The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, April 5-11

Malcolm MacDowell in Lindsay Anderson’s IF… (1968). Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Thursday, April 6.If… (1968)
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
“Non-realism in style is not—must not be—synonymous with unreality. These worlds are unreal.” Anderson wrote those words about a trio of John Ford films he felt went in for too-easy symbolism, too deliberate a break from the emotional truth Ford was capable of. Anderson, whom Stanley Kauffmann called the “best directing talent” England ever produced, found the perfect medium for the real and the unreal in his sophomore feature. If… is as close to Citizen Kane as anything in the British cinematic canon, a piece of borderline surreal modernism, a dream that flits between color and black and white because Anderson listened fully to his whims and his past, his longings. A generation of English schoolboys watch their wants and hopes break free from their minds and manifesting into physical forms: weapons, perfect bodies, hungry-eyed faces. Lust, feral and feline, rescues sardonic schoolboys from conformity in the drab halls of a boarding school and leads them to violent revolution, an easier solution than working in the system. All other movies about the schooling experience have to answer to If… because it got the particularly furious response kids have to its brand of institutional purgatory so perfectly. Graduation is rendered as an extremist attack, an implosion of all the practiced niceties, the hidden urges. The only reason all Anderson’s anarchy works so well is because he got the details right. The world is real. It also happens to be a nightmare, a pipe bomb of pent-up sensuality and half-formed political posturing. The scars will last a lifetime if you’re lucky. Scout Tafoya (April 6, 12:30pm, 4:50pm, 9:20pm at Film Forum’s “Brit New Wave”)

nyc repertory cinema-Sometimes a Great Notion

Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)
Directed by Paul Newman
Paul Newman was every kind of sweaty, hapless drifter America had to offer. He played our criminals, our private eyes, our gamblers, our downtrodden lawyers, our beleaguered cops, and every other imaginable sort of schemer or dreamer. One of his finest roles is that of the logger hero, suitably dug in like a tick on the flesh of a fading industry, in Sometimes a Great Notion, taken from the Ken Kesey book. Like Kesey’s McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Newman’s Hank Stamper knows there may be an easier way to live, but he refuses the easy way because goddamnit that’s for people who don’t know what suffering’s like. He won’t throw in the towel just because the world keeps pushing him. Newman, brothers Michael Sarazin and Richard Jaekel and father Henry Fonda eke out their grubby living like one group of trees waiting to be cut down. When the ax falls, it cuts deep, resulting in one of the most painful, honest scenes of death you’ll ever witness. Newman didn’t direct often but when he did he meant it. Sometimes A Great Notion takes a little of your blood with it when it’s gone. You’ll feel like you’ve lost a year of living watching Newman decide whether to get up again when life pushes him the hardest its ever pushed. Scout Tafoya (April 7, 5:15pm, 9:30pm at Metrograph’s “Universal in the 70s: Part Two”)

nyc repertory cinema-alphaville-godard

Alphaville (1965)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Godard’s film has the makings of a retro classic—with elements of noir and a trench coat-sporting, Bogartesque Eddie Constantine as its lead, detective Lemmy Caution—but it’s set in a dystopian future run by a tyrannical machine called Alpha 60. Though this is a science-fiction film, Godard isn’t interested in flashy special effects, instead playing in the dramatic light and shadows captured by the late, great cinematographer Raoul Coutard. It’s the forbidden love at the center of the story that makes Alphaville timeless. Starring opposite Constantine is the light of Godard’s lens, Anna Karina, who, even as a woman in a black-and-white, loveless world, is the mesmerizing emotional current. Though Karina’s Natacha is the daughter of Professor Von Braun, the mysterious mastermind behind Alpha 60, it is she who—with the help of the undercover agent—overcomes the oppression of language and humanity in Alphaville. What is love—if there is no word for it? Fellow Godard muse Jean-Pierre Leaud makes a brief cameo (the screening is the day after his own uptown retrospective concludes). Kristen Yoonsoo Kim (April 7, 7:30pm; April 8, 7:45pm at Metrograph’s “The Singularity”)

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Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
Directed by Sergio Martino
The evocative title of this giallo whack at Poe’s “The Black Cat” is a line written on a note in Martino’s previous film, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. He noticed that it garnered a reaction during a screening, so he carried it over, no matter that it has little bearing on the goings-on here. Flat-faced, curly-haired Luigi Pistilli (Bay of Blood; a couple Man with No Name films) is the novelist suffering from inertia and alcoholism who enjoys humiliating his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) at the swinging hippie parties he throws at their rural estate, but it’s Irina one should be wary of as bodies start piling up around both. The leggy, handsome and Swedish Strindberg (who resembles Fassbinder actress Margit Carstensen) radiates a regal poise, even as she’s mascara-streaked and hysterical, or gruesomely mutilating the ever-mewling family cat, Satan (a red flag, that), who torments her. As the sexy niece who further disrupts this unhappy household, Edwige Fenech adds an element of urban sass to the dour gothicity. Aided by Bruno Nicolai’s lush score, Martino is able to maintain an atmosphere of swank decadence that lives up to the title, with the threat of hook knife throat-slashings always looming. As if to prove he’s not over-serious, Martino also makes room for a long motorbike race that foreshadows a later tragedy. Justin Stewart (April 7, 8, midnight at the Nitehawk)

