The Anniversary Party (2001)
Directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Joe and Sally Therrian are celebrating their sixth anniversary—though they’ve lived separately for most of the last one—with a few of their closest friends, past lovers, business advisors, directors, actors, and inscrutable neighbors in their Hollywood Hills home. Joe’s duplicitous behavior, bisexuality, and the indignancy of his decision to not cast his wife in his latest film (despite the character being based on her) have eroded their relationship—and Sally’s ability to give her all to the role she’s currently filming.
Stars Cumming and Leigh wrote and directed the film together, not necessarily based on their lives but on what their lives could be; it’s an incisive, voyeuristic look into the intermingling of nuanced characters. Cumming and Leigh recruited their real-life friends—Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates (out of retirement as a favor to her best friend and Fast Times costar), Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. Reilly, Parker Posey, Jane Adams, and Jennifer Beals among others—to play subtly different versions of themselves.
What starts as a champagne-fueled evening, filled with charades and intimate speeches dedicated to the couple, slowly metamorphoses into a drug-addled confessional, thanks to the ecstasy brought by Skye Davidson (played tactfully by Paltrow). All infected with what essentially acts as a truth serum, accusations and admissions fly, ruining some relationships and strengthening others. A near-dawn call from Joe’s father with horrible news about his neglected sister Lucy is the denouement that these wildly self-indulgent characters need to put the evening into perspective. And just like that, the party’s over, and so ends this intelligent glimpse into the fascinating lifestyles of the overly emotive, when all that remains is layers of grit, regret, and broken glass. Samantha Vacca (April 19, 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Jennifer Jason Leigh tribute)
Alice in the Cities (1974)
Directed by Wim Wenders
Wenders has said that Alice in the Cities is his purest work—it’s the movie that ignited his love for the road, leading him to his later pictures, some of which are featured in the mini retro at BAM this week (Alice screens with 1975’s Wrong Move and 1976’s Kings of the Road—which, together, make up his Road Trilogy). In Alice, a journalist, played by Wenders regular Rüdiger Volger, finds himself with an unlikely traveling companion in nine-year-old Alice, who gets separated from her mother. The odd pairing of a young girl and a strange grown man doesn’t so much incite lewd questions here as it provides the points of view that drive Alice: an appreciation for history and maturity for existential lingerings, as well as the excitable, childlike outlook of Alice as they traipse through New York and Germany. The two also briefly find themselves at a concert for the late Chuck Berry. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim (April 21, 2pm, 7pm; April 22, 9:30pm; April 23, 8pm at BAM’s spotlight on Wenders’s Road Trilogy)
Under the Cherry Moon (1986)
Directed by Prince
If the Kid of Purple Rain manifested the possessive, prickly ego of Prince, Christopher Tracy is the playfully mugging id, a one-man parade of sass and spunk. (Put those two together, and you have his unstoppable look from “Batdance”). A project wrestled from original director Mary Lambert—who was demoted to creative consultant—Under the Cherry Moon was the next stop on a contentious relationship between His Royal Purpleness and Warner Brothers, a prime example of creative control vs. commercial demands. It was nowhere near as successful a film, even if its soundtrack killed at wrecka stows. The failure is conceivable: gone are the sultry live performances (those would return in the depressingly underseen Sign O The Times), the hardened domestic drama, and the steamy romance between Prince and Apollonia. You may not have Lake Minnetonka to purify yourself in, but there’s Prince wearing a wide-brimmed hat in a bath.
Set in the French Riviera’s sumptuous luxury, guided by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus’s detail-oriented eye (the Fassbinder and Scorsese collaborator died earlier this month), Cherry Moon takes the triangular tension of its predecessor along the leisurely path of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Christopher Tracy is a sparkly gigolo courting trust-fund honey Mary (Kristen Scott Thomas in her feature debut), who also takes a shine to sidekick Tricky (Jerome Benton of The Time). Though the plot is cookie-cutter and the chemistry botched, Prince nevertheless does what he does best: make a formula his own. Gender fluidity and queer identity rule the film—Prince and Benton truly deserve each other—and the dialogue is bonkers poetry: “Piss, piss, what a pity/life can be so shitty.” At best, it proved Prince’s comic chops, as well as his stretched imagination for musical setpieces, making you wish every stuffy party had an impromptu boombox blast. How much was Prince and how much was Lambert and Lizzie Borden alum Becky Johnston remains obscure, but the controversy becoming mythology was certainly one of Prince’s greatest talents. Max Kyburz (April 21, 9:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse)
Solzhenitsyn’s Children… Are Making a Lot of Noise in Paris (1979)
Directed by Michael Rubbo
This curious and candid documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada chronicles the disillusionment of the Parisian gauche following the publication of The Gulag Archipelago, which for the first time brought to a wider audience the horrors of Soviet “Communism.” Along with the Paris correspondent of a Quebecoise newspaper, the filmmaker goes on a political tour of the different blends of coffeshop revolutionary currents animating the French capital. The two journalists explore the moral dilemma of the left as expounded by their leading intellectuals, or alleged such, trying to understand a phenomenon rather alien to Anglo-Saxon audiences, that of so-called Eurocommunism. Graced by a light yet not superficial tone, this charming documentary represents a glimpse into an epochal split that involved the whole of the continental left and triggered its extinction. In historical terms it talks to a very recent past, though some of the problems posed seem today of the Jurassic kind. Among the most annoying sights on display is that of a young Bernard–Henri Lévy promising that had the Communist Party won the elections he would have renounced to his French citizenship. Coincidentally, the fashionable philosopher threatened to do just the same again this year in case of a victory of the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the upcoming elections. Plus ça change… Giovanni Vimercati (April 23, 5pm; April 28, 10pm at the Spectacle)
