In the Realm of the Senses (1965)
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Numéro duex (1975)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
“My hand is a machine that directs another machine. Maybe it’s the opposite.” Two films, two couples seeking solace in caves to re-assert their grip on the course of their lives. Tucked away in safe havens, they use the machinery available to them (sex organs, cameras, discourse) to explain, but also avoid the march of history. Political movements march by, flesh ages in front of our eyes, and bodies in the dark cling to the things they can temporarily control. Godard’s hand on the monitor projecting his own face into the outer dark. Tatsuya Fuji’s hands on Eiko Matsuda’s body in the warm, red glow of their private room. The films’ production circumstances represent poles that never touch, like the images on Godard’s monitor banks. Godard ran from French money to rediscover himself (the name Numéro deux comes from the film’s position as the first film after his rebirth—a sort of twisted sequel to Breathless that shows his dreamers settled and scared, like the rest of Marxist Europe) and Oshima grabbed French money hand over fist to use the bourgeois trappings of the operatic prestige film and point it inwards.
“Why not twice upon a time?” Both film chase negative images of revolution, sexuality, happiness. Godard films his monitors, watches the crude digital letters with his ideas change shape. He can conjure concepts from the ether, his magic faded now to suggestion. A little girl talks about her eventual brush with menstruation as her parents bathe her and have sex in front of her. A woman chases two children around a small room, trying to grab hold of the boy’s genitals, as if to shock her back to her senses. Both films take out a fury at sexual freedom no longer carrying the totemic weight of a utopian socialist future on children, while the stars and directors age out of the litheness that allowed them to say everything that was on their mind in images. Now freedom is an idea, no more tangible than Godard’s false text. They walked through the fire of the 60s and now cling to nothing, throwing themselves into whatever looks like it might be sanctuary, in order to mail missives back to the cinema going society they think may still be interested in the future. Change never arrived, so they force it on their images, on the tired bodies and faces of those still willing to be pressed into service of equality and exploration. These deeply wrong works stabs at the unrest that birthed their creators’ anger. Like Nicholas Ray, the rebel who cleared the room for them to speak, they rely on color and a plethora of images, on too much, to keep their grip on the past and wonder about the future. Their grammar was right on the money, the ideas were let go like a handful of sand we’re still trying to collect. Scout Tafoya (In the Realm of the Senses March 11, 7pm & March 16, 9:15pm; Numéro deux March 11, 9:30pm & March 16, 7pm at BAM’s “Oshima X Godard”)
Goin’ Down the Road (1970)
Directed by Donald Shebib
This classic Canadian independent work focuses on two men (played by Doug McGrath and Paul Bradley) who migrate from their home on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia to Toronto in search of job opportunities. They struggle mightily throughout a street-level-shot film filled with tough love for them and their newfound partners (played by Jayne Eastwood and Cayle Chernin), all of whom fight through working-class drear with an unceasing hope for finding better lives.
“I made Goin’ Down the Road as my first feature film,” says Shebib. “Up to that point I had made eighteen films, mostly docs, but they were not like the usual doc films, which are far closer to Eyewitness News and 60 Minutes than to real films. My docs were far more cinematic and poetic, and so for me the step from documentaries to film drama was tiny.
“My parents are both from the Maritime provinces of Canada (I am 3rd-generation Lebanese and 7th-generation Irish), and I was aware of the journey that many Maritimers were taking to Toronto. I saw the parallels between the Newfies and the Oakies in The Grapes of Wrath—it is a standard story told all over the world of Country Mouse-City Mouse. And I had a cousin who had made the journey to the big city, then come back home defeated, so there were personal connections as well.
“I was very lucky in getting two extraordinary actors to play the lead characters of Pete and Joey. Without their performances, the film probably would have failed and been forgotten. I was also lucky to find a good screenwriter in Bill Fruet, and smart enough to recognize his talent.
