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  • December 10, 2015

    Staff Pick: PURPLE NOON at Film Forum

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    Film Forum – Purple Noon – December 13, 7:10 PM

    If you want to escape the December doldrums to a far-off place near the Mediterranean, where everything outdoors finds a place in the sun and everything indoors seems caressed by a sea breeze, then perhaps a viewing of Purple Noon should be on the horizon.

    Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, Rene Clement’s 1960 screen adaptation of the thriller follows characters that are as attractive as they are opaque, particularly the film’s lead, Tom Ripley. Played with dangerous vulnerability by Alain Delon, Ripley seems altogether amoral while never quite coming across as a monster though he has selfish, exploitative, and ultimately murderous rationalizations.

    On the surface it’s perplexing how a thriller arises out of a story with young people lounging in chairs on Italian city squares, vacationing in seaside villages, and relaxing on a yacht in the Adriatic. Instead, the story roots itself in the antihero leading man’s psychological state, illustrated not in voiceover or his dialogue, but through his unfathomable actions.

    While trying to convince his pleasure-seeking friend Philippe Greenleaf to return to his father in San Francisco, Ripley samples an Amalfi Coast life of luxury he is not inclined to give up after his mission fizzles. Initially, Philippe welcomes Ripley’s fawning of the extravagant lifestyle he provides. But he then starts using the desperate man for his own twisted amusement, eventually stranding Ripley on the yacht’s dinghy for hours. Tensions mount between the two, especially in the presence of Philippe’s girlfriend Marge, and it seems inevitable that only one man will get off the boat alive.

    As Clement and cinematographer Henri Decae use Delon in nearly every scene, we go where he goes, we see what he sees, but we are not told what he thinks. His outward actions hint at his inner dark side while his innate charm plays with our expectations of what he is capable of. Set against picturesque scenes of Italy and the Mediterranean that make it look like a crime novel within a travelogue, the movie captivates our eyes as well as our minds.

    Film Forum will screen Purple Noon as part of their “Women Crime Writers” series, which coincides with the release of a Library of America set of crime novels by pioneers such as Vera Caspary, Dolores Hitchens, in addition to Patricia Highsmith and other foremothers of the domestic suspense genre that dominates today’s best seller lists.

    By Aaron Linskens

  • December 8, 2015

    Screening Notes: Susan Howe presents THE MIRROR at Film Society of Lincoln Center

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    “It’s just in us all, this film,” said poet and essayist Susan Howe at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s recent Print Screen event. The film Howe was referring to was Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece of memory, The Mirror, which screened after Howe read a passage based on the film from her newly released book, The Quarry.

    For some who arrived early, it was already too late; the screening sold out quickly. Outside of the Walter Reade Theater, my friend gave his extra ticket to a man who was looking for Gertrude Stein, though it is unknown if the gentleman ever made it into the screening. Inside, the line snaked around as those lucky enough to have tickets waited for the doors to open.

    During her introduction, Howe gave context to her relationship with the film. She first encountered The Mirror in 1993 when she was asked to contribute an essay to Stanley Cavell and Charles Warren’s anthology of broadly defined nonfiction films, Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film.

    “It opened a new world,” said Howe on Tarkovsky’s use of documentary footage. The resulting essay, “Sorting Facts; or Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker,” took two years to write and included a section dedicated to The Mirror, which Howe described as the heart.

    “Somehow I was just in an emotional state where Mirror just overwhelmed me,” recalled Howe. The year before Howe was approached to write her essay, her husband, sculptor David von Schlegell, passed away. During WWII, David was a bomber pilot. “He didn’t talk much about it, but it affected everything,” said Howe. Additionally, her own father left to fight in the war from the time she was five until she was nine. Even today, however, the film resonates with Howe on an intimate, albeit different, level: “Something now about this moment with refugees and the family clinging together and fleeing, I simply couldn’t have imagined history repeating itself the way it was when I saw it as a child unfolding on newsreels in theaters.”

    Centered on the newsreel sequences intercut into The Mirror, Howe ran imagery of her late husband through “Sorting Facts,” blending, as Tarkovsky does, the personal, fictional, and historical. Towards the end of the essay, Howe evokes the voice of Tarkovsky’s father by including a line of his poetry from the film. In this way, Howe’s essay becomes, like The Mirror, polyphonic, elevating the essay to a discourse within itself.

    Rather than focusing on the evolution of narrative or plot, The Mirror presents a multi-leveled world that suggests coexistence not in linear time, but in space. For example, an unknown woman appears and disappears after giving orders, leaving nothing but an evaporating ring of condensation on the table. She is indeed real, as evidenced by the ring, but she only exists in that space to the young boy who saw her, dividing the boy’s world into two presents. Similarly, as is noted in Howe’s essay, flamenco music plays over a newsreel, highlighting the unsettling, contradictory fact that while great distress occurs, there is simultaneously entertainment. In this way, time does not stop for suffering, but rather suffering coexists with daily life.

