Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Watch This: Chantal Akerman Discusses her Methods and Works


This Friday we begin our retrospective of the early films of the late Belgian director Chantal Akerman at the AFS Cinema. The farther we get from her early films, the more clearly we can see how influential they have been on the language of cinema, perhaps now more than ever before.

Here's a nice essay-style breakdown from Ricky D'Ambrose's Partisan Films Vimeo page featuring Chantal Akerman talking about her films and beliefs. It provides a helpful introduction to her values and themes.

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Trying To Keep The Lid On": A Treasure Trove of Gene Wilder Interviews


The great, now sadly departed and much missed, comic actor Gene Wilder referred to one of his comedy techniques as "trying to keep the lid on." You can see him now, in your mind's eye, absorbing all the world's mania, and trying, in a mighty fit of exertion, to hold it all in. Very few things are as funny as watching Gene Wilder almost lose his cool. He was the master of this technique, and of many other things that we didn't know we needed until he showed us.

Life is, of course, often trying and difficult, but when we watch Wilder pantomime the difficulties of dealing with other people (and ourselves), he helps us keep the lid on.

Take some time soon to enjoy Wilder the artist by watching YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN or WILLIE WONKA or BLAZING SADDLES or HAUNTED HONEYMOON soon, maybe with a younger person. But right now, put on your headphones and enjoy many delightful moments of Gene Wilder below.

A 2001 Bravo profile:


Wilder explains how his mother's heart attack made him funny:


Here he elaborates on his mother, and covers psychoanalysis and Mel Brooks in this animated "Blank On Blank" short.


And finally here is a heartfelt 2 hour interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Click here to listen.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Kieslowski’s Déja Vu: Close-up on the Three Colors


On Thursday, September 1, AFS begins its Essential Cinema Series 'Kieslowski: Two Cycles' with a 35mm screening of BLUE. The series, which presents the THREE COLORS cycle and the DECALOGUE, continues weekly through October at the AFS Cinema.

Here's AFS Head of Film & Creative Media Holly Herrick on the THREE COLORS.
"Krzysztof Kieslowski’s THREE COLORS are some of the most visually arresting films of contemporary cinema, and are packed with numerous camera set ups to achieve his signature precision in the cinematography. Yet the filmmaker never used a storyboard or indicated camera direction in his screenplays (which, in the latter years, were collaborations with the other brilliant Krzysztof, Piesiewicz). According to the filmmaker, the camera was placed where it forcibly had to be to capture the meaning of the scene. In Kieslowski’s mind, there was only one right camera approach for any given moment.
"We get a window into these choices, and into what connects the films in the THREE COLORS cycle, in the following videos. Criterion special features are often a master class in filmmaking, and such is the case with the Kieslowski interviews that they published on their beautiful 2011 release of THREE COLORS, portions of which are published below in the link from The Film Stage. In them, Kieslowski discusses manufacturing a sense of déja vu in RED, what close-ups mean in BLUE, and some of the hidden themes that tie the three films together as a single cycle."
Watch the videos here.

And watch our trailer for the series below.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Intended & Unintended Possibilities": Sight & Sound on Female Film Editors

Barbara McLean, editor of ALL ABOUT EVE, VIVA ZAPATA! & dozens of other films

There's a nice, though too-short, piece by Mark Cousins in the BFI's Sight & Sound magazine this month about the important, but sometimes under-appreciated role that female editors have played in film history. The list of credits is dizzying, from THE WIZARD OF OZ to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. The article serves as a reminder that women have edited some of the films we love the most. Also, oftentimes in classic Hollywood, the credited editor was just the department head - almost always male, and the others who did the work were... you guessed it.


There's an allusion in the article to one of editor Dede Allen's quotes about "intended and unintended possibilities." I think it deserves to be reprinted in full here.
"When I start cutting a movie, I always cut with mixed feelings. I have a definite intention, a definite starting point: the dramatic function of the scene;. the psychology of the characters, etc. But when I become absorbed in the material, I suddenly see all the possibilities the material contains. The unexpected. Intended and unintended possibilities. I can't help wandering into the material. I milk the material for all the small possibilities I see in it. A look, a smile - after the director has said "cut!". Afterwards I form a general view again. But it is in the collision between the general strategy and the pleasant distractions along the way that constitutes editing as art; the true life of the film."


