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  • January 19, 2017

    STAFF PICK: PIRANDELLO 150 at Film Forum



    Through questions of identity, illusion, and sanity, the works of  novelist and dramatist Luigi Pirandello create fertile dreamscapes in which the imagination can flourish—a quality that embeds itself in many of the adaptations that have followed. In honor of the 150th anniversary of Pirandello’s birth, Film Forum will join a city-wide celebration of the artist with a film festival of its own, running through January 19th.

    The centerpiece of the series is Kaos (1984), a cinematic adaptation of select Pirandello short stories by noted Italian filmmaking brothers, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. Operatic in its duration and emotional reach, the film spans just over three hours and is divided into six distinct sections: A prelude, in which we are introduced to a raven turned herald; four short story adaptations (“L’altro figlio” (“The Other Son”), “Mal di luna” (“Moonsickness”), “La giara” (“The Jar”), and “Requiem”); and an epilogue, “Colloquio con la madre” (“Conversing with Mother”), in which Pirandello visits his childhood home, where he conjures his deceased mother.

    Filmed in Pirandello’s native land of Sicily, the landscape becomes a unifying theme in the film: White dust sticks to the feet and clothing of every character in the tales, connecting their narratives throughout the film’s disparate moments. The musical raven from the beginning of the film soars between storylines, a symbol of time’s circular quality and cinema’s ability to stitch it into a sequence. And, of course, the people of the land—the focus of both the Taviani brothers and Pirandello’s work—balance the more surreal elements of the stories with an earthiness that is somehow more realistic than the actual ground they stand on. In this way, the film captures the most thrilling aspect of Pirandello’s work—namely, his talent for blurring the fantastical with the routine.

    Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934 for “his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art,” Pirandello’s influence can be seen in literature, theater, and beyond. Those familiar with Pirandello through the theater will know very well of his revolutionary tearing down of the stage’s “fourth wall” in his experimental play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and those who are unfamiliar have probably seen the technique at some point or another. A testament to the evocative quality of Pirandello’s material, the adaptations screening as part of Film Forum’s series are as inventive as the source, a true treat for both fans of Pirandello’s work and those who are coming to it fresh.

    Brittany Stigler

  • August 19, 2016

    Bulletin Board: Don’t Think Twice, Misery, Jaws, and more…

    Scene from Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice

    Scene from Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice

    Don’t Think Twice
    Nitehawk Cinema
    Aug 18­—4:45 PM, 7:15 PM, 9:45 PM (playing through August 25th)

    Mike Birbiglia writes, directs, and stars in a coming-of-age story about a group of improvisers dealing with the selectiveness of success. Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) gets a role at “Weekend Live” (the SNL of this world), and his improv group, The Commune, are stuck considering their own ambition and personal failures.

    Scene from Rob Reiner’s Misery

    Scene from Rob Reiner’s Misery

    Landmark Sunshine Cinema
    Aug 19th—12:00 AM

    Adapted from Stephen King’s novel by the same name, Misery follows Paul Sheldon, who suffers a car crash and is rescued by his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). As Wilkes reveals herself to be increasingly sinister, Sheldon tries to escape the house that has now become his prison.

    Scene from Steve James’s Hoop Dreams

    Scene from Steve James’s Hoop Dreams

    Hoop Dreams—Screening & Live Event
    Museum of the Moving Image
    Aug 21—2:00 PM

    Documenting the lives of Arthur Agee and William Gates, Hoop Dreams focuses on the malleability of the American Dream and the harsh realities of racism and poverty. Both Gates and Agee come from homes struggling with poverty, and they are willing to do anything to achieve their dreams of playing for the NBA and providing for their families. Hoop Dreams will screen as part of the Museum of the Moving Image’s series of Kartemquin at 50, with director Steve James present at the screening.

    Scene from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws

    Scene from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws

    Astoria Park Lawn (in Astoria Park), Queens
    Aug 22—8:30 PM

    The first modern day summer blockbuster, Jaws is the thrilling story of a killer shark terrorizing the quaint beach town of Amity Island. Tasked with the mission of killing the shark, the town’s sheriff, fishermen, and oceanographer go out to battle their version of Moby Dick. The film is being shown as part of the series, Central Astoria Movies on the Waterfront.

