Friday, March 07, 2008

HOLY BIG SCREEN! To Live and Watch in L.A.

I like to watch...

Yawn. There’s always so much talk in the Los Angeles Times and the trade papers about how the early months of the year are no longer considered a graveyard in which to dump feature films with unlikely prospects at either quality or stellar box-office performance. But when I look at the slate of movies released so far in 2008, I can’t seem... to… stifle that… yaaaaaawn. pictures like Jumper, Fool’s Gold, Mad Money, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Charlie Bartlett, Definitely Maybe, Vantage Point and the upcoming 10,000 B.C., the first in what one supposes will be an annual attempt (at least for a year or so) to duplicate the success of 300, which opened the first week of March last year, just aren’t goosing me to get out to a theater. (Though when trapped with it at a drive-in, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins proved a welcome surprise, and U2 3D remains the best of this early year so far.)

I do have high hopes for Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job-- that movie and Stephen Chow’s CJ7 open in limited release this Friday. But a look at the CJ7 trailer suggests less of the brilliant madness of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle and more of the retro knockoff sensibility of something like Mac and Me. (The first review I read, from The Hollywood Reporter, seems to indicate my preconception might not be too far off base. But then, no sooner than I wrote the previous sentence, here come Armond White and Ella Taylor to make me reconsider.)

How nice, then, not to have to be a slave to the release schedule of the Hollywood majors (and their classics divisions). To live in Los Angeles is to be privy to a boatload of special screening opportunities that have nothing to do with weekend box office projections, and even the revival theater scene is not quite as barren as it used to be. The month of March alone provides so many different chances to see great movies on the big screen, and at least one new movie of particular interest to fans of the Hollywood musical, that instead of all that time wasted carping about the dearth of things to see in theaters, I can now replace it by muttering to myself about all the stuff I can’t possibly get out to see. Just four venues in the month of March have made me glad I’m still here in the city where, as Marion Cotillard would have it, angels really do exist. Now if only some of them would help me be in two, or sometimes three places at once, I could stop worrying about there being so much too see during this early month of Spring on Los Angeles specialty screens.

Let’s start with the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian. Tomorrow begins a week with both the Oscar nominated live-action and animated short films. The complete program of five films in each series runs once each night, live action at 7:30 p.m., animation at 10:00 pm. (The first night takes place in the big Rigler auditorium, and subsequent nights the shorts will screen in the small Spielberg theater.) Films in the live-action series include At Night (Denmark, 40m.), The Substitute (Italy, 17m.), Tanghi Argenti (Belgium, 13m.,), The Tonto Woman (UK, 36m.) and the winner of the award, Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets), (France, 31 m). The animated shorts program consists of I Met the Walrus (Canada, 5m.), Madame Tutli-Putli ( Canada, 17m.), Even Pigeons Go to Heaven (France, 9m.), My Love (Russia, 27m.), and the Oscar-winning Peter and the Wolf (UK/Poland, 27m).

One wishes San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick La Salle were in town this weekend, as the Egyptian will feature 2001: A Space Odyssey Friday through Sunday in a fairly rare (for the age of DVD) 70mm screening. But then, after finally seeing it on DVD, seeing it all blown up and big like that would probably just feel like going through the motions for this particular critic.

Then the Egyptian unleashes the big one on March 13. MARIO BAVA: POEMS OF LOVE AND DEATH for 10 days Mar 13-23. Of course, no retrospective of a filmmaker as prolific as Bava can be anywhere near complete, but I think the Cinematheque has done a good job of providing both a representative cross-section for those less familiar with his movies as well as satisfying the cravings of the true Bava-ite. It starts next Thursday with a great introductory double bill of the uncut European version of Bava’s seminal witchcraft thriller Black Sunday (1960) starring the perforated Barbara Steele, paired with Boris Karloff in Bava’s trilogy of terror known as Black Sabbath (also seen in its uncut European version). This screening will be introduced by director Joe Dante who, as you probably know, has more than a passing familiarity with and love for Bava’s work.

The following Friday, March 14, features the incredible doubling of Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), starring giallo queen Edwige Fenech, and 1964’s Blood and Black Lace with Cameron Mitchell and Eva Bartok. The Cinematheque warns that both films will appear with English dubbing, but since this is how most of us who have seen on or both of them are used to seeing them, this shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.

Saturday brings Elke Sommer* to the screen for two Bava classics—the original version of Lisa and the Devil (1972) (known to American horror fans and those who may have seen Annie Hall as House of Exorcism) and Baron Blood (1972), co-starring Joseph Cotton as the titular bloodthirsty aristocrat. But that’s not all. Not only is it a Sommer double feature, but Elke Sommer will be at the Egyptian in the flesh for a brief Q-and-A moderated by Joe Dante! (*UPDATE: Reader Mr. Peel informs me that Elke Sommer has had to cancel her appearance. But if Sommer must be subtracted from the festival, then the Cinematheque has at least added to the list of personal appearances by securing the participation of producer Alfredo Leone.)

The first weekend concludes on March 16 with the rarely seen psychological thriller Kidnapped (1974) (aka Rabid Dogs), presented in Italian with English subtitles, and Shock (1979) (aka Beyond the Door II), the director’s last film (co-directed with his son Lamberto) and starring Deep Red’s Daria Nicolodi. This is one I passed on seeing at a drive-in when I was a young punk, and I would trade all the crappy Italian Exorcist knock-offs I did see to have caught this one. According to the press notes, Shock contains “some of the director’s scariest, most impressive effects.”

