Cool Stuff to Check Out in NYC: June 2016

For all you dedicated cinephiles out there, here are some upcoming film screenings and retrospectives that are sure to excite you this June in New York City. Information regarding the theaters and dates/times can be found by clicking the links provided at the beginning of each series or event’s entry.

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Danger lurks behind every corner for Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill (1980).

“Brian De Palma” at the Metrograph (Wed. June 1 – Thurs. June 30): The new arthouse cinema on Ludlow Street (Lower East Side) will be hosting this look back at director Brian De Palma’s half-century-long career as a master teller of Hitchcockian tales filled with sex and violence, as well as a maker of more commercial, action-oriented fare like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. With the exception of Murder à la Mod (1968), Metrograph will be showing Brian De Palma’s entire history of feature films. If you’ve never experienced Sisters, Carrie, Dressed to Kill or the crazy, extravagant mess known as The Black Dahlia, here is your chance to do so.

The Series IncludesThe Wedding Party (released in 1969 but shot in 1963), Greetings (1968), Dionysus in ’69 (1970), Hi, Mom! (1970), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), Sisters (1973), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Obsession (1976), Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), Home Movies (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), Body Double (1984), Wise Guys (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Casualties of War (1989), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Raising Cain (1992), Carlito’s Way (1993), Mission: Impossible (1996), Snake Eyes (1998), Mission to Mars (2000), Femme Fatale (2002), The Black Dahlia (2006), Redacted (2007), Passion (2012)

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The skydiving sequence in Point Break (1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow).

“Genre Is a Woman” at Film Forum (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 16): This is the series I am most excited about this June. The retrospective will be looking at films made by nineteen women directors (spanning the early silent era to the present day), none of whom were or are restricted by the usual stereotyped boundaries (e.g., “chick flick” romantic comedies). You will see teen comedies, fast-paced action flicks, sci-fi thrillers, biopics, sexploitation dramas and much more. My personal recommendations among the selections here are Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless (1981) and Point Break (1991), so you should definitely make time for those.

The Series Includes Films ByAlice Guy Blaché (silent short films including Babies from Cabbages; The Detective’s Dog; The Pit and the Pendulum), Dorothy Arzner (Dance, Girl, Dance), Ida Lupino (Not Wanted; The Hitch-Hiker; two episodes of “Thriller”), Doris Wishman (Nude on the Moon; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Let Me Die a Woman; A Night to Dismember), Barbara Loden (Wanda), Stephanie Rothman (The Student Nurse; Group Marriage), Barbara Peeters (Bury Me an Angel), Kathryn Bigelow (The Loveless; Near Dark; Blue Steel; Point Break; Strange Days), Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Amy Holden Jones (The Slumber Party Massacre), Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary), Katt Shea (Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls; Dance of the Damned; Streets; Poison Ivy), Sondra Locke (Impulse), Cindy Sherman (Office Killer), Mary Harron (American Psycho; The Notorious Bettie Page), Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff; Night Moves), Ami Canaan Mann (Texas Killing Fields) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)

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Kamikaze ’89 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 9): BAM is showing the final film starring the incomparable German auteur/artiste Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kamikaze ’89 (1982, dir. Wolf Gremm), for a week in early June. This rarely-screened thriller is set in a dystopian future society and R.W.F. plays a detective; the cast includes roles for Fassbinder’s frequent collaborators Günther Kaufmann (Whity (1971), In a Year with 13 Moons (1978), the miniseries “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980)), Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973), Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975), Chinese Roulette (1976)), and Juliane Lorenz (Fassbinder’s editor for films and TV, as well as his girlfriend, from the late 70s until his death in 1982), as well as an appearance by international star Franco Nero. Kamikaze ’89 cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger also worked with Fassbinder on his own projects, photographing “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980), Lili Marleen (1981), Lola (1981), Veronika Voss (1982) and Querelle (1982).

Trivia: Fassbinder was buried in the leopard-print suit he wore in Kamikaze ’89.

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Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung share a quiet, contemplative moment during a rendezvous in In the Mood for Love (2000, dir. Wong Kar Wai).

“Luminosity: The Art of Cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing” at the Museum of Modern Art (Thurs. June 16 – Thurs. June 30): MoMA pays tribute to one of the most talented cinematographers in Asian and European cinema. One of the must-sees is the romantic drama In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai’s take on Brief Encounter set in Hong Kong in 1962.

