The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, October 19-25

Tsutomu Yamazaki and Nobuko Miyamoto in Juzo Itami’s TAMPOPO (1985). Courtesy Film Forum via Janus Films. Playing Friday, October 21 - Thursday, November 3. Tampopo (1991)
Directed by Juzo Itami
The mass of New Yorkers who, some years ago, could tell you where to grab the best hot dog in town, have, by 2016, largely been replaced by a younger set who could probably point you in the direction of their favorite ramen spot. For this development, it’s likely we have David Chang and his Momofuku empire to thank. But before Chang & co. there was Tampopo, a veritable beacon around which foodies and Japanophiles (or shinnichi) could gather and gush about Japanese food and this eminently weird movie that takes this country’s food deathly serious while also being completely, hilariously deranged.

In a sense, it almost feels as though Tampopo belongs moreso to food culture and culture in general than to film history. But to consign Tampopo to a niche or pop-cultural category might risk failing to account for how special it is as a film.

The plot is conventional enough: Goro, a self-styled “ramen cowboy,” rolls into town to school a novice chef in the meticulous art of crafting the perfect bowl of noodles. Just as the bulk of a steak’s flavor is to be found in the thin marbling of fat the streaks through it, so it is with Tampopo: its best is to be found in the details—in its lovably, at-times erratic hand-held camerawork, its irreverent pastiches of American film genres (Western, gangster), and its hectic non-sequiturs. The film is peppered with mannered instructional scenes and shot through with the eccentric kinds of formal whimsy and weirdness that turned Nobujiko Obayashi’s Hausu into so successful a belated hit—like, for instance, an explicit love scene involving live shrimp, whipped cream, and lemons set to a Gustav Mahler symphony. Michael Blum (October 21-November 3 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)

nyc repertory cinema-one potato

One Potato, Two Potato (1964)
Directed by Larry Peerce
A pained gem of a movie, as confrontational to behold now as it must have been for its (tiny) audience upon release in 1964. Frank (Bernie Hamilton) strikes up a lonely romance with Julie (Barbara Barrie), a single mother in the small town of Howard (“population 17,328”). He’s black, she’s white, and their love is the real thing; ergo, even after getting married and having a baby boy together, it’s only a matter of time before her ne’er-do-well ex, Joe (Richard Mulligan) returns to Howard, looking to claim custody of his and Julie’s daughter Ellen. One Potato sifts elements of the courtroom and kitchen-sink dramas to probe competing hatreds: bent over a decanter, Joe mumbles that “A man doesn’t really know himself until a thing like this happens—and what he finds, it may stink like a sewer, but…” Mulligan’s sweat-wracked, hambone performance only serves to lopside the audience further in Frank and Julie’s favor (not difficult), while Frank has internalized the casual racism of suburban America so deeply that it’s intractable.

Hamilton and Berrie’s performances are what take Peerce’s movie beyond roughshod curio status, their indignities made uncanny by the more conventional filmmaking flourishes: with its fluttering string-winds section combo, Gerald Fried’s score feels quaint and insufficient when, say, a white cop harasses Frank and Julie during one of their long walks home. Frank’s parents (played by Robert Earl Jones and Vinette Carroll) aren’t just wary; by Hollywood standards they’re radical, assuming outright that their son’s relationship with Julie can only lead to heartbreak. Expectedly for reality but less so for the silver screen, Peerce’s film holds their argument—and the ending clangs with abrupt, sobering discord. This is must-see “issue cinema” from the forefront of the Civil Rights Era, daring in its proposition—still valid—that too many ordinary people get hurt while waiting for garden-variety mores to change. Steve Macfarlane (October 21-27 at the Metrograph; showtimes daily)

nyc repertory cinema-terrorizers

The Terrorizers (1986)
Directed by Edward Yang
Terrorizers is often labeled the angriest entry in Yang’s filmography. Malaise and malice occasionally poke through in his other films, however refractedly. In Terrorizers, they’re conveyed with uncompromising force.

The film follows four characters—ranging from the mildly repugnant to the sociopathic criminal—whose lives fatefully intertwine. But even as each character’s life links with that of another, each remains hopelessly isolated, marooned amidst the urban anomie of Yang’s biting vision of 1980s Taipei.

The 80s and 90s marked an era of liberalization for Taiwan, a period which witnessed the dissolution of the country’s military dictatorship and its opening up to the world. This moment was especially crucial for Yang, whose films are so deeply informed by his encounter with American and Western culture (Terrorizers is a sort of riff on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up). But the light-speed jump from totalitarian control to the toothy promise of capitalist free-for-all does not occur without turbulence. Yang’s film is one of the most indelible monuments in cinema to the overlooked casualties of this kind of transition, one made by many countries in the last decades of the 20th century. Michael Blum (New digital restoration October 21-27 at BAM; showtimes daily)

