Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Rep Report

NEW YORK: Of all Akiri Kurosawa's films, Rashomon (1950) may not be the one that's nearest and dearest to anyone's hearts, but it's the one that added a word to the international language and opened the floodgates of Japanese movies to the West. A two-week revival at the Film Forum starts today, showcasing a handsome new 35 mm. print. Don't sit in the front row or it'll feel as if Toshiro Mifune is chewing on your leg.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock festival. For three days in August of 1969, thousands of people converged on a farm in Bethel, New York for a three-day celebration of peace, love and music. Consequently, all gun owners voluntarily turned in their firearms, an international conference agreed to ban war forever, and the United States Marine Band was replaced at all official functions by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. If you just don't feel like dropping acid and rolling naked in mud for fear that your kids will call the cops, there are a couple of ways you can celebrate the occasion in the air-conditioned comfort of a movie theater. One way is to see Ang Lee's comedy Taking Woodstock, but by now most of us have seen the trailer, and doesn't it look as if it blows? The other way is to attend the June 3 screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center of Woodstock: The Director's Cut!. The classic '60s time capsule is now four hours and five minutes long; it'll be shown with an intermission and with the promise of "free popcorn and soda", which in this economy would strike me as reason enough to check out a six-hour director's cut of Freddy Got Fingered. Director Michael Wadleigh will present in case anyone wants to ask him what the hell he was thinking when he made Wolfen.

BAM begins its retrospective of the work of the late Youssef Chahine today; it runs through June 7. When Chahine died last year, the Guardian called him "the leading voice of the Arab cinema for over half a century" and credited him with "one of the boldest careers in the movies," in which "Egypt's modern history is etched". Things kick off tonight with probably his best-known film, 1958's Cairo Station.

BERKELEY: May 30 through June 17, Pacific Film Archives pays tribute to "Selected Work from Zaentz Films." These are the epic literary adaptations paid for by Saul Zaentz, onetime head of Fantasy Records, and the only film producer ever to be denounced by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival in a song (and music video) featuring a dancing pig. John Fogerty is a great man and an artist, and given his differences with the man, he might want to skip the chance to see The Unbearable Lightness of Being on the big screen, a choice that in his case I have no argument with. Others had better present a note signed by their mother.

Unbearable Lightness is a movie that can make you want to sample some of the work done by artists, the more ornery the better, living in what is now the Czech Republic. Conveniently enough, PFA is also hosting "Karel Vachek: Poet Provocateur" from May 31 through June 28. The series includes the four epic-length films, made between 1992 and 1996, that comprise his "Little Capitalist Tetralogy": New Hyperion, Bohemia Docta, Who Will Watch the Watchman?, which doesn't have a damn thing to do with Alan Moore, and What Is to Be Done?, an attempt to come to grips with the country's redefining and remaking itself as the Cold War expired. Vachek will be present at the June 21 and June 24 screenings.

Then, starting June 5 and running through the month, PFA sweats out the first weeks of summer with "Tight Spot: Phil Karlson in the Fifties", a retrospective devoted to a B-picture action specialist so seamy and perpetually underappreciated he makes Edgar G. Ulmer look like Ron Howard. Karlson, who twenty years later was able to get himself a 401K in the form of Walking Tall, was at the peak of his powers when he made The Phenix City Story, Kansas City Confidential, and Tight Spot itself (starring Ginger Rogers as a floozy pressured by Edward G. Robinson to testify against the mob, while conflicted cop Brian Keith straddles the fence); all you need to know about them is those titles aren't setting you up for a let-down.

This is my last Rep Report column, and in fact my last post for the Screengrab, as the blog is shutting down today, which is something of which we've probably already made too much. But it was a big part of my life for two years and one of the best jobs I've ever had, so maybe anyone who's ever lost a job he'd really enjoyed before he was completely, absolutely sick to death of it will cut us some slack. The Rep Report was the first regular feature I ever had here; it was intended as something that might actually be useful to part of the readership, and while it was never one of our major attractions in terms of hits, I really enjoyed doing it. It became less dependably regular in recent months, not because I didn't still enjoy doing it, and certainly not because revival movie theaters in the U.S. don't need all the help they can get, but because after more than a year and a half, I discovered that there's only so many ways you can write, "They're showing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg again, and it rocks, so you ought to do yourself a favor and get off the fucking couch!"

Anyway. At the risk of sounding like Norma Shearer, I'd like to take this last chance to say thank you to Bilge Ebiri, who hired me in the first place, and to our mutual friend George Wu, who swore to Bilge that I was smarter than I looked, and to Peter Smith and Nicole Ankowski for everything, some of which was way beyond the call of duty, and to everyone who ever invited me to a screening or slipped me a piece of gossip under the false impression that it would do them some good, and of course to all my colleagues here, except for the ones who persisted in being a little more brilliant than they had to be and in the process made me look like more of a mouth-breather than usual. You know who you are. 'Bye.

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