Speaking of impressive effects, the second week of the Bava retrospective kicks off with one of the movies’ most brilliant demonstrations of inspiration and quality on a shoestring budget. I will not miss the opportunity to see, on the Egyptian’s giant wide screen, Mario Bava’s formally astounding Planet of the Vampires (1966). This movie is a genuine creepfest full of genius-level cinematography and shadowy, nightmarish suggestiveness worthy of Val Lewton. This is the restored uncut version, in English, featuring the original Italian score. And it’s on a double bill with Bava’s brilliant pop explosion Danger: Diabolik (1967). The evening will be unhosted, and I only wish that the Cinematheque could have sprung for a plane ticket to get Tim Lucas, author of the definitive and masterful Bava biography All the Colors of the Dark to come out for this event, and this screening in particular. Alas, they did not, so you’ll just have to settle for Tim’s keen audio commentary with John Phillip Law on the Danger: Diabolik DVD.

Friday, March 21, brings my favorite Bava film to the Egyptian, the highly influential (for better and for worse) A Bay of Blood (1971) (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve), which many believe provided the template for the bold and bloody Gialli of the ‘70s as well as the Friday the 13th series and the endless subsequent knockoffs that appeared in its wake. Bava’s visual intelligence and crypt-cold sense of humor provides one of the many differences between dis and dem however, and the movie is consistently scary and shocking throughout. To quote Tim Lucas: “Unreels like a macabre, ironic joke… an Elizabethan tragedy as Tex Avery might have written.” Yes! Its partner on the bill is Four Times That Night (1972), described as a sex-comedy version of Rashomon, which seems to spell departure for Bava in myriad ways. I remember Kimberly Lindbergs recommending this one way back when, and now’s the big opportunity to take her up on it. A Bay of Blood is in dubbed English; Four Times One Night is in Italian with English subtitles, and the evening will be introduced by Eli Roth.

Saturday, March 22, sees the presentation of Bava’s controversial and heavily censored The Whip and the Body (1963) starring Christopher Lee and Daliah Lavi, coupled with 1966’s Kill, Baby, Kill. According to the Cinematheque’s calendar notes, the intense Gothic Kill, Baby, Kill “brings together many of Bava’s major themes: a vengeful murdered child who returns from the grave and a village blighted by its own ignorance. One of the most atmospheric, effective ghost stories ever. At times, it assumes the hypnotic complexities of an M.C. Escher drawing.” The evening will be introduced by director Ernest Dickerson (Bones, The Wire).

And let it never be said the Cinematheque doesn’t know how to either throw or end a party. The big finale of Mario Bava: Poems of Love and Death comes Sunday, March 23, with a huge triple bill. Things kick off at 6:00 p.m. with The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) (Note to Mike Gilbert: John Saxon!). Immediately following, in Italian with English subtitles, is Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970). And the evening ends with Caltki the Immortal Monster), a giant blob movie Bava took over from another director but which belies few of the “for-hire” earmarks a hack might have brought to the party; Bava fashions this strange (for him) subject matter in a typical festival of style and blunt shocks. Caltiki, not available on DVD, is being screened in English from a digital video source, and the triple feature will be introduced by actor Dante DiPaolo.

But lest one thing Bava is all at the Cinematheque this month, there’s music as well. March 17 you can see All You Need is Cash (1978), the hilarious Rutles mockumentary, and you can see it in the company of actual Rutles Eric Idle, Neil Innes and Ricky Fataar! Take that, Spinal Tap! And on March 19 director Mark McLaughlin and guest Shirley Jones premiere McLaughlin’s new documentary feature Hollywood Singing and Dancing, presumably a fresh take on the That’s Entertainment! format. Hollywood also screens at the Aero on March 26 as an introduction to their Musicals series which runs Mar. 27-30. Featured double features include Cabaret and All That Jazz, Singin’ in the Rain and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Show Boat and Carousel, and, on its own, Hello, Dolly!

Finally, the Egyptian will honor the memory of recently deceased actor Brad Renfro with a memorial screening of film Bully (2001), with director Larry Clark in person participating in a discussion about Renfro and the film. And the 10th anniversary of the release of The Big Lebowski (1998) will be recognized on March 29. No word as to any personal appearances, but one could always smuggle in a Caucasian or two.


Speaking of the Aero, I just got out of one of the greatest double features of all time, at least in my book. As part of their “Heist Films” series, tonight (March 6) the Aero paired up four of Walter Matthau’s finest hours, and two of my favorite films-- Charley Varrick (1973, directed by Don Siegel) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). As I wrote back in 2006, “Charley Varrick, surely a masterpiece of sun-bleached, Technicolor film noir, has the desert, its prickliness, its fever, its dusty insistence, in its blood and its soul. The chill of the nighttime shadow of its influence and its reputation is only likely to grow longer, deeper, more resonant as each year passes and each new hotshot director tries to outdo the kind of terse, economical style in which its playfully perverse and formally profound pleasures are rooted.” Surely seeing it on the big screen for the very first time did nothing to dissipate the movie’s grimy, hard-as-nails pleasures. And it was a bittersweet delight to see Michael Butler’s camera treat the late Sheree North with as much sensitivity to her loveliness as Siegel gives to her prickly and tough comedic cameo appearance.