nyc repertory cinema-manhunter

Manhunter (1986)
Directed by Michael Mann
Mann is perhaps best known for his odes to professionalism immersed in the modern crime world, and Manhunter stands as one of his finest efforts. Starring a determined William Petersen as a former FBI agent brought back into the underworld in pursuit of the Tooth Fairy Killer (Tom Noonan), the film is widely remembered as the first film to feature Hannibal Lecter, played here by Brian Cox. But it is also Mann’s most perfect film, a cold, gleaming diamond that combines the highest craftsmanship possible with a genuine beating heart. In an airtight two hours, Mann propels the film through the exacting investigation to reveal the humanity that resides in both good and evil. Ryan Swen (Oct 21, 22, midnight at the Nitehawk)

nyc repertory cinema-affairs within walls

Affairs within Walls (1965)
Directed by Koji Wakamatsu
Sexploitation flicks are usually associated with salacious, slightly prurient audiences looking for some nudity and the occasional cheap thrill. At most they are read as a sort of cinematographic symptom of the sexual revolution that swept the Western hemisphere in the late 60s. But in Japan, “pink films,” as the genre came to be known, are inextricably linked to ultra-leftist politics. The most prominent exponents were in fact highly politicized filmmakers that used sex as both a Trojan horse for their subversive messages and the perfect metaphor to stage the then-popular conviction that had the private sphere coinciding with the political one. Emblematic in this regard is Affairs Within Walls, which became the first pink film shown outside of Japan when it was selected for the Berlin Film Festival. Sexuality, voyeurism and revolutionary politics are here deployed as allegorical elements but also function as eminently narrative tropes, incarnating the characters’ dilemmas and tribulations. Spectacle is hosting the biggest retrospective of Japanese Pink Films to have ever taken place in North America, starting with the films of the late Wakamatsu, who skinny-dipped in the treacherous waters of radical politics and the armed struggle. (Testament to the heartfelt resolve that traversed and animated those films and their evident contradictions is perhaps the story of Masao Adachi, fellow filmmaker and screenwriter of Wakamatsu’s The Embryo Hunts in Silence, who would eventually enlist in the Japanese Red Army and join the ranks of the Palestinian resistance in Lebanon.) By undressing their protagonists of their social mores, pink films managed to chronicle the burning political passions as well as the crimes of a generation of young Japanese impatient to overthrow a most conservative society. It started with cinema and often ended in senseless tragedy, as many of these films had so presciently sensed. Giovanni Vimercati (October 22, 30, 7pm at the Spectacle’s pink films series)

nyc repertory cinema-thelma and louise

Thelma & Louise (1991)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Remembered as one of the greatest feminist Hollywood films, Thelma & Louise might often be called a “Ridley Scott film” and while that might not be entirely unfair, in the case of this movie, authorship must be extended to Callie Khourie, who not only wrote the screenplay, but also co-produced the film along Scott. Khourie’s Thelma & Louise cleverly combines some traditionally male-driven American genres such as the western, the road movie and the “buddy film.” But Thelma & Louise centers the story on two women, played by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, who immortalize their title characters.

Arkansas waitress Louise Sawyer (Sarandon) and housewife Thelma Dickinson (Davis) decide to go on a fishing trip to break with their uneventful lives. What was intended as a short vacation, turns into violent escape from the law after Louise shoots and kills a man who attempts to rape Thelma. Aboard their dust-covered ’66 Thunderbird, they try to escape to Mexico while being trailed by an empathetic lawman (Harvey Keitel). Scavenging for enough money, they are pushed to their desperate limits but ultimately liberate themselves from a world where they’ll quickly learn that there is no justice for women. Alejandro Veciana (October 23, 6:45pm, 9:45pm at the Metrograph’s “Queer 90s”)

nyc repertory cinema-modesty

Modesty, or Immodesty (1991)
Directed by Hervé Guibert
Guibert was a photographer and a writer known best for autofictions. He passed away in 1991 at age 36 after living with AIDS, a condition that he wove into his work. His hourlong self-record was commissioned for French television, filmed over nine months between 1990 and 1991, and aired a month after his death. In it, Guibert follows himself with a small Panasonic camera during what have become very challenging daily routines. We see his self-proclaimed old man’s body dressing itself in his Paris apartment, using the restroom, taking medicine, and going to doctor’s appointments while his mind reflects with sadness and mordant humor on its condition. A point of special quiet and positive energy comes during a trip he takes to refresh himself on the Tuscan island of Elba; throughout the work, he talks with two great-aunts about whether he should commit suicide or stay alive, a choice to which the film itself responds with equal measures of pain and beauty.

It’s quite possible that Light Industry’s screening of Modesty, or Immodesty (which will be introduced by the writer Bruce Hainley) is the film’s first public screening in the United States. New English-language subtitles have been made for the occasion by Christine Pichini, who beautifully renders both the lows and highs of speech that Guibert sought to express—the mundane searchings and mumblings heard throughout conversation he holds with other people on-camera, as well as the rigorous, forceful compositions that he shares with us in voiceover. These writings express a part of him that remains in good spirits and health. Aaron Cutler (October 24, 7:30pm at Light Industry)

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