Feb 28, 2011

Film Forever at Film Forum: Fritz Lang in Hollywood


by Ashley Swinnerton

The curated film screening I attended was a double feature of The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, part of the “Fritz Lang in Hollywood” series at Film Forum, at 5:25pm (and 7:20pm) on a Sunday. The main idea behind the series was to “[spotlight] all twenty-two American films made by the German master over twenty years (1936-1956).”[1] Lang is remembered primarily for his contributions to German cinema, but his Hollywood films are just as noteworthy and incredible both aesthetically and thematically. Further still, he managed to create works of art within the confines of the studio system, which desperately tried to force him into their streamlined, cookie cutter molds, and Film Forum’s series strove to underscore this achievement.
The series ran for two weeks (January 28-February 10, 2011) and included a total of 22 films, all of which were paired as double features (two films for one admission), except the final pairing (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and Fury), which was ticketed separately. Half the films in the series screened on two consecutive nights while the other half screened for one night only. Nearly all the films had three show times per night, though a few had only one or two (presumably based on length and print availability). All the films were projected on 35mm, many of these recently restored and/or brand new prints.
The double feature pairings were not random, but made with a conscious acknowledgment of some common filmic link, including shared cast (The Woman in the Window/Scarlet Street: Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson, Dan Duryea), genre (The Return of Frank James/Western Union: Western), theme (Hangmen Also Die!/Cloak and Dagger: anti-Nazism), release date (Clash By Night/Rancho Notorious: 1952), and Lang’s “first and last” Hollywood pictures (Fury/Beyond a Reasonable Doubt). The series also included both famous and oft written about titles (The Big Heat) as well as harder to find, lesser known but should-be-classics (House by the River). Film Forum’s director of repertory programming is Bruce Goldstein, who was responsible for executing this series.
The audience demographic at the Sunday night screening I attended was primarily comprised of white men over the age of 40, though I was pleased to see more people of color than at, say, the Aero in Santa Monica, more women than at the Brattle in Cambridge, and more young people than at both theatres combined. The groupings of viewers seemed to be evenly split between heterosexual couples, single males, and small clusters of two or three friends (usually three males or two males and one female; least represented was three females). Noticeably absent was the “elderly person plus son or daughter” demographic—one that seems particularly scarce in New York City in general, but which is also likely related to the 5:25pm screening time (there is no reduced senior price for movies after 5pm at Film Forum).[2] The double feature aspect may also have been a factor, but seems less likely than the ticket price/interference with early dinner issue, as I have seen 80-year-old women power through two DeMille epics in a row on more than one occasion. Still, the “typical” ticket buyer in Manhattan for Hollywood films made before 1960 seems to be the single, 40ish white male.
I make this observation as a person who has frequently attended comparable programs (read: “old Hollywood movies”) in similar venues starting at age 18, and who has constantly been singled out and asked “Why are you here?” in direct response to my age and gender, which somehow always seems out of place to the other audience members. And, more often than not, these questions about my desire to watch “old movies” (and, at times, “boy movies”) come in the form of assaults from middle aged men, many of whom feel the need to test my knowledge of whatever film or genre we are about to encounter.[3] Sometimes the question comes in the form of harmless, line-waiting banter, such as, “What is your interest in German Expressionism?” but almost invariably the question is tinged with insult, such as, “Why would someone like you want to see a movie like this?” Other gems include: “You do know this movie is silent, right?” “Do you even know who Billy Wilder is?” and “Aren’t you in the wrong place? The Jonas brothers movie is playing next door.” This is the same in every city, at every repertory theatre I’ve ever attended.
All this is to point out that there is nothing in Film Forum’s programming of these films that outwardly attracts one demographic over another—nothing in the advertising or pairing of the films that would either overtly appeal to an older demographic or work to exclude a younger one, nor market the films to men over women. Though the programmers obviously make an effort to guide our viewing, grouping like films together even under the umbrella of “directed by Fritz Lang,” the films themselves attract audiences. Either you like Fritz Lang or you don’t. Either you want to see The Blue Gardenia or you don’t. Film Forum functions as an outlet for access, allowing us to see films we already love or that we’ve been meaning to see, as well as pointing us towards films we may not have heard of or read as much about but will more than likely enjoy based purely on association. They do not care about gender, age, or race; they just want to sell tickets.
This lengthy personal aside about audiences’ expectations of fellow audience members is relevant because it happened again at this particular Woman in the Window/Scarlet Street screening and highlights the strange dichotomy between young and old viewership: Waiting to be let into the house, a man in his late 50s looked at me and the 20something couple standing in front of me and asked, “What are you youngsters doing at a film noir screening?” and wondered if we’d seen either of the films before. Neither half of the couple had seen the films, but both were fans of Lang’s German work and were looking to expand their knowledge of his canon, which seemed to be an acceptable response for the man. I said I had seen both films before, had actually seen the restored print from the Library of Congress already, and was a fan of all of Lang’s work, which seemed to surprise and almost bewilder said man. I added that I was an even bigger fan of Joan Bennett and was mostly in attendance to hear Bennett’s (and producer Walter Wanger’s) daughter introduce the film.
Yes, Shelley Wanger, daughter of the films’ famed producer and glamorous star—also Film Forum board member—was in attendance to add a few words about the incredible aesthetics of the films and their inspired director, her experience having briefly met Lang once as a teenager in the ‘60s, and her memories of her parents’ discussions about their joint work—or rather, of her complete lack of memory because her parents never discussed work at home. Basically, the kind of introduction that makes an Old Hollywood geek salivate all over her ticket stubs.
Such “expert” introductions seem to be standard operating procedure for many arthouse and repertory cinemas and other non-multiplex theatres—the types of theatres that play movies with descriptors such as “newly restored,” “archival,” or “anniversary rerelease.” IFC often invites filmmakers, historians, and scholars to speak critically about a film either before or after a show; The Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles often finds children of silent screen stars to read excerpts from their parents’ autobiographies and related personal anecdotes before screenings; and the Academy just recently hosted a film noir series highlighting excellence in writing, with each film introduced and critiqued by a contemporary, acclaimed screenwriter. This appears to be an attempt by these theatres to create “an event”––something more than just “going to the movies.” For me, seeing a film such as The Woman in the Window on the big screen is treat enough, but it seems as though many audiences do not feel that this is sufficient, that there needs to be something “extra” to draw them to these movies that are readily available on television or home video. Consequently, programmers and curators look for those little bonuses to coax people out of their homes and off the couches, providing introductions, narration, or contextualization that is not available on a DVD.
Similarly, the appeal of the collective experience of film is no longer an appeal for many, but rather an annoyance. About 30 minutes into The Woman in the Window, one of the reels broke and the movie stopped for about 10 minutes while the projectionists repaired it. Several people groaned and half joked about wanting their money back, but I’ll take film breaking over video lag any day of the week. For me, an equipment malfunction such as this actually adds to the communal experience of seeing a film with an audience and is almost exhilarating, like hearing that massive intake of 500 breaths when the car goes off the cliff, or the joy of a roomful of spontaneous applause after a favorite musical number, or the nervous but sympathetic laughter after an unknown voice yells, “No, don’t open the door!” Film Forever at Film Forum!

