The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, June 22-28

Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s THE KING OF COMEDY (1983). Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Friday, June 24 - Thursday, June 30. The King of Comedy (1982)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
A belated twin to Taxi Driver, and the missing link between The Shining and Larry Sanders. In scouring-brush mustache and a ghastly succession of leisure suits, De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin fixates on—and ultimately kidnaps—a Carson-like TV host played by Jerry Lewis. The comic’s performance is one of masterful and astringent stillness, as precisely controlled as the seemingly spontaneous pratfalls and vocal tics that made his reputation, his impassive glare a perpetual rebuke to De Niro’s agitation. This ouroboros of narcissism and neurosis is probably the most austere work of Scorsese’s career; few other films are invested so deeply with Sartre’s admonition, “hell is other people.” Eli Goldfarb (June 24-30 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)

The Black Dahlia-Mia Kershner

The Black Dahlia (2006)
Directed by Brian De Palma
“I don’t get modern art.” “I doubt modern art gets you, either.” Working around Josh Harnett’s lead turn the way a May Day celebration works around the pole, De Palma’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s deep-end dive into the mother of all true-crime speculations is slick and twisty rather than turgid and tormented, both obsessive and digressive. In a very backlot recreation of 40s Los Angeles, all mirrored surfaces and venetian blind-filtered sepia sunlight (the cinematograper is Vilmos Zsigmond), Hartnett’s Bucky Bleichert investigates the gruesome murder of an aspiring starlet (Mia Kershner, shakily lucid in screen-test flashbacks), becoming deeper enmeshed in the worlds of white-clad good woman Scarlett Johansson, black-clad rich bitch Hilary Swank (purring, hilariously camp femme who never takes off her pearls), and fisheye-lensed caricatures of California’s new old money, brutal police, and sexual subcultures. The audience is fed a steady diet of shock-cuts, cranes and slo-mo, as the murder plot draws Bucky deeper into the mythology of Hollywood Babylon. De Palma’s great theme is spectatorship; in The Black Dahlia, even more than Body Double, he toys with the idea that there’s something evil about the people who mount spectacles to delight and deceive. He means it, the way that he means anything. Mark Asch (June 24, 7pm at the Metrograph’s De Palma retrospective)

Strawman2

Strawman (1987)
Directed by Wang Tung
Wang Tung may not have the exacting formality of Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, but Strawman’s pragmatic perspective on Taiwanese life near the end of Japanese rule has its own streaks of radicalism. The film subjugates concerns of national identity to the need for food and shelter, yet its multiple voiceovers hint at the same questions of representation that would characterize Hou’s lauded historical trilogy. Split into two halves—one about farming and potentially selling a field, the other about an American bomb that does not explode, leaving the villagers with ample scrap metal—Strawman also offers an oblique narrative that privileges absurdist gags and non-sequiturs over continuity. Taken as a whole, it helps fill a gap in the understanding of a cinema too commonly reduced to two or three auteurs. Forrest Cardamenis (June 25, 7:30pm at MoMA’s series spotlighting cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Directed by John Huston
After the Mexican Revolution, three vagrants scamper around Tampico, an oil town, trying to keep themselves afloat in a world where an American can’t survive unless he’s a prospector. After scrounging enough cash, the three men pool their resources and set out for gold in the nearby desolate hills. In an unmerciful vérité style, director John Huston channels tactics he used for his early documentaries; his father, Walter (in an Oscar-winning performance), Humphrey Bogart, and Tim Holt are the players. The film transgresses against the typical conventions of the era: it exposes big movie stars, specifically Bogart, in the unlikeable light of malicious greed and despicable cupidity. The men, who start out as decent human beings, descend to rapacity (again, most notably Bogart), fending off bandits and other treasure-seekers willing to trade their humanity for a few nuggets of metal. Samantha Vacca (June 26, 1:30pm at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of a series in conjunction with David Bordwell’s new book The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture)

Three Sisters-Wang Bing

Three Sisters (2012)
Directed by Wang Bing
Unceasingly, the PRC has stated that the good of the collective outweighs the concerns of the individual, that uplifting poverty is more important than civil liberties. Returning to documentary films after his first fiction work (The Ditch), Wang quietly overwhelms this official binary, simply and heartbreakingly. Three Sisters follows the play and near-constant toil of its three titular siblings—ten-year-old YingYing, six-year-old Zhenzhen, and four-year-old Fenfen—who live largely alone in rural southwest China, splitting their time between themselves, their aunt, and their frequently absent father. Untiringly humane, Three Sisters knows that poverty is crushing and that to speak only of lifting it up is an act of rhetorical and political convenience. Jeremy Polacek (June 26, 7:30pm at the Spectacle)

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