The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, April 6-12

comingapart - rip tornComing Apart (1969)
Directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg
Imagine, crazy as it sounds, David of David Holzman’s Diary as a middle-aged psychiatrist instead of a young filmmaker, and you sort of get the idea. Exploiting the power of his profession, Joe (Rip Torn) flirts, seduces, and sleeps with a number of women—patients, acquaintances, strangers—in a friend’s cozy Manhattan office. Unbeknownst to them, he secretly films all of his encounters. Coming Apart completely consists of these hidden-camera shots set entirely in this one space, giving the film a stifling and claustrophobic quality. The camera gazes unflinchingly, capturing loveless sex. A matter of Ginsberg’s calculated ellipsis, there is no specific sense of how much time passes from one sequence to the next—the camera simply stops and starts in medias res. And yet, as Coming Apart progresses, the act of recording breaks down as Joe’s mind comes apart. Tanner Tafelski (April 6, 15, 1:30pm at MoMA’s “Six New York Independents”)

Straw-Dogs

Straw Dogs (1971)
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Peckinpah’s relationship to the female body was as blistered and fractious as his love affair with celluloid. Typically in his films, women were just totems of lives lived in ecstatic torment, what desperadoes would retire to after killing everyone for miles. In Straw Dogs he opened the bandage covering the wounds he associated with women and out came the daughters of Nyx. Peckinpah’s doomed female, Susan George, of the sleepy eyes and sleepless demeanor, is surrounded by men turned criminally insane by testosterone and pride. She has an itch all over her body but one look at the hungry eyes of the sexually frustrated or the projecting and sexless, and we know scratching it would mean a bloodbath. Peckinpah punishes her for trying, and himself (and surrogate/coward Dustin Hoffman) for believing women are defined by masculine binary. Just as his frames thrust into each other like crashing cars, the truth, lies, beliefs and violence between men and women bend until they shatter, and no one escapes unscathed. Scout Tafoya (April 7, 2pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Peckinpah retrospective)

yesterday-girl

Yesterday Girl (1966)
Directed by Alexander Kluge
Kluge’s Abschied von Gestern won the Silver Lion in Venice in 1966, which didn’t stop German university students from pelting the director with eggs in 1968. Kluge’s crime was, roughly, a critique of capitalism that wasn’t critical enough, or was too capitalist. As far as Yesterday Girl goes, the critique is mordantly observant and absorbing: Anita G., a 22-year-old Jewish girl raised in East Germany, has made it to the West—where she is frustrated in every attempt to earn, steal, or seduce her way to a respectable living. In Kluge’s postwar Federal Republic, such a living is synonymous with amassing commodities, from coats and cardigans to university degrees and real estate. In a way, this early product of the New German Cinema was an in-house production—Kluge was adapting a short story he wrote himself, and he cast his sister Alexandra, in the title role. Like Anna Karina, Alexandra K. looks at the absurd world with huge droll eyes, and becomes the motor of a film full of documentary footage, opera outtakes, quotes from Dostoyevsky. But as that last element should indicate, she gets to have a lot less fun. Elina Mishuris (April 8, 7pm; April 14, 4pm at MoMA’s “Germany 66”)

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No Way Out (1950)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
The Bahamian-American actor Sidney Poitier’s first starring film role arrived at age twenty-two as a young doctor defending himself against charges leveled by a racist criminal (played by Richard Widmark) of murdering the crook’s possibly brain tumor-inflicted brother during treatment. As a medic demanding the autopsy that he believes will clear his name, Poitier defined the persona he would hone throughout subsequent decades of stardom: A gracefully erect, self-made man who is filled with righteous anger over how others perceive him and striving to hold his tongue. His Dr. Brooks is stalled by the fact of needing permission from the deceased man’s hateful family to examine the body, and in response, pushes his way aggressively and fruitlessly towards obtaining it. An epiphany comes late in the film when a woman spits in the doctor’s face, leading him to realize that he must ultimately travel a nonviolent path in order to reach and spread the truth. In contrast to the verbal and physical abuse employed by Widmark’s hoodlum and the many people (both black and white) whose rage he works to stir up, the most forceful movement Poitier’s character makes is turning a cheek. Aaron Cutler (April 9, 2pm at the Museum of the Moving Image’s Poitier series; introduction by series curator Mia Mask)