It was my first time seeing Pelham on the big screen too, and with a receptive audience (which included Hector Elizondo, who played the psychopathic Mr. Grey) that was wide open to the acerbic humor which runs like the I.R.T. through the screenplay written by Peter Stone (Charade). This is, with Dog Day Afternoon and Taxi Driver, one of the best of the ‘70s New York pictures, documenting and showcasing the city during a particularly rough, economically uncertain period of its existence, and it literally pops off the screen with a crude vitality that makes its teeming humanity seem simultaneously repellent and seductive. Of course, Pelham is much more of a “pure” entertainment than either of those other movies, but no less valuable, I think, because of that.

The movie is also a virtual workshop in great character acting, with peak turns from Matthau, Elizondo, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Doris Roberts, Jerry Stiller, the late and irreplaceable Tom Pedi, the equally late and irreplaceable Kenneth McMillan, and the equally late, irreplaceable and irascibly brilliant Dick O’Neill. O’Neill got the biggest rise out of the audience at the Aero tonight as the put-upon coordinator of the railway system under siege by the four hijackers. At one point early on he shakes his head at Matthau’s attempts, as the head of the transit police, to negotiate with the hijacker’s leader, played by Shaw. “Boy, I never thought I'd see the day when talking to murderers took priority over running a railroad,” exclaims O’Neil, walking past in a huff. “Get off it, will you, Frank?” shoots Matthau back. “My only priority is saving the lives of these passengers.” And without a breath O’Neill pops off: “Screw the goddamn passengers! What the hell did they expect for their lousy 35 cents - to live forever?” The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is brutal, kinetic and funny as hell, and as David Shire’s pounding Schifrin-esque theme music pounded over the end credits I thought of the upcoming remake starring Denzel Washington (Matthau) and John Travolta (Shaw), directed by Tony Scott, and thought to myself, “God, I feel lucky to have been here tonight.”

Speaking of that music, how could you not expect greatness after these opening credits with this superb, hard-hitting, quintessentially '70s score by David Shire?

Annoying sidebar: Purists, I apologize. I know that Dirty Harry is not playing this month anywhere in Los Angeles (at least not that I'm aware of) and is therefore not technically germane to the theme I'm working on here. But all this talk of Siegel and Varrick and Schifrin and Pelham and Shire gave me a major jones to see and hear the first five minutes of this classic Siegel/Eastwood collaboration again. This may be my favorite opening credit sequence ever, what with all of its lean, subtly muscular lateral camera movement (in Panavision), narrow depth-of-field close-ups and, of course, Schifrin's insistent, stylistically seminal theme. Mission: Impossible may be more instantly hummable, but for my money this is Schifrin's best, most intricate and complex score. Can you press "play" and not instantly want to sit through the rest of the movie? This is the opening movement of Dirty Harry...

The Aero’s “Heist Films” series continues tonight with another of my favorites, the original The Italian Job (1969) with Who’s Minding the Mint? (1967), and The Killing (1956) with The Asphalt Jungle (1950) on March 8, with a special appearance by The Killling’s Colleen Gray.

I hadn't been to the Aero since the Cinematheque took it over (it's been about 20 years since I ventured over to Montana Avenue in Santa Monica for a feature film) and the theater, I'm happy to say, has been exceptionally well remodeled. Technically, it's a delight. And actually, the Aero is a treasure chest of great movie experiences all through March too. March 13-15 you can get a crash course in the sublime greatness of Satyajit Ray when the theater screens all three parts of The Apu Trilogy: March 13 brings Pather Panchali (1955) and the following night, March 14, it’s Aparajito (1956) and The World of Apu (1958). But that’s not all. A rarely screened double feature of The Music Room (1958) and Charulata (1964) touches down on March 15. Of The Music Room, the Cinematheque notes say that the film “ranks with Visconti’s The Leopard and Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons as a double-edged elegy for a dying upper-class world.” I have never had the chance to see The Music Room or Charulata, and I hope I don’t miss them this time around. If you’ve never seen Ray, this is an excellent opportunity to start right and immerse yourself in the director’s deft, gracious filmmaking.

And yet another director gets the spotlight at the Aero this month. Fans of George Stevens will get to see some of his best movies Mar 20-23. TCM is great and all, but the chance to see big-screen double features of Alice Adams (1935) and I Remember Mama (1948) on March 20, Shane (1953) and A Place in the Sun (1951) on March 21 beat the hell out of even the best 70-inch flat-panel Toshiba. And that goes double for Giant (1956) on March 22 and Stevens’ all-star treatment of the life of Christ, in town for Easter Sunday, March 23, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1966). This is the one with Max von Sydow as Jesus and John Wayne in an off-screen cameo as a Roman centurion intoning, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” Here’s the trailer (and note the blurb which breathlessly predicts that this one "may run for 40 years!" I saw this in a theater when I was seven years old, and it certainly felt like it ran for 40 years...):


And speaking of special screening series, how about this one for special? The UCLA Film and Television Archive is heading up a series to extend through March and April highlighting the work of one of the pre-CGI greats of special effects, L.W Abbott. If you are of a certain age (like me), Abbott is probably directly or indirectly responsible for some of the most awe-inspiring images you ever saw in a movie theater, and maybe even one of two of your most indelible nightmares as well. Abbott started in the film business as an assistant cameraman on no less than Sunrise, ended as a consultant on the physical effects for 1941, and spent some of the multitude of years in between, for 1957 to 1972, as the head of 20th Century Fox’s special photographic effects department. The series, entitled “Wire, Tape, and Rubber Band Style: The Effects of L.B. Abbott”, is an unbelievable gathering of amazing imagery (and occasional patches of some clunky dialogue, if I remember correctly) that effectively illustrates the great talent Abbott summoned to create some of the most spectacular sequences in movies during the 60s and 70s. Here’s the schedule:

Friday March 7 A brand-new 35-mm print of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) directed by Henry Levin and starring James Mason, Pat Boone and Arlene Dahl, alongside Robert Wise’s estimable science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) starring Michael Rennie, Patricia O’ Neal and Hugh Marlowe. (Program begins at 7:30 p.m.)

