Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: June 2016

Cinematographer Natasha Braier with director Nicolas Winding Refn on the set of The Neon Demon, 2015.

Here are many, if not all, of the films either directed by or photographed by women which will be playing in theaters in June. A number of women-directed films are also playing in theaters already: Chevalier (dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari), Eva Hesse (dir. Marcie Begleiter), Maggie’s Plan (dir. Rebecca Miller), The Meddler (dir. Lorene Scafaria), Money Monster (dir. Jodie Foster), Unlocking the Cage (dirs. Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker) and Weiner (dirs. Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg).

JUNE 3: The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer)Official movie website: “THE FITS is a psychological portrait of 11-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower)—a tomboy assimilating to a tight-knit dance team in Cincinnati’s West End. Enamored by the power and confidence of this strong community of girls, Toni eagerly absorbs routines, masters drills, and even pierces her own ears to fit in. When a mysterious outbreak of fainting spells plagues the team, Toni’s desire for acceptance is twisted.”

JUNE 3: The God Cells (dir. Eric Merola) (DPs: David Barrett, Eric Merola, Kate Merola and Dave Newton)From FAQ section of the official movie website: “Eric Merola is passionate about promising scientific innovations and discoveries that have the potential to help others. Sometimes a scientific discovery enters society that is both controversial and directly conflicts with both the currently held scientific beliefs and the profit structure of that system within the medical industry (and in the case of fetal stem cells, they conflict with widely held religious beliefs as well). Eric finds this aspect to be an important one, as the natural signal of both the economic threat coupled with a dedicated set of indoctrinated beliefs is often drowned out with confusing noise created by the system itself, as an act of self defense to preserve itself. Eric feels an obligation, through his investigative journalistic work, as well as his artistic expression as a filmmaker, to help the general public learn about these issues to help them make their own informed decisions.”

JUNE 3: Gurukulam (dirs. Neil Dalal and Jillian Elizabeth)From Village Voice review: “In their equanimous portrait of an Indian religious community, Jillian Elizabeth and Neil Dalal contemplate enlightenment through an earthly source. They capture the quiet activity of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, an ashram in the lush hills of Tamil Nadu, with an observational documentary style that trades dispassionate distance for sympathetic immersion. With subtle shifts of perspective, the co-directors present the rural Hindu retreat as a calm, unrelenting workplace for staff members who begin work before dawn or a spiritual preparatory school–cum–summer camp for the eager, diverse disciples of Swami Dayananda Saraswati.”

JUNE 3: Me Before You (dir. Thea Sharrock)TV Over Mind review by Chris King: “Amidst the barrage of superhero sequels and big-budget action movies that are released week after week from May through August, Me Before You is a both a pleasant surprise this summer movie season. The romantic drama, based on the best-selling novel by Jojo Moyes and helmed by first-time feature director Thea Sharrock, serves not only as a nice distraction from the constant influx of Hollywood blockbusters that fill the summer months, but it also stands on its own as thoughtful, charming, and, ultimately, uplifting tale of love and life, featuring two terrific lead performances that help make up for any of the movie’s shortcomings.

The two actors delivering those fantastic performances are Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke, who plays the kind and compassionate Louisa Clark, and Sam Claflin (most well-known for his role as Finnick in The Hunger Games series), who stars as the sarcastic and wistful Will Traynor. If you’ve seen a trailer for Me Before You, you know the film’s basic premise: Claflin’s Will is a quadriplegic, and Clarke’s Lou takes on the job of being his caretaker. While the pair don’t get along at first, it’s not too long before they begin to grow closer, falling in love and learning more about life from each other than they have from anyone else before.

… Are some of the story beats familiar? Yes. Is everything that happens throughout the film totally realistic? Not necessarily. However, originality and reality aren’t nearly as important when you have emotional authenticity. So very few romance films nowadays care about whether their characters are believable, but at the end of Me Before You, Lou and Will felt like two real people that I got watch fall in love, whose relationship, as cheesy as it sounds, actually inspired me to ‘live boldly.’ I’d say feeling like that, even if it’s only for two hours, is worth the price of a ticket.”

JUNE 3: Time to Choose (dir. Charles Ferguson) (DPs: Lula Cerri, Yuanchen Liu, Kalyanee Mam, Heloísa Passos, Lucian Read and Jerry Risius)From official movie website: “Academy Award®-Winning documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson (Inside Job, No End in Sight) turns his lens to address worldwide climate change challenges and solutions in his new film TIME TO CHOOSE.