nyc repertory cinema-last days of disco

The Last Days of Disco (1998)
Directed by Whit Stillman
The third installment of Stillman’s “Doomed Bourgeois in Love” trilogy focuses on two young women: the cold, narcissist Charlotte (played by Kate Beckinsale) and her shy friend Alice (Chloë Sevigny). Set in New York during the “the very early 1980s,” the film follows Charlotte and Alice’s social and romantic entanglements, as they work low-paid jobs in a major publishing company and frequent a Studio 54-type nightclub. Like Stillman’s prior films Metropolitan and Barcelona, Last Days of Disco is a dry, wry, quick-witted ensemble comedy centered on the relationship misadventures of what in Metropolitan is referred to the “urban haute bourgeoisie.” The film packs a memorable soundtrack filled with vintage disco tracks, some clumsy dance moves, and a delightful finale involving New York subway commuters dancing spontaneously to “Love Train” by The O’Jays. Alejandro Veciana (April 8, 9, 11:30am at the Nitehawk’s Chloë Sevigny series)

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Nashville (1975)
Directed by Robert Altman
Most epics are merely crowded; Nashville is multifarious. A deft societal cross-section, a carousel of studies in musical performance, a caustic satire of show business and politics, a reckless formal gambit, and the biggest canvas Altman ever painted on, the film follows two dozen or so characters through a five-day stretch in country music’s capital city, culminating in a massive public concert-cum-political rally. Such transparent ambition deserves skepticism, but the picture’s credibility is vouchsafed by its remarkable clutch of original songs, many of them written (and performed in character) by cast members Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, and Karen Black. Their music, more than the drama, carries the emotional payload. For Saturday’s screening, Metrograph will host the film’s screenwriter, Joan Tewkesbury, whose own work as a director still awaits reexamination. Eli Goldfarb (April 8, 4:30pm, part of Metrograph’s Tewkesbury tribute; she’ll also appear at a Sunday afternoon screening of Altman’s Thieves Like Us [1974])

nyc repertory cinema-More

More (1969)
Directed by Barbet Schroeder
Schroeder’s first feature film is probably one of the few whose soundtrack (by Pink Floyd) has been listened to more than the film itself has been actually watched. That the 60s hippie dream was anything but has been argued by countless directors, but what strikes one about More is the total absence of any rhetorical melancholy. The film, which chronicles the abusive and addictive relationship of a couple who drift from Paris to Ibiza with no particular purpose, is an epic-less descend into the meaningless spiral of two young lives that not even drugs can animate. More than ideals, what fuels the countercultural zombies in More is the search for money and dope. But unlike other staples of 60s cinema such as Easy Rider, there is no moral nor solution to this existential dilemma. The uneventful and mournful tone should feel at odds with the sun-drenched hippie utopia that was Ibiza in the 60s and yet, somehow, it comes across as the perfect match. Giovanni Vimercati (April 9, 2pm, 6:45pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Sound + Vision”)

nyc repertory cinema-Beguiled

The Beguiled (1971)
Directed by Don Siegel
Siegel’s acidic pastoral is a candidate for the hard-bitten journeyman auteur’s finest film, though it’s got stiff competition. Here the working-class poet of the law and lawbreaker turns his gaze on an all-girl’s boarding school beset by a lothario intruder (Clint Eastwood). His broken leg is the tool that helps him seduce each of them in kind, promising freedom, sex, conversation, adventure, fatherly companionship and more sex. Siegel’s tough direction softens ever so slightly in this distaff revenge-in-progress, finding overwhelming, disarming humanity in the faces of the betrayed, and there’s a rough one every twenty-five minutes or so. The Beguiled‘s female avengers may have kept the film from the Western canon, but make no mistake this has all the fire and fury of John Ford, Nicholas Ray, Budd Boetticher and Andre De Toth wrapped in one bandaged leg, as Eastwood’s character pays for the rampant bedding and beating the Man with No Name doled out to women in his own films as director. Scout Tafoya (April 9, 2:15pm at Metrograph’s “Universal in the 70s: Part Two”)

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Erotikon (1929)
Directed by Gustav Machatý
The Czech Republic’s silent and early sound cinemas stood head-to-head with those of any other country. The national industry’s memory has been preserved by the Czech National Film Archive, which has collaborated with MoMA on a presentation of 14 early Czech pearls. The series’s highlights include three works directed by Machatý, who made only 12 credited films in total. This renderer of indelible sensuality is known best today for his wondrous Hedy Lamarr-starring Ecstasy, and is additionally represented in the series with his first sound film, From Saturday to Sunday, and with Erotikon, his beautiful final silent feature.

Erotikon was based on a novel by the Surrealist writer Vítězslav Nezval and featured art direction by the future Alexander Hammid. The film focuses on Ita Rina (a Slovenian performer who became a star in its wake) as a train stationmaster’s daughter named Andrea who encounters a smooth charmer (played by Olaf Fjord) one stormy night and has her life changed forever afterwards. In the wake of his abandonment, she grows encumbered by what he’s left behind, until the shy young lady learns to come out of herself, exchange her old life for a new one, and even choose between disputing suitors. The film illuminates its actors in energizing soft focus such that the tactility of skin remains with us, no matter the characters’ social statuses. Andrea’s world comes to seem both dangerous and generous, in a manner that befits her story’s title. Erotikon (which shares its name with a mark of perfume that appears in the film) will screen at MoMA on HD video. Aaron Cutler (April 11, 7pm; April 22, 2pm at MoMA’s “Ecstasy and Irony: Czech Cinema, 1927-1943”)

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