Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Assorted Screenings in NYC: January 2009

While NYC film buffs await the French Institute's Jacques Doillon retrospective in February and March, they can distract themselves with a few interesting items on the January special screenings circuit.

1. The four-film Teuvo Tulio retrospective that played BAM in November is moving over to Anthology Film Archives in mid-January. And this time I know which ones to recommend: The Song of the Scarlet Flower (Thursday, January 15 at 6:45 pm; Saturday, January 17 at 2:45 pm, and Sunday, January 18 at 8:30 pm) and The Way You Wanted Me (Friday, January 16 at 7:15 pm, Saturday, January 17 at 7:15 pm, and Sunday, January 18 at 4 pm). Scarlet Flower, which I wrote about in November, is my favorite, and the only one that could be described as arty; The Way You Wanted Me is closer to straight melodrama.

2. Terence Davies gets a short retro at MOMA in mid-January. (The showtimes that were first posted on the MOMA web site have been changed – check the site or the calendar for the new times.) I'm always up for another chance to see the wonderful The House of Mirth (Friday, January 16 at 7 pm and Saturday, January 17 at 4:30 pm) and Davies' grim trilogy of early short films (Thursday, January 15 at 6 pm and Saturday, January 17 at 2 pm).

3. The Global Lens series, at MOMA in the second half of January, seems to me to be mainstreaming a bit in recent years, which is a shame. But I'm still planning to investigate a few titles, and at least one of the films, Sandra Kogut's Mutum (Saturday, January 17 at 4 pm and Friday, January 30 at 8 pm), is terrific. I wrote about Mutum in my 2007 Toronto wrap-up for Senses of Cinema:

"Another assured work from the Directors' Fortnight, Sandra Kogut's Mutum is an adaptation of a classic Brazilian novel by João Guimarães Rosa about the life of a poor family in an obscure rural area, and particularly about the lively, inquiring consciousness of one of the family's male children (Thiago da Silva Mariz). Kogut has a flair for evoking the natural environment, and Mutum grabs attention with its compelling visual and aural depiction of quiet sunlit afternoons and violent rainstorms, gently contrasted with cuts across time. But even more striking than her sensitivity to ambience is Kogut's remarkable achievement in leading a group of non-actors to a simple, full-bodied acting style that shows no sign of either camera-consciousness or staginess: a far cry from the just-say-the-line-and-stand-there approach favored by art filmmakers in the post-Bresson era. Always considered somewhat peculiar by his own family, the young protagonist's real issues are illuminated only at story's end, in a beautiful sequence that plays to Kogut's strengths as a filmmaker of the senses."

4. I imagine that readers of this blog do not need to be urged to attend Anthology's Stahl/Sirk series on January 28-February 1. Stahl's When Tomorrow Comes (Wednesday, January 28 at 7 pm and Saturday, January 31 at 4:30 pm), the best film in the series for my money, is incredibly rare – as far as I know it hasn't even shown on TV in America since the 80s. (I wrote about it a few months back.) Sirk's remake Interlude is quite rare also, but my recollection is that it's far from his best. The two versions of Imitation of Life in the series are generally thought to be superior to the corresponding versions of Magnificent Obsession, which is really a tough story to put over. But I'm going to see everything.

5. I always have a hard time convincing people that Larry Clark is a major director, and I used to assume it was because everyone thinks he's a dirty old man. But Clark's artier provocations Kids and Ken Park have at least some critical following, whereas his superb genre films Another Day in Paradise and Bully are pretty much ignored in the US. Maybe Clark's deromanticized, participatory egalitarianism bores people more than his unabashed interest in sex offends them. Anyway, Another Day in Paradise plays the Walter Reade on Saturday, January 31 at 9:15 pm and Wednesday, February 4 at 3:45 pm as part of a "Positif Celebrates American Cinema" series. Apparently a longer European version of the film will screen.


Vadim said...

Great news about the Doillon retro, but do you have any comments on the rarities FIAF is showing this month? No clue, frankly.

I also got a press release today previewing a rough sketch of BAM's plans for Feb./Mar. It's a doozy: highlights include a lot of Dreyer, Depardon's new documentary, M. Hulot's Holiday, what appears to be an insanely ambitious Youssef Chahine retro, the return of Oshima (he must have been screened in rep more than any other director in NY this past year), and a Paul Newman tribute that has room for both The Mackintosh Man and Quintet. Wow.

Vadim said...

Sorry, I should have noted this doesn't all happen in those two months. This is going into May etc.

Dan Sallitt said...

