The big happening this week is undoubtedly the annual Noir City series happening at the Egyptian over the next ten days, full of seedy crime films both rare and popular, some virtually unseen and not available on DVD and some standard-bearing classics. This year has an interesting twist – they’re pairing the films by year, showing an A-picture and a B-picture for each night, much as they would have been shown upon release, and proceeding chronologically. They won’t be hitting every year between 1942 and 1953, but they’re getting most of them.
You’re better off just going to the Cinematheque site and browsing the schedule yourself, but my experience with the series over the years has been that it’s hard to really go wrong on any given night. Eddie Muller and Alan Rode of the Film Noir Foundation assemble the program, and they know their stuff, which partially means knowing what plays to an audience. And baby, these films play. I can certainly vouch for This Gun for Hire (1942, 35mm), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950, DCP), and The Big Heat (1953, DCP), but with titles like Quiet Please, Murder (1942, 35mm), Escape in the Fog (1945, 35mm), Behind Green Lights (1946, 35mm), and I Was a Shoplifter (1949, 35mm), I’m excited to see what’s in store for us.
Romance, the feeling, is a key component to most of Terrence Malick’s films, but he’s heretofore ducked and dodged from Romance, the genre. Days of Heaven, with its pulpy con plot beginnings, comes closest, but he maintains the same distance he did in Badlands by utilizing a dispassionate observer as our point of view into its world. As his career has gone on, he’s abandoned more and more such literary devices nearly every time out, coming closer to the pure shit (some critics would drop the article) of a lived cinema. Beginning with To the Wonder in 2012, he has gradually rid himself of plot, narrative coherence, or sometimes even common sense, chasing the Eden his characters so often find and lose. Song to Song is reportedly the last film he’ll make, for now, in this mold, and rightly so. Here he has perfected it. Here he has tired of sailing past his Indies, and found peace in consummated love.
At once remarkably audacious and kind of dumb, One Million Years B.C. is, if nothing else, beautifully, perfectly a film of its time. Released in 1966, it anticipates and in some ways one-ups the tripped-out journey to the past for which 2001: A Space Odyssey would be so celebrated, beginning with an abstract voyage through space and landing on a primitive people who never once speak a comprehensible dialect. The conflict is clear enough though – in a hunter/gatherer society, a tribe is fighting amongst themselves for what little food is available. This fight leaves Tumak (John Richardson) banished, and soon enough fighting dinosaurs. Righteous. He wanders the ancient landscape until he comes upon paradise in the form of scantily-clad women fishing in the ocean, seemingly lead by Raquel Welch, who live in harmony and make art and dance and have a sort of genuine civilization going. The 1960s are strong with this one, friends.
UCLA’s Festival of Preservation keeps plugging away, starting with He Walked by Night (1948, 35mm) and Open Secret (1948, 35mm) on Friday. He Walked by Night is one of the many luminous collaborations between director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton, and stars the absolutely superb Richard Basehart, but I gotta say, aside from the beat-The-Third-Man-down-the-drain finale, I don’t think very highly of it. It sort of feeds this weird postwar appetite audiences must have had for laborious explorations of how cops go about catching a criminal. Might go over better if you’re really into procedurals. I will be arriving late to catch Open Secret, a long-forgotten film noir tackling anti-semitism and starring the no-slouch-himself John Ireland.
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Happy days are here again in the form of UCLA’s biennial Festival of Preservation, a chance for the UCLA Film & Television Archive to show off all the new restorations they’ve completed. As mentioned last week, the festival runs all month in Westwood, and a $50 pass gets you into every one of their programs (tickets run $9 apiece otherwise).
I value the festival more for the possibility of discovery than any confirmation of what I already know is great, but this year kicks off with an absolute masterpiece, Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932, 35mm). Longtime listeners may recall this is one of my all-time favorites, and I cannot wait to revisit it for the umpteenth time in such fine form. There’s always something new lurking in it, it seems. I’ve preceded by a 1931 short that apparently nobody’s seen since that year, and followed by Marion Gering’s western(?) I Take This Woman (1931, 35mm), starring Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard. I follow its genre with a question mark because, although UCLA’s description suggests that’s what it is, it’d be just about the only such film I’ve heard of Paramount releasing in this era. It does sound like more of a ranch romance than a gunslinger tale, so we’re not totally afield, but this once-thought-lost film should make for an interesting discovery at any rate.
It’s Oscar week in Hollywood, which shuts down a good deal of activity, but there are still some solid programs to catch if you’re in the market for them.
The New Beverly is offering an exceedingly-rare chance to see Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise (1945, 35mm) on 35mm this Friday and Saturday. If you have the space in your schedule, it is absolutely essential viewing. Not just a landmark film, but a really moving, funny, beautiful and rich experience as well.
If you’ve been following this column this month, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect this week – female filmmakers at UCLA, David Lynch at the Egyptian, and B-westerns at the New Beverly. But certainly don’t start tuning out now, there’s too much good stuff to come.
I’ll start with a film that was one of my favorite discoveries last year when Cinefamily showed it as part of their own independents-of-the-’80s series – Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982, 35mm). This is one gutsy, frank, audacious movie, featuring an unapologetically unlikable female protagonist who you wouldn’t dare to stop watching. She might just pick your pocket. They’re also showing a Jane Campion short before that, so that’s pretty cool.