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BBC Surveyed 177 Critics For Their List of the 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century


Here are the 100 greatest films of the 21st century according to 177 respondents to the BBC's poll of movie critics, reviewers, etc. The methodology, etc. is here.

We're thrilled here at AFS that our Artistic Director Richard Linklater is represented twice on the list, and that we have shown so many of the films on this list - or are scheduled to. There will certainly be disputes and heated conversations, and that's what such lists are for, but perhaps, to paraphrase Andrew Sarris, we are too close to our own times to adequately judge our own creative products.

Have fun:

100. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
100. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
100. Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)
99. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
98. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
97. White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
96. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)
95. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
94. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
93. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)
92. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
91. The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella, 2009)
90. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
89. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
88. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
87. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
86. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
85. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009)
84. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
83. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
82. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009)
81. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
80. The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003)
79. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
78. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
77. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
76. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
75. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
74. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)
73. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
72. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
71. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)
70. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)
69. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
68. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
67. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
66. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
65. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
64. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
63. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011)
62. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
61. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
60. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
59. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
58. Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembène, 2004)
57. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
56. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, director; Ágnes Hranitzky, co-director, 2000)
55. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013)
54. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)
53. Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
52. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
51. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
50. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)
49. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)
48. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
47. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)
46. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
45. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
44. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
43. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
42. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
41. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)
40. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
39. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
38. City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002)
37. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
36. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014)
35. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
34. Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015)
33. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
32. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
31. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
30. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
29. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
28. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
27. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
26. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
25. ​Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
24. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
23. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
22. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
21. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

Listen Here: The Weirdest Cash-In Album Ever Made By An Actor


Peter Wyngarde (born Cyril Louis Goldbert on this day in 1933, though the year is disputed) is certainly an unusual figure in the British theater. Rail-thin, baroquely outfitted, and equipped with a mellifluous voice, he makes an unforgettable first impression, glanced through a window, in THE INNOCENTS (1961). He was a flamboyant figure who, ironically, cultivated an impression as a ladies man, and, if he had been a good actor in his youth, he was more of a character man in middle age, where our story begins.

Here's an interview in which you get a sense of the man's public persona and acting talents:


But he was a big, entertaining performer, and perfect for the small screen, where he starred as the pulp novelist and bon vivant Jason King in the British ITC show DEPARTMENT S (1969-70) and JASON KING (1971-72).


With Jason King, Wyngarde found a character who he could ride to the top of the ratings. He was named "The Man With The Sexiest Voice In Television" by the Sun newspaper, and was considered a national sex-symbol. At the same time, his handlers allegedly had their hands full extricating him from vice-squad trouble in London.


At the height of his fame, Wyngarde was persuaded to record an album. The result, a spoken word-over-music effort, is one of the strangest things ever, and oddly compelling. The presumptuous, politically incorrect Wyngarde does not come across very sympathetically, but that's part of the historical appeal of the record. It's not something you'll want to hear more than once, other than to play it for friends and baffle them too.

Here's one of the less offensive tracks. If you care to explore further, don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Austin's Experimental Response Cinema Featured In Chronicle, Local Showcase Next Tuesday at AFS Cinema

ERC's Scott Stark and Rachel Stuckey

The Austin Chronicle today turns their screens spotlight on a group that has been bringing avant-garde and experimental cinema to Austin for four years now, and who will be presenting a showcase of local Austin Filmmakers at the AFS Cinema on Tuesday, August 23 at AFS Cinema. If you are interested in learning more about everything Experimental Response Cinema does, visit their site here, and by all means come to the event.