    Formally, Howe’s concrete poetry and poetic essays reflect Tarkovsky’s use of space. Howe began her career as a painter, which informs much of how she uses the actual shape of text on a page to emote or suggest meaning — long breaks of blank space to imply breathing, lines of jagged text to imitate violence, reversed words to indicate erasure. Here, the way that Howe arranges words matters more than any meaning that the word may signify. Howe’s use of quotation also finds its mirror in Tarkovsky as a way of mixing mediums. Specifically in relation to The Mirror and “Sorting Facts,” both Tarkovsky and Howe use the newsreels and poetry of Tarkovsky’s father to add texture to their work.

    “In the end, it’s a kind of benediction. There is something sacred about this film, made in the Soviet Union, and it’s like a psalm,” said Howe before reading her essay. Perhaps because the film cannot be reduced to a singular meaning or maybe because it uses dream-logic, the viewer has the space to map on their own perspective while remaining fastened to history through the archival footage. After the screening, a few patrons chatted about the difficulty of reading the subtitles on the screen, but I couldn’t help but think that the inability to read some words only added to the film’s demand to read the image instead.

    The Film Society’s next Print Screen event will be held December 10th at 7 PM. Garth Risk Hallberg, whose new novel, City on Fire, debuted recently to critical acclaim, will introduce John Cassavetes’ Gloria, followed by a discussion and book signing.

    By Brittany Stigler

  • December 3, 2015

    Bulletin Board: Desk Set at the New York Historical Society; Illeana Douglas at Film Forum; Nathaniel Dorsky at Peter Blum Gallery; and more

    Bulletin Board: A roundup of screenings, discussions, and other film-related events

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    Desk Set (1957)
    New-York Historical Society Justice in Film Series
    December 4 at 7:00 pm

    Screened as part of the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Classic Film Series, Desk Set, with its legendary duo of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, provides a point of departure for discussing themes like social conflict and chauvinism in professional and personal lives. The New-York Historical Society’s Justice in Film series explores how filmmakers have used the medium to address such themes throughout history with remarks by present-day media professionals. Ron Simon, Senior Curator of Television and Radio at the Paley Center for Media, and Susan Lacy, creator and former executive of Thirteen/WNET’s award-winning series American Masters, will provide analysis of Desk Set at this screening.

    Unknown-1I Blame Dennis Hopper: An Afternoon With Illeana Douglas
    Film Forum
    December 6 at 2:30 pm

    Illeana Douglas, actor, director, producer, and author, will discuss her new memoir I Blame Dennis Hopper and the influence of her parents, who were impacted by Easy Rider and the hippie culture of the 1970s. Douglas, whose work ranges from acting in Cape Fear and Six Feet Under to creating the web series Easy to Assemble and hosting Turner Classic Movies, has experience in many corners of filmmaking, with stories involving icons Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorsese, and her grandfather Melvyn Douglas. Film clips will punctuate the onstage interview.

    Unknown-2Environment for Contemplation
    Museum of Art and Design
    December 11 at 7:00 pm

    Presented as a series of movies related to Wendell Castle’s 1969 art installation of the same name, these short films explore themes of environmental change and the appreciation of nature. This series includes three Encyclopedia Britannica shorts by Bert Van Bork, whose work illustrates how pollution and environmental desecration cause critical ecological changes. Also included is Frederic Back’s Oscar-winning animated short, The Man Who Planted Trees, which tells the story of young traveler who becomes fascinated with a widowed shepherd, who spends his days steadily reforesting a barren tract of land. The Museum of Art and Design will present this program in conjunction with their current exhibit, Wendell Castle Remastered.

    Unknown-3From an Island Summer (1983-84)
    MoMA PS1
    December 13-19

    While pioneering the videodance genre, video artist Charles Atlas directed From an Island Summer, which he dubs a “docu-narrative” that blends choreography, hand-held camerawork, and samba and punk music. With movement as the primary language, Atlas’s film creates a thrilling ambiance as it follows choreographer Karole Armitage and her dancers from a dance studio to the Coney Island boardwalk to Times Square. Screened as part of MoMA PS1’s Greater New York’s film series, From an Island Summer provides a historical snapshot of the art and architecture of the city in the summer of 1983.