Saturday March 8 Richard Fleischer’s adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage (1966) starring Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasance, teamed up with a spiffy new print of Irwin Allen’s The Lost World (1960) featuring Michael Rennie, Jill St. John and David Hedison. (Program begins at 7:30 p.m.)

Wednesday March 12 The original version of The Fly (1958) directed by Kurt Neumann and starring Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price and written by James Clavell (!), the first of a keen double bill that gets filled out by Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit (1948) with Olivia De Havilland, Mark Stevens and Leo Genn. According to the UCLA notes, “Abbott's crucial contribution to the film literalizes the metaphor of its title, powerfully connecting us to the tormented subjectivity of Olivia de Havilland's suffering hospital patient.” (Program begins at 7:30 p.m.)

Sunday March 16 You knew it was coming. Irwin Allen’s production of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), directed by Ronald Neame, featured state-of-the-art photographic and mechanical effects work by Abbott and A.D. Flowers. They capsized quite a cast too, including Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Stella Stevens and Ernest Borgnine. This should be great fun to see on the big screen again. UCLA fills out the bill with a new print of Allen’s directorial effort Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1960), starring Walter Pidgeon and Barbara Eden, which of course provided the template for the hit TV series. (Program begins at 7:00 p.m.)

Friday March 21 It’s Abbott in tandem with Richard Fleischer again for the director’s nerve-racking, true-life police procedural The Boston Strangler (1968), which Abbott animates with extensive split-screen imagery that taps into a city’s fear and paranoia and the viewer’s increasing claustrophobia as the web of the law tightens in on the Strangler. Starring Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis. (Program starts at 7:30 p.m.)

Saturday March 22 The second of Allen’s definitive contributions to the disaster genre, The Towering Inferno (1975), gets a rare big-screen outing. Abbott is the one who created a believable San Francisco skyline that included the 138-story behemoth of the film’s title, as well as every shot that made you believe the building existed and was actually burning down. This is, as they used to say, “the big one.” How big you ask? It’s so big it took two directors to bring it to the screen—Allen handled the action sequences, while John Guillermin (King Kong) handled the flesh and blood. (Programs starts at 7:30 p.m.)

Lest ye not be sufficiently "fired up" for The Towering Inferno, here's the opening credits (thanks for the tip, Sal!) featuring what is probably the genre's best score courtesy of John Williams.

Saturday March 29 Presented in 70mm, it’s Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s legendary (for all the right and wrong reasons) Cleopatra (1963). According to UCLA’s notes, Abbott worked closely with Emil Kosa Jr., who won an Oscar for special photographic effects, and “contributed extensively to the burning of the library at Alexandria and Battle of Actium sequences, following, as he wrote, Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck's dictum, "if you talk about something in a film, you must show it." Show it Cleopatra most definitely does, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison. This one rarely gets the big screen these days, especially not in 70mm. (The 243-minute program is a matinee that begins at 2:00 p.m.)


So, with all that good stuff available in special screenings, what’s up at the revival houses? March, it turns out, is a very good month in which to ask. Just a sampling of what the New Beverly has in store ought to be enough to cause you to bookmark their site and check it with religious regularity.

Tonight, for example, is the closing night of a fine Ozu double bill (more on him later), The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) and Tokyo Story (1953). For your money, there may be no better double feature shown the entire month than this one. (Okay, maybe Charley Varrick and Pelham!) Then the day changes and another great director gets his due: Ernst Lubitsch’s unbeatable comic masterpiece Trouble In Paradise (1932) shows up with One Hour with You (1932), just about all the evidence you’ll ever need (as if you needed any more) that what passes for romantic comedy these days is often just a load of cold fish. Shifting gears for another great double bill, March 9-10 sees The Searchers (1956) unspool with Rio Bravo (1959), ecstasy for fans of great westerns featuring two Wayne classics that couldn’t be more different in tone and temperament. And since we seem to be locked into looking for double bills linked by directors or stars, March 31-April 2 should find fans of Wes Anderson throwing bouquets-- The Darjeeling Limited (2007) plays with The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) on those dates. Paddy Chayefsky unites the house on April 3-5 (if you can imagine Chayefsky uniting anything) with two of his angriest from the ‘70s, The Hospital (1972) directed by Arthur Hiller, and Network (1976), directed by Sidney Lumet.

Music, rather than social outrage, is the unifying force of two other interesting doubles in March at the New Beverly. First there’s Across the Universe (2007) paired with A Hard Day’s Night (1964) March 16-18, presumably to provide some context for the Beatles songs all those teenage girls loved in ATU. And then opera meets jazz March 26-28 with a double feature of the recently re-released Diva (1982) on tap with the Chet Baker documentary Let’s Get Lost (1988).