Here's the article and the trailer:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Watch This: John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk Wasted on National TV


"This is the reason I didn't join a fraternity." - Dick Cavett

During the filming of John Cassavetes' HUSBANDS (1970) the director/star and his other cast members Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara really got into character as a trio of middle aged ne'er-do-wells. When it came time to promote the film they took that same drunken abandon with them onto the Dick Cavett show. This is, along with Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal's conflict on Cavett's show, and the Oliver Reed/Shelley Winters war on Carson, one of the best examples of talk-show appearances gone wrong. Among other mayhem, Cassavetes gives Falk a horsey-ride and Gazzara kisses Cavett. Later, they become sincere. Gazzara discusses the work of Orson Welles at length, and compares Cassavetes to him. The three then bring up excellent points about filmmaking and life, though in slurred voices.

At one point the crowd turns on the guests and chants, "WE WANT DICK!"

Enjoy responsibly:



Monday, August 15, 2016

Watch This: An Exercise in Speed, Danger and Romance from Claude Lelouch


Filmed 40 years ago, in August 1976, in one take, with director Claude Lelouch at the wheel, zipping through Paris, this is a high-concept, but high-reward film.

It was a bit of a goof. The director, having just acquired a high-tech camera mount for use in his new feature, decided to try it out in a short film. The whole thing was done very quickly, as you'll see. Rumors persist that he was later arrested. It is not known if these are true. It certainly was dangerous and irresponsible. But also pretty cool.

There is a Wikipedia article about the production here.

Watch:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Skip Film School, Just Watch this Hourlong Samuel Fuller Doc Instead


OK, maybe don't actually skip film school, at least if you've already enrolled. But you should be able to test out of at least 4 semesters with the knowledge and insight that can be had in this documentary about the great writer/director Samuel Fuller (born on this day in 1912).

Fuller was an all-American iconoclast, a no-bullshit believer in the power of free institutions with a tough-minded, skeptical, but always humanist viewpoint. This film, featuring large doses of Fuller's wisdom, as well as insights from Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and others, can tell you 80% of what you really need to know about the art form of which Fuller was such a great master. Fuller is one of the great raconteurs, and a real character. The wisdom pours from him as unfettered as smoke from his cigars.

Enjoy:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Penny Lane's New Movie is NUTS!

"Nothing to see here. Just a medical miracle!"

That headline is a statement of fact, not opinion, although...

The new film NUTS!, directed by Penny Lane, will be screening at the AFS Cinema on Thursday, August 18. The director will take part in a Skype Q&A after the movie.

Lane, whose last film, OUR NIXON, was a 100% archival portrait of the disgraced President using only home movies shot by his worshipful aides, tells a very different story this time, about another charlatan, in another era. It's one of the most bizarre, but true, stories you will ever hear.

In her words:
NUTS! is a feature length documentary [directed by Penny Lane] about Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire in Depression-era America with a goat testicle impotence cure and a million watt radio station. 
Using animated reenactments, interviews, archival footage, and a hilariously unreliable narrator, NUTS! traces Brinkley’s rise from poverty and obscurity to the heights of celebrity, wealth and influence in Depression-era America. 
Along the way, he transplants tens of thousands of goat testicles; amasses an enormous fortune; is (sort of) elected Governor of Kansas; builds the world’s most powerful radio station; invents junk mail, the infomercial, the sound-truck and Border Radio; hosts some epic parties; and annoys the heck out of the establishment, until finally his audacious actions force the federal government to create regulations to stop him. 
How he does it, and what happens when it all comes crashing down, is the story of NUTS!
And here is Lane discussing the film and showing some clips:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Watch This: Dennis Lim on "What is Lynchian?"


Author, programmer and AFS Grant Panelist Dennis Lim will join us at the AFS Cinema on Tuesday, August 16 for a 35mm screening of David Lynch's seminal 2001 film MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

Here, from Fandor Keyframe, is a video essay on Lynch's films using words and concepts from Lim's book "David Lynch: The Man From Another Place" to attempt to pinpoint exactly what set of traits make a film or sequence "Lynchian."

Enjoy:

What Is "Lynchian"? from Fandor Keyframe on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Robert Aldrich Story


Robert Aldrich (born on this date in 1918) had a lot of success in his career, made a lot of movies, did very well at the box office by and large, and left a legacy of films that will continually be rediscovered by new generations. But despite all this he has not become a 'brand name' among many cinephiles in the way that some of others of his generation have.