Further reading:

video
Without question, the best line in Scarlet Street.





[1] From a PR flyer: http://www.filmforum.org/newsletter/langpr.html
[2] Film Forum does offer discounted membership prices, but this classification is impossible to determine from a visual study of a particular audience.
[3] Occasionally this question is posed by a harmless elderly lady who, upon learning of my love for Classic Hollywood, then delights in using me as her own personal IMDb for the remainder of the screening, reminding her “how many movies Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy made together” or “how many husbands Judy Garland had.” However, this type of interaction usually occurs in a museum setting during a matinee, which is irrelevant in regard to the Film Forum screening in question.

Plutonian Pictures ‘Hot Stuff’ Show


It's safe to say that Greg Singer, a long-time projectionist in the Audio/Visual department at the Museum of Modern Art, is Plutonian Pictures.  He built the “Micro Cinema,” as he calls it, from the ground up in his TriBeCa loft. The setup includes 16mm and 8mm reel-to-reel projectors, video and digital projection, 35mm slides, a ViewMaster, LP, CD and audiocassette playback, and a meticulously designed sound system that allows for either digital surround or classic analog sound presentation. The room is partitioned with pipe and drape and the pristine glass bead screen can be manually masked. Nine seats—the maximum that the room will hold—are carefully positioned for optimal viewing and sound. Perfectly timed dimmers control soft red lighting, giving each presentation a unique atmosphere that evokes at once the intense intimacy of a private screening and the marked professionalism of a fine arts cinema.
Greg’s attention to detail does not end at the design of his Plutonian Pictures space. Within the Micro Cinema he hosts regular, thoughtfully curated programs for an invitational audience of nine. The exclusivity of each show brings with it an intimacy that allows each guest, loving referred to as Plutonians, to feel connected to the programming, the cinema itself and their host. Each is even asked to bring a dish that compliments the night’s program and come an hour early to be introduced to each other and given a tour of the private screening room. Each show is a one-time event lasting late into the night, and each includes multiple formats and often a combination of industrial and narrative film, art slides and relating audio material. However, the fun for Greg is in the moment when his audience discovers just how each piece relates, and the dialogue that follows.

