The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, January 25-31

nyc repertory-dogs+in+space Dogs in Space (1986)
Directed by Richard Lowenstein
Set in 1978, Dogs in Space evokes a time when bands formed overnight in Melbourne. The film, which stars INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, focuses on one such band, the name of which is the name of film. Along with friends and friends of friends, they live in a shared house. It’s communal living, and Lowenstein conveys this with a flowing, mobile camera, maintaining spatial relations, and picking out people, or groups of people, before moving onto the next one and the next.

Dogs in Space has ceaseless energy as people smash TVs, pile into cars, and of course, play music. House parties burst into bacchanals. If not destroying their home, this clique is throbbing and twitching in clubs. They live at night and sleep during the day. They laugh, they cry, they fuck, and they fight. Dogs in Space is the punk Renoir film you never knew existed, but welcome with open arms. Tanner Tafelski (January 25, 7:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse)

nyc repertory-Fist-of-Fury-bruce-lee

Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) (1972)
Directed by Lo Wei
Bruce Lee employed a unique fighting style consisting of herky-jerky motions, with fists and feet moving in impulsive yet tightly controlled fashion. The actor/director/martial artist/philosopher was born in San Francisco in 1940 under the name of Lee Jun-fan and moved between the United States and his parents’ native Hong Kong several times during his short life. He founded a martial arts style called Jeet Kune Do (“Way of the Intercepting Fist”) while mastering many others, all for the sake of expressing a form unbound by any one set of rules. The sense of freedom inherent to his motions was emphasized across all parts of his small yet brawny body, including a boyish face whose features slid between joy and anguish over the course of any given fight. In their best moments, the five films in which Lee starred before a brain aneurysm claimed him at age 32 express the exhilaration of achieving one’s best self, a sensation that Lee understood as reaching total self-awareness. This manifested itself onscreen through tales of a little guy fighting to earn respect for himself and his group.

In Fist of Fury—a film that broke the Hong Kong box office record set by his and actor-director Lo’s collaboration The Big Boss the previous year—Lee plays Chen Zhen, an early 1900s-era youth returning to his native Shanghai who discovers that his beloved kung fu teacher has died of “sickness” at the hands of Japanese occupiers enthralled with tormenting and bullying the students at his school. In short order, and with trembling fist raised, the young man does his utmost to fling their mockery back at them, and then shatter it and them into pieces. Chen Zhen, who once dreamt of marriage (to a wide-eyed fiancée played quietly by Nora Miao), abandons life in his community for the sake of going rogue on its behalf. With each one-on-one battle waged against a foreign invader—including, most epically, a hulking Russian fighter (Robert Baker) delighted to be amidst the Japanese—Chen Zhen comes a step closer to achieving freedom for his people, a freedom that hovers painfully beyond his reach.

Fist of Fury will screen at MoMA in a new 4K restoration undertaken by the laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata on behalf of the Hong Kong distributor Fortune Star. It and the new 4K restorations of three of Lee’s other starring films will receive their North American premieres. Lee’s best-known film, Enter the Dragon, will additionally receive a weeklong run at MoMA January 29-February 4. Aaron Cutler (January 27, 7pm; January 29, 6pm at MoMA’s Bruce Lee retro)

NIGHTBREED, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, 1990, TM and Copyright (c)20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

Nightbreed (1990)
Directed by Clive Barker
“He’s not Nightbreed.” Barker’s practically animated spookshow is a shibboleth for those obsessed by monsters, ghouls and long-legged beasties. It’s about not just the dark power of imagination, but the sensation of discovering yourself inside imaginary worlds—specifically cult film and literature. Barker’s exquisite corpse of high and low culture (e.g. the aristocratic names for his hideous mutant cabal: Peloquin, Narcisse, Baphomet) is the foundation of cult oddities like this, lousy with ambition but saddled with studio dictates. Craig Sheffer is a greaser with psychotic delusions that manifest when he loses all hope in his own redemption. His psychiatrist (played, splendidly, by David Cronenberg, who knew a thing or two about cult success and secret societies) is carving up innocent people and framing him. Who but the violent outsider, a man whose dreams conjured up a demon realm called Midian, could possibly be capable of such horrifying behavior? Of course when Sheffer goes on the run and finds Midian and its colorful inhabitants, his loyalties quickly switch from human to nightbreed. The flamboyantly monstrous denizens of Midian are the misfits we all hope to fall in with, the supernatural hotrodders who might help us discover our long-lost purpose, whose degenerate camaraderie would help us justify our obsessions and fetishes. The right monsters and creeps could make us finally feel at home after feeling like a missing piece for so long. Scout Tafoya (January 27, 28, midnight at the Nitehawk)

