The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, November 3-December 6

repertory-wanderers

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The Wanderers (1979)
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Set in The Bronx in 1963, The Wanderers focuses on the eponymous Italian-American street gang, whose members are vying with black, Chinese, and other white gangs but searching for something more as they strut, smoke, drink, fight, and grope their way through the neighborhood. The movie’s kinetic quality at times recalls Walter Hill’s memorable The Warriors, which appeared in the same year. But like George Lucas in American Graffiti, Kaufman aspires to more than a timelessly gritty fable. He is attuned to the epochal transition from the fifties to the sixties: late in the movie JFK’s assassination darkens the mood, and a Bob Dylan coffee-house gig jars the pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll score. Kaufman also hones his special talent for balancing parody and elegy, which peaked with The Right Stuff four years later. True to Richard Price’s source novel, and anticipating his subsequent prodigiousness as a chronicler of the culture of the American city, the script elevates the vulgarity of street life to sardonic urban poetry. When, in coercing the gang’s leader into marrying his pregnant daughter, the local wise-guy quips, “You should have given her an ankle bracelet and stuck to jerking off,” he is conveying sympathy as much as disdain. If The Wanderers now scans as a picaresque curiosity, it is a smart and knowing one. Jonathan Stevenson (December 4, 1:15pm; December 5, 8pm; December 19, 7:10pm at Film Forum; with various cast and crew members in person)

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