“The success of the film was a huge surprise to me. People asked me for years to make a sequel, but I balked at the idea until it became clear to me that this was a film that could get support from film agencies and powers-that-be to be made. So I started to write the script, and it fell into place very easily. The film Down the Road Again was made in 2011, forty years after the original, with three of the four original starring cast members in place. (Paul Bradley had passed away several years prior, so the film begins with Joey’s death.) Down the Road Again and Goin’ Down the Road feed off of each other, and each makes the other a better film. Down the Road Again is not as ‘unusual’ of a film as Goin’ Down the Road is, but it is better realized and more emotionally satisfying.” Aaron Cutler (March 9, 7pm; March 11, 9pm at Anthology Film Archives’s “1970s Canadian Independents”)
Who’s Crazy? (1966)
Directed by Thomas White
This obscure anarchic masterwork is a jazz-infused free-for-all, starring actors from the New York-based avant-garde Living Theatre company. Who’s Crazy? screened at the Cannes Film Festival but it rarely, if ever, got to see the light of day until about a year ago when Anthology Film Archives resurrected a rare, worn-out print for a limited release.
The film begins in the middle of a cold landscape in rural Belgium, where a bus full of seeming psychiatric patients breaks down in the bleak countryside. Quite amusingly, they manage to escape their captors and take refuge in an empty outbuilding where they cohabit together and act out ceremonial formalities including trials, weddings, and religious-type rituals.
The cast’s tireless and improvised performance is matched by its soundtrack, courtesy of free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman. Coleman’s incredible score is a masterpiece of its own. Coleman and his trio are responsible for the film’s transcendence from playful lawlessness into pure, exhilarating freedom. Frenzied saxophone and violin measures synchronize with the performers’ voices; their few coherent dialogue lines, singing and howling. Coleman and the Living Theatre might be a crazy marriage but it’s a pairing one would have to be crazier to overlook. Alejandro Veciana (March 10-16, showtimes daily at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in a new digital restoration)
Wag the Dog (1997)
Directed by Barry Levinson
It’s an interesting prospect when a film becomes “so relevant right now,” two decades after its release, and I guess that’s the motivation for this screening of Levinson’s Oscar-nominated satire, which focuses much of its timeline to the fabrication of literal “fake news.” Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman, both fantastic, create a fake war with Albania to cover up a sexual-abuse scandal in which the president has been compromised, complete with merchandising, fake war footage, songs and anthems to enthuse the people. Not that the film wasn’t relevant at the time of its release, a month before the Clinton-Lewinsky affair became public knowledge—and as the Bush years rolled along, it became even more telling about “the way things are done here,” as the press aligns itself with the narrative the government wants to push (at least until 2016). In a way, the film was brave at the time, posing as an absurdist comedy about the extent that someone might go to cover things up, but now it’s more sobering than hilarious. Jaime Grijalba (March 10-12, 11am at IFC Center’s “Autocratic for the People”)
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Kore-eda’s extraordinary first narrative feature bears signs of his previous work in documentary—a patient eye for lighting and timing, a knack for framing resonate spaces and sounds—while moving uncommonly ahead, fashioning a lyrical cinema of love, loss, and the sublime. Widowed after the sudden and unexplainable death of her husband, struck by a train as he walked home on the tracks, Yumiko remarries and finds real happiness in her new life, her husband’s home on the windswept coast far away from her prior life in Osaka. Yet moments of reverie, shot in stunning natural light, betray the intimacy of her doubts and grief. Not so much about what is gone but what remains and keeps coming back, Maborosi sits with the rhythms of life and death, finding them echoing all around, from the waves of an ocean to the close of day to the schedules of buses and trains—even as you move ahead, time keeps forever returning. Jeremy Polacek (March 10, 7pm at Japan Society)
I Am Somebody (1970)
Directed by Madeline Anderson
Anderson’s important documentary short will screen on a DCP restoration courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The filmmaker will appear in person on March 11th to present this great work along with digital versions of two of her other 16mm shorts, 1960’s Integration Report 1 and 1967’s A Tribute to Malcolm X. All three films focus on the struggles of the American civil rights movement and exist to remind their viewers in any moment of how much work is still left to be done.
