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  • March 10, 2016

    ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMMING: Masculin féminin, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Ernie Gehr: CARNIVAL OF SHADOWS

    REEL 13 may be taking a break for March pledge, but we haven’t taken our eye off of the great films playing around the city. While you’re waiting for us to return to your home theater on March 26th, here are some films to stave off your cinematic ennui. Sticking to the typical REEL 13 lineup, we present you with our favorite (French) classic, indie, and short films playing in a theater near you.

    Masculin Feminin

    CLASSIC (FRENCH NEW WAVE) FEATURE
    Masculin féminin
    Metrograph – 11 PM

    Critically acclaimed for its portrayal of the political climate of 1960s France, Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin is both a critical and comedic take on the philosophical differences between the sexes. Screening as part of newly opened Metrograph’s Jean Eustache series, the film has an important place in the history of Eustache’s career:

    After Jean-Luc Godard finished this rigorous and funny New Wave delight—about the political and pop cultural engagements and blind spots of the newly ascendant “Ye-Ye” youth generation in sixties Paris—he donated unused film from the shoot to an actual child of Marx and Coc-Cola, Jean Eustache. Thanks to the generous gift, Eustache was able to make Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes, also starring Masculin féminin’s Jean-Pierre Léaud. –Via Metrograph

    SongsMyBrotherTaughtMe

    INDEPENDENT FEATURE
    Songs My Brothers Taught Me
    Film Forum – 9:15 PM

    Set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a place characterized by the beauty of prairie vistas and the melancholy of Wounded Knee, Songs My Brothers Taught Me presents a coming of age narrative within a stunning yet tragic landscape. At the center of a look at Lakota Native American life, a high school senior and his preteen sister make their way through facets of reservation life, such as horseback riding in the Badlands, the illegal sale of alcohol, and the waning yet persistent presence of Native American customs. In her debut feature, writer-director Chloé Zhao mixes moments of tenderness and beauty with scenes of violence, alcoholism, and abject poverty as she illustrates the diversity and complexity of a historically marginalized and stereotyped culture.

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    SHORT FILM
    Ernie Gehr: CARNIVAL OF SHADOWS
    The Museum of Modern Art – Continuous – TRT: ~20 minutes

    While our shorts library is always available, if you are out and about in the Midtown area, why not stop by MoMA Film to take in Ernie Gehr’s multiscreen video installation? Taking early-20th-century shadowgraph toys as inspiration, the digitally projected images, which move across the screen in a way reminiscent of early animation, are adapted from five different paper subjects: At the Circus, Carnival in Nice, John Sellery’s Tour of the World, Street Scenes, and Gulliver’s Travels. The resulting installation is a serious study of abstraction and genre cinema presented in a playful and meditative tone. Accompanying the installation are 30 of the original prints and new photographs by Gehr.

  • February 19, 2016

    Staff Picks: Witches’ Brew at BAMcinématek; Embrace of the Serpent at Film Forum

    The_Witch

    BAMcinématek – Witches’ Brew – through February 29

    As a young girl, I wanted nothing more than to be a witch. Beyond the cheeky nose twitchers of family hour television lived my cinema witch, the embodiment of a certain kind of feminine power that I didn’t quite understand but wanted to be part of nonetheless. Like for so many girls in the 90’s, The Craft became a sort of manifesto. Surrounded by tornado candles, we chanted “light as a feather, stiff as a board” at our slumber parties, imagining ourselves as part of a secret sisterhood. For the first time, we had something that the boys couldn’t steal.

    That’s not to say the witch, especially as represented by cinema, is an entirely liberating symbol. Often, she must either slip around in the shadows or stifle her powers into a mundane domestic reality, using her magic to stir batter. And love, if it is be had, comes as a great sacrifice. “Love is stronger than witchcraft,” Veronica Lake assures her lover before sealing her wizard father into a bottle of liquor in I Married a Witch. What we wouldn’t do to have our own family, to not have to live a loveless life obscured in a rotting tree or dusty spell book.

    Luckily, over the next couple of weeks, there are plenty of discussions to be had over the witch’s place in society thanks to BAMcinématek’s program Witches’ Brew (running Feb 16—Feb29). In celebration of Robert Eggers’ chilling directorial debut, The Witch, BAM will be screening “18 tales of female empowerment of the supernatural kind.” The series represents a variety of witches, from Kenny Ortega’s broomstick flyers in Hocus Pocus to Mario Bava’s sumptuous revenge seeker in Black Sunday. While it’s too late to see the silent and Satanic Häxan, there’s still time to catch Dario Argento’s ballet of gore, Suspiria (Feb 20). And of course, one would be remiss to skip out on Richard Quine’s Bell, Book and Candle (Feb 29), which is a perfect mix of love, literature, and magic (and the loss thereof).