Born into great privilege; the son of a wealthy newspaper publisher, grandson of a United Senator, cousin to Nelson Rockefeller, and heir to the Chase Bank fortune; Aldrich need never have worked a day in his life but he chose to drop out of college and follow his dream of working in films. His parents were so upset at Aldrich's decision to take an entry-level position as a production clerk at RKO that they cut him off entirely from his family fortune. Still, he had drive and talent, and rose through the ranks to become a production manager, associate producer and assistant director. In the latter capacity he worked with such greats as Jean Renoir and Charlie Chaplin.

Striking out on his own, Aldrich directed a number of television episodes and, eventually, some low-budget B-films that proved his competence. His first A-picture was APACHE (1954) a western starring Burt Lancaster. This paved the way for Aldrich's first big hit, and first great artistic triumph, VERA CRUZ (1954). Here, in the context of a florid, colorful western, we begin to see some of Aldrich's trademark ambivalence toward heroism. In his next film, KISS ME DEADLY (1955), Aldrich hits us with a brass-knuckled punch of deep distrust of authorities, and deep disdain for his detective-novel source material. The film is a masterpiece, and a touchstone of film rebels ever since.

Aldrich's next few films proved his versatility, he made a melodrama, women's pictures, war movies and a Biblical epic in succession. Following these he went back to the vein of black humor he had mined so successfully in KISS ME DEADLY, this time casting two famously difficult screen goddesses in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), an unforgettably baroque and camp tale that nonetheless delivers riveting suspense.

After this huge hit, and international sensation, Aldrich was back on the job again, making a silly rat-pack western, FOUR FOR TEXAS (1963), a tonal sequel to BABY JANE, HUSH... HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), and the small-cast war/survival movie THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965).

In 1967 Aldrich changed the very landscape of action filmmaking with his mega-hit THE DIRTY DOZEN. By this time Aldrich's cynicism had become a mainstream commodity, so when his 'heroes' acted just as brutally as his Mike Hammer had in KISS ME DEADLY, no one took any unusual notice, except to cheer more loudly. The era of the big, multi-star international action epic had begun, but also, and this was less apparent at the time, the age of the anti-hero who provides subversive commentary about society's values.

At this point Aldrich was a made man, with the freedom to choose personal projects. He did so, with the Hollywood satire THE LEGEND OF LYLA CLARE (1968), featuring an unfortunately miscast (or is she?) Kim Novak and an adaptation of the controversial lesbian-themed play THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1968). Next he made a very downbeat war drama, TOO LATE THE HERO (1970) and the sweaty (literally) gangster epic THE GRISSOM GANG (1971). In ULZANA'S RAID (1972) he made his definitive statement about war, and couched it in another Burt Lancaster western.

This was a period of terrifically interesting films that bombed at the box office. The next one was no different. EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973), about rail-riding hoboes during the Depression,  is one of the smartest, most tensely directed, best acted films of the 1970s but it was again ahead of its time. After all these flops, Aldrich needed a touchdown, and he got it with his next film, THE LONGEST YARD (1974) about football shenanigans behind prison walls. The monetary success of THE LONGEST YARD gave Aldrich the chance to make more personal movies, and he did so.

In HUSTLE (1975), he reteamed with Burt Reynolds and added Catherine Deneuve to the mix in a modestly successful detective film. His last few efforts were an odd mix, from military paranoia in TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING (1977), to a brutal black comedy about bad cops, THE CHOIRBOYS (1977) and then a weird comedy starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford (1979's THE FRISCO KID).

His last film seemed, at the time, to be a desperate gambit to draw in audiences with a highly titillating commercial angle. ... ALL THE MARBLES (1981) stars Peter Falk as a wrestling manager whose only clients are a tag team act, both gorgeous women, played by Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon. The advertisements for the film made the most of their many charms and their tight spandex costumes. In reality, the movie is a sincere and moving sign-off by Aldrich. As Falk, Frederick and Landon make their way from one dingy rust-belt town to another, angling to get paid at the end of every match by dodgy promoters, Aldrich's attitude toward the sometimes tawdry world of show business comes through. It's an elegiac, ultimately triumphant film, much like John Ford's similarly misunderstood DONOVAN'S REEF, and is the most fitting end to this most American of filmmakers' career.