I Am Somebody was made soon after a 1969 strike by 400 hospital workers (nearly all of them black women) in Charleston, South Carolina. The film uses archival material in clear, straightforward fashion to reconstruct both the work and the courage of the strikers, who were guided by the New York-based union District 1199 and by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It assumes a poetic approach through a series of brief individual portraits of strikers while also giving space to several speakers addressing them, among whose ranks include Coretta Scott King, come to speak both on her and her late husband’s behalf. Their words succinctly state the ideas behind the strike, such as, “If you are ready and willing to fight for yourself, other folks will be willing to fight for you.” Aaron Cutler (March 11, 6:15pm; March 12, 1pm at the Metrograph as part of their Madeline Anderson program)
Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
“Help others and you help yourself, that was my motto,” murmurs Frank (Nicolas Cage), a paramedic, “but I hadn’t saved anyone in months.” Vocations sometimes wear you down. They age you. Screenwriter Paul Schrader lamented the choice to cast Cage in a role he saw for a younger actor, one maybe in his twenties. But given the physical and emotional toll these types of jobs can have, especially on young folk, the hunched-over lurk and encircled eyes of Cage are irreplaceable. In the course of three overnight shifts, Scorsese and Schrader (previously teamed on Taxi Driver and Last Temptation, this being their final collaboration to date) guide us through yet another passion play of a man looking to save others and himself, no matter how much blood is shed. The ghoulish New York City of Bringing Out the Dead, based upon the accounts of real-life paramedic Joe Connelly, is one Scorsese often alludes to, but rarely explores. Upon seeing the film, one can understand why—this New York is bleakly hallucinatory, without any of the youthful awe of much of his work; the dark, blurry prism through which we see it is the kind informed by overworked nights and drunken, sleepless days. It’s scored by one of his best playlists—the Johnny Thunders track seems to haunt Frank, reminding him that he can neither embrace nor strangle his past. It’s also abetted by one of Scorsese’s strongest, most undersung casts: Cage, in all of his manic neuroses and awkward charm, is often unseated by Patricia Arquette, Marc Anthony, John Goodman, and Marty himself, dispatching strange calls to the medics that must nevertheless are based in truth. Though Silence has received adulation for rekindling Scorsese’s unrelenting spiritual guilt, he may have peaked with it here. Max Kyburz (March 11, 7pm; March 12, 1:30pm at the Museum of the Moving Image’s Scorsese retrospective)
Boarding Gate (2007)
Directed by Olivier Assayas
The elements are there in Boarding Gate of a trashy good time: a girl and a gun, smoldering sexuality (clothed and unclothed), conspiracies and double-crosses. Most B-movies, though, don’t have the Contempt-like drawn-out dialogue scenes, soundtrack featuring Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, and inhumanly slick surfaces that this one does. But the best B-movies still manage to say something about human nature in their own rough ways, and writer/director Assayas honors that legacy here, albeit in a more intellectualized form. The former Cahiers du cinéma critic may load his film up with plot twists in the back half, but the most fascinating turns lie in Sandra’s (Asia Argento) own psychological contradictions. The former prostitute doesn’t have any illusions about the soulless world she inhabits, yet still somehow holds onto a sliver of hope for real love in spite of it all. Watching Argento turn on a dime from drugged-out vulnerability to voracious carnality turns out to be its own illuminating spectacle, especially as Assayas implicitly posits that such emotional authenticity may have already been long ground underfoot by a globalized environment in which human beings are mere vessels for capitalistic bottom lines. Kenji Fujishima (March 11, 8:30pm as part of “Olivier Assayas’s International Trilogy” at Metrograph, with Assayas in person for earlier screenings of Clean and demonlover)