The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, July 27-August 2

Fisher King

The Fisher King (1991)
Directed by Terry Gilliam
The fusion of maudlin Richard LaGravenese and mad Terry Gilliam produced a rare alchemical miracle. Gilliam could flex his fabulist muscles with abandon, staying pinioned to a popular notion of cinematic reality thanks to LaGravenese’s cuddly homeless redemption story. Imagine someone trying to tell a story of a homeless man who thinks he’s a knight on a mythic quest today and not having to transport your sickness to an alley behind the theatre before the first act break. And yet Gilliam keeps the film from sinking into a quagmire of quirk, making his most confident film to date. Jeff Bridges, at his most monolithic, must repair a broken sense of self from the gutter and only Robin Williams’s addled former professor can help him. Bridges learns how to give back to those from whom he takes life support, just as Gilliam took an accepted form of storytelling and gave it the kiss of life. Some of Gilliam’s best images and ideas (Grand Central Station becoming a ballroom, a beautifully awkward first date, a suit morphing into a straitjacket, an evil knight tearing through New York) owe their existence to a script that only he could have allowed to transcend its cultural moment. That this movie works decades later is a nearly Arthurian feat unto itself. That it’s more heart-breaking than ever is because of Gilliam, Bridges, Williams and especially Mercedes Ruehl, the brash saint, as Bridges’s long-suffering girlfriend. Their deep commitment still stings the heart like the sweetest poison. Their work on this impossibility will leave a mark that will last forever, and you’ll be thankful in dark times to still have the scars. Scout Tafoya (July 30, 31, 11am at the Nitehawk)

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