Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , , , and on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 9:00 AM

the ceremony nagia oshima 1971 japanese movie
The Ceremony (1971)
Directed by Nagia Oshima
Though not as stylistically rebellious or outwardly incendiary as the films the Japanese provocateur would make in its immediate vicinity, this mid-period work still proves more subversive. Structured achronologically and told in long, patient shots, the film constructs an entire ancestral history for the fictional Sakurada family via scenes set solely at ceremonial gatherings (funerals, weddings, etc.), each corresponding with a defining year in Japan’s postwar reconstruction. Reminiscing about these alternately commemorative and traumatic occasions, grown son Masuo is matter-of-fact in his thoughts, and as he travels to check on the whereabouts of his missing cousin, recollections of incest and stubborn traditionalism begin to reflect the larger social and political implications of the era. Carefully composed and discreetly disclosed, Oshima’s familial diorama nonetheless carries restless undertones, its trenchant depiction of Eastern (de)evolution brought to symbolic if inevitable ends. Jordan Cronk (Mar 29 at the Japan Society, part of its Tribute to Donald Richie)

family plot hitchcock 1976 last movie karen black william devane
Family Plot (1976)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
The end of Hitchcock’s career is often deemed a nadir, which is unfair at least when considering this swansong, maybe his funniest film. Starring Karen Black (Fran), Bruce Dern (George), and Barbara Harris (Blanche) as an uproariously OTT faux psychic, the film traverses tested Hitchcock territory while maintaining a decidedly lighthearted, nay, campy tone only hinted at in previous efforts. George and Blanche pursue a reward scheme unwittingly availed by one of Blanche’s "hypnotized" clients, in the process embattling name-changing, double-crossing kidnappers Fran and Arthur (William Devane). This is classic Hitchcock—and a great way to have gone out. John Oursler (Mar 26 at Film Forum, part of its Complete Hitchcock series)

ladies man set jerry lewis 1961 movie
The Ladies Man (1961)
Directed by Jerry Lewis
For someone who has so notoriously and repeatedly dismissed women’s comedic potential, Lewis sure does surround himself with them in this movie (and he gives them plenty of jokes, too!). Sandwiched between The Bellboy and The Errand Boy, this is another anti-narrative in which Lewis’s nasal-voiced spazz (employed as the handyman at a boarding house for young ingénues) screws up one menial task after another. The four-story dollhouse where 90 percent of the movie takes place was then the most expensive set built for a comedy, and Lewis’s use of color is inventive, vibrant, and striking. But as per usual, the biggest laughs come from the little things; an extended sequence in which Lewis tries to reposition a man’s crumpled hat makes for one of the funniest in the comedian’s oeuvre. Zach Clark (Mar 29 at Moving Image, part of its See It Big! Comedies series)

manxman hitchcock silent movie 1928
The Manxman (1928)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock’s final silent is a straightforward bestseller adaptation unlike most anything to come in his oeuvre. Melodrama would remain, but always mingled with intrigue, murder, comedy or the macabre. Auteurists have noted a breadcrumb trail of stylistic curlicues, but I only see a hack assignment executed expertly. Anny Ondra (Blackmail) is the Isle of Man pub maiden stuck in a no-win triangle with the coward lawyer she loves (Malcolm Keen) and his BFF, the simple, dumbly smiling fisherman (Carl Brisson) to whom she committed herself. The cinematic shorthand for Ondra’s transference of love in her diary (entries about “Mr. Christian,” then “Philip,” then “Phil”) is deft, and the actress’s euphoria when the fisherman is wrongly declared dead is frightening. Justin Stewart (Mar 27 at Film Forum, part of its Complete Hitchcock series)

saga of anatahan josef von sternberg movie 1953
The Saga of Anatahan (1953)
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Sternberg's final film is about Japanese seamen in 1944 who end up stranded on an island with an alluring woman named Keiko. They're forgotten about, never realizing the war has ended, and end up in a violent struggle for power. Though the film's in Japanese, there are no subtitles; instead Sternberg narrates it himself. The island's tropical trees were faked and the clouds and mountains were drawn with pen and ink. "The entire structure was designed to be completely artificial so the audience, in seeing it, would not participate in the action," von Sternberg said in an episode of Cinéastes de notre temps. "The only thing that's real is the ocean, and that's too bad. I'm sorry that we couldn't create the water some other way." Miriam Bale (Mar 29 at Anthology, part of its Auteurs Gone Wild series)

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