Featuring narration by award-winning actor Oscar Isaac, TIME TO CHOOSE leaves audiences understanding not only what is wrong, but what can to be done to fix this global threat.

Ferguson explores the comprehensive scope of the climate change crisis and examines the power of solutions already available. Through interviews with world-renowned entrepreneurs, innovators, thought leaders and brave individuals living on the front lines of climate change, Ferguson takes an In-depth look at the remarkable people working to save our planet.”

JUNE 3: The Witness (dir. James D. Solomon) (DP: Trish Govoni)Reel Life with Jane review: “In 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered on the street in Queens, New York by a random assailant with a knife. A newspaper story, which later led to a book by famed editor A. M. Rosenthal, contended that at least 38 of the residents in the area ignored Kitty’s screams and did not contact the police.

Since that time, this story has inspired novels and has been the subject of numerous sociology lectures. The phenomenon has been considered an example of how modern society has become callous to the suffering of others. It has even been dubbed the ‘bystander effect’ and ‘Genovese syndrome.’ But is it true?

A more recent article that questioned the accuracy of the original story caused Kitty’s brother, William Genovese, to want to investigate the circumstances surrounding his sister’s death. Understandably, after Kitty’s murder, his family largely turned their backs on it and didn’t want to talk about it, so he had many questions. This led to the making of the documentary, The Witness.

… This multi-layered story is fascinating, heartbreaking, and filled with surprising elements. William is only able to come to a few conclusions during his investigation. One thing appears clear: Some people did indeed call the police the night of his sister’s murder, and the journalist who originally reported the story manipulated it for his own gain. It even appears that the reporter did so with the blessing of Rosenthal. This is a scathing indictment of Rosenthal’s journalistic integrity.

We watch as William seeks people who lived in the area the night his sister died, and he interviews them about what they recall. In the process, he finds out some things he never knew about his older sister – that she was a lesbian, for example. He meets with her lover, a woman who was devastated by the loss but never had a chance to meet anyone in Kitty’s family until the making of the documentary.

The Witness is a haunting documentary that has stayed with me for a number of reasons – the love of a brother for his sister, the desire of a writer to make a story even more interesting than it really was, the ways we turn away from pain, the ways we decide not to get involved in the pain of others, and the lies we tell ourselves.”

JUNE 10: Call Her Applebroog (dir. and DP: Beth B)Synopsis on Zeitgeist Films website: “This deeply personal portrait of acclaimed New York–based artist Ida Applebroog was shot with mischievous reverence by her filmmaker daughter, Beth B (Exposed). Born in the Bronx to Orthodox Jewish émigrés from Poland, Applebroog, now in her 80s, looks back at how she expressed herself through decades of drawings and paintings, as well as her private journals. With her daughter’s encouragement, she investigates the stranger that is her former self, a woman who found psychological and sexual liberation through art. As Beth B finds a deeper understanding of her mother as a human being, Applebroog shares a newfound appreciation for her own provocative work.”

JUNE 10: Careful What You Wish For (dir. Elizabeth Allen)Cinema Village synopsis: “A guy (Nick Jonas) gets more than he bargained for after entering into an affair with the wife of an investment banker. Soon, a suspicious death and substantial life insurance policy embroil him in a scandal.”

JUNE 10: Germans & Jews (dir. Janina Quint)Cinema Village synopsis: “Today, Europe’s fastest growing Jewish population is in Berlin. Germany is considered one of the most democratic societies in the world, assuming the position of moral leader of Europe as they embrace hundreds of thousands of refugees. This development couldn’t have been imagined in 1945. Through personal stories Germans & Jews explores Germany’s transformation as a society, from silence about the Holocaust to facing it head on.”

JUNE 17: Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (dir. Eva Husson)FrenchCulture.org synopsis: “George, a pretty teen girl, falls in love with Alex. To get his attention, she initiates a game with their friends, discovering, testing and pushing the limits of their sexuality. When the nature of their activities is revealed, each of them deals with the scandal in radically different ways. Faced with the implosion of their value systems, they move on by reassessing their priorities, finding love and their real desires.”