The latest Plutonian Pictures exhibition, “Hot Stuff,” took place on Saturday, February 26, 2011 and was advertised on the Plutonian Pictures blog (http://plutonianpictures.blogspot.com/) as a double feature of Bruce Conner’s 16mm short, Crossroads, and Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly. The evening began as they all do, with a small group of Plutonians arriving with Whole Foods bags in hand, adding salsa and spicy olives to the refreshment table as the host played a score of dark experimental music and swapped out the regular lighting in his home for darker reds and yellows. The guests, invited and selected by Greg, included artists, filmmakers, a chef, students, designers, curators, first timers and “original Plutonians.” As we mingled, Greg showed the newcomers around his Micro Cinema and explained that the night’s music was sent to him by his son, a music student at Oberlin, who described it as “what’s hot.” Eventually the bell rang, signaling that it was time for guests to move into the screening room and find their seats, each designated with a “Reserved” card. As we filed in, a pre-show slide filled the screen with red and the words “picture show” and Greg traded out the industrial sounds of the music he’d been playing digitally for a haunting LP of similarly-themed music from the analog era.
Greg began a series of colorful art photos, new additions to his private collection of over 4,000 35mm slides, and explained that the 16mm print he would be projecting was on loan from MoMA’s circulating prints collection. He added that he only shows prints of which the rights have been cleared through MoMA or expressly cleared for his use by the artist or rights holder.  As he threaded Crossroads into the projector and brought the “house lights” down, he reassured his small audience that the connection between the films would be evident in the second half of the show. Bruce Conner created Crossroads from Defense Department footage of nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll, taken in 1946 from 27 different cameras. He slowed down the footage of immense mushroom clouds and their potential destructive power and edited it into a hypnotizing montage set to two very different scores, the first by Patrick Gleeson and the second by Terry Riley. The change in score and shifts between eye-level shots and airborne overhead shots gave the piece a somewhat narrative structure that was later reflected in the second film. At 36-minutes, in the small screening room with the sound of 16mm projectors running behind the combination of carefully composed music and nuclear explosions, the effect was overwhelming. The film ran its last frame and an “Intermission” slide took the screen as the lights came back up. Greg allowed us an extended break to discuss, get refreshments and clear our minds for a very different second half.
Mickey Spillane’s 1955 noir, Kiss Me Deadly, stars Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer, a private eye who picks up a troubled blonde hitchhiker and is unknowingly pulled into a deadly quest for a box with mysterious contents. As Hammer and his secretary/love interest Velda begin to unravel the hitchhiker’s secret, they find that the box contains an atomic substance that each character they encounter is either killed over or eventually killed by when it is released in an epic explosion at the end of the film. The film was projected from the 1997 DVD, which contains the restored original ending in which Hammer and Velda escape the exploding house at the end. For years the film ran with a now discredited, shortened ending in which the two are never seen escaping from the house, implying the demise of every character involved in the plot. The film is a clear illustration of the Cold War fear of the 1950s that is chillingly validated in Conner’s piece. Its form also reinforces the well-paced editing and obvious narrative elements that turn the elements in Crossroads from government camera footage and original music composition into a stylized examination of destruction. For example, dramatic effect and chilling images are present from the first shot of Kiss Me Deadly, but Mike Hammer’s understanding of them builds more slowly. As the reality of what he’s involved in sinks in, his detective work, relationships and outlook on life can no longer carry on in the sexy, narcissistic and emotionally unattached way that he’s used to. When the contents of the box are finally revealed, it is obvious to him that the situation is much bigger than he could comprehend—much bigger than himself—and he must go beyond what he’s prepared for to save himself and the things that matter to him from destruction. Much like with Crossroads, it is an outsider’s experience of the threat of nuclear war.  
Greg’s argument in creating a night around this pairing began with the Cold War connection, but allowed his audience to make artistic, stylistic and more romantic connections between the pieces. The “Hot Stuff” titled playfully pulled all of these together. Though abstractly removed from Greg’s argument in pairing these two films, I found the greatest take away to be the sensory experience and excitement evoked by a night so meticulously planned that each detailed reinforced the one before it and the overall theme.
Greg takes his screenings seriously and feels passionately about sharing them, as he says, “with friends.” This is evident in every aspect of his shows, particularly his excitement at watching his friends uncover and discuss the connections that he hoped for in planning them. Before his guests file out at the end of the night, they are asked to sign a guest book, leaving their thoughts and their addresses for follow up. After “Hot Stuff,” discussion carried out the front door and into the elevator, and we were left with new friends and an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen

Museum of Modern Art
September 15, 2010 – May 2, 2011

by Samantha Oddi

Even though the practical products that help to run a home are the
result of countless hours of deliberation and design, they are not the
commonest pieces in an art museum. Most of these ease-making products
are intended for the kitchen, where they are supposed to make feeding
ourselves simpler, quicker, and even more fun. The kitchen in
particular is typically an unglamorous place that requires some amount
of daily cleaning, regular stocking, and a number of mundane,
necessary chores. Despite all this, the kitchen and the products
created for it have been featured in design exhibitions at the Museum
of Modern Art for some time. Outside of some of the museum's longer
running design displays is a temporary exhibit which resides in the
Special Exhibition Gallery, previously the home of Monet's Water
Lilies, called Counter Life: Design and the Modern Kitchen.
Consisting of images and text, household objects from different eras,
posters, sculptures, moving images, and an intact example of a
Frankfurt Kitchen, Counter Space depicts different eras in the
evolution of the kitchen in the twentieth century and the various