Aldrich died in 1983, at age 65.

Here's the trailer for Aldrich's final film, and final masterpiece, ... ALL THE MARBLES:

Friday, August 5, 2016

Watch This: John Huston Living the Good Life, 1966


John Huston (born on this day in 1906) was a great filmmaking talent, with remarkable intelligence and an unusual ability to communicate. He made many good, and some bad, movies, and was pretty much the definition of a larger than life character. It is impossible, hearing it now, not to be charmed by his mellifluous voice, and, even if we know that he could be a difficult person, all that is left for us now is his magnetic appeal, and his films.

Here, from 1966, are a pair of clips from the CBC in which we are taken behind the castle walls (literally) and shown some glimpses of Huston, his family and friends (Burl Ives!) at home in Ireland. In the second video, Huston, an avid horseman, and former cavalryman, shows his son a thing or two about how to keep a good seat in the saddle.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Essential Cinema: IDA LUPINO: THE HARD WAY Series Notes


We hope you can join us this August for our special all-35mm tribute series to one of the screens finest performers, and a pioneering director, Ida Lupino. Program notes follow.

ESSENTIAL CINEMA: IDA LUPINO: THE HARD WAY

ON DANGEROUS GROUND: Thu, Aug 4, 2016, 7:30 PM, AFS Cinema

ROAD HOUSE: Thu, Aug 11, 2016, 7:30 PM, AFS Cinema

MOONTIDE: Wed, Aug 17, 2016, 7:30 PM, AFS Cinema

THE HITCHHIKER: Thu, Aug 25, 2016, 7:30 PM, AFS Cinema

The Lupino name has been synonymous with the theater for many centuries, from Renaissance Italy, where the Neapolitan Lupinos began the family tradition as strolling players, jugglers and dancers; continuing into the 17th century, when the already-well known clan was exiled to England for political reasons, and where they became popular as actors, acrobats and clowns; and, eventually, to both the legitimate stage and music halls of London.

Ida Lupino, born in 1918 during an air raid blackout in London, was brought up in a home that was part boarding house and part theatrical agency. Traveling artistes stayed there, rehearsals took place in front of the family hearth, and Ida received a complete education in acting, stagecraft and music before she even set off for school. The young prodigy even wrote, produced, and starred in a play at age seven.

Through her family connections – her father Stanley was a director, and her uncle, who went by the name Lupino Lane, was a popular comic - she made her screen debut in 1931 in one of her father’s films, THE LOVE RACE. The experience on the film set made her think more seriously of acting as a career so she applied to and was accepted by the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). She acted in many plays there and honed her natural talent to a fine edge. Itinerant American director Allan Dwan was then making a film in London. He saw much in the lovely, poised young actress, whom he cast – over her mother, who was in fact auditioning for the part - in an important role in HER FIRST AFFAIRE (1932).

Word got out about the talented newcomer and Paramount Pictures sent a ticket and a contract for her, with the idea that she would be perfect at playing Alice In Wonderland. But when she screen-tested for Alice it became apparent that she was too mature-looking for the role. Stuck in Hollywood, and under contract, she was restyled with processed blonde hair and pencil eyebrows as “the new Jean Harlow” and given roles that were, to say the least, beneath her abilities. It was at this time that she told a friend, “If I don’t get a part that I can get my teeth into, I’m going back home.” This was the beginning of several years of discontent, during which she alternately refused roles, served suspensions, and was loaned out for, sometimes punitive, assignments for other studios.  By 1937, she convinced Paramount to release her.