moonandthesledgehammer 1971

The Moon and the Sledgehammer (1971)
Directed by Philip Trevaylen
In the opening moments of The Moon and the Sledgehammer, the camera pushes aside branches and finds a clearing: the Page family residence, a few miles outside of London. Nobody’s home, so the camera has a look around, peering in for close-ups of the pianos, smithing tools and steam engine components scattered about the lawn, before the elderly Page patriarch emerges from the woods to deliver a ringmaster’s greeting. A tone of wonderment at a found object Trevelyan vérité-style but clearly pieced-together glimpses of Page—a circus clown turned self-sustaining woodsman, tinkerer and pipe organist—and his grown children, two feral gardener girls and two lost-boyish, passionately mumbling engineers, especially handy with old steam engines. Stray moments and pronouncements about sustainable lifestyles and overdependence on petroleum seem prescient—though the Page children are almost closer to the idiosyncratically socialized rural eccentrics in the phonetic dialogue scenes of a Victorian novel than today’s very in-the-know opt-outs. Ultimately this is family portrait, too specific and singular to be anything but a curio first and foremost. As a curio, though, it offers up gorgeously strange images, moments that take no set social rule, technological advance or natural relationship as a given. Mark Asch (April 9, 6:15pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Art of the Real,” introduced by filmmaker Ben Rivers)

los angeles plays itself

Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)
Directed by Thom Anderson
Andersen’s dense and illuminating video essay highlights Los Angeles’s complicated relationship with the movies and the troubling divide between the city’s cinematic portrayal and its geographic, architectural, and sociological realities. Using clips from nearly a century’s worth of films, Andersen argues that the movie industry has always tried to distance itself from Los Angeles, from adopting the more idyllic-sounding “Hollywood” as its epicenter to using the urban landscape as an anonymous backdrop for car chases and alien invasions. The longtime Angeleno is also suspicious of Hollywood’s denigration of his city’s modern architecture. He observes how historic landmarks like the Ennis House and the Bradbury Building are consistently transformed into stylish hideouts for movie villains.

Andersen does, however, find solace in those films that use the city as a subject and a character. Chinatown is praised for presenting LA’s corrupt secret history, as is Double Indemnity for depicting evil as banal as the unchanging sunny weather. This is film criticism on an elevated plane, one that finds as much value in the sociological ramifications of a Steven Seagal shoot ’em up as it does in Altman’s The Long Goodbye. A.J. Serrano (April 10, 5pm at the Museum of the Moving Image)

Virgin-Suicides-Cast-NYC Repertory Cinema

The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel is told from the point of view of a group of men unable to understand why their high school crushes committed suicide; Coppola’s adaptation takes the viewer into the bedroom of the eponymous sisters, locating this blindness in a distinctly cinematic form. Coppola appropriates that most ontologically cinematic attribute–the male gaze–to lend credibility to the feelings of the teenage boys, but she also anchors that gaze through the sisters, who watch themselves being watched so intently and turn its voyeurism into exhibitionism. Where the voyeuristic male gaze allows the man to “win” the woman in the end, The Virgin Suicides shows the tragedy that patriarchy imposes on anyone who dare use its own codes against it.

But this is no academic work. With period-appropriate pop music (deployed perfectly, as only Coppola can do) creating moments of unadulterated joy amid an otherwise painful nostalgia, The Virgin Suicides is a loss of innocence and high-school film tonally distinct from and much wiser than most. Forrest Cardamenis (April 12, 4pm 7:30pm at FIAF)

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The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Directed by Roger Corman
From its initial moments of burning violence until its bloody end, this film perfectly captures why Corman’s Poe era is his best. While the film takes its time to get to the ball, the moment horror fans Poe wait for, it manages, through new imagery, to put forward a political interpretation of the tale: a personified Red Death overthrows the powerful while helping the leader of the poor farmers that are subjects of Prince Prospero’s reign. As the despot, Vincent Price lives through Poe effortlessly, as it’s to be expected. Jaime Grijalba (April 12 at Tenant416)

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