JUNE 22: Nuts! (dir. Penny Lane) (DPs: Hallie Kohler, Penny Lane, Joseph Victorine, Angela Walley and Mark Walley)Film Forum synopsis: “In 1917, J.R. Brinkley, a country doctor practicing in Milford, Kansas, begins treating his male patients for impotence by surgically implanting them with goat glands, a treatment that is so successful that Brinkley starts raising his own goats to meet an increasing demand. Over the years he builds the country’s 4th most powerful radio station (the better to sell his medical miracle), runs for governor of Kansas, and amasses a fortune with which he lives in sumptuous splendor. Filmmaker Penny Lane writes: ‘Like my previous feature-length film OUR NIXON, NUTS! is structured as classical tragedy with a complicated and deeply hubristic protagonist, rendered with equal parts comedy and pathos.’ NUTS! draws upon a fascinating trove of archival materials and integrates charming animated sequences that, together, bring to life a man who saw himself as more Albert Schweitzer than P.T. Barnum, but who ultimately turns out to be an unholy mix of Bernie Madoff and Donald Trump.”

JUNE 24: From This Day Forward (dir. and DP: Sharon Shattuck)IFC Center synopsis: “With her own wedding just around the corner, filmmaker Sharon Shattuck returns home to examine the mystery at the heart of her upbringing: How her transgender father Trisha and her straight-identified mother Marcia stayed together against all odds. FROM THIS DAY FORWARD is a moving portrayal of an American family coping with the most intimate of transformations.”

JUNE 24: The Neon Demon (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn) (DP: Natasha Braier)From ScreenRant article: “Nicholas Winding Refn has carved out a unique career niche for himself with eccentric, often brutally-violent and sexually-explicit fare that straddles the line between lurid exploitation and glossy arthouse fare. Best known for the slow-burn deconstructionist drama/thriller Drive (featuring Ryan Gosling as a stoic, unbalanced car expert/beatdown-specialist), he followed it up with the ultra-divisive Thailand-set crime thriller Only God Forgives (also starring Gosling).

Neon Demon‘s plot has been partly kept under wraps, but it’s known to star Elle Fanning as a young woman who comes to Los Angeles to pursue a career in modeling. A previously-released plot synopsis described Fanning’s character, Jesse, as having her “youth and vitality” in danger of being ‘devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.’ However, the ominously-scored trailer for the film would seem to imply that Jesse poses a danger of her own, too.”

JUNE 24: Yarn (dirs. Þórdur Bragi Jónsson, Una Lorenzen and Heather Millard) (DP: Iga Mikler)IFC Center synopsis: “Meet the artists who are redefining the tradition of knit and crochet, bringing yarn out of the house and into the world. Reinventing our relationship with this colorful tradition, YARN weaves together wool graffiti artists, circus performers, and structural designers into a visually-striking look at the women who are making a creative stance while building one of modern art’s hottest trends.”


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.


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)


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)


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.


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)

Codes of (Mis)conduct: Ten Memorable Pre-Code Actresses


To celebrate the Film Forum’s current retrospective of scandalous Pre-Code (late 1920s-1934) films, titled “IT GIRLS, Flappers, Jazz Babies & Vamps,” here are clips from Pre-Code films starring ten of my favorite actresses from that era. Of course there are many more performers who have been left out of this post – Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Blondell, Ruth Chatterton, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Helen Hayes, Carole Lombard, Sylvia Sidney and Loretta Young, to name a few – but the ten videos below should be good starting points for anyone curious about this fascinating part of film history. Each clip is accompanied by quotes by New York Times film critics. The reviews didn’t always “get” the essence of the performances – Clara Bow in Call Her Savage, for example, is stunning (just look at the power of her eyes, even more remarkable than they were in her silent films!) – but each piece of commentary makes points worth noting.

Jeanne Eagels in The Letter (1929, dir. Jean de Limur). Dave Kehr, 2011: “As the only surviving sound film of the radically innovative Broadway star Jeanne Eagels, the film is an important piece of theater history, preserving the performance style of a brilliant, eccentric and spectacularly self-destructive actress (who would die of a drug overdose seven months after the film’s release) … Eagels turned out to be a perfect match for Maugham’s Leslie Crosbie, the unhappy wife of a dull British planter (Reginald Owen) stranded in the jungles of Singapore. At a time when stage acting was more often concerned with elocution than emotion (as the canned theatrical performances of many other early talkies testify), Eagels seemed like a raw nerve, a conduit of convulsive feeling … Fixing her husband, and the audience, with a glare of pure hatred, Eagels spits out the famous curtain line — ‘With all my heart, and all my soul, I still love the man I killed!’ — and then, clearly carried away by the passion she has summoned, repeats it to even greater effect. It’s a moment so sharp and vivid that it doesn’t seem like acting at all, but rather an intensified form of being.”