    Unknown-4Nathaniel Dorsky: Film Stills
    Peter Blum Gallery
    Through January 9

    Following the first retrospective of his movies at this year’s New York Film Festival, filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky recently opened the first exhibition of his photographic works at the Peter Blum Gallery. In an installation of 36 prints from his 16mm silent films, Dorsky unearths the potential of each frame in layering color, light, objects, and lifeforms. While Dorsky seems less concerned with plots in his films, his painterly composition of each still image reveals a story through the beauty of an everyday observation that normally would go unnoticed.

    Reporting by Aaron Linskens

  • November 20, 2015

    Bulletin Board: The Forbidden Room; Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict; The Mirror; and more

    Bulletin Board: A roundup of screenings, discussions, and other film-related events
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    STAFF FAVORITE: The Forbidden Room – Videology – November 27 8:00 PM

    Guy Maddin’s new fantastical film, The Forbidden Room, comes with a warning from the co-director himself: “Stay safe and enjoy!” Set up as a sort of demented matryoshka doll, the film anchors its narrative on a doomed submarine crew—who eat flapjacks for their supposed oxygen bubbles—as they slip through a hallucinatory dreamscape. Despite its experimental content, the film utilizes textbook three-act structure, with each act introduced and closed with an instructional about how to take a bath. Shot entirely in public at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and Centre PHI in Montreal under a “lost cinema spell,” Maddin and his co-director Evan Johnson researched lost or unmade films from cinema greats and reinterpreted them into the short specters that appear on screen. In addition to The Forbidden Room, Maddin will launch his project, Séances, an interactive build-your-own-narrative website and app that allows for users to hold “séances” with the spirits of lost and forgotten cinema, in 2016.

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    Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict – Film Society of Lincoln Center – through November 26

    For her second feature documentary, Lisa Immordino Vreeland profiles the life and influence of art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim. With a mix of archival footage, audiotapes, and interviews with fine art curators and Guggenheim herself, Vreeland explores the relationships this modern art heiress had with other icons such as Mark Rothko, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst. In addition to painting a portrait of this extraordinary arts patron, this documentary also features clips from Maya Deren’s unfinished experimental short film The Witch’s Cradle (1943), which was shot in Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery.

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    Sarah Halpern: The Changing Room – Microscope Gallery – through November 29

    Taking inspiration from classic Hollywood movies and books adapted to the screen, Sarah Halpern works with film, paper, music, and performance. Currently showing her second solo exhibition at the Microscope Gallery, Halpern uses still and moving images to remove characters and scenes from their usual context in an effort to illustrate new identities, relationships, and storylines. In combining text with 16mm film projected onto a laptop, she explores how technological changes have caused power shifts across different forms of media.

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    Turkeys for Thanksgiving – BAMcinématek – November 20–29

    From November 20–29, BAMcinématek will be serving turkey. The 14 films in BAM’s Turkeys for Thanksgiving feast represent some of the industry’s greatest flops turned favorites, with films such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963), Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love (1975), and (gasp) Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939), which The New Republic’s Otis Ferguson initially declared “weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet.” Kicking off the series is Elaine May’s action comedy Ishtar (1987), which stars Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as two delusional lounge singers. And be sure to leave room for the closing dessert, Francis Ford Coppolla’s quite literally luminous One from the Heart (1981).

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    West Side Story Screenings with George Chakiris – SVA Theatre – November 22 at 5:00 pm

    SVA Theatre will screen the Academy Award-winning classic West Side Story (1961) this Sunday, November 22, with a special appearance by the film’s Oscar-winning actor, George Chakiris. Susan Haskins, co-host of PBS’s Theater Talk, will moderate a Q&A following the screening to discuss the star’s storied career on stage and in film. There will be a second screening on Monday, November 23, featuring a discussion with Chakiris moderated by critic, historian, and author Peter Filichia. A portion of the proceeds from the events will benefit The CHARGE Syndrome Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of those affected by the syndrome.

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    Print Screen: Discussion with Susan Howe and screening of The Mirror – Film Society of Lincoln Center – November 24th at 7:00 PM

    As part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Print Screen series, poet Susan Howe will introduce Andrei Tarkovsky’s seminal film, The Mirror (1975), which incorporates poetry read by Tarkovsky’s father, Arseny Tarkovsky, with imagery that oscillates from the abstract to the commonplace, replicating the sensation of memory. Following the screening, Howe, whose own poetry takes up historical and mythical themes akin to those in The Mirror, will discuss the film and her new collection of essays, The Quarry. Print Screen is a recurring series that places literature in conversation with film. Each event features an author and a screening of their choice, followed by a discussion and signing. The next Print Screen event will be December 10th with Garth Risk Hallberg.

