Friday, November 28, 2014

Blu-ray Review: Anthony Mann's Man of the West (1958)

The weight of multiple converging histories hangs heavy on the heart of Anthony Mann's last great film, Man of the West. Released in 1958, the project marked a spiritual culmination of many interrelated cinematic careers and concerns. For one, studio filmmaking of the sort which Mann helped popularize was on the wane, staring down an upcoming decade in which the production, distribution, and artistic disposition of popular cinema would drastically change. Likewise, the film's star, Gary Cooper, would feature in only a few more films, succumbing to prostate cancer just three years after its release. And while Mann would make a handful of subsequent films, including one more western, Man of the West carries with it an unshakeable aura of finality in its world-weary temperament, bringing a genre which would quickly find new modes of expression—whether in the mold of a spaghetti, revisionist, neo, or acid western—to its logical endpoint.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

L.A. Confidential: "Sunshine Noir" at BAM

"Sunshine Noir" begins tonight (11/26) at BAM, and continues through December 9 with new films daily.

We’re reminded early on in Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), Thom Andersen’s landmark dissection of the movie industry’s conflicted relationship with the city it ostensibly calls home, that Los Angeles is a place “where reality and representation get muddled.” And indeed, from the birth of the studio system onward, Hollywood has borne inevitable, though not always intentional, witness to the ever-evolving landscape of districts, enclaves, villages, and neighborhoods which comprise greater Los Angeles. In fact, one could, if so inclined, chart the development of the City of Angels solely through the movies. The results would be fascinating yet false, an alternate yet far from comprehensive cultural and topographical chronology rendered in moving yet immutable images. The films included in BAMcinématek’s “Sunshine Noir” series, a 21-title program of various permutations on the Los Angeles film noir, not only capture the city through diverse diagrammatic design, but also epitomize but one of its many enduring contradictions, approaching its borders from the outside in, from the sun and sand-streaked coast to the streets of its seedy urban core.

Los Angeles Repertory Recommendations: November/December 2014

This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The high point of the L.A. holiday repertory season is "Truth and Soul, Inc.: The Films of Robert Downey Sr.," a retrospective dedicated to the career of the pioneering independent filmmaker whose low-budget genre riffs such as Putney Swope and Greaser's Palace stormed the 1960s and '70s New York underground art scene. Taking place at both Cinefamily and downtown's Ace Hotel Dec. 5 to 8, the series -- which features such guest hosts as Louis C.K., Paul Thomas Anderson and the filmmaker's son, Robert Downey Jr. -- embodies the rebel spirit of a director whose influence continues to endure.
Cinefamily: 611 N. Fairfax Ave.
Ace Hotel: 929 S. Broadway

On Dec. 5, in honor of Hoop Dreams' 20th anniversary, the digital restoration of Steve James' landmark documentary will be shown at the Hammer Museum's Billy Wilder Theater. Elevating the trials and tribulations of two African-American high school basketball players from inner-city Chicago to the level of grand tragedy, the film is well worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.
10899 Wilshire Blvd.

Hollywood's lavish Egyptian Theatre is offering an array of titles this season, both classic and off the beaten path. A digital presentation of Stanley Kubrick's seminal sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey (Nov. 28) and a 70mm screening of David Lean's desert epic Lawrence of Arabia (Nov. 29) will close out November, while two late-'50s B-thrillers from Roger Corman, A Bucket of Blood and War of the Satellites (Dec. 7, with Corman in person), will help ring in December.
6712 Hollywood Blvd.

LACMA is dedicating weekends in December to double features by some of the most celebrated emigrant auteurs. Standouts include F.W. Murnau silent films Sunrise and The Last Laugh (Dec. 5), the elegant pairing of Max Ophuls' Liebelei and Letter From an Unknown Woman (Dec. 12), the comedic combo of Ernst Lubitsch's The Doll and The Shop Around the Corner (Dec. 19) and, last but not least, Notorious and Vertigo (Dec. 20), two of the greatest works from the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock.
5905 Wilshire Blvd. [THR]

Monday, November 10, 2014

Film Capsule: Derek Jarman's Blue (1993)

Blue (1993)
Directed by Derek Jarman

Living with AIDS for over a half-decade by the time of his twelfth and final film, the progressive British director Derek Jarman would spend his remaining months conceptualizing a personal cinematic eulogy as his most celebrated artistic asset, his vision, was quite literally fading from view. A visual representation of the onset of his optical deterioration, the film’s succession of single, saturated blue frames provide a canvas for an intimate narrative of great verbal and aural nuance, a chronicle of a life told not through images but imagery itself. Alongside the filmmaker’s first person ruminations and remembrances are reverent recitations from art world associates including Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton, and John Quentin, who, together with an expansive palette of sound effects, paint a poetic portrait of a personality resigned to fate but alive with pride and perseverance. (Nov 7, 7:30pm at BAM’s Jarman series) [The L]

Time of the Seasons: Four Films by Nathaniel Dorsky

In his book Devotional Cinema, Nathaniel Dorsky attributes the success of the medium’s greatest works to an expression of the “material of the cinema itself, the cinematic qualities that are deeply akin to our own metabolism.” It’s a theory appropriately reflected in the filmmaker’s own output as he has spent the better part of five decades employing the component elements of 16mm stock to modulate the otherwise unstable constituents of the outside world. “Like our hands, the trees, the drama of the seasons, and the warming and expiring heavens,” he continues, “the basic elements of film must partake in the beauty of the deepest practicality.” For a multitude of reasons, this latter thought feels of particular accord with Dorsky’s recent work, through which he has attempted to ameliorate the inherently inharmonious presence of the anthropologic and geographic within a constantly recalibrating ecological framework.