The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, August 12-18

Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS. Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest. Playing August 12-18.
Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest

Night of the Shooting Stars (1982)
Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
Sensing German betrayal, half a Tuscan town’s villagers strike out at night for the front, hoping to evade their untrustworthy occupiers and reach the incoming American troops. Sculpted from memories (their own and those shared with them) and set into motion by an opening-scene wish, the Taviani brothers’ La Notte de San Lorenzo weaves a magical, seamlessly incongruous yarn: melodramatic, tragic, folksy, hyperbolic, and comic. The humorous glides directly into heartache, as in a fantastical, vaudevillian scene when, closely tending to each other’s wounded, one party asks the other for water, until their fatal partisanship is recalled and the groups take aim. Here and there the acting runs a bit mannered, but La Notte de San Lorenzo carries on, a vividly impossible tale that remembers and invents and accepts bewilderment. Jeremy Polacek (August 12-18 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)

a flash of green

A Flash of Green (1984)
Directed by Victor Nunez
It used to be that American fiction films were much more open in their discussions of politics, back when there was more space than there is today to see and debate contemporary mid-to-low-budget films whose plots dealt with working-class daily life. The regional American film has also, relatedly, been vanishing with time, the kind of work committed to exploring how people actually live in places outside of ubiquitous big cities. A film like A Flash of Green was more possible to make in the past. Nunez’s second feature focuses on a seemingly honest reporter (played by Ed Harris) in a west coastal Florida small town who accepts a bribe from a power-hungry land developer (Richard Jordan) to leak information about a rival environmental group at story’s outset. As he subsequently falls for a conservationist (Blair Brown), he also reflects on his choice, and roams the town wondering if his compromise can be undone. At stake in the film (based on John D. MacDonald’s novel) is the place money holds within a sustainable lifestyle, and whether a person can take it without losing anything else. Aaron Cutler (August 12, 9pm at BAM’s “Indie 80s”)

petulia julie christie

Petulia (1968)
Directed by Richard Lester
Eccentric Julie Christie considers an affair with square George C. Scott. UK-based American director Lester returned home for what may be the ultimate San Francisco movie, capturing the privilege, pettiness and kookiness of that city in 1968 (characteristics that bridge several eras). A dizzying slew of loose and rich images by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg is edited into something that captures urban cacophony and Antonioni-esque alienation. The sound design is especially good, the way city noises sometimes overwhelm the characters and sometimes disappear amidst their own dramas. A 35mm print is a rare occurrence. Miriam Bale (August 13, 4:30pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Lester retrospective)

spring night summer night

Spring Night, Summer Night (1967)
Directed by J.L. Anderson
The first and only feature by director J.L. Anderson, this progressive and prophetic midwest familial drama confronts the taboo with uncommonly topical sweep and insight. With measured, empathetic attention to the social and political particulars of small-town, midcentury America, Anderson chronicles the plight of a pair of siblings caught between illicit passion and an ambiguous lineage which together threaten to ostracize the young lovers from a community ill-equipped to negotiate a post-war youth culture which was then being forced to find refuge in more metropolitan, coastal confines. Captured on location in southeast Ohio, in rich shades of 35mm black-and-white, the film at once preserves a bygone vision of virginal Americana and predicts the personal, uncompromising projects of regional micro-budget cinema, forging an unlikely continuum from its counterculture contemporaries such as Faces and The Last Picture Show, to the coming likes of Killer of Sheep, Stranger Than Paradise, and The Color Wheel. Jordan Cronk (August 14, 16, 7pm; August 19, 9pm at Anthology Film Archives’s “One-Film Wonders”)

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It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Boy, Kramer must have been craving a comedy for some time. A break in a run of moralistic “message films,” Mad World is a cathartic burst of rib-damaging mania. The premise, simple: an expanding caravan of everyday folk hotly pursue a treasure buried under a “big W.” The consequences… well, we’re just lucky Southern California is still with us. Does it have a statement to make about greed, about what a suitcase of cash can cause in a person? Sure, but that’s beside the point. The endless whirlwind of slapdash and one-liners, with a gauntlet of comedy all-stars (from Milton Berle to Buster Keaton to Jerry Lewis) to match, never settles in its two-and-a-half hours. Appropriately presented in gargantuan 70mm. Max Kyburz (August 15, 16, 2pm at the Museum of the Moving Image’s “See It Big! 70mm”)

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