Thursday, April 23, 2009

Film on Film and YBCA Events in May & June

I see that the Film on Film Foundation is holding an event at the Roxie on May 10. It's titled First Stabs: Formative Works by Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman.

Stanley Kubrick was born to make films. As a youth, he was a rapacious movie-goer, turning his critical eye to the myriad cinematic offerings of his native New York City. A talented shutterbug, he parlayed this hobby into a job as staff photographer at Look magazine while still in his teens. Kubrick's yearning to extend his photographic work into the domain of cinema led to his first short film, Day of the Fight, a portrait of boxer Walter Cartier, whom he previously profiled in the pages of Look.

From the start of his career, Kubrick had high-art aspirations, and these are evident even in his first feature-length work. Fear and Desire, perhaps the first independently-made American art film, is an allegorical war picture that explicitly locates its conflict, and its primal motivators, in the province of the mind. Kubrick acted as producer, director, and editor, and though his mise-en-scène was limited by available locations and props and a mostly static camera, he nonetheless evinced a flair for evoking moods with eye-catching compositions and subtle nuances of light, and an analytical, poetic approach to montage.

Ultimately, the film's miniscule budget was insufficient to fully realize its maker's intent, particularly when it came to performances, including that of a young and spastic Paul Mazursky. Kubrick, who would become notorious for requiring multitudinous takes in pursuit of his ineffable vision, was unable to indulge this maniacal perfectionism in Fear and Desire, and would suppress the film as his career advanced. But close examination reveals the seeds of themes that pervade his later work: the imperviousness to reason of man's subconscious, often destructive impulses; his isolation (Kubrick eschews "normal" displays of emotion, and he frequently refuses to provide us a charismatic protagonist to identify with); and a fascination with the grotesque.

Robert Altman is best remembered for his masterpieces of the 1970's (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Nashville, etc.), less so for his 1950's efforts, separated from his mature work by a long journeyman period in TV. His early industrial/educational shorts (eg. How to Run a Filling Station, Better Football), made for-hire in early '50's Kansas City, show a quaint but timely concern for keeping the nation's youth off the streets and out of trouble.

Juvenile delinquency, by various names a long-time staple of exploitation films, became the subject of Altman's first feature, 1957's The Delinquents. Tom Laughlin (to become famous for his Billy Jack movies) channels the late James Dean (much admired by Altman) in his first starring role as a teen driven from the arms of his girl and into the clutches of a vicious gang which includes Richard Bakalyan in his debut.

Altman has always used certain conventions of what we now call vérité style, applying his own poetics to the multifarious scrappiness of real life. If the party scene in The Delinquents seems to have the dynamics of an actual party, it's because it is one. Though Kubrickian perfectionism was never one of Altman's hallmarks, he nevertheless came later to dismiss this early work as "meaningless". But he could never deny that it's fabulously entertaining.

The schedule is

7 PM
Day of the Fight; directed by Kubrick; B+W 16mm 16 minutes; (1951)
Flying Padre; directed by Kubrick; B+W 16mm 9 minutes; (1951)
Fear and Desire; directed by Kubrick; B+W 35mm 61 minutes; (1953)

8:45 PM
The Delinquents; directed by Altman; B+W 35mm 72 minutes; (1957)

Admission is $7.


I perused the film schedule on the Yerba Buena Center for the Art website.

On May 7, they are screening the first half of Coming Apart: Two Views of 1972 - 1972 was one of the most tumultuous years in American history—and one of the richest in cinema history. Watergate, The Godfather, the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam, Pink Flamingos, Apollo 17 lands on the moon, Deep Throat, Nixon defeats McGovern with the lowest voter turnout since 1948, Deliverance, the Munich Massacre of Israeli athletes during the Summer Olympics, Harold and Maude… This two-program series revisits two films of 1972—through completely different lenses. One a free and loose document of a rollicking anti-war road show, the other a brutal mirror held up to the relentless violence of the era.

The May 7 show is FTA which stands for Free the Army or Fuck the Army. Available for the first time since it mysteriously disappeared in 1972 after only one week in theaters, this raucous time capsule is a riveting slice of the Vietnam anti-war movement. Reviving the biting theater of Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland's F.T.A. Tour, it captures the entertaining magic and mayhem of the anti-war and pro-labor show as it rallies and rouses dissident GIs stationed along the Pacific Rim.

The second part of the series screens on May 9 with the original Last House on the Left directed by Wes Craven. The pointless recent remake of this film only served to reinforce the original’s terrifying occult-like power, which played in theaters and drive-ins for over a decade. Loosely inspired by Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, LHOTL is a harrowing journey into the heart of darkness, telling the story of a family’s revenge on a gang of nihilistic thugs. Just keep repeating, it’s only a’s only a’s only a movie...

On May 28, YBCA presents Classic Laurel and Hardy Shorts.

For some reason no one ever shows Laurel and Hardy films anymore, and so we’re presenting this selection of shorts. “All the world knows Laurel and Hardy. All the world empathizes with them and their common humanity. For those who don't know them, this is the chance to see them at their very best.” – Dennis Nyback

Nyback programmed Bad Bugs Bunny at the 2007 Hole in the Head festival.

On May 29 and 31, YBCA screens Inglorious Bastards (1978).

Inglorious Bastards is more than just the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's new movie (starring Brad Pitt); it remains perhaps the biggest and toughest war movie in European cult film history! Action legends Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson and Bo Svenson star as the leaders of a gang of condemned criminals who escape from an Allied prison camp, only to find themselves 'volunteering' for a suicide mission deep inside Nazi occupied France.

From June 11 to 20, YBCA kicks off Food, Sex and Liberation (Go POP)

In this series, a comparison between Jeanne Dielman and Dillinger Is Dead seems inevitable. Though one film is French and the other Italian, both films are innovative stylistic experiments communicating their stories almost entirely through the intimate gestures of cooking, the home and the body. The documentary We Want Roses Too—made also in the language of the personal and the private experience—about the feminist movement of the sixties and seventies is screened in between to help contextualize the private politics and ambiguous feminism of these formalistic masterpieces. Series guest curated and notes by Miriam Bale.

Dillinger Is Dead (1969) screens once daily from June 11 to 14. In this should–be cult classic in a new 35mm print, Michel Piccoli has got a bad case of sixties ennui. One night, a lukewarm meal left by his pill–popping wife (Anita Pallenberg) is the last straw, setting off an exquisite train of triggers that leads to his liberation by the morning. Carefully shot to look very loose, this single night is shown only through the details of his nocturnal domestic rituals—cooking, painting, walking in and out of images from TV and home movies, listening to records, and dripping honey on the maid.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) plays on June 20 & 21.

Jeanne Dielman is an uptight housewife who makes dish washing, veal breading, bathtub scrubbing and coffee making into an art. She keeps to a rigorous schedule, including regular afternoon prostituting to help fund this art, her domestic sanctuary for herself and her teenage son. When an orgasm interrupts her perfect order, she comes unraveled. This year marks the first time that the film has been screened in the U.S. in the 35mm print in which it was intended to be seen, revealing a breathtaking muted pastel palette designed with total precision.

Sandwiched between those two films is 2007's We Want Roses Too on June 18. This documentary that tells the history of feminism in Italy in the 60's and 70's through diaries, illustrated romance novels, pop songs, home movies and other found footage. The style is the content; the filmmaker's rejection of objectivity and insistence on shaping history through a private and emotional point–of–view was in part what differentiated Italian feminism from the women's movement in Britain and America. For Italian feminists, communication had to take new feminine forms and the political was highly personal.

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