Finally, a word about some New Beverly specialties. Brian Quinn and Eric Caidin’s Grindhouse Film Festival nights at the New Beverly. These guys having been putting together some pretty great Tuesday night programs for a long while now, and now they doing weekend midnight movies too. You can get the entire skinny here. Coming Match 11, a great, grimy 42nd-Street style double bill-- Ms.. 45 (1981) directed by Abel Ferrara, and Alley Cat (1984) from director Edward Victor.

Also, Amoeba Records and Phil Blankenship have brought Midnight Movies back to the New Beverly. You can get the whole scoop here, but I wanted to point out one favorite that is on its way in March. Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is often thought of as a one-trick pony (two tricks if you count TCM2). But he did other things beside the Chainsaw films and Poltergeist that are worth a look, most especially The Funhouse (1981). Also on the way March 8, Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire (1983), a rare screening of the occult thriller Burnt Offerings (1976) and (someone get Larry Aydlette a plane ticket!) Smokey and the Bandit.


The New Beverly has seen a pretty trying last year or so, on top of the continual threat of it disappearing altogether amidst the drought of revival cinemas that has affected not only Los Angeles but every community where they used to thrive before the video and home theater revolutions. But here in Los Angeles the revival scene is looking just a little bit rosier these days, with the New Beverly doing renewed and enthusiastic business, and especially with the advent of the Cinefamily, a revival house operating out of the Silent Movie Theater and helmed by several of the key filmheads at Santa Monica’s seminal video store Cine File. They’ve been doing wonders for quite a while now, but I’ve only just now got around to celebrating them in any way. But one look at their March will have you wanting to celebrate too (especially if you’re a Los Angeles filmgoer).

This month Cinefamily features Asian Sundays with brilliant programming from directors Yasujiro Ozu and Hou Hsiao-hsien. The Japanese master is featured with a series of his early comedies, which include The Lady and the Beard (1931) on March 9; Tokyo Chorus (1930) on March 16; one of Jim Emerson’s favorites on March 23, I Was Born, But… (1932), which Ozu loosely remade into one of my favorites, Ohayo (1959); and What Did the Lady Forget? (1937) on March 30.

Asian Sundays in April honor Hou Hsiao-hsien with three from the Taiwanese director—a sneak preview of his latest, Flight of the Red Balloon (2007) on April 6, Shu Qi starring in Millennium Mambo (2001) on April 20, and Café Lumiere (2003) on April 27. You can find out more details about all the films in the Asian Sunday series right here.

The Cinefamily is also inviting Mary Pickford and Busby Berkeley to the table with brief but satisfying series from each of these important figures. (Click on the names to find out more.)

You can also catch Saturday matinee noir series focusing on Philip Marlowe (A Hat, a Coat & a Gun: Philip Marlowe, Noir’s Private Detective) and the twisted team of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (Fat Man and Little Boy: Greenstreet and Lorre at Warner Brothers) courtesy of the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater during March and April.


Finally, two midnight movie tips: tomorrow the Nuart is scheduled to screen the Spanish horror film La Residencia, released in the U.S. in 1971 as The House That Screamed, starring Lilli Palmer and John Moulder Brown. The movie was a favorite of mine after seeing it at an impressionable age in my local movie theater, and I haven’t seen it for about 35 years. But I notice that it was directed by one Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, whose very next film, Who Can Kill a Child?, comes highly recommended by no less than Kimberly Lindbergs, so all of the sudden I’m looking forward to seeing The House That Screamed even more than I was just a few moments ago.

Also, when I drove past the Fairfax Theater in West Hollywood earlier this week, I noted something interesting on their marquee: coming in early April (I believe it said April 5), the original theatrical version of Grindhouse. I wasn’t even aware the original version was still in circulation, but apparently it is, and it will be showing at the Fairfax almost a year to the day that it opened last year. It makes me wonder if this mini-event is indicative of a U.S release of the theatrical version on DVD. If it isn’t, well, these reports of a six-disc Japanese DVD that just hit the market certainly is. Those Weinsteins are clever, aren’t they? (Dig deep in to these links to find detailed pictures of the Japanese disc packaging, which featuring some neat 45-rpm-style discs and lots of great fold-out photos.)

Well, if you live in Los Angeles, you’re looking to see a movie and you’re complaining that there’s nothing to see except Fool’s Gold or 10,000 B.C., I hope this little guide to March and April has been of some assistance in getting you over that misguided notion. I don’t know if it’s just that the revival and special screening scene is getting better in Los Angeles, or whether it’s always been better than I’ve realized and I’m just now getting my head pulled slightly out of the sand. Whatever the answer is, I’m very glad to have the opportunity to be exposed to so much fine and varied cinema; it’s one of the best reasons I can think of to be here. (It sure ain’t the weather!) And if you’re reading this and you’re not in L.A., maybe some of the series and titles will somehow make it your way; if not, many of them are available on DVD, so perhaps at the very least I’ll have jogged some titles that will spice up your Netflix queue. However you get to them, I hope you enjoy what you see.

I’ll be taking a slight breather from SLIFR over the coming week in order to study for a rather important teaching exam coming up next Saturday. So if things are little quieter than usual, that’s the reason why, and I’ll likely be back during the late part of next weekend, if not before, to crank things up again. See you then!


Greg said...

Why such a short post?

Greg said...