    Scene from Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot

    Scene from Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot

    Some Like It Hot
    Greenbelt Recreation Center (in Blood Root Valley), Staten Island
    Aug 25—8:30 PM

    In the 1959 classic, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are running from their mobster boss and decide to go incognito as women. Crossing paths with the beautiful Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) further complicates the tale, as the men deal with both womanhood and newfound love. The film is being shown as part of the Movies Under the Stars series.

    By Rachel Olshin

  • August 12, 2016

    Screening Notes: An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell at Film Forum

    Rosamond Purcell in her studio. Photo by Dennis Purcell. Courtesy of BOND/360

    Rosamond Purcell in her studio. Photo by Dennis Purcell. Courtesy of BOND/360

    In Molly Bernstein’s new documentary, An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell, a portrait of human curiosity emerges. Finding beauty in the abject object, Rosamond Purcell’s photography, which often features natural oddities and found objects in various stages of deterioration, harkens to a time when philosophy, science, and aesthetic contemplation were intimately entwined, if not vital to each other. The film captures the unique, interdisciplinary energy of Purcell’s decades-long career and transforms it into a cohesive narrative of perseverance, dedication, and care.

    Through a delicate interweaving of interviews with scholars and luminaries, such as filmmaker Errol Morris; archival footage of Owls Head, Me., once a 13-acre repository of “junk” that is now bare; and Purcell’s own photography, the documentary reaches beyond the purely biographical. “I have to say it’s a huge relief to me to know this film is and is not about me,” said Purcell in an interview with REEL 13 earlier this week, continuing, “It’s the subject matter. It’s about ideas. It’s about having ideas.” In this way, the film, much like Purcell’s photographs, is an act of preservation. “Rosamond and Dennis [Purcell’s husband] had so much archival material, aside from all the photographs,” Bernstein told REEL 13. Included in the archival material was footage of Owls Head, which became a binding thread of the film. “We thought, wow, there is actual footage of this place that is now gone that was so significant to her work.”

    The footage, which shows Purcell sifting through scraps and climbing on piles of detritus, acts as a foil to excursions into collections, where gloved scholars carefully handle the specimens for Purcell. “I am treated kind of like a crazy person. Because I come in, and I have other reasons for wanting to look at things,” said Purcell of going into special collections. Subtly portrayed in the film, Bernstein captures the tension between Purcell and the scholars in a pointed conversation about the artistic significance (or lack thereof, as Paul Callomon argues: “…there is no such thing as looking at something scientifically, and then looking at it aesthetically”) of wood drilled through by mollusks. “I learned pretty quickly that I better develop some sort of vocabulary and some sort of strategy,” explained Purcell. “I wasn’t just coming in and saying, got another one? I knew what I was talking about.”

    Beyond gaining access to collections, Purcell’s ability to speak and collaborate with experts outside of her field, such as Stephen Jay Gould (who Purcell described as a “real historian of past scientists and attitudes, as well as a paleontologist, a geologist, biologist…”), creates a bridge between scientific thought and aesthetic interest. “One of the things I love in the film is when Rosamond talks about ‘hybrid vigor’—about how much she loves working with people who do things different from what she does instead of collaborating with other artists,” said Bernstein. “I think that’s one of the fundamental ideas behind all of the work, this bringing together of art and science.”

    By recasting the scientific or discarded object as worthy of artistic elevation, Purcell exposes its potential to bear new symbolic interpretation, to carry the weight of its experiences into new shades of meaning. “Most material things and animals have had a lot of experience. And something that is just pristine,” said Purcell, “doesn’t have any incident, hasn’t been through a lot, doesn’t have much to record.” In this way, Purcell fills the present with the past in a way that urges the viewer to take note of what they may not be looking at, to notice how objects shift and morph to emote their history.

    As for Purcell, she too is shifting. Ending on a shot of an emptied and snow-covered Owls Head, the film suggests a blank canvas, a new beginning. “Every day you’re sort of like a pilgrim,” said Purcell about continuing her work. “Every day, you get up, and you put on your boots, and you go forward.”