Norma Shearer in The Divorcee (1930, dir. Robert Z. Leonard). Mordaunt Hall, 1930: “With the possible exception of Jerry, played by the charming Miss Shearer, none of the characters is particularly real. They appear and go, saying their say as if dangled by the director. There is the jesting knave, the fool and the selfish lover. Yet the players cannot be held to account for being mere puppets. It lies with Robert Z. Leonard, the director, the adapters, and possibly to some extent with the censor … Miss Shearer does all that is possible in the circumstances with her rôle.” (Note: Norma Shearer won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance.)

Joan Crawford in Possessed (1931, dir. Clarence Brown). Mordaunt Hall, 1931: “The familiar theme or a small-town factory girl who becomes the mistress of a wealthy New Yorker is set forth with new ideas which result in surprises if not in a measure of suspense … There are many interesting minor details put into the sequences and the final episodes are pictured in a stirring fashion. Miss Crawford adds another excellent performance to her list and Mr. Gable delivers a portrayal that is nicely restrained.”

Kay Francis in Man Wanted (1932, dir. William Dieterle). “B.W.N.” (not sure who that was), 1932: “Kay Francis radiates so much charm throughout ‘Man Wanted’ at Warners’ Strand this week that the familiar theme somehow does not matter. She is ably assisted by David Manners and a well-balanced cast. The screen play, originally called ‘A Dangerous Brunette,’ is the very thing for Miss Francis, who dresses with such good taste.”

Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman (1932, dir. Jack Conway). “L.N.” (not sure who that was), 1932: “The Capitol’s current visitor concerns itself with a topic that has long puzzled more strenuous philosophers than M.-G.-M.—that of love as it is practiced on either side of the rail-road tracks. For the producers of ‘Red Headed Woman’ it might be said that they have ended in the same place with the philosophers. There is a stone wall there, and East will remain separate from West through many more films indeed. After taking a stenographer across the tracks and to the barred gates of the social columns the picture apparently begins to find itself pretty funny. It is all right, after that, for laughter is a great thing. Its last moments are quite amusing, due to a final lack of serious contemplation. But earlier, when the characters are wrestling with their consciences—and each other—it goes away off on what is still called the deep end. The story is about a stenographer who wants to get along, and up … Jean Harlow, as Lil Andrews, does very well as the stenographer from the other social world—if the impossibility of it all be taken into consideration.”

Clara Bow in Call Her Savage (1932, dir. John Francis Dillon). Mordaunt Hall, 1932: “The titian-haired Clara Bow, who has had a lengthy vacation from the screen, is the termagant of the film ‘Call Her Savage,’ which is now at the Roxy. This pictorial tale hails from a novel by Tiffany Thayer and it was directed by John Francis Dillon, who is evidently no great believer in subtlety. It is scarcely an offering that can be recommended for its plausibility, but who knows but that there may be a girl somewhere like Nasa Springer. Miss Bow does quite well by the rôle of this fiery-tempered impulsive Nasa, but whether the flow of incidents makes for satisfactory entertainment is a matter of opinion.”

Mae West in She Done Him Wrong (1933, dir. Lowell Sherman). Andre Sennwald, 1933: “Mae West is to be seen at the Paramount in a hearty and blustering cinematic cartoon of the devilish ’90s. With the haughty strut and the nasal twang which are the principal assets of her repertoire, she filled the screen with gaudy humor. Illustrating the troubled career of Lady Lou, whose heart is bigger than her sense of decorum, she rhymed ‘amateur’ and ‘connoisseur’ in one of her beer-hall ballads and, on the whole, gave a remarkably suspicious impersonation of Diamond Lil. In fact, ‘She Done Him Wrong,’ with a few discreet cuts and alterations, is the same ‘Diamond Lil’ without which no bibliography of Miss West’s literary works would be complete … Miss West gives a highly amusing performance, which necessarily overshadows the commendable efforts of Gary [sic] Grant, Noah Beery, Owen Moore, David Landau and Rafaela Ottiano.”