responses to that kitchen by advertisers, designers, and artists.
The mission statement of the Museum of Modern Art explains that the
museum seeks "to create a dialogue between the established and the
experimental, the past and the present" and Counter Space was clearly
created with that mission in mind.(1) As created by Juliet Kinchin,
a curator in the department of architecture and design, and curatorial
assistant Aiden O'Connor, the exhibition has three parts: The New
Kitchen, Visions of Plenty, and Kitchen Sink Dramas. "The New
Kitchen" illustrates the changing designs and products for the kitchen
after World War I, especially as it related to the Frankfurt Kitchen.
"Visions of Plenty" showcases the expansion of American kitchens and
the greater variety of appliances and plastic products made available
after World War II and through the Cold War. The last section,
"Kitchen Sink Dramas," features the different interpretations of the
kitchen and housework in different artists' work since the 19060's.
The New York Times writer Roberta Smith wrote that the connection
between the final section and the rest was "boilerplate art history,
but to see it made with real-life art and artifacts against the rich
backdrop of this exhibition is something else."(2)
Counter Space is indeed rich. That such a large amount of content
manages to fit into a relatively small space in a coherent way is an
impressive accomplishment. Materials from every department of the
museum's collections are featured in the exhibition, including a
surprising number of selections from the film department. Moving
image materials are prominent components in each section of the
exhibit. They explain, provide context and commentary, or just
entertain. They are viewed in different ways in each section as a
result of the context in which they are presented and their method of
display.
A large screen hangs from the ceiling at the entrance to the exhibit
and a scene is projected upon it (pictured below). Die Frankfurter
Küche (The Frankfurt Kitchen) is a black and white silent film from
1928 that was directed by Paul Wolff. The original film print has
been digitized and is projected by a digital projector.
(picture - http://www.flickr.com/photos/43355544@N03/5487290946/)
The film demonstrates the effectiveness of the new Frankfurt Kitchen
by comparing it's efficiency and cleanliness with footage of women
working in a typical kitchen of the time, while intertitles explain
the differences between the two cooking environments. The display
introduces the visitor to "The New Kitchen" and the beginning of the
exhibit.
Embedded in the side of the model Frankfurt Kitchen is a video screen
not much larger than a standard sheet of paper (pictured below). It
plays The Housing Factory (c. 1928), a black and white silent film
about the process of making pre-fabricated housing. The video
practically blends in with the still photographs of similar size that
have been printed onto the side of the kitchen. A visitor can
seamlessly move from reading to watching to viewing.
(picture - http://www.flickr.com/photos/43355544@N03/5486696251/)
In the "Visions of Plenty" section there is a series of three video
screens joined together in a long rectangle that stands out from the
wall (pictured below). A display of magazine advertisements from the
post-war era are laid out in a glass case below the screens. Three
sets of headphones that allow a visitor to listen to any of the three
screens hang on hooks below the case. The first screen plays Plastics
(1944, black and white, sound) and Tupperware commercials (1950's,
color, sound). The second screen shows The Last Word in Automatic
Dishwashing (1950, black and white, sound), Frigidare Finale (1957,
color, sound), and Frigidare Imperial Line (1956, color, sound). The
third plays G.E. Refrigerator commercial (1952, color, sound), A Word
for Wives (c. 1955, color, sound), and Design for Dreaming (1956,
color, sound). These short films are all meant to sell different
aspects of the modern dream kitchen to Americans reveling in the extra
money created by the boom years following World War II.
(picture - http://www.flickr.com/photos/43355544@N03/5487292468/)
Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) is featured in the
"Kitchen Sink Dramas" section of Counter Space. The black and white
video is played on a large, boxy television with a flat front, which
sits on a rectangular pedestal, placing the image just below eye level
(pictured below). The video does have sound, which plays out of the
television's speakers, but it can barely be heard over the sound of
other visitors and displays. In Semiotics Rosler imitates the
behaviors of the host of a television cooking show, though she does so
with an angry attitude and never interacts with any food.
(picture - http://www.flickr.com/photos/43355544@N03/5486695687/)
Video screens, television sets, and a projector and screen are the
only methods of presentation for moving images in Counter Space. When
I visited on a Wednesday afternoon the exhibit was busy, but not
crowded, and most visitors seemed eager to watch the different moving
image content spread throughout the exhibit space. The crowd was made
up of a variety of ages, from children in strollers pushed parents to
the elderly in wheelchairs guided by caregivers. The exhibit had no
obvious target audience, though most of the moving image content came
from American and Germany, so people from those countries would
presumably have a greater connection to the material than others.
The moving image content brings the exhibit to life. Unlike other
exhibits are art museums, such as MoMA's current Abstract
Expressionist New York, we all have personal experiences with the
subject and types of items on display in Counter Space. We can look
at all the pieces and see if they relate to our memories. However,
the objects and still images alone could just as easily make up an
exhibit at an archeological museum. The idea of Counter Space without
the moving images conjures up something almost sterile. The moving
images help to further engage the visitor in each section, either
through memories of commercials or the critical thinking inspired by
the video art pieces.
Whether or not there is a specific argument to be made by Counter
Space is difficult to tell. If there is any at all it is to place the
evolution of kitchen design in the greater context of modern art, to
legitimize the fact that MoMA has collect so many bowls and tea
kettles over the years. That doesn't mean that there are no
underlying meanings to the exhibit, however. We all create what a
kitchen means for ourselves, based on our own experiences and what we
see or read in the media. What makes up the kitchen is thoroughly
thought over, tested, and aggressively marketed to consumers. By
juxtaposing items, advertisements, and artwork the curators are asking
visitors to think critically about what the space means to them and
how it came to be what it is today. The exhibit urges the visitor to
look for meaning in a room that is part of everyone's everyday life.