    An Art That Nature Makes is currently showing at Film Forum until August 16. Rosamond Purcell and Molly Bernstein will be in attendance tonight for a Q&A following the 7:50 PM screening.

    Purcell’s work is also currently on exhibit at Penumbra Foundation until August 23.

    —By Brittany Stigler

  • July 29, 2016

    Screening Notes: James Ivory of Merchant Ivory Productions Discusses Howards End at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

    Scene from Howards End

    Scene from Howards End

    On Monday, July 25, a day drenched by a smattering of summer downpours, the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented a new restoration of Merchant Ivory’s Howards End, with director James Ivory in attendance for a post-screening Q&A with Michael Koresky. Clad in a light, pinstripe suit, Ivory tapped his furled umbrella (conjuring up the film’s very own fateful parasol) behind the podium as he introduced the film, taking a moment to explain the significance of the restoration process. “When it came out originally, it came out in 70 mm. And in those days when you had a 70 mm print, you didn’t work directly from the original negative; you had to work from the dub. And now, of course, when they do a restoration they are working from the original negative, so the colors are more beautiful in the restoration, really, than it was in the 70 mm print all those years ago.” Already lauded for its rich details and textures (the film won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction in 1993), the restoration screened “glimmeringly,” with the hue of the bluebells and the glint of the afternoon silver intensified in 4K.

    Adapted from E. M. Forster’s novel of the same name, Howards End follows three families of differing classes—the Wilcoxes (Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Hopkins), the Schlegels (Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter), and the Basts (Samuel West, Nicola Duffett)— as they negotiate love, society, and property in a transitioning Edwardian England. The third screen adaptation of a Forster novel by Merchant Ivory, the Academy Award-winning script was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who collaborated with Merchant and Ivory from their conception in the early ‘60s. As Ivory recalled during the discussion following the screening, “Ruth thought, it was her idea, ‘Well you know, really, the Forster book that needs to be made is Howards End.’”

    “I didn’t set out to specialize in E. M. Forster,” said Ivory. “I got interested in him because I read Passage to India.” After Forster’s death, King’s College in Cambridge, which held the Forster archive, asked if Merchant and Ivory would like to make Passage to India into a movie, to which the filmmakers responded, Ivory recalled, “Well, what we’d like to make is A Room with a View,” adding blithely, “I couldn’t say the real reason I wanted to make A Room with a View was because I wanted to go to Italy.”

    At two hours and twenty-two minutes, Howards End is the longest Merchant Ivory film. After whittling it down from 3 hours to its final running time, Ivory recalled stepping outside with Jhabvala, who turned and said, “Well, it is what it is.” The editing, measured and even paced for most of the film, finds comic and rhythmic release in two scenes scattered with fades-to-black, which act as cleverly-placed ellipses. As deliberate as the cuts seem, however, the stylistic choice was not preconceived. “Both scenes were very, very, very long . . . you couldn’t have a scene like that, really. People would have gotten bored. . . . So we had to chop it about.”

    Still, there was one scene that Ivory wishes he could have made work in the film. “Charles Wilcox (James Wilby) is driving Margaret (Thompson), and they are going very fast, and they go through a little village, and they hit a cat, who they were afraid was a dog. And he wouldn’t stop the car, and she stands up and jumps out of the car,” said Ivory. “This would be the most terrific scene to direct, but we couldn’t do it.” He continued to explain, “Nowadays you could show a car running over a cat or a dog—there are ways of doing that—but in those days there weren’t any . . . you couldn’t do it.”

    Integral to the team, Howards End composer Richard Robbins, who created nearly every Merchant Ivory score (the first being for The Europeans), insisted on the iconic swell of music that opens the film, much to the dismay of Ivory. “That swell of music puts off projectionists, or it did in the past. . . . That was one of the things I complained about.” To accommodate, Ivory would warn the projectionists himself, saying, “You’re going to have this blast at the beginning, and you just have to live with it.” Of course, this would prove worth the trouble, as Robbins’s score for Howards End and the subsequent film, The Remains of the Day, would go on to earn Robbins back-to-back Academy Award nominations.