Truck Turner (1974)
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Before he went legit, national treasure Jonathan Kaplan was one of the most raucous, lowdown, scuzzy directors of AIP gems. Mixing trashy pyrotechnics with a rare sort of charming dastardliness, his movies celebrated cads of every stripe. Truck Turner is one of his classics, and indeed one of the finest of the Blaxploitation films we have. Isaac Hayes—sleepy, mean, but lovable—is a skip tracer who crashes purposefully through every assignment. Kaplan presents a buffet of subcultural succulence, each new custom observed by the pimps and bounty hunters has the richness of a National Geographic feature. Take the funeral for smalltimer Gator, which brings out a rogue’s gallery of LA’s sex workers, dolled up in rainbow afros, diamond-studded eyepatches and more furs than there are in Redwood National Park. Of course none of this would matter without the commitment of each performer. Nichelle Nichols and Yaphet Kotto are as thunderously alive as Hayes is hungover and their chemistry is something to behold. Nichols doesn’t need anyone, of course. Her raving monologues and impossibly sleazy come-ons ought to earn her an honorary degree from the Actor’s Studio. Hayes and his famous scoring are like a fat filet in the middle of the bountiful feast that is Truck Turner, but Nichols is the seasoning, sides, wine and dessert. Scout Tafoya (April 24, 9:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse, presented by programmer and Brooklyn Magazine contributing film critic Steve Macfarlane)
The Fourth Man (1983)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
In The Fourth Man, paranoia, fantasy and spiritual revelations go hand in hand, with protagonist Gerard Reve (Jeroen Krabbé) blurring the lines between various modes of experience. Brooding, violent, manipulative and devoutly Catholic, Gerard is plagued by premonitions of his own death and visitations from the Virgin Mary (the “Lady in Blue”) as he attempts to navigate the perilous web woven by the seductive and secretive widow Christine (Renée Soutendijk). Over the course of the movie, Christine is compared to a spider, Delilah, the devil and a witch. Behind her camera, she captures the souls of the men who love her; behind the barber’s chair and in Gerard’s dreams, she cuts his hair and dismembers him, clutching his severed manhood like a trophy. The Madonna-whore dichotomy, which can get tiring in most movies, is redeemed somewhat by Verhoeven’s nuanced exploration of queerness and Krabbé’s electric portrayal of a man driven to madness and alcoholism by his fragile notions of masculinity. Christine might be the devil, but the dreamlike logic of this Dutch thriller begs the question: are men like Gerard worth saving? Celina Reynes (April 24, at the Quad’s “Four Play”)
Canal Zone (1977)
Directed by Frederick Wiseman
Middle America in miniature encased in a bubble of imperialism, Canal Zone is an unusually bitter, wide-ranging Wiseman. Between glimpses of a high school graduation (a la High School), the languid residents of a psychiatric hospital (Titicut Follies), and a delightful, can-do fashion show (Model), it’s not only the United States that appears to have infiltrated this little space around the Panama Canal, but whole subjects of Wiseman’s previous films. There’s a little bit of everything in the Zone: skateboarding kids, women’s liberation, a seemingly all-black prison. It’s an abundance that lends the film balance and, in turn, a numb, surreal view of normalcy. For in all its overheard talk of family, future, and freedom—in that bicentennial year—Panama and the Panamanians nearly never come up. Wiseman certainly films them—almost always on their own, practically existing in their own, separate world from the Americans. But he’s not the type to put words in people’s mouths. And silence speaks well enough on its own. Jeremy Polacek (April 25, 12:30pm, 6pm at Film Forum’s “The Complete Wiseman: Part 1”)
Sink or Swim (1990)
Directed by Su Friedrich
One of the greatest films in the history of cinema proceeds by reciting the alphabet backwards. The work is New York-based Su Friedrich’s 48-minute-long Sink or Swim, an elusive personal essay shot on black-and-white 16mm that encircles the filmmaker’s relationship with her distant, oft-absent, sometimes emotionally abusive father who ultimately abandoned her with her mother and sister, then reappeared from time to time. Her tale’s told in third-person by a young female (Jessica Lynch) who impassively narrates the story of “the girl.” Each episode unfolding from “Zygote” through “Memory” through to “Athena Atalante Aphrodite” relates a small parable of a person growing through a primal encounter held between her and her linguist kin. The images build further distance from the pain through sequences of groups that comment indirectly on the girl’s isolation, whether they be animals at play or people in a park and on a beach. Su herself appears reflected over the course of the work, emerging finally as an adult during its late passages. By then, the film’s two-sided story has been imbedded in resonating fashion: That of a man who left his child at sea for reasons known only to him, and that of the woman who has spent her whole subsequent life learning, on her own, how to swim.
Sink or Swim—which was named to the National Film Registry in 2015—will screen at Light Industry together with Michelle Citron’s 1980 film Daughter Rite, a 49-minute-long collage work by the Boston-based director who strives to articulate her complicated feelings about her mother in conversation with two adult sisters speaking with good-humored exasperation about their own. Both films will screen on 16mm, and Su Friedrich will participate in a post-screening discussion. Aaron Cutler (April 25, 7:30pm at Light Industry)