    The complete series can be found here.
    By Brittany Stigler

    Embrace_the_Serpent

    Film Forum – Embrace of the Serpent – through March 1

    For all its reverence in the history books, the Amazon rainforest as a setting for a Hollywood movie typically exists with an opacity and mystique that lends itself to quests for secret treasure, searches for magical or spiritual transcendence, or conflicts with heathens and cannibals. In temporarily leaving Western civilization, the white protagonist will have to overcome the presumed danger therein, sidestepping threats posed by Mother Nature and a lack of Christianity.

    On the surface Embrace of the Serpent looks that way too. Two white explorers in search of a sacred healing plant experience a cultural clash in meeting dangerous men and animals along the Columbian Amazon. While going back and forth between each explorer’s account, which take place 30 years apart, and telling the whole story through the eyes of their skeptical shaman guide, the film chronicles the appalling change of the region over time.

    Writer-director Ciro Guerra confronts the tragic history of the region while jumping between the explorers’ roughly identical routes. Theo (loosely based on German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg) makes his journey with the Western-clothed native, Manduca, and the shaman, Karamakate, who is the last of a tribe killed off by the rubber barons. Decades later, Evan (loosely based on American biologist Richard Evans Schultes) travels with an older Karamakate, who has become a broken man in his survivor’s remorse.

    Each expedition, in a nod to Heart of Darkness, contains quiet moments of peaceful reflection contrasted with terrifying sequences of violence, illustrating the abuse, enslavement, and murder of indigenous people enacted by white settlers along the Amazon in the early 20th century. The scene of a Spanish missionary’s indoctrination of a group of orphan boys provides a twisted version of a shepherd tending to his flock. The horror culminates in a scene at a mission where a cult-like congregation follows a self-proclaimed white messiah to extreme ends.

    As the film’s fulcrum, Karamakate paces the story with his insights, actions, and presence, as he grapples with his own anger, loneliness, and grief. Through the lens of Western culture, he seems intriguingly exotic and foreign, like a tribal man on the cover of National Geographic. In the context of the colossal sadness of genocide, religious hypocrisy, and social injustice, Karamakate feels like a powerful image of a shell of a man. As the last remnant of a culture, he is a portrait of alienation even in his homeland, and to look at him is to take a glimpse at everything that was lost.

    Film Forum will screen Embrace of the Serpent through March 1. This is the first Columbian film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

    By Aaron Linskens

  • February 5, 2016

    Bulletin Board: From Growing Apart and Coming Together, To Making Some Noise and Trying to Remember

    waltzwithbashir
    Waltz with Bashir (2008)
    Museum of the Moving Image
    February 6 – 6:00 PM

    In a piecing together of forgotten wartime events, Waltz with Bashir uses animation to reconstruct a supposed reality as a strange dream. Director and protagonist Ari Folman, who served in the Israeli army in Lebanon during the summer of 1982, seeks clarity of his distorted memories through a series of conversations with old comrades. The notorious event in question is a mass murder of Beirut civilians by Christian militiamen, supposedly in retaliation for the assassination of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel. In a personal journey through unreliable memories, Folman illustrates a therapeutic exercise of trauma and guilt while grappling with the transience of memory and the harsh reality of violence.

    Shadow
    The Shadow (2015)
    UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art
    February 6 – 7:30 PM

    As a synthesis of documentary film and experimental expression, The Shadow covers the dynamics of family relationships in a nature versus nurture context, specifically shown in the comfort of the family house that gets demolished and the pressure created by a father’s expectation of his son. From the innocence of childhood to the authority of fatherhood, the film explores how an individual’s memory and a group’s culture work in tandem to establish identity. Director Javier Olivera employs his training in film, photography, and painting as he experiments with narrative structure in what seems to be a memoir told through sight and sound.

    daddynostalgia
    Daddy Nostalgia (1990)
    Film Society of Lincoln Center
    February 7 – 2:00 PM

    With the setup of a terminally-ill father and a distant daughter, Daddy Nostalgia could easily descend into an overemotional story of a life not fully lived. But the interaction between the affable father (Dirk Bogarde) and his energetic screenwriter daughter (Jane Birkin) plays out as a reawakening of a dormant relationship. But those touching father-daughter moments clash with the quiet presence of the wife/mother (Odette Laure), whose resignation and bitterness tell a different story in the reunion of this nuclear family. Film Society of Lincoln Center will screen the movie as part of the Jane and Charlotte Forever series, which pays tribute to the storied and influential careers of actresses Jane Birkin and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

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    We Won’t Grow Old Together (1972)
    Anthology Film Archives
    February 11 – 7:00 PM

