Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week

Posted By , , , and on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 9:15 AM

The Little Foxes, William Wylers adaptation of Lillian Hellmans play, starring Bette Davis
The Little Foxes (1941)
Directed by William Wyler
This movie, adapted from the Lillian Hellman play, got its name from the Song of Solomon—and it irrefutably lives up to it. The theatrical version starred Tallulah Bankhead, but Wyler’s film features the inimitable Bette Davis as the beautifully sinister Regina Giddons née Hubbard. Regina's equally malignant brothers seek her out to participate in a high-profit business deal, hoping she can secure necessary funds from her very sick husband (Herbert Marshall). Super-long shots harmonize with the rigid imagery of venomous deceit and being stabbed-in-the-back; when watching Ms. Davis you feel as if your heart may indeed turn to stone. Samantha Vacca (Apr 24-25 at BAM, part of its Back with a Vengeance series)

The Man Who Fell to Earth, Nicolas Roegs film starring David Bowie
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
In this adaptation of Walter Tevis’s 1963 novel, plot is subservient to incident, suggestion, the lucky accident and the spectacle of David Bowie, oft-nude and sweetly coke-stoned as the space oddity plunked down on Earth, ostensibly to blend in and fetch water for his drought-stricken planet. With his clever moneymaking patents and sexual reciprocation with Candy Clark’s hotel maid, his Newton’s a more benevolent extraterrestrial critter than Scarlett Johansson’s Under the Skin man-eater. Roeg’s usual fractured, tone-blending style toes the line between sphinxlike and sloppy, and it’s an elastically applicable parable for whatever ya got: Christ, the artist’s life, being a stranger in America, rock stardom, et al. Justin Stewart (Apr 26 at Moving Image, part of its See It Big! Science Fiction series)

San Clemente, Raymond Depardons documentary
San Clemente (1982)
Directed by Raymond Depardon
When the filmmakers first enter Hospital San Clemente, they're immediately told to leave. It's February 1980, and cameraman Depardon and sound recorder Sophie Ristelhueber have come to a Venetian island’s 150 year-old mental institution, which will soon shutter, in order to film its residents going about their everyday lives. The two stay despite resistance from doctors and patients who question their reasons for being there, and turn defiance into agency by letting the patients guide them and help them select what they will show. Depardon, a longtime still photographer as well as a documentarian, records the place (both a prison and a hospital) through clear black-and-white camerawork that soaks the air with light. San Clemente’s patients emerge in long scenes of corridor-wandering as well as in brief, intimate moments of regarding their visitors. The people onscreen appear beautiful, and then eventually vanish from sight. Aaron Cutler (Apr 25 at Lincoln Center, part of its Art of the Real series)

Side Street, Directed by Anthony Mann
Side Street (1949)
Directed by Anthony Mann
Though primarily remembered today for his Westerns, Mann had an almost equally notable career as a director of crime pictures. Yet his major themes—namely, masculine struggle against societal strictures and the volatile environments such attitudes reinforce—are present throughout. This initial phase of the director’s development arguably culminated with this mid-century noir concerning advantageous father-to-be, Joe (Farley Granger), who unwittingly falls into an extortionist plot when he harmlessly decides to steal a couple hundred dollars from a lawyer’s office. As Joe attempts to right his wrong only to get pulled further into an elaborate underworld plot, questions of morality and loyalty rise like steam from the surface of the character’s dank urban surroundings. Shot mostly on location in New York City, the film stands as both nostalgic timepiece and aesthetic watershed, proving a seamless transition for its director’s move out West. Jordan Cronk (Apr 26 at Moving Image, part of its Anthony Mann series)

Winchester 73, the Anthony Mann Western starring Jimmy Stewart
Winchester '73 (1950)
Directed by Anthony Mann
Jimmy Stewart stars in Mann’s efficiently ambitious Western, but he isn’t the central character. The titular firearm provides the narrative thruline (and universal lust object) as we follow it from hand to hand as it’s stolen, traded, killed for, stolen again, and returned to its rightful owner. Mann’s Old West is desperate and unsentimental. (He’d direct Stewart’s most idiosyncratic, nastiest performance five years later in The Man From Laramie.) In an especially bleak moment, cowboy Stewart hands saloon girl Shelly Winters a six-shooter during an Indian fight and implies she’s better off shooting herself then getting captured. For anyone who thinks the narrative seems too experimental or the morality too progressive for 1950 Hollywood, Rock Hudson’s presence as murderous Indian bandit "Young Bull" should make you feel right at home. Zach Clark (Apr 27 at Moving Image, part of its Anthony Mann series)

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