nyc repertory-tilda-teknolust

Teknolust (2002)
Directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson
Wow, this movie is bad—deceptively worse upon rewatch than in memory—but the cheap, near-pornographic veneer is a spectacle in itself. Thing is, it’s hard to look away from a movie that stars not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR Tilda Swintons, including a nerdy scientist named Rosetta Stone (yup), and the trio of cyborgs she’s cloned in her own image, who are color-coordinated with different wigs and made to look like extras in a Björk music video (funny enough, they keep referencing Björk haircuts). Taking the concept of cybersex to quite the literal extreme, these clones rely on doses of semen to survive, and it’s up to the leader of the cyborg pack, Ruby, to go out and seduce men to get that funky stuff. In her trail, she leaves men branded and impotent, but things get even more complicated when she meets a man she catches the feels for. Lynn Hershman Leeson works with a lot of ideas here, and some surprisingly tender moments, but Teknolust hasn’t quite paved a way for the feminist sci-fi subgenre. Still, there’s an incredible dance sequence amongst the clones that’s worth sticking around for. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim (January 29, 4:30pm at the Museum of the Moving Image with Lynn Hershman Leeson in person; the screening is sold out, but standby tickets may be available)

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Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Directed by Monte Hellman
In Hellman’s cult classic, 1960s idealism has given way to fatalism, leaving a hollowed-out counterculture in uneasy equipoise with an anachronistic and equally decadent roadside America—a situation perhaps loosely resonant of the current zeitgeist. Setting out from California, The Driver (singer-songwriter James Taylor) and The Mechanic (The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson) laconically subordinate all else to keeping their tricked-out ’55 Chevy faster than all comers in pop-up drag races along Route 66. They run into “GTO,” a garrulous but lonely drifter, played by the inimitable Warren Oates, who drives the eponymous Pontiac. Trash talk yields a cross-country race to Washington, DC, the winner to get title to the loser’s car. Everyone involved in this existential masterpiece steps up, but the revelation is Oates’s heartbreaking blend of bluster, threat, humility, zaniness, insecurity, and, improbably, latent decency—signature qualities of this great film actor, who at least until recently has been under-appreciated. It goes almost without saying that the race is never finished. The movie’s iconic fade-out is one of the coolest and most haunting in film. Jonathan Stevenson (January 29, 4:45pm, 9:30pm at Metrograph’s “Universal in the ‘70s: Part One”)

nyc repertory-forest for the trees

The Forest For the Trees (2003)
Directed by Maren Ade
The origins of discomfort and awkwardness in Maren Ade’s Everyone Else and Toni Erdmann can be traced back to her breezily brutal debut. After moving to a new German province, bright-eyed biology teacher Melanie (Eva Löbau) encounters an onslaught of indifference, casual aggression, and outright isolation from both her colleagues and students. Ill-equipped for such survival-of-the-fittest gauntlets, she forces herself into social and work situations hoping to blend in. But predators of all ages can smell fear and she never stands a chance. The closing moments present her “fight” giving way to “flight” in particularly tragic fashion. Glenn Heath, Jr. (January 31, 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse)

 

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Cat Listening to Music (1990)
Directed by Chris Marker
Perhaps Chris Marker had a secret soft spot for dogs, but there’s no doubting where he fell on the cat-dog divide. In A Grin Without a Cat, Sans Soleil, The Case of the Grinning Cat and other feline-filled films, Marker observed, pursued, even impersonated cats, creating the ur-cat-man in the form of his alter-ego, Guillaume-en-Égypte, an anthropomorphic, orange kitty. Cat Listening to Music arguably finds him at his most cat-ownery, his handheld camera alighting on a cat dozing away on a keyboard while classical music plays. But like his alter ego, this two-minute short is more than just the case of a curiously musical cat. Marker’s edits cut from the speakers to the cat’s perking ears, from the radio’s digital display to the claws tapping the keys, as if trying to ask: “Is this cat listening, am I being fooled, is there something of me in this cat or of it in me?” Jeremy Polacek (January 31, 7pm as part of a shorts program presented at Anthology Film Archives by the Flaherty Film Seminar)

nyc repertory-female student guerilla

Female Student Guerrilla (1969)
Directed by Masao Adachi
Adachi is one of the most controversial filmmakers out there: one who was actually involved in a terrorist group, Japan’s Red Army, whose members still appear in wanted posters in embassies and airports. Adachi’s films often dealt directly with left-leaning politically violent groups, like the one portrayed in this film, with enough self-consciousness to see how these kind of groups end up destroying themselves. With its usual mix of sex and politics, the film focuses on a group of young girls who make fun of men of any age as they plan a boycott of final exams, fleeing to the mountains and maintaining a base which they defend with weapons stolen from soldiers who fell for their sexual tricks. In time, a crazed soldier who seems stuck in WWII joins them, and the film becomes more lively as it changes from black and white to color, and demonstrates the natural decay of organizations that seem more fixated on the pure concept of rebellion than on ideology. Adachi doesn’t shy away from this condemnation. Jaime Grijalba (January 31, 7:30pm at Light Industry)

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