A free agent at age 19, Lupino stopped bleaching her hair, and allowed her eyebrows to grow in naturally. She composed music during this time, a longtime avocation, and had her symphonic piece “Aladdin’s Lamp” performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She made few films and got married. At this time she easily could have decided that the cinema was not in her future but when she heard that William Wellman was making an adaptation of one of her favorite stories, THE LIGHT THAT FAILED (1939), she knew that the part (a vulgar cockney bar girl who models for a great painter’s last work as he loses his sight) was one she could play better than anyone else. She stormed into Wellman’s office and gave a thunderous impromptu audition that convinced him to cast her. It was a breakthrough performance.

Soon the 21 year old was known as an acting powerhouse, and one who could hold her own against a powerful male co-lead. Warner Brothers signed her to a contract where she made some of the best films of her career, including THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) with George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, HIGH SIERRA (1940) again with Bogart, and THE SEA WOLF (1941) with John Garfield and Edward G. Robinson. Here she again occasionally found herself on suspension, as when she refused a role in KING’S ROW alongside Ronald Reagan. During her suspensions she learned a great deal about the technical aspects of filmmaking, as she used the idle time to shadow directors, editors and cameramen.

When not on suspension, she was often on loan to other studios, which is how she ended up at Fox making MOONTIDE in 1942.

MOONTIDE
D. Archie Mayo & Fritz Lang (uncredited), 1941
Written by John O’Hara and Nunnally Johnson (uncredited) from the novel by Willard Robertson; With Ida Lupino, Jean Gabin, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains; Cinematography by Charles Clarke; Music by David Buttolph and Cyril Mockridge


Hitler’s rise to power brought many talented Europeans to Hollywood, including, improbably, the great French leading man Jean Gabin. Perhaps it was thought that Gabin, whose magnetic but rough-hewn charm made him a favorite in France, would be the next Charles Boyer, but the two Frenchmen were very different and Gabin would be considered a washout in Hollywood, which was just as well for the art of cinema as he went on to do much of his best work back home in France. Here Gabin is a pillar of strength as a longshoreman who thinks he may have committed a murder and therefore retreats from the world to a small dockside shack. There he rescues a young woman (Lupino) who tries to drown herself but they find an obstacle to their domestic bliss when his friend (Thomas Mitchell) develops designs on Lupino (or perhaps Gabin himself). It’s a beautiful, semi-noir art film. Original director Fritz Lang, nursing a candle for Marlene Dietrich, hated Gabin, who was Dietrich’s longtime beau, and contrived a successful plan to get fired from the film after three weeks. It still bears his stamp, as well as that of novelist/short story writer John O’Hara, whose ear for dialogue was almost peerless. Lupino is heartbreaking as the woman who finds a reason to live again thanks to unexpected love.

By the end of the ‘40s, Lupino was becoming more independent than ever. After leaving Warner Brothers at age 29, she again struck out on her own and made such films as the extraordinary, tough ROAD HOUSE (1948).

ROAD HOUSE
D. Jean Neguelsco, 1948
Written by Edward Chodorov; With Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, Celeste Holm; Cinematography by Joseph LaShelle; Music by Cyril Mockridge

 

By 1948, Ida Lupino was, by any standard, a master actor, with 15 years in Hollywood on top of her prodigious formal education. In a role like this one, as a woman of easy virtue who drives all the men wild at a sleazy rural nightclub, that technical polish and experience might seem extraneous - after all, couldn’t any actress with sex appeal play this part? Well, no. Not like this. Lupino takes this fastball for a long ride as she nails the tough dialogue with the precision of an Olivier. It’s the story of a rivalry between two old friends, Cornel Wilde, as the manager of the roadhouse, and Richard Widmark, as the nasty, spoiled rich kid who inherited the business. Lupino, as she was so often in real life, is independent, but she can’t keep her heart entirely out of it. She performs several songs, using her own smoky singing voice, and creates from this rough material a character you’ll never forget.

