IndieFest continues through this week, and it’s the only festival that does.
However, I’ve added a new movie theater to the honor roll: the Alameda Theater. A grand old palace with a multiplex attached, it specializes in current fare, but it plays a classic film every Wednesday and Thursday.
A High Noon, Alameda, Wednesday & Thursday. Gary Cooper discovers who his real friends are (just about no one) in Carl Foreman and Fred Zinnemann’s simple fable of courage under fire. On the day of his wedding and his resignation, the town’s sheriff (Cooper) finds out that hardened criminals are on their way, presumably for vengeance. But when he tries to form a posse, the people he thought he could count on turn their backs on him. Foreman’s last produced screenplay before getting blacklisted, High Noon can be interpreted as a parable to a Hollywood gripped in McCarthyite fear.
A Paths of Glory, Castro, Wednesday. It’s not enough to show that war is hell. A great war movie should also show that poor men go through that hell for the benefit of richer men. Perhaps that’s why World War I, so obviously pointless, has inspired more great films than any other war. Stanley Kubrick’s addition to the cannon–where three enlisted men are tried for cowardice to hide incompetence at high levels–is one of the best. On a double bill with Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, which I saw once, long ago, on network TV with commercials.
A- Only Angels Have Wings, Pacific Film Archive, Tuesday, 7:00. Cary Grant heads a team of mail plane pilots in a remote corner of South America. There’s little plot here, just a study of men who routinely fly under very dangerous conditions, and how they cope with death as an every-day part of life. The only non-comedy out of the five films that Grant made for director Howard Hawks. Part of the series Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man
B+ Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version), Castro, Saturday. The best alien invasion movie of the 1950’s (and no, that’s not quite damning with faint praise),Invasion of the Body Snatchers is noir, sci-fi, and political allegory—although whether this tale of aliens taking over people’s identities is anti-Communist or anti-McCarthy depends more on your politics than on the filmmakers’. Either way, it’s an effective thriller that has been copied many times but not equaled—despite the cuts and annoying narration added by the studio. On a Don Siegel double feature with The Lineup, which I’ve never seen.
Sex in the Shadows, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Thursday, 7:30. I haven’t seen this, but it looks interesting—and possibly even fun. I’ll just quote from the YBCA web site: “Before VHS players and then the internet rendered hardcore pornography ubiquitous and banal, American stag films, often produced and exhibited illegally and viewed almost exclusively by men, held considerable power to shock, entertain, arouse and educate. Tonight’s program, a series of short subjects from the 1920s through the 1960s, will show that they still retain this power. At times drolly amusing, at others appallingly misogynistic, the films are always 100% American and can be usefully viewed as transgressive cinematic monologues suppressed by the moral standards of their day.” Presented by Albert Steg.
B+ The Red Shoes, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. This 1948 Technicolor fable about sacrificing oneself for art makes a slight story. Luckily, the characters, all fanatically devoted to their art, and all very British, make up for it—at least in the first half. Unfortunately, the final hour weighs down with more melodrama than even a well-acted film can bear. On the other hand—and this is why The Red Shoes holds on to its classic status—the 20-minute ballet at the center is a masterpiece of filmed dance, and no other picture used three-strip Technicolor this expressively. I discuss The Red Shoes in more detail at War and Ballet @ the PFA. Part of the class and series Film 50: History of Cinema, Film and the Other Arts.
Henry V (1944 version), Stanford, Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Laurence Olivier’s version of Shakespeare’s pro-war epic, but I think I’d probably give it an A-. Shakespeare began the play with a monolog (too famous to cut) about the limitations of the stage—essentially the play apologizing for not being a movie. Olivier got around this challenge by starting his version as a stage play, and letting it slowly break out into full cinema. Yes, it’s gimmicky at times, but it’s also breathtaking, with lovely Technicolor photography and the Bard’s great verse spoken by actors who knew what to do with it.
B Hugo, Castro, Monday. I sometimes wonder whether Singin’ in the Rain really is the greatest movie musical ever made, or do I just feel that way because it’s about movies. I don’t believe that Hugo is the greatest family film by a long shot, but it did entertain and enchant me—probably more so than it would have had it been about the meat-packing industry. In his first family film, and his first in 3D, Martin Scorsese uses the new technology brilliantly to draw the audience into the universe of the story. And while that story is slight and cliché-ridden, it has the virtue of touching on early film history and ending with a message—integrated into the story—of the importance of film preservation. Presented in 3D.
National Theatre Live: Travelling Light, Kabuki, Saturday, 7:00; Elmwood, Tuesday & Thursday, 7:00; Monday, 7:00. I know little about this stage play, which will screen in HD. But it is about early cinema, as well as (I’m showing my ethnicity, here) Eastern European Jews immigrating to America.