(1) "About MoMA." MoMA | The Museum of Modern Art. <http://www.moma.org/about/>.
(2) Roberta Smith, "The Heart That Beats, Heats, Chills and Whips."
New York Times 19 Sept. 2010.

Dain Goding - 'Programming by Performer'

Programming by Performer

    I attended a screening of Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973) at Film Forum.  The film only showed for one day, and even though there were four screenings scheduled throughout the day, the attendance at the earliest screening (2 pm) on a weekday was excellent; the house was more than half-full.  The film was part of the larger series entitled “Pacino’s 70s”, a one week long program featuring seven films.  For the most part, the series is simply programmed so that one film shows each day.  Interestingly, the films are not scheduled chronologically.
    The presentation was a projection of a decent 35mm film print, by no means a newly-minted print or one of archival standards, but a print that looked good and preserved the somewhat grainy, color-drained look of the film’s on-location-in-New York contemporaries from the 1970s.  The series was curated by Film Forum’s long-standing repertory director Bruce Goldstein, although “programmed” might be a more accurate description.  The series is arranged around the fact that each film comes from the same decade and features the same performer.  The entire “argument” of the program is summarized in the title “Pacino’s 70s” and the only thing the films have in common, at least on the surface, is Al Pacino and the 1970s.  The films are presented for the most part without a context or a mission statement; if there are connections between the films, it is up the viewer to find them.
    Of course, there are, and we will.  The series prominently features several well-known, well-regarded, canonized American directors, including two apiece from Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet.  These films could be organized in any number of programs that would be typical of Film Forum: “New York in the 1970s”, for instance, or “American New Wave” or some other reference to the independent-type ‘New Hollywood’ films made by New York-based auteurs in the era.  The fact that the program specifically invokes actor Al Pacino as the common link changes the way the audience views the films, however.  If Serpico had been framed as an example of New York in the 1970s, the audience might be more inclined to pay closer attention to the locations, to the documentary nature of some of the scenes and settings, or even to the ideology behind the depiction of the police force and political figures at the core of the story.  If the film had been framed within a Sidney Lumet retrospective, one might be inclined to be more aware of the director’s style and choices, or to find connections between the portrayal of corruption in this film and one like 12 Angry Men or Network.
    As it is curated, though, all of the attention of the audience is on the performance of the film’s star, Al Pacino.  The nuances and extremes of the performance are high-lighted, and I found myself more attuned than usual to the acting style.  When I normally might have accepted the character at face value and focused on the story, I was mentally comparing Serpico to the coldly measured Michael Corleone from The Godfather and the unraveling Sonny from Dog Day Afternoon.  The series as it was curated focused the attention on one aspect of a multilayered film.
    As far as the programming, their were several confusing anomalies.  First of all, only one film that Pacino made in the 1970s was missing.  Bobby Deerfield, from 1977, was not represented at all.  The omission of this film could have several explanations, including that the studio did not possess a print that was worthy of presentation of this fairly obscure film, one that is surely not requested for distribution very often.  Alternately, however, it might have been a curatorial decision to omit this film.  Possibly Mr. Goldstein felt that the film for whatever reason was not truly representative of Al Pacino’s work in the 1970s, or that the film was not “good” enough to warrant inclusion in the series, or maybe that it was not well-known enough to attract a repertory crowd used to seeing things for the umpteenth time.  However the fact that it is missing is unsatisfying, partly because the film was made by prominent director Sydney Pollack and presumably warrants some interest, and partly because it is the only film missing in what would have otherwise been a comprehensive retrospective of Pacino’s work in the 1970s.  As it stands, it feels somewhat incomplete, especially when several other fairly obscure films were included.
    The logic behind the order of the films is confusing as well.  It seems arbitrary at best, and a dedicated audience member who showed up for every screening would be jumping back and forth around the decade.  The only thing I can think of is that Mr. Goldstein organized it so that the films he knew would generate larger audiences were screened on days when that audience was available: for instance, the Godfather movies played on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, when he could anticipate that all of the screenings would be well-attended.
    As far as additional content other than the films themselves, most of the films had no context or additional material at all.  At the last night of the series, there was a discussion scheduled.  Jerry Schatzberg, the director of two of the films in the series, was to introduce his film Scarecrow on Thursday night and participate in a question-and-answer session after the screening.  The website reports that this event was sold out days before the screening.  I think this is very valuable, especially for a lesser known film like Scarecrow.  Most of what has been said about The Godfather has been said, and it is encouraging that the Film Forum was able to sell out in advance a discussion about a more obscure film by offering a chance to question the film’s director.  I wish I had been able to attend this event.
    To offer a bit of contrast, I attended another series that was programmed based on the film’s performers.  I saw a screening of To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944) at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey in Jersey City, New Jersey.  The film was part of the series called “Bogie and Bacall: Back on the Big Screen” that took place over one weekend.  Interestingly, the series is also missing only one film that fits the series’ description, as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall starred in four films together.  However, this is due to the scheduling at the Loew’s Jersey, in which three films are shown every month, one on a Friday and two on Saturday.  Only able to select three out of the four films, the theater’s director, Colin Egan, explained to the audience on Friday night that Dark Passage was selected over the more well-known Key Largo exactly because fewer people had seen Dark Passage and the theater wanted to offer the audience that opportunity.
    In contrast with the Film Forum, the series at the Loew’s Jersey offered a more varied array of content in addition to the scheduled program.  First, as a means of presentation, the screening was preceded by a musical performance on the theater’s magnificently restored pipe organ.  The organ performance, which precedes every screening in the theater, is a means by which to remain faithful to the way in which the film’s might have been shown in their original run at the time of their release; the theater seeks to act as a time machine to preserve what it would have been like to see movies at the theater before it was modified and ultimately closed down.  After the organ overture, the theater’s director, Colin Egan, came out to provide introductory remarks, telling the audience a little bit about the theater and offering a bit of an introduction to the film we were about to see.
    Secondly, the film was also preceded by a cartoon short, a surprise to the audience that was not listed on the program or any promotional materials.  Slick Hare (Friz Freleng, 1947), a Warner Bros. “Merrie Melodies” cartoon short featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, was shown without introduction.  The cartoon featured a caricature of Humphrey Bogart as a main character, with a voice impressionist mimicking Bogart’s famous drawl and the story parodying his “tough guy” image.  In the final scene, it is revealed that Bogart is having dinner with Lauren Bacall, and the last shot features a caricature of her as well.  This pleasant surprise continued the tradition of emulating what it would have been like to see the films at the time of their release, with a cartoon short preceding the feature, and the fact that they curators found a cartoon from the time period featuring a parody of Bogie and Bacall was very appropriate (and well-received by the audience, who laughed and applauded).  The feature itself, presented in front of an ample crowd of well over one hundred, featured spontaneous applause and audible reactions from the audience several times.
    Again, placing the film in a series called “Hollywood at War” or “The Free France Movement on Film” or even “Ernest Hemingway Adaptations” would have focused the audience’s attention on very different aspects of the film.  Any of these descriptions would have been apt for a program that could have included this film.  Framing it as a series centered around actors, however, narrowed the audience’s focus on the chemistry evident in the relationship between its two stars and changed the experience of watching the film.  The audience was very attuned to the subtleties of the on-screen romance, audibly reacting to simple aspects of their performances such as glances and pregnant pauses in conversation.
    Following the feature, Mr. Egan introduced a friend of the theater, an older man from the area whose name I did not catch who offered some context to the film.  His brief discussion was mostly concerned with production history, elaborating on how the film came to be made and its subject material selected by Hawks, and describing the details of the beginning of Bogart and Bacall’s off-screen relationship, which began with this film.  His comments were slightly unfocused and tended to wander towards tangents, but much of what he said was information that I did not know before and was valuable.  In addition, he briefly fielded questions and comments from audience members following the discussion.
    At both screenings, the audience mostly trended older than some other programs, with quite a few elderly people in the audience at each film.  This is perhaps inevitable when screening films from the 1970s and 1940s, respectively.  In both cases, this type of film presentation is probably closer to “programming” rather than “curating”, as the relationships between the films are very obvious and only contain the most basic form of curatorial “argument”.  The minor curatorial choices in film selection (in both cases, choosing to omit one film that would have fit the category) do little to affect the ultimate integrity of the series.  However, the extra care to program additional content before and after To Have and Have Not offered a more fully satisfying and engaging program.

