed. The difference with Smith is that he knows what he’s doing—and, as played so sincerely by Walken, he seriously struggles with it. Henry Stewart (April 29, 30, midnight at the IFC Center’s Stephen King series)

heavy metal 1981 movie

Heavy Metal (1981)
Directed by Gerald Potterton
Somewhere in the dystopian future, a downtrodden cab driver picks up a stunning, tawny-haired, white-clad damsel in distress. She falls asleep in the back of his cab, so he brings her back to his pod-like apartment where the two consummate their meeting, only for him to discover she’s holding the key to possible world domination. No, it’s not The Fifth Element; this cab driver is Harry Canyon, the tougher, hairier predecessor to Bruce Willis’s Korben Dallas. Harry is inspired more by the Continental Op than Sir Lancelot, and when his love interest goes sour and the mystery woman threatens him, he exterminates her, quite literally. Gerald Potterton’s anthological ode to Heavy Metal magazine—full of rotoscoped Dick Tracy-ish villains, stoner aliens, and a storytime starring the sum of all evil—is nihilistic in tone, calling to mind fellow animator Ralph Bakshi’s films. (Bakshi’s underrated and wildly enjoyable Hey Good Lookin’ came out a year later, and boasts an equally memorable soundtrack.) The Loc-Nar, an illuminated green orb, loosely connects each tale, and mutant armies ravaging desolate wastelands are bookended by music from Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Devo, and an opportune use of Journey’s otherwise irksome “Open Arms.” Canadian comedy bigwigs John Candy and Eugene Levy and fellow SCTV alum Harold Ramis lend their voice-over moxie, while Ivan Reitman produced. A cult classic of throbbing muscles, mysticism, and rock and roll—the verve of the animation and mindless aggression are a beautiful homage to the loud-mouthed weirdos of yesteryear. Samantha Vacca (April 29, 30, midnight at the Nitehawk)

the-sky-above-the-mud-below

The Sky Above, The Mud Below (1961)
Directed by Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau
In 1959, the French filmmaker Gaisseau led a seven-month expedition across Dutch New Guinea. The results are chronicled in this sumptuous work of ethnographic immersion, which three years after expedition’s start won the inaugural Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. While words are spoken on the film’s soundtrack by a recollecting male narrator (Gaisseau himself in the original French-language version, William Peacock in the English-language version that will screen in 16mm at Tenant416), luscious color images pass onscreen of wet swamp marshes, rolling hills, and verdant plains. Beauty and beastliness compete with each other throughout the film. The lyrical natural wonders illuminated by the sky find counterpoint in heaving, sinking men made ugly by sickness and by hunger. The sights of these men brought low, however, might not be as hideous as the sounds of the narrator’s voice marveling at the ability of the land’s nearby natives to (often with European help) behave like civilized human beings. The most magnificent natural wonders that appear in the film stand separate from these words: They are native New Guineans awaiting the white travelers, village to village, with a greater knowledge of what lies ahead than the visitors could understand. Aaron Cutler (May 3 at Tenant416)

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