Vadim - the current French Institute program is a brief "Tradition of Quality" survey - these are the films that the Cahiers critics trashed so effectively that they were never taken seriously again. The only one of the filmmakers on the program that I've come to appreciate at all is Clément, and Gervaise (which isn't my favorite Clément) is the only film there that I've seen. I'm hoping to check a few of the remaining screenings.

Meanwhile, the Doillon series is now online. It's amazing. More later.

I saw that BAM press release. First up is a Garrone retro on February 12-17, which I'm looking forward to - I like The Embalmer and Roman Summer.

C. Mason Wells said...

It looks like I will be spending several upcoming Tuesday nights with both of you. Looking forward to it!

Vadim said...

I just saw the print of When Tomorrow Comes that's screening. It's pristine. And the movie itself is pretty mindblowing, as you indicated.

Anonymous said...

Will Sirk's Mag Obs be shown in academy ratio?

Dan Sallitt said...

Ha - I see through your clever pen name. I don't know about the ratio, but the prints are from Universal, and I hear that at least some of them are quite good. The IMDb says the film is supposed to be 2.00:1 - it's a while since I've seen it, and I can't remember for sure what ratio it was in.

Anonymous said...

Apparently it was originally shown in "Wide Vision" - this page has the Loew's State ad saying "On our Wide Vision screen." All I can say is that when I saw it, projected at what I took to be 1:1.85 (and I suppose somewhat misframed into the bargain), at BAM - the only screening here within recent memory, to my knowledge - it wasn't just a matter of losing compositional niceties: the stars' heads were cut off at crucial points. A disaster.

Dan Sallitt said...

How did the sides of the frame look at the bad BAM screening? When I read all these discussions, they make me wonder whether someone created a new 35mm print in the intervening years that cut off the left and right of the original wide screen to achieve Academy, and now that print is being further masked. I'll probably have a better opinion after reseeing the film.

Dan Sallitt said...

So Anthology showed Magnificent Obsession in Academy ratio. I'm glad I saw it that way, as I'm sure I would have been upset at the obvious signs of some of the compositions extending beyond the frame. But, now that I remember what the Academy frame looks like, I think that 1.85:1 is probably a somewhat better aesthetic experience on the whole. There are a lot of shots in the Academy version where the characters are buried under a layer of head space: sometimes it looks interesting, but most of the time it doesn't. It's especially deadening when Sirk has to compose a two-shot without much dramatic force (like, for instance, the fairly symmetrical shots of Hudson and Wyman sitting on the beach): I can't believe that he wouldn't have sucked away that head space if he could have. Those shots probably look pretty good in 1.85.

Over-the-shoulder cross-cutting seems to have posed its own problems, as Hudson is so much taller than Wyman or anyone else. When Hudson faced the camera, Sirk tended to shoot slightly upward from behind Wyman, keeping both their heads in the 1.85 zone but leaving a lot of space around them in Academy. The alternative would be to show only the top of Wyman's head in 1.85, which would be unacceptable. From the other angle, Sirk generally keeps the camera level and frames so that only Hudson's back is in the 1.85 zone. In these shots, the Academy framing looks great, with Hudson filling the frame and looming large. And the 1.85 frame is at least acceptable. It would have been more consistent with the reverse shot to shoot Wyman from a corresponding downward camera angle, but Sirk may have thought this too obtrusive. Or maybe he just grabbed any opportunity to get a shot that looked okay in both ratios. At any rate, he and Metty seem to have been making decisions on a shot-by-shot basis, rather than at the sequence level.

Beginning somewhere around this point in his career, Sirk likes to crowd the frame at moments of heightened drama. At these peak moments, Sirk tends to fill the Academy frame with the actors' heads (which looks great) and go for a partial view of the heads in 1.85. The partial view is an obvious way to create extreme visual emphasis in widescreen, and Sirk is certainly not the only 50s director to use it. At these peak moments, the governing principle seems to be that head space is unacceptable and must be eliminated in both ratios.

The feeling I get is that Sirk and Metty were trying to make both ratios look acceptable, rather than make one ratio look great to the detriment of the other. As a result, I'm guessing that neither ratio looks exactly the way it would have without this unpleasant mandate. If I were going to make an argument for Academy, it would be that the key visual effects in the film - which I take to be the lovely art direction of the darkened hotel room in Vienna, and the stunning window views of New Mexico in the hospital scenes at the climax - look wonderful in Academy, and will seem a bit less intentional when the backgrounds in both scenes are partly obscured by a 1.85 mask. But there's a high price to pay for these virtues, and I'm pretty sure that the inert feeling of too much head space in so many scenes, some of them important character interactions, will be eliminated in 1.85.

Anonymous said...

Foiled again ... I missed it, dreading more beheading (as well as that miserably unheated hall). Sounds like a critical edition (aka fan edit?) may be in order!