The Series Includes Films By: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Dust in the Wind; The Puppetmaker; Flowers of Shanghai; The Assassin), Wang Tung (Strawman), Ann Hui (Eighteen Springs), Tran Anh Hung (The Vertical Ray of the Sun; Norwegian Wood), Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love), Tian Zhuangzhuang (Springtime in a Small Town), Ivy Ho (Claustrophobia), Chiang Hsiu-Chiung and Kwan Pun-Leung (Let the Wind Carry Me), Gilles Bourdos (Renoir), Jay Chou (The Rooftop), Yang Chao (Crosscurrent)

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Silver Screen, Gold Anniversary: Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)

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On this date in 1965, Doris Wishman’s B-movie classic, Bad Girls Go to Hell, premiered in Fresno, California. Far from being a heartwarming Christmas story, Bad Girls is a drama of predators and prey in the big city. Testing the limits of good and bad taste, Wishman’s 65-minute feature observes the struggles of Meg Kelton (played by Gigi Darlene), a Boston housewife who is sexually assaulted by a neighbor in her apartment building. After killing her rapist during the fight to free herself, Meg runs off to New York, where she continues to be targeted by both men and women. Besides directing and producing this “roughie” (so named for the blend of violent and sexual content), Wishman also wrote the film.

In a 1986 interview with Andrea Juno for Incredibly Strange Films, when asked what Women’s Lib meant to her, Wishman stated that “women are coming into their own – if they can do a man’s job, I feel they should be paid for what they can do. But I don’t always think they can do a man’s job. But then, by the same token, a man can’t always do a woman’s job, so it sort of equalizes.” Wishman did not consider herself a feminist, and one can argue that Bad Girls Go to Hell does not tell a pro-feminism story, but Doris Wishman’s tenacity to succeed in her chosen career, a field dominated by men (many of whom worked with bigger budgets), inspires me every day. Furthermore, when Andrea Juno asked Doris Wishman if she liked her own films, Wishman replied: “Yes, otherwise I don’t make them. I have to think they’re marvelous, great, and wonderful, otherwise I don’t get involved. Of course they may not always turn out that way, but I have to feel that. It’s a challenge, it’s exciting, and I enjoy what I’m doing, and that’s very important.”

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As in all of Wishman’s movies, she lingers on shots of feet and legs, one of her trademark tendencies. (Noted fetishist Quentin Tarantino has nothing on Doris for this particular interest.) She also makes good use of Central Park, which seems to have been her favorite place to film, apart from the neighborhood where she lived in Queens.

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Two of the most iconic performers associated with Wishman’s mid-to-late-60s films are twin sisters Darlene and Dawn Bennett (Bad Girls’ star, Gigi Darlene, chose the last part of her stage name as a tribute to friend Darlene Bennett; the “Gigi” was in honor of the Vincente Minnelli-directed musical). Both twins appear in Bad Girls, but Dawn, who is not credited in the film’s cast list for some reason, has the bigger role as Della, a lesbian character who rents a room in her NYC apartment to Meg. Like many of the women who populate Wishman’s films from this era, Dawn Bennett’s closet includes lacy underthings, including catsuits.

I wish I knew what ever happened to the Bennett sisters, but finding out anything about them – even whether Darlene and Dawn Bennett were their real names – has been impossible so far. If anyone could help me out, that would be excellent!

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Interior design is another noteworthy element of Doris Wishman’s cinematic style. Between the mid-60s and the 1980s, most (if not all) of her films involved scenes shot in her Queens apartment. However kitschy the decor may be, it’s all Doris’s doing.

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Then, of course, there is the question of how Meg (who goes by the pseudonym “Ellen Green” when she comes to New York) deals with the troubles she faces. What’s a girl to do when she must constantly fend off unwanted, violent advances? Where can she go and avoid being groped and attacked by sleazy employers and landlords? Throughout the film, C. Davis Smith’s B&W cinematography lights Meg’s moments of uncertainty and turmoil to great (if occasionally disturbing) effect.

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As Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen wrote about Bad Girls Go to Hell in June 2015: “All the Doris Wishman black and white films are like photo essays of another forever-lost time and place. The high contrast interiors, the shots of walking feet, the disembodied dialogue. Watching a Doris film is like turning page after page of an imaginary Diane Arbus book documenting the struggles of a young woman in the world of plaid-suited, cigar smoking, completely disgusting men. This is my favorite of her films, and a good place to start.”

One Last Look

Earlier today I was walking down 7th Ave in Manhattan and so, since I was in the area, I walked over to 53rd St. and 8th Ave to take one last look (to quote the title of Tom Waits’ recent elegy written for David Letterman) at the old Late Show marquee at the Ed Sullivan Theater, which will be dismantled sometime this week.

After walking around under the marquee for a bit, I crossed 8th Ave back over to 7th Ave, took my final look back to take the fourth photo above, then I kept on going on my way home. I regret never going to any Late Show tapings, but I guess I can’t dwell on that for too long. I’ll just have to make up for it by setting aside time to attend an episode of the new show with Stephen Colbert. The landscape of late night TV has been turned upside down this year, but let’s try to look on the bright side: a new era is beginning. I really ought to make the most of how fortunate I am to live in New York.