Okay, seriously, even though without pictures this was almost impossible to understand, it is so very nice living in a location that gives you options outside of the multiplex. Living in the home town of the AFI is great because it gives one the chance to see old, new and obscure as well as catch up on a particular director. Starting last month they did the Coens (it's winding down now so if you go to AFI and click the Silver Theatre you'll only see The Man Who Wasn't There and Lebowski left to go but then they start up the films of Bergman). Plus all month they're showing new films from Africa as well as the Oscar winners. But Out of the Past is the one I'm looking forward to as part of their Robert Mitchum retrospective.

girish said...

Hi there, Dennis! I hope you've been well.

I just wanted to say that the wonderful Charulata is Ray's favorite among his own films and the DVD available here (e.g. at Netflix) is a horrendous transfer: inky black, with bad subs. This would be a great opportunity to see it on the big screen.

It's a rich film, packed with Bengali cultural references which are deftly unpacked and explained in Andrew Robinson's book on Ray's films. Reading the chapter in Robinson's book really enhances the experience of the film.

The elegiac The Music Room is wonderful too, in fact one of my dad's all-time favorite films. One of the few times I've seen him shed tears is right after we saw that film together.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great post on the opportunities of our fine town. I'd like to add that the Imaginasian Center ("LA's premier Asian-American film and culture center") is doing a double feature of Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars tomorrow. $5. There's an ad in the LA Weekly. No idea what the screen will be like.

Anonymous said...

Oh, rub it in, why don't ya, Dennis!

You reduced me to whimpers at the Mario Bava series. *sigh* I'll stop pouting eventually and use your post as guide to Mario Bava on DVD... I suppose.

Wow, and the 10th anniversary of THE BIG LEBOWSKI at the Egyptian. I'm sorry to miss it, as I'm sure the Mysterious Adrian Betamax will be tagging along with you to that show!

And the Satyajit Ray trilogy at the Aero and GRINDHOUSE at the Fairfax...(I'm going to start hyperventilating soon...)

Once upon a time, the UCLA Film and TV Archive brought a lot of new shit to light for me. Good times.

Oh, and I just have to say, from my white-bread small-town Midwestern upbringing POV, programming THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD for Easter Sunday is divinely inspired. Beats the hell out of having to wear a frilly pastel dress to church and trying to keep a straight face while singing Protestant dirges. Give me that L.A. religion!

In bocca al lupo for the teaching exam, Dennis.

Hugs from p.saga

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I swear, at one point last night at the Aero, I thought to myself, "Is that Dennis Cozzalio?" Then, for some reason, I dismissed the idea. Isn't PELHAM such an awesome movie to view with a crowd? Sorry, but I wasn't able to stay for VARRICK.

I'm anxiously awaiting the Bava fest as well, but I should mention that the Cinematheque has announced that Elke Sommer has unfortunately cancelled. Producer Alberto Leone will be there, however.

Greg said...

Hey, Dennis, just for a change of pace next time put the pictures first and add the words later and we'll see if we can figure out what the post is about. Or maybe I'll try it at my place.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Make that Alfredo Leone. But the rest was correct. PELHAM is still awesome.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jonathan, you're like my daughter-- "Daddy, this book is all words!"

Moviezzz: I feel your pain. I lived in Medford, Oregon, during the early to mid '80s, which was, I think, a very bad time for movies. And Medford played every single piece of crap available, while making me wait unconscionable amounts of time to see movies like Blue Velvet and She's Gotta Have It (to name just two) that would have served to remind me that all was not lost. My reason for this post was, as Mune suggested, to celebrate the fact that the revival scene in Los Angeles is looking pretty healthy these days, particularly this month, not to rub anything in the noses of those who don't live here.

psaga: Your idea is what I was hoping those out of the area would do: maybe take notes off of this and use it as a guide for filling out that rental queue. Although I do wish you could be here to squirm through some Bava with me!

I will, however, take your word, Girish, that DVD is not the way to go for Charulata. I can't wait to see this, and on the Aero's giant screen it ought to look extra splendiferous!

Mune: I thought of mentioning the Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars double feature, but even though the L.A. Weekly picked it as its "Good Rep" suggestion of the week, I couldn't find out whether it was being projected from 35mm or from DVD, so I decided to leave it go. (I once went to a screening of A Fistful of Dollars at a Laemmle in Santa Monica and they showed it cropped in 16mm!!!!) However, Yojimbo/Fistful is a smashing combination, and I hope it does well enough that they keep offering goodies like this.

Mr. Peel: Who says this isn't a small town?! It was me, all right. Eight rows from the front, slightly off to the left side to avoid the rather big hair of a young film fan who chose to sit herself right in front of me moments before the show began. Next time your suspicions are aroused, please say hi!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jonathan: That's actually a pretty interesting idea! Seriously, though, had I tried to gather and post pics last night, God knows what would have ended up on here (random shots of Gomer Pyle and Ann Coulter to begin with, I suspect). I was in no shape to operate machinery, heavy or light, by the time I posted this last night, so I figured a little delayed gratification wouldn't hurt anybody.

Anonymous said...

You got me again Dennis. Now I'm gonna be late for work for sure!!

Ok, The Towering Inferno... not only did it take two directors but it also took two studios to produce this film. 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros both had book with similar subject matters, The Tower & The Glass Inferno. Both studios were in preproduction with their own films when Irwin Allen decided he need to do something to protect HIS production. The studios were convinced to share the production budget, thus increasing the the size and scope of the production and ensuring an All-Star cast.