    Speaking to this act of compromise, the phrase that underscored the evening, whether Ivory was talking about Robbins or the many luminous actors of the Merchant Ivory troupe, was “You have to let them demonstrate what it is they want to do.” As a result, Merchant Ivory’s dedication to craft and freedom of expression imprints the film with a glow that only grows more luminous with time, highlighting that the film is far more than a starched period drama.

    If you were unable to make it to the Film Society’s screening of Howards End, the restoration will open at The Paris Theater and at Film Forum on August 26.

    By Brittany Stigler

  • July 22, 2016

    Screening Notes: A Woman Under the Influence Q&A with Gena Rowlands at the Metrograph

    Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence

    Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence

    For John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands was always more than a muse: “When I saw her, that was it! The first time I saw her, I was with an actor, John Ericson, and I said, ‘That’s the girl I’m going to marry.’” But Rowlands, focused on her acting career, dismissed his advances. “Once in a while, we would meet and get coffee, and he’d ask if I’d like to go out, and I said, ‘No, I’m not interested in going out with anyone. I’m going to be an actress.’ And it just went along that way until I graduated,” Rowlands told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015.

    That all changed in 1954 when Rowlands and Cassavetes entered into one of cinema’s most iconic marriages. Together until Cassavetes’ death in 1989, the director and actress duo collaborated on ten films, many of which are featured in Metrograph’s Cassavetes/Rowlands series, running through July 24.

    This past Saturday, Rowlands entered Metrograph’s sold-out screening of Cassavetes’ groundbreaking A Woman Under the Influence to a standing ovation. “I would say this is my favorite,” said Rowlands to the two-tiered theater during the discussion that followed the film. “I really thought that it was an awfully, awfully deep script, and the family had so many problems that they had to overcome or overlook or overdo.” The film, a two-act observation of Mabel (Rowlands) and Nick Longhetti’s (Peter Falk) marriage, shifts between tempestuous and tender as Mabel slips further into her mental illness. “I thought considering all of the problems I had—when I say ‘I’, I mean my character—he [Nick] showed a strange kind of beautiful patience, even though he popped me around a couple of times.”

    During the screening, Nick’s domestic violence shocked the audience into an audible gasp when, in a staccato end to a circular chase around the house, Nick hit Mabel off the sofa. “That was not my position on taking care of problems. Not at all,” responded Rowlands when asked about the scene. “However, I was playing a very complicated character.” When Mabel returns from being institutionalized, the outcome of a frenzied request by her mother-in-law (played by Cassavetes’ actual mother) for being “cra-zy” (or as Mabel’s son more kindly describes, “Nervous”), she begins to demonstrate old tics, despite trying to quell any behavior that may seem erratic. “I think his love was such that he knew I was slipping back. And somehow, he felt he had to do something startling . . . something that could place me someplace else than where I was going.” While Cassavetes was famously provocative as a director, Rowlands emphasized the line between her personal life and the actions portrayed in the film. “I accepted it in the movie. I wouldn’t accept it at home. It was a movie.”

    “A lot of our friends, we could see certain troubles,” said Rowlands about Cassavetes’ ability to realistically portray mental illness. “And you know, who isn’t a little mentally whacko? Obviously it caught John’s interest because practically every movie he made that I was in, I was whacko.” To this end, the film infuses moments of heightened unease with humor and sensitivity toward Mabel, even when she acts out. “That’s what I liked about the whole movie, the generosity of people, with everybody. They were just a great bunch of people, except my mother-in-law,” she quipped. “But even that, she came around in the end because I think that she recognized that the family and friends were being kind about me and understanding.”

    Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, Rowlands’ performance in the film is expansive and physically demanding. When asked how she accessed the range of emotion and nuance needed to play Mabel, Rowlands responded modestly and with understated love: “I think the credit has to go to the writer. If he writes good things for me to say, I’ll probably say them pretty well. I think the writer is the secret to it.”

    By Brittany Stigler

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