In 1949 Lupino, along with husband Collier Young, formed her own production company, The Filmmakers, to make quality, low budget, message films. Initially she was to be only a writer and producer, but when director Elmer Clifton had a mild heart attack during the filming of NOT WANTED (1949), Lupino finished the shoot. Through all this she continued her acting work, and in 1951 she gave one of her finest performances in Nicholas Ray’s ON DANGEROUS GROUND.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND
Nicholas Ray, USA, 1951, 35mm, 82 min
Written by A.I. Bezzerides from the novel by Gerard Butler; With Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond; Cinematography by George E. Diskant; Music by Bernard Herrmann


Many viewers consider Nicholas Ray’s ON DANGEROUS GROUND to be a “schizophrenic” film, with two distinct sections – the first focusing on out-of-control tough cop Robert Ryan’s experiences on the streets among the amoral scum of the big city, and the second depicting a more pastoral-looking, but no less secure, rural setting. This was intentional. In fact, Ray wanted to film the first chapter in black and white, and the rest in color a la WIZARD OF OZ. In this film, which Lupino directed a few days of, uncredited, she plays the blind sister of a fugitive boy who Ryan, with the victim’s unhinged father in tow, is assigned to catch. Through the woman’s example, Ryan, whose moral compass had been spinning wildly out of control, finds his north star, but not before fate can play its hand. It was common practice for actors, when playing blind characters, to wear special contacts, but Lupino insisted on “acting” blind, that is, without special assistance, and it’s certainly effective. Like all of Ray’s idiosyncratic films, the external settings mirror inner conflicts to an almost baroque degree. This film was neither a critical or commercial success upon release but has come to be highly regarded by modern audiences.

Lupino used acting to fund her productions, and continued to make her own films, including the first film noir ever directed by a woman, THE HITCHHIKER.

THE HITCHHIKER
Ida Lupino, USA, 1953, 35mm, 71 min
Written by Ida Lupino and Collier Young; With Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman; Cinematography by Nicolas Musuraca; Music by Leith Stevens


Many auteurists despair of Lupino’s directorial work. All the lessons and connections they would seemingly like to find in her work are tantalizingly absent or brief. She was, as she liked to point out, “the poor man’s Don Siegel”, in other words, a pro’s pro, who could get a picture in the can on schedule, and still find time for little things like performances and story. THE HITCHHIKER is very much a Siegel-style vehicle, as two family men on a fishing trip are kidnapped by a psychotic escaped convict and must keep their heads to make their eventual escape. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff from the director who ran a tight set, but was also referred to as mother by all the cast and crew who loved her.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gaze in Wonderment at this Stunning Gallery of Stills by Master Cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa


There are cinematographers who do their job adequately, making sure the subject is lit and focused according to the director's wishes, and then there are the artists, who create perfect frames and perfect shots. These are rare people, and when they are empowered, can produce magical cinema. Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) was one of the latter. From the extraordinary vistas of Eisenstein's QUE VIVA MEXICO (1932), through many Emilio Fernández titles, John Huston's NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964), and Buñuel masterpieces such as THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962) and LOS OLVIDADOS (1950), he contributed his expertise, his astonishing technical proficiency, and his unique eye for contrast and shadow.

This Sunday we will present a restoration of the 1943 proto-noir film DISTINTO AMANECER (ANOTHER DAWN), directed by Julio Bracho and shot by Figueroa at the top of his game. Charles Ramírez Berg, noted University Of Texas film professor and author of “The Classical Mexican Cinema: The Poetics of the Exceptional Golden Age Films," will introduce the film and join us for a post-movie discussion about the work, the era, and, especially Figueroa. The event is copresented by Cine Las Americas.

Here are some stills from the Master's life in film.

QUE VIVA MEXICO (1932, Sergei Eisenstein)

THE FUGITIVE (1947, John Ford)

RIO ESCONDIDO (1948, Emilio Fernández)

MACLOVIA (1948, Emilio Fernández)

LOS OLVIDADOS (1950, Luis Buñuel)

MARIA CANDELARIA (1944, Emilio Fernández)

LA PERLA (1947, Emilio Fernández)

LOS OLVIDADOS (1950, Luis Buñuel)

Monday, August 1, 2016

New Essential Cinema Series Starts this Week: Pioneering Director/Star Ida Lupino


Tickets available below. Watch the series trailer here.