My favorite L.B. Abbott shot in the overhead view of the glass tower and the Peerless building next to it, just before Steve McQueen is dropped off to set off the charges to blow the water tanks, with the help of Paul Newman of course.

This is one of my 70 disaster favorites. It was also released the same year as EARTHQUAKE in Sensurround. Boy, I was a kid in a candy store that summer. I could take in a screening of EARTHQUAKE at the Chinese Theater then run down a couple blocks to watch The Towering Inferno at the Egyptian. Man... that was a great summer.

L.B. Abbott and Albert Whitlock were geniuses.

Now I'm all giddy with anticipation. I gotta see TTI on the big screen again. I'm got two versions on LaserDisc, 2 copies on VHS and 2 copies on DVD. All sets have the initial release and the remastered or enhanced versions.

And let's not forget TTI also had one of the best John Williams fanfares ever put on screen. That opening piece with the helicopter flying along the coast as the titles begin gives me chills just thinking about it.

Here it is:

Uncle Gustav said...

Good luck with Bava's Four Times That Night.

The first (and only) time I saw it was about thirty years ago exactly where it belongs: at a Buffalo, New York drive-in, filling the back end of a triple bill with George Romero's Hungry Wives and Chesty Morgan in Double Agent 73.

The Romero movie was pretty good.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Sal, thanks for the clip tip! It inspired me to look for the Pelham credits and, god bless YouTube, I found 'em!

Flickhead, that sounds like an honest-to-God early '70s drive-in triple, all right. Chesty Morgan + Mario Bava + George Romero? In the words of the late Bill McNeil, good times... :)

Nate Y. said...

Hey, Dennis. I'll be catching the last three nights of the Bava retrospective, so maybe I'll see you there!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Nate, I look disturbingly like my cartoon avatar, so I should be pretty easy to spot!

Peter Nellhaus said...

Your post reminds me of why, when I lived in NYC, I got along without seeing most of the mainstream films in theaters.

A thought on the presentation of the Bava films: They were shot, like most Italian films at that time, without sound, and dubbed later. Not everyone who appears in a Bava film spoke Italian to begin with, so for me, dubbing in English is less of an issue than having as complete a version as possible.

I also recommend Millenium Mambo if you can fit that into your schedule. I saw it theatrically a few years ago.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peter: I'm not sure why it never clicked so strongly with me before just how many great alternative cinema options there are in L.A., especially for a town that still doesn't have a film festival to compare with Toronto or Berlin or even Sundance, and one where the latest foreign releases still can barely register for a week before they're gone. But I was struck by the bounty of this month in particular such that it really clarified for me just how good the repertory and special screening scene is here on a regular basis. It still may not be anything like New York City, but for a cinephile who already has less time on his hands than necessary, it'll do!

Oh, and I have the Millennium Mambo DVD and have seen it a coupe, of times, but I would definitely think that seeing that movie theatrically would be a wise move.

Vanwall said...

I'm not sure LA isn't a continuing film festival, year-round. I used to slaver when reading the LAT in the Phoenix Public Library - it wasn't fair. Now I'm closer and a drive up the coast is a nice break in the monotony of standard fare in Dago.

"Charlie Varrick" was a great one to see on the big screen, which I was able to do on its initial release - no sentiment in that one, and nice to see it appreciated. Joe Don Baker's Molly is right up there with Harry Powell on my top villains list.

This may be a golden age of viewing for Angelenos - savor it while it lasts.

Bob Westal said...

Dennis -- I very nearly went to the Varrick/Pelham double two. A truly magnificent double bill and it's been a long time since I've seen Varrick. (Yet another in a long line of cinemamnesiac moments is that I THINK I've seen it on the big screen before, I just can't remember doing so. I've also forgotten most of the plot, for that matter. Great movie, one of Don Siegel's best. I remember that much.)

"Pelham," however, I saw just a year or two back at the Egyptian and that was my excuse for saving the hour+ in traffic and $15.00 or whatever worth of gas.

I think it was my first time in a theater for that, and I hadn't seen it maybe since early college. What really surprised me is how incredibly funny it was, almost to the point of being jokey, but not to the point of undercutting the suspense. Also, I haven't spent that much time in New York, but it really took me back to my visits there. Probably one of the best ground-level views of the place in a mainstream film, certainly a highpoint for Joseph Sargent, whose work was often solid but sort of anonymous, but not always. I was just looking through his filmography and he did the legendary "Marcus Nelson Murders," for TV as well as the well above average SF thriller, "The Forbin Project," which I haven't seen in decades.

And let's not forget that great script by Peter Stone, one of the best of his ilk, on a par with Ernest Lehman, for sure. And that ending...too clever or just clever enough? I like it.

Also, I'm sure I'm not the only person to notice the extremely obvious lifts in "Reservoir Dogs," not only in the color coded names of the hijackers, but in Robert Shaw's general attitude, he's a slightly harder version of Keitel's Mr. White. (I've always thought it slightly absurd to focus on Tarentino's "theft" of the plot of "City on Fire." If you've actually seen both the Ringo Lam film and "Pelham" and I'd say that the latter is overall, the more similar film in terms of feeling and tension.)

Anyhow, thanks for this exhaustive list. I don't get down there enough and you've given me some good reminders. I am thinking of giving S. Ray and/or Ozu another shot, despite my past bouts of filmnambulism.

