In the world of
3D, special effects, and billion-dollar box offices, the genius of American
avant-garde filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage is in danger of
fading into obscurity. Directed by Pip Chodorov, an avant-garde filmmaker
himself, Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film (2010) pays
tribute to them with a personal portrait of the movement and its practitioners.
In Harm's Way
There are a couple of deviations from the standard
noir in Lewis Allen's Desert
Fury (1947; 5 pm). First of all, the protagonist is a woman (Lizabeth Scott),
a teenager whose mother (Mary Astor) runs the local casino. Paula has the hots
for a racketeer trying to horn in on her mom's business, a "hunk fatale" played
by a sometimes-shirtless John Hodiak.
For one brief moment between the dawn of sound and the
crackdown of the studio's moral watchdogs in 1934, Hollywood turned out some
its sexiest, most mature, and effervescent movies. Half a dozen of the best can
be seen at the Harvard Film Archive's "Hot
Saturday: Paramount pre-Code Marathon," including classics like Mae West's She Done Him Wrong (1933) with her
infamous come-on to Cary Grant, "Why don't you come up sometime and see me;"
and Cecil B.
depiction in Cosmopolis of a passive,
limo-encased master of the universe makes one nostalgic for the days when such
ruthless tycoons wielded chainsaws. In Mary Harron's lacerating, hilarious
adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's unfairly maligned American Psycho (2000),
future Bruce Wayne Christian Bale electrifies as the title psychopath, Patrick
Bateman, who may or may not be turning his specialties of mergers and
acquisitions into "murders and executions."
Along with Pixar, Japan's Studio Ghibli has
revitalized the art of animation, and even more than their American
counterparts they tap into a genuinely weird, surreal inventiveness. The
Brattle gathers together some of their best work in the series "Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata, and the Masters
of Studio Ghibli"
beginning with Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997).
If Martin Scorsese's Hugo accomplished nothing else, it deserves kudos for introducing a
new generation to the great silent movie pioneer Georges Méliès and his silent
short, A Trip to the Moon (1902). Using effects he employed as a stage
magician, Méliès created a baroque sci-fi fantasy that still delights in this
age of CGI.
It's been over
a decade since David Lynch unleashed Mulholland Drive (2001) on the
world, and still nobody knows what the heck it means. You think you've got it
figured out and then the tiny people come through the door and you're
scratching your head again. But it doesn't matter - it remains one of the most
brazen, engulfing, terrifying, and delightful films of the young new
For better or worse, Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir
Dogs (1992) shaped American independent filmmaking for years.
The esoteric film references, the narrative acrobatics, the outrageously
brilliant dialogue, and the perversely inventive violence - it's a style and
sensibility that many have tried but few have succeeded in duplicating.
In response to the plaintive title of Maurice Pialat's
autobiographical film We Won't Grow Old Together (1972),
you might ask "and why on earth would you want to?" A miserable,
underachieving, fortyish filmmaker is estranged from his wife and abuses his
much younger mistress. Not released for 40 years in the US, this harrowing
portrait of the artist as a miserable prick might be one of the best
pathological studies of relationships gone bad since Roberto Rossellini's Voyage to Italy, but it's not
recommended as a first date movie.
The world of film lovers might be divided into two groups:
those who adore the marvelous confections of Whit Stillman, and those who
deplore them as twee and pretentious. If you are fortunate enough to fall into
the first group, don't miss this screening of his latest, Damsels in Distress (2011).
In it, a quartet of co-eds attempt to liberate the somewhat backward Seven Oaks
University of male
chauvinism and existential despair by introducing a new dance craze.
There are a
handful of movies from the '60s that filmmakers keep trying to copy yet never
quite capture the electric thrill of the original. Sam Peckinpah's The
Wild Bunch (1969) is one of them, and if within five minutes of the
opening shootout you don't recognize a turning point in the history of film,
there's no hope for you.
In the Mouth of Madness
No film has yet done justice to the grotesque,
nightmarish, and squishy genius of H.P. Lovecraft. But some have come close.
Maybe too close. If you do not fear for your sanity, you might sample a few of
them screened for the writer's Birthday Tribute at the Brattle Theatre. On Friday, August 17 you can see Sean Branney's The Whisperer In Darkness (2011; 9
pm), in which a professor looks too deeply into legends of strange creatures in
These days it's easy to get discouraged when trying to
make a dent in the miseries of the world. But those battling Apartheid decades
ago in South Africa faced
far more daunting challenges and prevailed, and following their example today
are young activists in South
Africa, battling to protect shantytown
dwellers threatened with eviction.
Has anyone not yet seen The Big Lebowski (1998)? How about
twice? A hundred times? For those in the know there is no limit to how often
one should experience this quasi-religious comic epic by the Coen Brothers in which
Jeff Bridges plays the sui generis, White Russian-sipping, bathrobe-clad geek
demi-god, the Dude.