Additional Material
Cartoon short Slick Hare (1947): http://tinyurl.com/4nx8nwq

Feb 22, 2011

LATIN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL at NEW YORK UNIVERSITY


LATIN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL at NEW YORK UNIVERSITY

Thursday, February 24th – Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

http://laffatnyu2011.wordpress.com

Co-sponsored by NYU King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (KJCC), NYU Department of Spanish & Portuguese, NYU Center of Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), and NYU Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities.

This non-competitive, non-profit festival presents a unique opportunity to see 12 recent films and documentaries (2007-10) from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay. A number of the films have never been screened in New York and none have had a commercial release in the city.

Film directors will be present at select screenings - for festival schedule and details, check festival site (above).

Free and open to the public (ID required at the entrance)

Organized and curated by Prof. Alexandra Falek and Prof. Juan de Dios Vazquez (NYU Department of Spanish & Portuguese)

Feb 18, 2011

MoMA Documentary Fortnight


Documentary Fortnight 2011: 


MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media

February 16–28, 2011
Established in 2001, MoMA’s annual two-week showcase of recent nonfiction film and media takes place each February. This international selection of films presents a wide range of creative categories that extend the idea of the documentary form, examines the relationship between contemporary art and nonfiction practices, and reflects on new areas of nonfiction practice. This year’s program includes an international selection of 20 feature films; independent films from China; a look at the legacy of New Day Films, one of the first do-it-yourself film cooperatives; and two documentary performance programs. 

The International Film Selection includes films from 14 countries. The opening and closing films are both debut features by British artists—Gillian Wearing’s Self Made and Clio Barnard’s The Arbor.These exciting new works incorporate acting and drama into examinations of reality. Also featured is renowned Chilean director Patricio Guzman's Nostalgia for the Light, a hauntingly beautiful philosophical rumination on the secrets of the heavens and Earth 10,000 feet above sea level, in Latin America’s Atacama Desert. Documentary Fortnight has also partnered with Cinema Tropical and Ambulante, the celebrated traveling documentary film festival created by Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and Pablo Cruz, to present exciting films from Argentina and Mexico that are part of a recent surge of powerful new work from Latin America. 




Chinese Independent Cinema is flourishing as well, with many stories to tell beyond the strictures of the government censorship. These works are shown outside China, or in small showcases and under-the-radar festivals within the country. The films are often long, as many directors have been inspired by Fred Wiseman’s prolific output and his style of observational cinema. Xu Xin'sKaramay, for example, is a six-hour film about a fire that devastated the families of Urumqi. The director's attention to the details of these families' stories is poetic and captivating. By contrast, Huang Weikai’s hourlong Disorder, a dense look at life in the city of Guangzhou, captures modern urban China by compiling footage shot by amateur photographers. 


In 1971, dismayed that their feminist films were being dismissed by mainstream educational distributors, a group of American filmmakers joined together to form New Day Films, an independent documentary distribution cooperative. 40 years later, New Day Films is thriving as a leading educational distributor in the U.S., and its members’ award-winning films are in public demand. Five programs of films show the wide range of topics they have examined, and founding members Liane Brandon, Jim Klein, Julia Reichert, and Amalie R. Rothschild will be present to talk about their experiences. 


Performances by Sam Green and Dave Cerf and Nao Bustamante will take place on the final two nights of the festival. Many of the filmmakers will be present throughout the festival, and discussions follow most films.

Organized by Sally Berger, Assistant Curator, Department of Film. The Selection Committee for international feature and short films consists of Sally Berger; Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director, Women Make Movies; and Chi-hui Yang, independent curator. Special thanks to Ambulante, Cinema Tropical, dGenerate Films, Music Doc, New Day Films, and the Hermitage Museum Foundation.

Feb 17, 2011

FREE Iranian Filmmaker Series Jafar Panahi. Free Admission




A Tribute to Iranian Filmmaker

Jafar Panahi
          
February 25-March 11, 2011
Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th St)
New York, NY 10021
This film series highlights the global artistic and social significance of the work of filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Even before he made international headlines for his recent affiliation with the Green Movement in Iran, Panahi was celebrated as one of the most influential cinematic voices. He has received international recognition for his work, garnering the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion, the Berlin Film Festival's Silver Bear, and the Cannes Film Festival's Camera d'Or awards.
Panahi is known for his realistic and unflinching portrayal of contemporary Iranian life, treating his subjects, often women and people living on the margins of society, with deep humanism. Using non-professional actors to play characters very much like themselves, his films evoke a social urgency. Panahi was recently sentenced to a six-year prison term and a 20-year ban on filmmaking for his association with the Green Movement. The sentence is being appealed.
All films in Persian with English subtitles.
Free admission. Click on events for registration information.

Friday, February 25, 2011, 6:45 pm
The White Meadows
Dir. Mohammad Rasoulof. Iran. 2009. 93 min. 35mm.

In this dreamlike film, a boatman navigates the increasingly brackish waters around a coastal land, collecting the stories of heartaches and tears of its inhabitants. As he witnesses misguided attempts to appease the gods and make the land green again, whether by offering a bride to the sea or penalizing a painter who sees in different colors, the boatman remains powerless. The deeply poetic film is an allegory of intolerance, brutality, and superstition. Film edited by Jafar Panahi. Director Rasoulof received a six-year jail sentence along with Panahi. Both are appealing their sentences.
Film introduced by Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University.
Co-presented with Global Film Initiative.
Golden Seashell Award, San Sebastián International Film Festival
"A gorgeously wrought fable"—Nick Schager, Slant magazine
Get free tickets/Watch trailer

Saturday, February 26, 2011, 3:00 pm
Offside
Dir. Jafar Panahi. Iran. 2006. 93 min. 35mm.