And finally, believe it or not, I saw "Who Could a Child?" back in the day, under a different title ("Island of the Damned" or something) at one of the multiple free screenings I used to attend in those days. I remember finding it..unpleasant. You'll probably dig it, or maybe not. I can imagine parents having a hard time with it, though my memories are obviously hazy at this point. Though, to give it credit, not much more hazy than "Charley Varrick" which I've seen multiple times...."Who Could a Child?" I saw once, and that was plenty.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"I'm not sure LA isn't a continuing film festival, year-round."

Vanwall, that's an excellent way to look at it. It just takes a little more work to track everything down. Taking a cue from Editor A and his blog, I will shortly be organizing a section on my sidebar for revival and repertory film calendars so keeping track of the L.A. film scene at least will be just a bit easier.

Bob: I meant to e-mail you and see if you were going to be at the Aero Thursday night, but the day kind of got away from me. But if you do take in Ozu or Ray, let me know. I'm very keen on seeing The Music Room and Charulata based on Girish's recommend.

Seeing both Charley Varrick and Pelham on the big screen for the first time was a real treat indeed. Varrick I expected to be great. And I knew that Pelham had a great sense of humor; I just wasn't prepared for how much fun it would be to experience that with an auditorium full of simpaticos. Thanks for the reminders not only of screenwriter Peter Stone but also of Joseph Sargent, whose credits may make his "for-hire" status seem overwhelming, but who did some fine work, as you pointed out, in his career. His presentation and evocation of New York City circa 1973 is one for the time capsule, or as you put it, "one of the best ground-level views of the place." And the ending? Just right, especially with the cherry on top of that look Matthau shoots Balsam through the crack in the door.

I'm still not convinced I can deal with Who Can Kill A Child?, even on Kimberly's solid recommendation. But I will express surprise that you saw it! How did that come about?

Hope to see you around the Cinematheque or the Silent Movie Theater soon!

Anonymous said...

You've succeeded in making me wish I lived in Los Angeles again! On the other hand, it's nice to know you are rediscovering the joys of moviegoing there. It's too easy to miss the virtues of where one lives, as I can personally confirm. Anyway, thanks for an enjoyable post, which spurs me to start plotting my next visit down there!

The Mysterious Ad[ B)e;ta]m.a.x. said...

This is the record for the longest post ever. I think you had a quiz recap that topped this, but this is the #1 longest post of 100% pure Dennis Cozzalio that you've ever done. You are out of control!! I need to print this out so I can actually read it. I can't read novels online. My eyes start to hurt.

Ali Arikan said...

This is some sterling work, Signor Cozzalio. I have actually printed it out to read it on my way back home, and annotate it, so that I can respond to it with the clarity as well as the verbosity it so richly deserves.

Anonymous said...
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Dennis Cozzalio said...

Editor A: I don't know. I think the 2007 year-end wrap-up may have been longer. I know I stayed up later finishing that one, at least! I am now laying in the weeds, conserving energy for a big one that has been a long time coming. Watch out!

Ali: Thanks so much! There is no higher honor (and I'm serious) than being printed out and reserved for bathroom reading! And please, bring on the verbosity!

Blaaagh: As much as I'm glad to have reminded myself about all the treasures surrounding me here every day (cinematic as well as others, of course), it's nice to know this post has nudged you along in your desire to plan your next visit. I hope you can make it for the Mission Tiki Drive-in's "Monsterama" night coming in October (more about that later, of course), and I really wish you could be here for some Bava. But there will be plenty to see over the summer. Some word was dropped at the Nuart Friday night when I was there for The House That Screamed (which turned out to be pretty good, actually), that a brand-new print of Planet of the Apes will be there sometime in the next couple of months, as well as the Los Angeles premiere of Dario Argento's Mother of Tears, which wowed 'em in Toronto last fall.

Speaking of The House That Screamed, I must now take this opportunity to apologize to the couple sitting next to me during the midnight screening. No reflection on the movie, which really was pretty well done, if on the sedate side compared to more modern fare-- it's pretty easy to draw a line from The House That Screamed to The Devil's Backbone to The Orphanage. But with only about 20 minutes or so left in the picture, the long day (and it was a veeeeerrrryyyy long day) finally got to me. I dozed off, and apparently I was snoring pretty vigorously, because I woke up and the fella next to me was very gently nudging me to wake up. He was cool about it, I was embarrassed and apologetic, but I'll tell you what-- I was wide awake for the movie's grisly conclusion. (That impish John Moulder Brown just couldn't be sweeter!)

Stan_cz: That's great news about the Charley Varrick DVD, especially for those of us with region-free players. It's an easy improvement over the lousy disc issued by Universal a couple of years ago, one of those full-frame, no-frills jobs. I only wish I could read German so I could see what goodies that two-disc package includes. Care to translate? :)

Anonymous said...
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Bob Westal said...

Dennis -- I'll check on the dates of "The Music Room" and get back to you.

Re: "Who Could Kill a Child?" and how I saw it. Well, I'm gorephobic but not completely horrorphobic, which has obviously been a lifelong dilemma for yours truly. In any case, back in the day I used to regularly attend these morning free screenings held by the Academy of SF, Fantasy & Horror Films, film pirates, and's a long and weird story of seventies L.A., I'm afraid.

The Wrong Box said...

For what it's worth, Fantastic Voyage is NOT an adaptation of the Isaac Asimov novel. Rather, just as with Clarke's 2001, the novel was based on the movie.