Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , , , , and on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 9:00 AM

billy liar john schlesinger
Billy Liar (1963)
Directed by John Schlesinger
If nothing else, this serves as a powerful example of what both film versions of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (as well as Thurber’s short story) could’ve been. Combining the black humor and wordplay abundant in kitchen-sink dramas with caricature and large set-piece fantasies, the expert camera work and performances (including Julie Christie’s first screen role) successfully navigate the indulgence and self-preservation of someone who both frequently lies and chooses to escape into daydreams. In some ways, Billy Liar foreshadows many elements of Midnight Cowboy (also directed by Schlesinger) but primarily, it anticipates the listlessness and frustration of modern manhood. Violet Lucca (Dec 4-6 at MoMA, part of its Auteurist History of Film)

brother aleksei balabanov sergey bodrov jr.
Brother (1997)
Directed by Aleksei Balabanov
Imagine if Michael Corleone's pride and joy was his Discman. Sergey Bodrov, Jr., gets out of the army in this post-Soviet mobster movie and hitchhikes to Leningrad, er, St. Petersburg, where his brother is set up as a smalltime hit man. Rising from nobody to hotshot, offing rivals (when he's not just sticking up for the little guy), Bodrov follows a familiar gangster movie arc—except for all the humorous, humanizing episodes: the concerts, parties, hanging out and drug use between shootouts that together create a youthful portrait of life in Russia after communism. Henry Stewart (Dec 7 at BAM, part of its Balabanov series)

marriage of maria braun movie fassbinder
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Hanna Schygulla had been ostracized from Fassbinder’s inner circle for five years when he cast her as the lead in this, his most well-known film. The role was supposed to go to Romy Schneider; the producers considered Schygulla box-office poison. Rainer Werner prevailed, as always, and the result was an international hit, surprisingly accessible for the auteur terrible. The slick visuals evoke the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk, but the social commentary is pure Fassbinder—an acidic condemnation of opportunism and the terrible things people do to each other in the name of love. Zach Clark (Dec 8 at Moving Image, part of its See It Big!)

matchy factory girl movie aki kaurismaki
The Match Factory Girl (1990)
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
This is a bleak, blunt conclusion to Aki Kaurismäki’s Proleteriat Trilogy, but its 66 minutes are enough to deliver, with a happy death-rattle, a conclusive judgment on life and love: not worth it. Iris (Kati Outinen) exists to serve, fixing matchboxes at work and soup for her mother and stepfather at home. Any ambitions—a one-night stand, a pretty dress—get brutally curtailed, like the factory logs being stripped and chopped with mechanical precision. But, like a sharp stray chip careening off the line, Iris lights a cigarette and exacts revenge; we can assume no Little Match Girl angels are forthcoming. Elina Mishuris (Dec 10-11 at Lincoln Center, part of its Ozu and His Afterlives)

miracle woman barbara stanwyck frank capra movie 1931
The Miracle Woman (1931)
Directed by Frank Capra
This shockingly good Capra film is about a born-again lady evangelist based on Aimee Semple McPherson. The director knew how to milk hysteria, strength and tragic dignity out of Barbara Stanwyck, and he frames it with fire, lions, screams and spectacle. One of the most fascinating things about reading The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson, which covers roughly 1934-1942 (before he died during WWII), is watching Frank Capra fall in Ferguson's eyes. By 1937, Capra transitions from a critical darling who cares about people, Ferguson writes, to a man who cares about ideas and lives in the clouds, "reading Variety and occasionally getting overcast and raining on us." But this is Capra at his best. Miriam Bale (Dec 6 at Film Forum, part of its Stanwyck)

seven years bad luck movie max linder silent comedy
Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)
Directed by Max Linder
The French silent comedian Max Linder became the world’s most popular movie star through the character of “Max,” a short bourgeois fellow with a toothbrush mustache who combats life’s disruptions in order to win peace of mind. Roughly 80 among the 500 films he made exist today, of which FIAF will be screening four on December 10. The first three—"Max Takes a Bath," "Max is Convalescent," and "Entente cordiale"—are shorts made between 1911 and 1912, at the height of his stardom, in which Max respectively tries to wash himself in a tub, enjoy a weekend in the country, and win his new maid’s heart. The fourth (whose recent restoration is receiving its US premiere) was his first feature film realized after founding an American production company a decade later. Its title comes from what Max gets after shattering a mirror; his subsequent hunt for good luck includes masquerading as a train porter, learning how to pet a lioness, and reclaiming his true love before she weds another man. Gags blend with pathos throughout Linder’s films; their fans during his life included the young Charlie Chaplin, a friend who called himself “his disciple.” Aaron Cutler (Dec 10 at FIAF, part of its The Films of Max Linder)

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