    Reporting by Aaron Linskens and Brittany Stigler

  • November 13, 2015

    Staff Picks: Les dames du Bois de Boulogne at Anthology Film Archives; Paisan at the Guggenheim

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    Anthology Film Archives
    JACK SMITH SELECTS (FROM THE GRAVE): Les dames du Bois de Boulogne
    November 14 at 5:15 PM
    November 27 at 9:00 PM
    November 29 at 3:00 PM

    On June 18th, 1940, General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French Forces, gave what would become one of the most important speeches in French history. Broadcast over France via BBC Radio in London, de Gaulle’s famous Appeal of 18 June urged the people of the recently fallen France to rise up in support of the Resistance in order to fight German occupation. Gaulle’s resounding call to resist rang throughout the remainder of the war until the Liberation of Paris in 1944.

    While René Clément’s La bataille du rail (1946) and Titus Vibe-Müller’s La bataille de l’eau lourde (1948) are perhaps the most commonly cited Resistance films, French director and film critic Jean Luc Godard argued that a truer representation of the Resistance can be found in films such as Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête (1946) and Robert Bresson’s Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945). During his presentation of Histoire(s) du cinéma at Cannes in 1997, Godard says of Bresson’s portrayal of Agnès (Elina Labouradette), the seemingly unfortunate cabaret dancer and foil of Hélène (María Casares), in the film’s final scene:

      I ask which character in a French film in 1942, at the time of de Gaulle, said, ‘I’m fighting.’ There’s only one: Elina Labourdette in Les dames de bois de Boulogne…If there’s a moment of resistance in French cinema, it’s not in La bataille du rail and later, and it’s not in Les visiteurs du soir. It’s earlier: it’s here.

    Indeed, Les dames du Bois de Boulogne is a film of resistance, as evidenced in Cocteau’s stabbing dialogue, the characters’ fight against a fate inspired by Diderot’s Mme de la pommeraye from Jacques le fataliste et son maître, and the steadfast stare of María Casares as she pursues revenge. Even Bresson’s directorial decision to avoid the extravagant mise en scène usually associated with studio productions signals his attempt to break away from the industry’s oppressive standards.

    Watching this poetic and quietly political film, one experiences the thrill of a redemption never quite satisfied. An anomaly in Bresson’s oeuvre, the melodrama of the film rests in the fact that there is no release, no ending that suggests the fight against fate is over.

    Les dames du bois de Boulogne screens at Anthology Film Archives November 14 at 5:15 PM, November 27 at 9:00 PM, and November 29 at 3:00 PM as part of their JACK SMITH SELECTS (FROM THE GRAVE) series, running November 13th–December 1st.

    Brittany Stigler

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    Guggenheim
    Aesthetics of Poverty: Italian Neorealist Film: Paisan
    November 20 at 1 PM

    Most war movies depict how dire circumstances can break down but also ennoble a character or group to surpass their normal abilities. Paisan (1948), the second of Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy, does not present a linear story of battles fought and enemies defeated with an optimistic outlook for life after war. As a series of six episodes linked only by the backdrop of WWII, Paisan grapples with the atrocities of totalitarianism and genocide and the fallout of poverty, oppression, and prejudice.

    I first viewed Paisan at my university’s cinematheque as part of a series of war movies that did not showcase epic combat sequences. Just as Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937) explored the relationships between social classes during the First World War, Paisan illustrates how ideologies influenced social norms during WWII. While Grand Illusion radiates superb performances, Paisan, with its ensemble of nonprofessional actors, emits a raw arrangement of different characters swept up in terrible wartime circumstances. Instead of offering another permutation of good versus evil, these films revealed war’s ripple effect on social order across class, age, and race.

    While the language barrier is certainly a pivotal communication issue in Paisan, the subtle display of one character listening, sensing, and sympathizing with another infuses the film with real human moments and not cinematic virtuosity. With newsreel and a narrator as a transition between each episode, the movie blends documentary with fiction and love with politics while it rolls onward to an ending in which the war may cease but the suffering persists.

    Lacking a climax, the film instead builds with a climate of deprivation and despondency. While the authentic settings range from a ruined seaside castle to the bombed-out city of Naples, from the desolate Po River delta to an emotionally-tense Franciscan monastery, Paisan consistently exhibits a sense of futility and emptiness in the wake of war and dictatorship. These aspects made the film a benchmark of Italian Neorealist Cinema.

    The screening of the film accompanies the Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting exhibit at the Guggenheim. Burri, a former army medic and prisoner of war, had firsthand experience with the havoc caused by WWII and the rebirth of society in Europe. His work displayed at the Guggenheim embodies visceral qualities similar to those in Italian neorealist cinema. As part of an “aesthetic of poverty” film series, Paisan exhibits its own aesthetic freedom as Rossellini rebelled against critics, political figures, and other filmmakers who tried to impose conventions on how to portray reality in the cinema.

    Paisan screens at the Guggenheim on Friday, November 20 at 1 PM.

    Aaron Linskens

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