Monday, July 20, 2009
The Rep Report
NEW YORK: An unnamed but prominent runner-up in our recent list of notably unexpected movie reunions, Luis Bunuel's Viridiana (1961) marked the director's homecoming to the country of his birth, Spain, from which he had exiled himself before beginning his movie career rather than live under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Bunuel was invited to return and launch his first production made on Spanish soil at a time when Franco, or somebody, was apparently feeling sore about the Generalissimo's international reputation as a stifler of creativity who presided over a country that his regime had sucked dry of all life and spirit. The Spanish Film Board duly okayed the script and sent the finished product off to the Cannes Film Festival, cheerfully oblivious not just to its sacrilegious content but also to the possibility that there just might be a hint of a rebuke to Franco in such details as the title heroine's line, "The weeds have taken over the past 20 years... And beyond the second floor, the house is overrun with spiders."
The movie won the Palm d'Or at Cannes that year, but it was also denounced by the Vatican as an affront to the church. In response, Bunuel shrugged, "I didn’t deliberately set out to be blasphemous, but then Pope John XXIII is a better judge of such things than I am." Franco dismissed all the members of his Film Board and burned every print of the movie that he could get his hands on, and Bunuel had to get along as best he could, making his movies somewhere else on the planet, for the rest of his career. Viridiana wasn't shown again in Spain until 1977, two years after Franco's death, and if you'd been living there, you too would have wanted to give it a while to make sure that the silver bullets really worked. I saw it several years ago in New Orleans, in a theater that was full of Jesuit priests, and all the way through it, those guys laughed their heads off at stuff that I'm guessing I didn't have a thorough enough religious education to appreciate. Then the movie ended and the lights came on, and they scuttled out of there as if were afraid of being caught by their mothers at a porno flick. Starting this Friday, Film Forum brings Viridiana back for one week to see if it still has the power to spook the pious. Buneul's last word on the subject was to declare, famously, that he was "still an atheist, thank God"; Franco, his total life achievements accurately summed up in the words of Chevy Chase, is still dead.
For five days starting tonight, Anthology Film Archives hosts a retrospective of the work of Shirley Clarke, a maverick independent filmmaker whose work dates back to that moment when "independent cinema" in America seemed to be an offshoot of the Beat movement. Clarke's first film, the 1961 The Connection, was based on the Living Theater's production of Jack Gelber's New York play about junk and jazz, with a cast that includes Warren Finnerty, Carl Lee, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Garry Goodrow, as well as an onscreen musical combo that includes Jackie McLean. Clarke followed that up with the j.d. drama The Cool World (1964), doubly valuable today as a time capsule of Harlem, and the verite monologue documentary Portrait of Jason (1967). Anthology is showing them all, as well as some of her lesser-known work, including her final film, a 1985 portrait of Ornette Coleman.
The 8th annual Tribeca Film Festival runs from tonight through May 3. In its earliest years, Tribeca was a sprawling mix of international and indie films and big, glossy Hollywood fare that commanded a lot of attention but seemed in no immediate danger of developing its own coherent identity. Last year they scaled way back and were rewarded for it with a minor breakthrough: the top prize winner, Let the Right One In, emerged as a cult hit and counts as the closest that Tribeca has come to putting its stamp on a emerging success, which is seen by many as the mark of a major festival. This year Tribeca has scaled back even further, which people are hoping will result in a tighter focus. The opening night selection is Woody Allen's Whatever Works.
SAN FRANCICSO: The The San Francisco International Film Festival runs from April 23 to May 7.
Posted by Phil Dyess-Nugent at 3:08 PM