Defying the law that prohibits women from attending sporting events, several Iranian young women disguise themselves as men to crash the qualifying game between Iran and Bahrain for the 2006 World Cup at Tehran's Azadi Stadium. Mostly shot in real time during the actual game and featuring non-professional actors, the film, at once comedy, political allegory and suspense, is an engaging tale about lively young women fighting for freedom.
Film introduced by Negar Mottahedeh, Associate Professor of Literature, Duke University.
Silver Bear Award, 2006 Berlin International Film Festival
"Eloquent, invigorating, tightly paced, and endlessly enjoyable"—Michael Koresky, indieWIRE
Get free tickets/Watch trailer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011, 6:45 pm
Panel Discussion:
A Tribute to Jafar Panahi and Creative Expression in Iran

The panel highlights the cinematic achievement of filmmaker Jafar Panahi and explores the current state of creative expression in Iran.
Speakers include: Hamid Dabashi (Columbia University-Moderator), Hadi Ghaemi (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran), Negar Mottahedeh (Duke University), Richard Peña (Film Society of Lincoln Center/Columbia University).
Friday, March 4, 2011, 6:45 pm
Crimson Gold
Dir. Jafar Panahi. Iran. 2003. 95 min. 35mm.

Hussein, a pizza delivery man and Iran-Iraq war veteran, rides his motorcycle in Tehran to deliver orders. His job takes him to wealthy homes where he witnesses firsthand the life of the privileged. This day-to-day experience leaves him feeling invisible and humiliated. Circumstances lead to a violent robbery in a jewelry store, where Hussein takes on a final destructive path. Starring a real-life pizza delivery man, Crimson Gold takes a sharp look at economic disparity in a society where unrest is always waiting to explode. The screenplay, written by Abbas Kiarostami, is based on an actual event.
Film introduced by Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University.
Un Certain Regard Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival.
"[Crimson Gold] exposes the cruelties and inequities of a society sharply polarized by class and corrupted by selfishness, snobbery, and cynicism."—A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Get free tickets/Watch trailer

Friday, March 11, 2011, 6:45 pm
The Circle
Dir. Jafar Panahi. Iran. 2000. 91 min. 35mm.

Several women, each having spent time in jail, find themselves in the punishing bustle of Tehran. One woman tries to return home but cannot get on a bus unaccompanied by a close male relative. Another woman seeking an abortion is threatened with violence. Others take desperate measures to find money. All are trapped in a circle of fate for women living in an oppressive society, whether in or out of jail.
Film introduced by Negar Mottahedeh, Associate Professor of Literature, Duke University.
Golden Lion Award, Venice Film Festival
"Daring, despairing, beautiful work"—Richard Corliss, Time
Get free tickets/Watch trailer



Free Admission. For more program and registration information,
visit http://asiasociety.org/jafarpanahi or call (212) 517-2742.
Our mailing address is:
725 Park Avenue (at 70th St)
New York, NY 10021


This series is part of Creative Voices of Islam in Asia,
a three-year initiative made possible by the Doris Duke
Foundation for Islamic Art.



Feb 12, 2011

This month at the Loew's Jersey

Pretty simple "argument" to this program (which I guess would be that Bogart and Bacall were a great screen couple, even in different kinds of movies), but I must admit this is the kind of repertory programming I like. Very straightforward -- Bogart and Bacall -- but even if it is not showing obscure or hard to find movies, or movies I wouldn't normally think of together, it is giving me a chance to see a 35mm print of them on the big screen which I wouldn't have anywhere else.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Join us later this month as we pay homage to one of cinema's greatest screen couples: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Of course, seeing a show at the Loew's is always a lot of fun. But being a part of the volunteer team that puts on the show is an experience you'll never forget! Curious? Read more below, just after this month's film schedule.

Friday, February 25 - 8 pm
To Have and Have Not

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan.
Directed by Howard Hawks. (1944, 100 mins.)
This is the movie that brought Bogart and Bacall together – both on screen and off. Bogart is the owner of a charter boat in Vichy-controlled Martinique. Approached by Free French activists, Bogart doesn’t want to stick his neck out for them – until he finds that doing so will help Bacall. While the screenplay by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman owes as much to Casablanca as to the Hemmingway novel they were adapting, it nevertheless is a terrific blend of romance and action leavened with comedy, and Howard Hawks’ direction is, as usual, masterful. But what makes the film truly electric is the unmistakable chemistry that was boiling over for real between Bogart and Bacall as the cameras rolled.
Saturday, February 26 - 6 pm
The Big Sleep
Starring Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall.
Directed by Howard Hawks. (1946, 114 mins.)
One of the most popular noir films and most influential detective movies ever made, The Big Sleep nevertheless has one of the most convoluted scripts of any movie made in classic Hollywood. Director Howard Hawks literally blew past red herrings and possible dead ends by letting dialogue and action spill out so fast that there is barely time to acknowledge, never mind contemplate, a new plot twist. But Hawks did slow down to let the audience fully appreciate the erotic innuendo in the repartee between Bogart's Philip Marlowe and Bacall's Mrs. Rutledge -- performances that were made palpable by the couple's real-life relationship. This was cutting edge stuff for a Hollywood still under the Production Code. It's the combination of this razor sharp sexual edge with the disquieting murky mystery that gives the film its distinctly hot yet cold, dream/nightmare feeling.