Miriam Hopkins in The Story of Temple Drake (1933, dir. Stephen Roberts). Mordaunt Hall, 1933: “At the Paramount is a free translation of William Faulkner’s book, ‘Sanctuary,’ which in film form bears the title of ‘The Story of Temple Drake.’ Considering the changes that were to be expected in bringing this novel to the screen, the producers have wrought a highly intelligent production. It is grim and sordid, but at the same time a picture which is enormously helped by its definite dramatic value. There are times when exaggerations occur, but, after allowing for them, it is a narrative which like ‘Today We Live,’ the first of Mr. Faulkner’s literary efforts to be filmed, can boast of no little originality. Whether it will prove a satisfactory diversion for the general run of cinemagoers is problematical. Oliver H. P. Garrett is responsible for the script and Stephen Roberts directed this offering. The principal rôles are acted by Miriam Hopkins, Jack LaRue, William Gargan, William Collier Jr., Irving Pichel and Florence Eldridge. It is a well chosen cast. Miss Hopkins delivers a capital portrayal as Temple Drake … There are loopholes in the story as it comes to the screen, but the adroitly sustained suspense atones for such shortcomings. Besides Miss Hopkins’s clever impersonation, splendid work is contributed by Mr. Pichel as Lee, Mr. Gargan as Benbow, Mr. LaRue as the frightening Trigger, Mr. Collier as Toddy, Sir Guy Standing as Temple’s grandfather and Florence Eldridge as the unfortunate Ruby.”

Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933, dir. Alfred E. Green). Mordaunt Hall, 1933: “‘Baby Face,’ the picture which recently aroused the ire of Will Hays and also was responsible for the resignation of Darryl Zanuck as assistant to Jack Warner at the Warner Brothers’ studios, is now on exhibition at the Strand. It is an unsavory subject, with incidents set forth in an inexpert fashion. Barbara Stanwyck acts Lily Powers, who becomes known as Baby Face. She is presumed to have good intentions, but they are discouraged by her father, who keeps a disreputable speakeasy. A cobbler named Cragg, presumed to be an omnivorous reader, tells Lily of her beauty and the power she might have over men. This inspires Lily to leave for New York, where through a flirtation she succeeds in finding employment…”

Greta Garbo in Queen Christina (1933, dir. Rouben Mamoulian). Mordaunt Hall, 1933: “Soon after entering the Astor Theatre last night for the presentation of Greta Garbo’s first picture in eighteen months, the spectators were transported by the evanescent shadows from the snow of New York in 1933 to the snows of Sweden in 1650. The current offering, known as ‘Queen Christina,’ is a skillful blend of history and fiction in which the Nordic star, looking as alluring as ever, gives a performance which merits nothing but the highest praise. She appears every inch a queen … As Queen Christina, Miss Garbo reveals her sense of humor and she handles some of the reticent levity in a superb fashion. She is forceful as Her Majesty and charming as Christina the woman.”

Go See This: The Third Man (1949) at the Film Forum

When I first saw the Carol Reed film The Third Man (1949) on TCM, however many years ago that was, I was definitely disappointed. It was a film spoken of so highly by so many eminent film critics and I just didn’t get it, whatever that “it” was. Earlier tonight I had the chance to see The Third Man again in a new restoration at the Film Forum, where the film is playing through July 9, and I am happy to say that my opinion has done a 180.

Contrary to what the IMDb and Wikipedia say, The Third Man is not film noir – not from my perspective, anyway. It is such a clever film, always winking and nodding at the audience, particularly in the unsettling, jaunty tone of Anton Karas’s zither score. While doing some searching for reviews of the film, I see that a lot of people can’t stand Karas’s music, which is a shame because it creates such a large part of the film’s atmosphere, along with Robert Krasker’s cinematography (I had forgotten those wonderfully canted angles…) and the ruins of postwar Vienna. The Third Man is not really about trying to solve a mystery; it’s not a whodunit, or even a whydunit. It is an observation of human nature, though not necessarily an explanation. Characters do things, usually to save their own skin, and not because it makes sense or is moral. I think that’s why I like Alida Valli’s performance so much better now; the “Anna Schmidt” character is a complex woman, not easily understood. You can imagine different reasons for why she yet does what she does, yet she is not (pardon the pun) black-and-white. There are exquisite subtleties that I never noticed before.