    As part of Anthology Film Archives’ aptly named Valentine’s Day Massacre 2016 series, We Won’t Grow Old Together chronicles an inverted love story of a couple seemingly held together by contempt and bitterness in place of desire or comfort. In this modern melodrama, Jean, a struggling middle-aged filmmaker, carries on with his middle-class wife, Francoise, while blatantly maintaining an affair with a younger actress, Catherine. Director Maurice Pialat, with his trademark illustration of emotional violence punctuated with physical violence, depicts a push-pull love triangle in which insult and aggression supersedes any semblance of love. In a portrait of non-nostalgic realism, Pialat confronts the depths of human nature with an unsentimental look at relationships.

    elektrobanner
    Elektro Moskva (2013)
    Spectacle
    February 12 – 7:30 PM

    As American consumer culture was coming into its own after WWII, the Soviet defense industry stuck to its guns, stockpiling rockets instead of refrigerators. But the KGB’s product line also generated an electronic age with an underground of musical instruments. Elektro Moskva documents this Soviet Union subculture of engineers and artists that used spare parts from weapons and computers to create synthesizers, keyboards, and microphones. As the filmmakers rummage through flea markets, storage units, and warehouses, history meets the present in a demonstration of how Soviet era invention stirred artistic expression through collection of sound and bending of circuits.

    By Aaron Linskens

  • January 21, 2016

    Staff Picks: Barton Fink at Film Forum; Cats! selected by the Criterion Collection

    Unknown-3

    Film Forum – Barton Fink – January 29

    I suppose there could be no better self-proclaimed champion of the proletariat and vehicle of Hollywood satire than a New York playwright. You will find exactly that sentiment in Barton Fink the man. In Barton Fink the movie, that man’s piety and pedantry characterize his so-called writing process as he claims to serve an age-old pretension of art: that it be created for and about the Common Man… as long as that man is plainly uncommon.

    Set in 1941 and loosely based on American playwright Clifford Odets, Barton Fink illustrates how a left-wing hero of the working class fresh off his first Broadway hit might not smoothly transition into the role of Hollywood screenplay manufacturer. Indeed Fink (John Turturro) possesses the creativity, intellect, and antisocial personality disorder required to be a respectable writer. But can he write a wrestling film? Such are his marching orders from Capitol Pictures executive Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner).

    Fink dutifully sets out to create a first draft and checks into Hotel Earle, a vast Art Deco building with drab walls and long corridors that give the place a surreal emptiness. Under the hapless guidance of a flippant producer (Tony Shalhoub) and an esteemed writer-turned-drunkard (John Mahoney), Fink finds no peace of mind while making big money within the studio system. Finally, the presence of Charlie (John Goodman) as the next-door neighbor, traveling insurance salesman, and possibly Satan himself creates a sense of foreboding throughout and ultimately shows how Fink’s exploration of the mind comes at a steep price.

    In typical Coen Brothers fashion, the film rears its head at genre classification and moves to the rhythm of an offbeat drum. The Coens achieve a sustained feeling of unease and unpredictability through sound, tempo, and visual style. Murmurs, hums, cries, buzzes, and rings all permeate Fink’s world within the hotel. A sex scene transitions into a snakelike journey down a bathroom drain. Hotel bedrooms and hallways become apocalyptic spectacles of blood and fire. As he tries to write, Fink’s enthusiasm transforms into desperation, and his inner artistic reverie has become a nightmarish landscape.

    What seems like a grandiose exploration of the nature of creativity and the purpose of art really just manifests as the story of a writer whose artistic purity reveals itself as merely self-obsession. Fink claims to work for the Common Man, but only reaches out to others when it would serve his own desires. Instead of listening to Charlie tell stories of his travels, Fink obliviously blabbers on about his own fantasies. What looked like a Hollywood satire story on the surface actually resembles a darkly comedic portrait of a hack.

    Sure, Hollywood might be a place where creativity is stifled, art is commoditized, and morals are compromised. And maybe the path from a New York theatre to an LA backlot exists for sellouts and phonies. But perhaps a writer doesn’t need to travel that far to witness men putting a price on the formerly intrinsic value of art. Fink says he understands the Common Man, but he misses the fact that for many common men, the influence of money holds the most built-in appeal.

    Film Forum will screen Barton Fink on January 29 as part of a lineup of Coen Brothers films from January 22 to February 4.

    By Aaron Linskens

    Unknown-4
    Criterion Collection – Cats! – Streaming on Hulu

    If you’d rather not wash your hands, your face and hair with snow, then cuddle up and let your laptop purr with the Criterion Collection’s free feline-themed festival, Cats!, streaming on Hulu this week.

    In honor of their release of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), the Criterion Collection has selected a set of films that feature memorable, albeit not all that friendly, cats. From the supernatural bakenekos in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (1977) and Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko (1968) to the beloved pet in Shiro Toyoda’s Shozo, a Cat, and Two Women (1956), the Criterion’s small but varied selection takes a wide-mouthed bite into the dense catalogue of cats on film.