Saturday, February 26 - 8:30 pm
Dark Passage
Starring Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall.
Directed by Delmar Davis. 1947, 107 mins.
A well constructed Film Noir that is one of the most darkly seductive but seldom revived pairings of Bogart & Bacall. Bogart is a man wrongly accused of his wife's murder who undergoes plastic surgery to conceal his identity. Bacall, more vulnerable here than in other roles, is a lonely heiress who shelters Bogie -- and falls for him -- while he tries to find his wife's real killer. The film makes great use not only of its stars' real life chemistry but also of its San Francisco setting. The Bay Area's hills and winding roads, world-famous bridges and even prison proximity are integral to the story, while the city's mixture of affluence and squalor, misfits and money men give texture to the shadowy atmosphere. The supporting cast more than hold their own, and Director Delmar Davis makes great use of the tight, efficient script. The opening scenes filmed from Bogart's perspective are especially effective, adding a distinct, perhaps even Hitchcock-ian feel. Don't miss this rare chance to see this noir gem on the Big Screen.

Film descriptions are compiled from various sources.

Please note new regular film admission price: $7 adults / $5 children & seniors. Combo-discount pricing available.

Feb 11, 2011

Call & Response: the Coop - UnionDocs 2-26-2011

Call & Response from the Coop
a cinematic exquisite corpse for two film curators

7:30PM - Saturday
February 26, 2011

Union Docs   322 Union Avenue
Brooklyn NY

Kevin Duggan and Joel Schlemowitz, many years after first meeting at Films Charas, co-curate a program of short films from the Film-Makers' Cooperative. The program is selected in the manner of a chess game: Kevin selects the first film, Joel chooses the next film in response, and so on.  An exquisite corpse for two film programmers! No curatorial theme!  Neither player knows what comes next! What connections will emerge? How will it end?

The opening gambit: Rudy Burckhardt's evocative 1959 portrait of the Lower East Side, "East Side Summer," reflects the spirit of Films Charas, a L.E.S. neighborhood film program and forerunner of today's DIY microcinemas. Founded by filmmakers and activists Doris Kornish and Mathew Seig, and based in the El Bohio Cultural Center, it flourished in the '80s and '90s showing films ranging from political docs to Roger Corman B-movies to local East Village filmmakers to indie features. A frequent guest at Charas, Burckhardt also represents the Coop's mission of preserving and sharing independent and avant-garde film.  And so begins our program: what will be the next move?
About Kevin: Kevin is currently Senior Advancement Officer at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC); in addition to Films Charas, over the years he has worked for many independent media and arts organizations.  A visual artist exploring natural history (www.kevinduggan.com), he also directed the film "Paterson" (1989), an historical docu-fiction about that city's labor history.
About Joel: In the final year of Films Charas the duties of projectionist were taken up by Joel Schlemowitz.  Joel is an experimental filmmaker whose work is available on DVD through microcinemadvd.com and who teaches experimental filmmaking at The New School.  Joel's films have received awards at the Chicago Underground Film Festival.  Screening have included the Tribeca Film Festival and New York Film Festival.  For the past three years he has curated the Cine Soiree film series.  More information about Joel at www.joelschlemowitz.com
 About the Coop: The Film-Makers' Cooperative is the largest archive and distributor of independent and avant-garde films in the world. Created by artists in 1962, as the distribution branch of the New American Cinema Group, the Coop has more than 5,000 films, videotapes and DVDs in its collection.

Feb 9, 2011

Cinema Paradise in Berlin Part1.

Reading this week’s assignments reminds me of the blissful experience at chilly Berlin on November 2007 and I became to want to share it. It was when I was writing for Korean weekly movie magazine, and I was covering a small international short film festival, which started as a Squatting Movement in 60s under the title of “Interfilm”. Not to mention the film festival and its programming, I fall in love with the whole city of Berlin, the huge cinema with amazingly various layers. So I decided to little bit broad my story and started meeting several Berliners, whose title is either programmer or curator.



Babylon
The cinema where Interfilm was held that year is located in the East Berlin sector. During the 1930s, when Berlin was the center of the European cultural scene, it was the venue of many famous silent films. Under the East Germany governing, it used to have the premier screening of most East German films and other USSR films. Around 1980s even before the Wall fell down, it re-started its fame as independent films, and during the 1990s, Babylon was newly born by the “Save the Babylon” movement and the following German public cinema movement. As of 2007, one third of its annual budget was from the City government of Berlin. With 3 screens with 450 seats in total, its annual visitors during 2006 were 100,000. It was screening 130 films per month in average. This somewhat surprising number was originated from its programming since it ran quite many interesting and rare film festivals such as Tunisian film festival, Baltic film festival, and Brazilian film festival. Most of the screenings, if it’s not a releasing of independent international film, were programmed by its professional curators and several guest curators, who are usually students and cinephiles. I was trying to have as many comments as possible from the audience and all seemed to be very loyal to the cinema itself, not necessarily to the program or the films. You can easily have an impression that such loyalty must be grounded upon the long history and reliable reputation of Babylon. I found the comment from the owner of Babylon very interesting, “A theater needs audience. A film whose audience is only two people is not my interest”. At first it sounded very commercial point of view but it was followed by additional comment, “any film deserves 30 people per one screening”. And he was doing his best to PR any film he screened in his cinema in many diverse routes.

Other Art House Cinemas
Along with New York, Paris and London, Berlin must be the ultimate paradise for moviegoers with huge appetites. Many Europeans were gathered in many different art house cinemas in Berlin, to look for the exact film which satisfies each one’s taste. From the very top level there are Babylon above and Kinemathek, which is residing in the same building with Filmmuseum in a very modern financial district in Berlin. They were relatively well funded by government so that they were able to run somewhat unique and high end programs upon their own loyal reputation. But the main beauty of this city as the huge cinema was on its diversity. There were other many art house cinemas with a couple of screens, showing non-Hollywood, international, independent films everyday. Most theaters were differentiated in its programming. Each theater had unique sort of major – animation, documentary, musical, classis, horror & fantasy, etc.

To be continued...
I was about to write about Bar Cinema and Pirate Cinema as well... but realized that this post is becoming surpringly long and boring...too. So I'll post part2 in coming days...!