The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, February 24-March 1

golden-eighties Golden Eighties (1986)
Directed by Chantal Akerman
This poignant musical comedy unfolds almost entirely inside a shopping mall called the Toison d’Or (“Golden Fleece”) filled with male and female workers whose amorous yearnings for one another compete with their attention to their jobs. The cast includes repeat Akerman performers Pascale Salkin and Delphine Seyrig, who dreamily, painfully sing love songs composed by Marc Hérouet with lyrics that the late Akerman wrote. “Golden Eighties is a movie very clearly of Chantal’s creation,” says the filmmaker Andrew Bujalski (Results), who studied with Akerman as an undergraduate film major. “Even when venturing far from expectations (can you imagine the director of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles making a colorful pop musical set in a shopping mall?), her eyes and ears are unmistakable. Though she seemed to concur with the assessment of Jeanne Dielman as her masterpiece, it saddens me to think that people might forget that Chantal—who was certainly a brilliant, ‘serious’ artist in the deepest sense of the word—was extremely funny and valued humor enormously. Nearly all of my memories of her are, in one way or another, comical. I was a college senior when we met. She was my thesis advisor, and she encouraged me not to worry about doing serious work. You can be funny, she said, just be funny—or something along those lines. It was only many years later that I realized that this was surely something that some part of her wanted for herself.” Aaron Cutler (February 24, 8:45pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Film Comment Selects”)

bell book and candle

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
Directed by Richard Quine
A Technicolor sister to René Clair’s I Married A Witch, this supernatural screwball comedy’s sharp quirkiness is compounded by its correlation to Vertigo’s quasi-necrophilia, which was released earlier that year. First, an amusing reunion: no longer playing a corpse, sorceress Kim Novak takes romantic charge with square Jimmy Stewart, dusting off his manic-eyed charm after a decade of more serious roles. The shared themes of identity crisis are more playful here as Novak ponders dropping the humdrum hocus-pocus excitedly practiced by elder witch Elsa Lancaster and bongo-beating warlock Jack Lemmon, and drunkenly investigated by Ernie Kovacs. Quine skillfully translates the broad innuendos and feminist subtext with James Wong Howe’s cinematography, which mirrors the “cool” of wintry Greenwich Village, plus witchcraft’s perceived emotional frigidity. As the craft has once again achieved hipsterization, it’s fun to see where that all started. Max Kyburz (February 24, 8pm at BAM’s “Witches’ Brew”)

farewell my lovely 1975

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
Directed by Dick Richards
This smooth Chandler adaptation is almost Dick Tracyesque in its flamboyant Art Deco design, all sad jazz, faded primary colors and rainslick city streets. It’s nostalgic in the most melancholy way, somehow both bright and pale. Its mystery—about a missing showgirl, some stolen jade, a crooked casino, most of it red herrings—is set in a crumbling Los Angeles filled with crumbling people, showbiz washups holed up in flophouses and fleabags; this is a city of newsboys and nightclerks, hucksters and shysters, madames and mooses, fences and fops and, of course, a femme fatale, played by Charlotte Rampling, doing her best Lauren Bacall.

A young Harry Dean Stanton is also on hand, doing Richard Widmark, and so is Robert Mitchum, doing Robert Mitchum, a hangdog like Bogart—another famous Philip Marlowe—wisecracking and wry but also so world-weary it looks like god forgot to give him eyeholes so he slit them open himself, like the pockets of a new suit. This is the truest yet most conspicuously artificial evocation of Raymond Chandler’s city ever set to celluloid, sunsoaked in the most sickening way, daylight looking as radioactive as the neon that illuminates the strips at night. It’s Chinatown dipped in honey—then left out in the sun for the flies. Henry Stewart (February 26-28, 11am, at IFC Center’s Rampling series)

bloody mama

Bloody Mama (1970)
Directed by Roger Corman
When you’re the Pope of Pop Cinema, you can turn any story into a campy spree of butchery—that’s just what the eternally relevant Corman does with the tale of Ma Barker and her devilish boys. Leading the group of nefarious Midwestern public enemies during the Hoover era, Shelley Winters commands your attention as the titular matriarch, a woman who was abused as a child and swore an oath to create a loving, faithful family of her own. Years later, given four fresh-faced ingénue offspring (notably, a rawboned, heroin-addicted Robert De Niro), Ma Barker leaves her husband and leads the boys on a fast-talking, gun-shooting, stick-em-up binge. Winters’s mechanical drawl purrs affectations at one moment and shrills hotheaded nonsense at the next, whether it’s directed at one of the gang’s victims, or her son Freddy’s lover (played amicably by Bruce Dern). In the end, the Barker’s fate was sealed by history, but only Corman could make being gunned down by the FBI so toxically endearing. Samantha Vacca (February 27, 5pm at Anthology Film Archives’s AIP series)


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