Now more than ever I also appreciate Joseph Cotten’s performance. I love how he interacts with Valli, with Trevor Howard and especially with Orson Welles. The relationship between Cotten’s Holly Martins and Welles’ Harry Lime is so striking because the contrast in their individual senses of principle is so jarring. Watching these two actors play against each other in the famous scene in the Ferris wheel in the “Prater” amusement park is an exchange as perfectly balanced as the interplay of light and shadow in the film’s cinematography.

I think that sometimes you need to see movies more than once, or maybe the difference is growing older and having more film experiences that deepen your appreciation of the medium. That was true for me with another great British film, Brief Encounter (1945), which was coincidentally also photographed by Robert Krasker. Perhaps the issue was that when I was younger I had the mentality that films needed happy endings, and if they did not have that expected conclusion, the result was dissatisfaction. (I felt the same kind of letdown at the end of Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) too, come to think of it. It’s essentially Brief Encounter set in early 1960s Hong Kong.) Now I am able to recognize the value of The Third Man, not because the hero gets the girl or because all of the details in the various characters’ alibis check out, but because now I am aware of the depth and nuance in the filmmaking technique and in the performances. I don’t know if I have precisely or accurately described my reaction to The Third Man, but I know I feel something new when I see the leaves gently falling from the trees that line the road next to the Zentralfriedhof cemetery.

The High Tide of World Cinema: Satyajit Ray

Internationally renowned director Akira Kurosawa once stated that “not to have seen the cinema of [Satyajit] Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.” I would not have understood the magnitude of that quote at this time a year ago; until eight months ago, in October 2014, I had never seen a film directed by Satyajit Ray (pictured above, left in the foreground, with Kurosawa during a visit to the Taj Mahal in 1977). From the moment I became curious about in film studies I was probably aware of Ray’s importance in world cinema history, but it was not until my first year in graduate school that I discovered firsthand the virtuosity of Ray’s filmmaking.

My first encounter with a Ray film was when I watched The Music Room (1958) for a film studies class last semester. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and the high price of the Criterion Collection DVD, I had to watch The Music Room on YouTube. The quality of the video’s resolution was pretty good, but I knew it wasn’t the optimum viewing experience. Even so, I recognized the skill of Subrata Mitra’s cinematography and the nuance in star Chhabi Biswas’s performance as an affluent landowner whose desire to impress guests with India’s most talented (and expensive) musicians and dancers in recitals in his mansion’s music room drains the character of his wealth and causes tragedy to strike his family.

In the last three weeks I have renewed my interest in Ray’s filmography when I had the opportunity to see the “Apu trilogy” – Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956) and The World of Apu (1959) – at the Film Forum, where the recently restored films will be playing through Tuesday, June 30. These three classics, which established Ray as a leading voice in Indian cinema, are among the finest films that I have seen in a long time. Pather Panchali, which is my favorite film of the three, is powerful not only because of young Apu, played by Subir Banerjee, but also because of the three main female characters in the film: Apu’s mother, Sarbojaya (played by Karuna Bannerjee), Apu’s headstrong older sister Durga (Uma Das Gupta) and Aunt Indir (Chunibala Devi). Karuna Bannerjee in particular has a quality about her that is similar to Setsuko Hara’s best performances in Ozu’s films: when Bannerjee smiles, her whole faces lights up with joy and we love her for it, but when the smile falls it is like a curtain of darkness has fallen and we weep along with her. I would also bet that the scene in the wheat field next to the train tracks (see the second photo above) inspired similar shots in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978). An additional note: Pather Panchali and the other two films in the trilogy were scored by the legendary Ravi Shankar.

Aparajito (1956) is a worthy follow-up to Pather Panchali, showing Apu’s growth from age ten to age seventeen and the heartache of Apu’s mother, Sarbojaya, after her husband dies and, later, when teenage Apu wants to go to school in faraway Calcutta. The film was a hit with international film festivals and organizations, capturing the coveted Golden Lion, the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize and the New Cinema Award at the Venice Film Festival as well as being deemed one of the five best foreign films of the year by the National Board of Review (USA) and being nominated for the Best Foreign Film (then the “Best Film from Any Source” category) and Best Foreign Actress (for Karuna Bannerjee) honors at the BAFTA Awards (UK). Bannerjee’s work in the first two “Apu” films is revelatory.