Born into a family whose theatrical pedigree extended as far back as Renaissance Italy, British actress Ida Lupino was a vaudevillian from birth, a Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts trained actress by 13 and an imported contract player at Paramount by age 15.

Hollywood had no idea what to do with the willowy, big-eyed beauty so she mostly spent the first ten years of her film career bouncing around, changing hair colors and reading bad scripts. In 1939 she forced her way into director William Wellman’s office and demanded to read for him. The rest was history. No longer just a decorative love interest, she proved in the films of the ‘40s that she was just as tough and talented as her co-stars, and, considering those co-stars were people like Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield, that’s a major statement.

Her early acquaintance with subpar screen material made her highly selective, and when she did not feel a script was up to her standards she refused the part, even when under contract. As a result, she was often suspended by her studio. She used the time to become proficient at the technical arts, and soon started her own production company with her husband Collier Young. Their output was low budget, quality B-movie fare, produced; and often written and directed; by Lupino.

This series presents a selection of three of Lupino’s best starring performances and, significantly, a rare 35mm print from the Library Of Congress of THE HITCHHIKER (1953), which she produced, co-wrote, and directed, and which is considered the first film noir directed by a woman.


ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951, 35mm)
Thu, Aug 4, 2016, 7:30 PM

Nicholas Ray’s parable of love and forgiveness is one of the best and most unusual noir films. Robert Ryan plays a city cop, driven to a state of constant rage and depression by the murder of a fellow police officer, who is reassigned to a murder investigation in a rural county. There the pursuit of the murderer leads him and the victim’s vengeful father, played by Ward Bond, to an isolated farmhouse, buried in snow, where the only inhabitant seems to be the suspect’s blind sister (Ida Lupino.) As the manhunt zeroes in on the nearby terrain, Ryan’s heart is softened by Lupino’s tenderness and love. The scenes between Ryan and Lupino contain some of the finest screen acting of the era and the film is justly considered a classic. Music by Bernard Herrman - he called it his favorite score.

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ROAD HOUSE (1948, 35mm)
Thu, Aug 11, 2016, 7:30PM

Ida Lupino plays one of the great noir women in this story of a love triangle in a highway nightclub. Richard Widmark plays the owner. His longtime best friend Cornel Wilde manages the place for him. When new singer Ida Lupino shows up, Wilde knows she will cause trouble with the sociopathic ladies’ man Widmark so he gives her a return train ticket before she even auditions. She refuses and sings anyway. She’s an instant hit, especially with the male patrons. One of them says, “she reminds me of the first woman who ever slapped my face.” Soon Widmark and Wilde are at odds, and it goes way, way too far. The dialogue sparkles here and Lupino is at her no-nonsense best. Rare 35mm print.

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MOONTIDE (35mm)
Wed, Aug 17, 2016, 7:30 PM

Hardboiled novelist John O’Hara wrote the script for this story of the downtrodden denizens of the waterfront. The great French actor Jean Gabin, in exile from his war torn homeland, plays a longshoreman who may have committed murder while on a drunken bender. While hiding out on a barge he rescues a young woman (Ida Lupino) when she tries to drown herself. They become a couple, with plans to marry, but one of Gabin’s friends (Thomas Mitchell) becomes jealous, and fate’s wheels begin to turn. Co-directed (uncredited) by Fritz Lang. Featuring Claude Rains as a character named Nutsy (!!). Rare 35mm print.

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THE HITCHHIKER (35mm)
Thu, Aug 25, 2016, 7:30 PM

Years ago, the only way a female director could work in Hollywood was on a “woman’s picture,” often a romance or a domestic drama. With THE HITCHHIKER, Lupino showed that she could hang with the Hollywood tough guys. Not only is it a dark film noir full of grinding suspense, it has an all-male cast. This is Lupino’s fifth film as a director and she has an assured, masterful touch with this kind of material. The story involves a pair of friends on a relaxing fishing getaway who pick up the wrong hitchhiker. He is a killer on the run who makes the men drive him to the Mexican border, so he can make his getaway. Knowing that the desperate fugitive won’t let them live, they plot their escape. A low budget wonder with Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman. Rare 35mm print from the Library Of Congress.

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