    By far, my favorite cat cameo is the black cat that attacks little Ana in Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). Set in a Castilian village in 1940 during the aftermath of a civil war that resulted in a Francoist victory, Erice’s honey-tinged film operates within a world of symbolism, subtly slipping political commentary past Franco regime censors. In the cat attack scene, six-year-old Ana, whose obsession with a fateful Frankenstein screening drives much of the film, pulls the cat from under the bed onto her lap. Ana’s sweet head rubbing and massaging eventually gives way to rough handling as she asks the cat, “What is wrong with you?” The cat’s green eyes narrow until it twists from Ana’s tightened grasp with a yowl and strikes her. Ana then wipes her bloody finger on her lips and admires the stain in a hand-held mirror.

    Ana’s goading captures a certain unthinking malice that I associate strongly with childhood. In a scene not so dissimilar, I lounged on my bed blowing air into my schnauzer’s face until the usually mild-mannered Lacey snapped and bit my cheek. Like Ana I didn’t cry but instead sat fascinated with my ability to create a monster out of something so familiar. Symbolically, Ana’s actions represent a desire for autonomy, which after all is the plight of childhood—or of anyone who is controlled by, say, a fascist regime.

    Albert and David Maysles’s Grey Gardens (1976), Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934), Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983), and Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) round out the list.

    By Brittany Stigler

  • January 8, 2016

    Bulletin Board: From Shakespeare and Tragedy to Cowboys and Soviets

    Unknown

    Chimes at Midnight (1965)
    Film Forum
    Ongoing through January 12
    This compilation of five Shakespearean plays serves as the culmination of a lifetime’s creative work for Orson Welles. Directing and starring as the less than chivalrous Sir Falstaff, who spends his days reveling, warring, and philosophizing in his own fashion, Welles situates himself as the weightiest side of the love triangle with Keith Baxter’s Prince Hal and John Gielgud’s King Henry IV. Decades of rights issues denied legal public access to this film, but Film Forum has a new restoration by Janus Films and The Criterion Collection with a handful of screenings remaining.

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    Mother (1926)
    Jewish Museum The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film Series
    January 15 at 11:15 am

    Before the rise of the Soviet Union, early 20th century Russia experienced mass political and social unrest directed against Tsarist autocracy. Rather than cover that chapter of history in a general sense, Vsevolod Pudovkin’s first feature Mother enters that time through a particular person: a working class woman with a husband and son on opposing sides of the revolution. Based on Maxim Gorky’s influential novel The Mother, Pudovkin’s film illustrates a humanly accessible narrative from an individual perspective during a time when many other films highlighted movements of the masses. The Jewish Museum’s current series The Power of Pictures underlines a period in Russia’s art history when filmmakers and films such as Mother harnessed the melodrama of a story by making it political and militant.

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    Evidentiary Bodies
    Microscope Gallery – Never Twice exhibit
    January 10 at 7 pm

    In a branch of art usually referred to as “expanded cinema,” the filmmaker captures and projects moving images live for an audience as a performance that could be done again but never achieved in the same way. In taking this performative approach, Barbara Hammer and Lary 7 designed a performance with projectors, cameras, and film stock called Evidentiary Bodies. This performance will be the final of Microscope Gallery’s Never Twice exhibit, which addresses the transience of art with reference to the Heraclitus quote “One cannot step into the same river twice.”

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    Shark Monroe (1918)
    Museum of Modern Art – Modern Matinees: A Pioneer Cowboy series
    January 15 at 1:30 pm

    Known unofficially as “the first Western superstar,” William S. Hart donned the unsentimental, no-nonsense cowboy persona before the likes of John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Clint Eastwood. While those mid-20th century stars benefited from iconic costumes and well-placed one-liners, Hart pioneered early silent Western cinema through his portrayal of conflicted and world-weary cowboys with a combination of sincerity and brutality. MoMA will screen a lineup of Hart’s films as part of the Modern Matinees: A Pioneer Cowboy series. Shark Monroe may warrant particular attention due to MoMA’s recent restoration of the print, the vistas of the Great Northwest therein, and the fact that it was one of the last of ten films directed by and starring Hart that year alone.

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    The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939)
    Film Society of Lincoln Center
    Ongoing through January 14

    Despite working for years in Japan’s mainstream movie industry, director Kenji Mizoguchi infused his work with markedly more political than commercial ambitions. In The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, Mizoguchi depicts the oppressive effects of social norms and gender roles of Japanese history within the context of a tragic love story. The combination of late 19th-century Kabuki theatre and long takes that have the actors choreographed in a dance with the mobile camera give the film an intensity and energy that build to a climactic finish. The Film Society of Lincoln Center will screen a new digital restoration courtesy of Janus Films.

    Reporting by Aaron Linskens

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