Saturday, October 15, 2011

Assorted Screenings in NYC: October 2011

1. MoMA's ninth annual To Save and Project festival includes a few strong Italian films that could be better known. The pick of the October screenings is Elio Petri's startlingly good 1961 debut L'Assassino (Sunday, October 16 at 5:45 pm and Thursday, October 20 at 7:15 pm), starring Marcello Mastroianni as a shady operator whose life is shaken up by a police investigation. Petri's stock on the international film scene would peak almost a decade later with his excellent 1970 Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion; but the more classically constructed L'Assassino, with its impressive command of point of view, still seems to me Petri's greatest achievement. More modest in scale, Alberto Lattuada's 1954 La Spiaggia (Friday, October 28 at 4 pm and Monday, October 31 at 8:30 pm), built around the visual appeal of Martine Carol, the Riviera, and carefully composed Academy-ratio color photography, is a melancholy, atmospheric film that first tipped me off to the talents of this underrecognized director, who is probably best known as the co-director of Fellini's 1950 debut Variety Lights.

2. The Doomsday Film Festival & Symposium, held at 92YTribeca and dedicated to movies about the end of the world, has a strong lineup this year. Steve DeJarnatt's 1988 Miracle Mile (Friday, October 21 at 8 pm) has become a bit of a cult film since I caught it on its fleeting first run, but is rarely revived in theaters. If memory serves, the film takes a while to establish its tone, but never loses track of its casually affecting love story as it whips through the decline and fall of Los Angeles in 87 minutes. Screening the same evening (Friday, October 21 at 10:30 pm), Don McKellar's appealing 1999 Last Night has no problem at all scaling the apocalypse down to an opportunity for two total strangers to have a really good first and last kiss. Colossus: The Forbin Project (Saturday, October 22 at 6 pm) was made for TV but deemed worthy of a 1970 theatrical release, and was the first clear sign of director Joseph Sargent's talent for tense, fast-paced ensemble work. The film could have used a good computer science technical advisor, but Sargent and scriptwriter James Bridges keep the focus small and human despite the fascination of malevolent supercomputer Colossus. Wrapping up the catastrophic weekend is one of Larry Cohen's best films, 1977's crazy but compelling God Told Me To (aka Demon) (Sunday, October 23 at 7 pm).


Jon Hastings said...

Thanks for the tip on "L'assassino". It wasn't what I expected, but thought it was quite good. I especially liked all of the narrative lacunae (although they raise the question of how many of those were intentional and how many the result of censor-demanded cuts).

Anything else in the MoMA series that is unmissable in your opinion?

Dan Sallitt said...

Jon: maybe it's not quite unmissable, but Fleischer's The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing is a good example of that filmmaker's most interesting mode, with an ambient use of widescreen and natural sound that sometimes feels almost Premingerian.

What I love about L'Assassino is that it's just a hair away from the conventions of Italian dramatic comedy, and yet, by slightly softening the protagonist's aggression and antisocial qualities, it's able to capture a personality that's plausibly torn between gentle, moral impulses and an inability to hew to them. The film's virtues are a matter of small-scale moment-by-moment judgments.