While watching the final film in the trilogy, The World of Apu (1959), it occurred to me that I was suddenly cognizant of Ray as his own director rather than his style in relationship to another auteur (I had previously linked Pather Panchali and Aparajito to Ozu in terms of pacing, the beauty of images and the aforementioned connection I perceive between Setsuko Hara and Karuna Bannerjee). As we watch adult Apu (played wonderfully by Soumitra Chatterjee) endure more highs and lows in his marriage to Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) and in his complicated relationship with his young son Kajal (Alok Chakravarty), we know just how much we as an audience have grown to care about Apu.

Last night I finally got my hands on the Criterion DVD of The Music Room and saw the film a bit more properly on a television screen (although admittedly not as “proper” as in a theater). The film was so much more engaging, perhaps in part because I already knew the plot but I believe also because I could better appreciate the style of the film – directing, acting, music, cinematography, editing and otherwise. I paid closer attention to individual shots, especially the first one of the three above (showing the statues) and the third shot that reflects the image of the music room’s ornate chandelier on a glass surface.

You can learn some more about Ray’s career in this clip from a 1989 interview with Pierre Andre Boutang.

Ray was the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award in 1992, which he received only twenty-four days before he passed away. At the ceremony in Los Angeles, presenter Audrey Hepburn told the audience of Ray’s “rare mastery of the art of motion pictures” and of his “profound humanism, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.”

I look forward to seeing many more of Satyajit Ray’s films, particularly The Goddess (1960), Kanchenjungha (1962), The Big City (1963) and Charulata (1964), which star some of my favorite actors who appeared in his work, like Karuna Bannerjee, Chhabi Biswas, Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore. The films are undoubtedly expertly crafted and from what I have read of their plots, they provide thought-provoking portraits of women and girls in the narratives. It took me far too long to wade into these cinematic waters, but it feels like the right time to immerse myself. The tide is high!

Making Memories on Earth

As of October 7 I have seen 20,000 Days on Earth, the recent docudrama about Australian singer-songwriter and post-punk icon Nick Cave, twice. Since first seeing the movie at the Film Forum on September 25, I have recommended it to all my friends, sharing the dark and occasionally deranged – but sometimes also fun! – sounds of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. (I’m not entirely sure if that has helped or scared off potential viewers.) If you live in the New York City area and you have not yet ventured to the Film Forum for this particular motion picture, you still have time: 20,000 Days on Earth will be playing until Thursday, October 16.

And why might you want to see the film? It’s difficult to come up with an answer that would fit every moviegoer. For some it might be beneficial to be familiar with Cave’s discography prior to seeing a film which spends a fair amount of time describing and displaying his songwriting and recording processes. “Higgs Boson Blues,” for example, might not be to everyone’s taste. Some might not “get” the style. If you’re familiar with Cave’s earlier band, the raucous group The Birthday Party, you’ll find that the film does not showcase that era. The film does not dwell on clips of Cave’s previous stage and music video performances, except for brief flashes in the montages in the opening credits and toward the end of the film, nor does the film burden itself with talking head segments. For newcomers, the film might serve as an exciting gateway to exploring the rest of Cave’s career, both musical and otherwise. (I recently read his second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, which is by turns grotesque, comic and heartrending.)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds perform “From Her to Eternity” in Wings of Desire.

I fall more into the second camp; I have been aware of Cave for nearly a decade, ever since seeing the band in their one scene in Wim Wenders’ romantic odyssey Wings of Desire (1987). I was reminded of how great that scene is when I saw the film again a few months ago. Because of my reconnection with Wings, my interest was piqued when I heard about 20,000 Days on Earth. Seeing the trailer at the Film Forum confirmed my wanting to see the movie. I listened to a couple of the Bad Seeds’ albums before seeing the film, just to get my feet wet, but I was not familiar with the music used in the film (all from the 2013 album Push the Sky Away). I was nevertheless hooked, thanks not only to the magic of the songs but also to the innovative ways in which directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard put the narrative together.

Even more than the music, the film is about the influences of time and memory on growth and day-to-day life. How much can someone else’s music, literature and other types of art inform the shaping of our minds? How often do we care about the recollection of a person from a specific place and time more than we care about what the person is actually like now? How do we mythologize certain moments in our lives? If we could, would we ever want to “reinvent” ourselves? I see these questions as much wider-reaching than the usual topics brought up in musicians’ documentaries. They’re definitely considerations I have had for my own creative projects.

There’s also something riveting about capturing the rock god as simultaneously fantasy and reality. Such an image can be self-designed based on popular stars of the past and present (for Cave, it’s Elvis) and it may be thought that that is a façade which is not the same as the real person underneath the persona. Even so there is something very real in how the performer and the audience interact. Joy, sweat and tears – those of Cave, the other band members and the concertgoers – coalesce in the film’s thrilling finale. The songs “Stagger Lee,” performed at the club KOKO London, and “Jubilee Street” at the Sydney Opera House raise the volume to a thundering loudness, the music buzzing through your feet and pulsing through your head and heart. Astute viewers will take note that the film’s purported “day in the life” is pieced together from scenes in multiple staged locations in multiple countries (with the exception of the opening scene in Cave’s actual bedroom, I think all the other non-recording-studio interior and exterior locations were chosen for aesthetics and practical purposes), but that doesn’t dilute the film’s power. 20,000 Days on Earth is not merely about memorable lyrics and catchy melodies; it’s about getting into someone’s head – and whether that can even happen anyway when the subject tries his best to wear a metaphorical mask in front of the camera.

The Brave Decadence of Dirk Bogarde

Usually I write on subjects about which I know a fair amount, but today I’m taking a look at the bold, boundary-pushing film work of actor Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999) from the 1960s and 70s, most of which I have not yet seen. Bogarde chose roles that other performers shied away from, unveiling elements of humanity, society and sexual practice that are frequently less than flattering. My interest was prompted by my viewing of the Joseph Losey-directed drama The Servant (1963) yesterday afternoon at the Film Forum. Bogarde’s character, Barrett (pictured left), is the newly appointed butler of a young aristocrat, Tony (James Fox).

Barrett proceeds to completely upend Tony’s life, personally, professionally and economically. Though mind games and physical means – including a vicarious seduction via Sarah Miles’ wanton character, Vera – Barrett’s manipulations reveal him to be a sadistic man, perhaps even a psychopath, looking with superior disdain on the upper-class and, in his perception, their complete lack of substance whilst simultaneously dragging Tony down to his decadent level.

Tony’s own masochistic streak feeds these manifestations of destruction. The job he once had, the fiancée whose love he possessed and the elite nature of his privileged place in society all go down the drain when the roles of master and servant are reversed.

Other roles Bogarde played in that same decade are all the more remarkable because in the late 1940s and throughout the 50s, Bogarde was never really taken seriously in his métier. He was the romantic leading man, to be sure, owing to his good looks and expressive eyes. Many of his films in that era did not call for subtlety, like the popular “Doctor” series of comedies (1954-1963), which only required Bogarde to look cute as a medical practitioner and to woo lovely ladies like Brigitte Bardot (as seen above in 1955’s Doctor at Sea), Shirley Eaton and Samantha Eggar.

Even after the success of his leading role in A Tale of Two Cities (1958), Bogarde’s craft didn’t begin to take its unique shape until he made the groundbreaking thriller Victim (1961, pictured above). Playing a gay barrister in a still-repressed England (homosexuality was against the law there until 1967), Bogarde was willing to play a role which most of his contemporaries probably would have considered career suicide. This choice of character correlated with Bogarde’s own homosexuality, though he never discussed that aspect of his life publicly, not even in the seven memoirs he published between 1977 and 1995.

As the 1960s continued and changed into the 1970s, Bogarde moved more and more towards art cinema. Surveying his filmography, you see a variety of entertaining and oftentimes daring titles made by bold directors: The Mind Benders (1963, pictured first) by Basil Dearden (who had worked with Bogarde earlier in Victim) (also: The Mind Benders has the encouraging tagline “PERVERTED… SOULESS! [sic] The Most Dangerous and Different Motion Picture Ever Brought to the Screen!”); King & Country (1964), Modesty Blaise (1966) and Accident (1967) by Joseph Losey (again); Darling (1965) by John Schlesinger; The Fixer (1968) by John Frankenheimer; Justine (1969) by George Cukor; The Damned (1969) and Death in Venice (1971, pictured second) by Luchino Visconti; The Night Porter (1974, pictured third) by Liliana Cavani; Providence (1977) by Alain Resnais; Despair (1978) by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Dirk Bogarde concluded his career with the Bertrand Tavernier-helmed drama Daddy Nostalgia (1990).

As I wrote at the top of the post, I’ve seen few of Dirk Bogarde’s noteworthy films. I hope to remedy that now that I have experienced (if not necessarily “enjoyed”) The Servant.