Archive for the ‘what’s on’ category

Exclusive interview with “Taking Woodstock” director Ang Lee!

August 28, 2009
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Before you check out “Taking Woodstock,” check out this exclusive interview with Ang Lee. He recently appeared at The Film Society with cast and collaborators to discuss his film “Ride with the Devil.”

For more exclusive Film Society video, please visit our YouTube channel.


Uncommon times call for uncommon films: join us in saluting First Run Features

August 26, 2009

Let’s face it: sometimes we get tired of seeing the same-old multiplex blockbuster, clutching our corporate coffee-chain coffee, before returning to our apartment filled with whimsical, and flimsily constructed Swedish furniture that all looks the same (even those of us who work at the Film Society!). On these days we hunger for something different, something with grit, something not beholden to invisible but powerful corporate interests.

And those are days we should celebrate the fact that a first-class independent distributor like First Run Features still exists. Boasting a current catalogue of films treating such wide-ranging subjects as burlesque, the incredible true story of the alliance between evangelical Christians and Israel, the first election in a Chinese school, investigations of the Khmer Rouge and Mongolian ping pong, world cinema certainly is a richer place with First Run Features in it.

This week, let’s take a moment to pause and enjoy the truly provocative and iconoclastic with such gems from the past 30 years such as:

  • We Were So Beloved: If you want to take a different, yet altogether moving look at the survivors of the Holocaust, don’t miss this deeply felt portrait of a German-Jewish enclave in Washington Heights. Sunday August 30 and Tuesday September 1.
  • 49 Up: The classic series of films that launched countless imitators finds triumph and tragedy in its seventh and final installment. See it Sunday August 30 or Monday, August 31.
  • Before Stonewall: Before June 1969, the West Village bar was just a bar. But on a pivotal night when a group of patrons decided to demand their right to live as they pleased without fear or repercussion, it became a part of history.  Relive that powerful moment on Monday, August 31, with a special panel discussion afterward.

Get inspired, get energized and get indie with these spectacularly provocative and stimulating films.

From the Film Talk, a special interview with Elliott Gould

August 20, 2009

See Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice this Friday and Sunday

Great new stuff from our friends at The Film Talk, an interview with Elliott Gould who will be appearing at the Film Society tomorrow and Sunday, as a part of our Natalie Wood tribute and screening of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Note to film buffs: the film premiered at the 1969 New York Film Festival, and two of the original actors who were there will be here at the Film Society this week! Check out the podcast for Mr. Gould’s fantastic memories of working with Natalie Wood, as well as other recollections of his impressive careers in the movies.

Natalie Wood
August 19 – 25, 2009See schedule and buy tickets

Listen to The Film Talk podcast here

From The Film Talk, a special podcast about Ang Lee

August 4, 2009

From our friends at The Film Talk, a podcast about Ang Lee, who’s the subject of a retrospective at the Film Society, now through August 11. Check it out to learn why it’s important to appreciate directors while they are mid-career, how it’s possible to bridge the art house and the multiplex, and the one genre the wide-ranging Lee hasn’t tackled yet.

The Films of Ang Lee
August 1–11, 2009
See schedule and buy tickets

Listen to The Film Talk podcast here

To get a weekly dose on opinionated film discussion, you can subscribe to The Film Talk on iTunes.

Now on sale — KEEP MOVING: Michael Jackson’s Video Art

July 30, 2009

On Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 6pm, we welcome critic Armond White to the Film Society to discuss the cinematic innovations of Michael Jackson. Need to brush up on your Armond White beforehand? Be sure to check out contributing editor Nicholas Feitel’s interview.

KEEP MOVING: Michael Jackson’s Video Art

Check it out and get your tickets early!

Bigger Than Cinema: Nicholas Ray

July 28, 2009

Was Nicholas Ray the perfect Hollywood genre director?

This was what came into my mind as I headed out from the screening of Johnny Guitar, a film playing in the Nicholas Ray retrospective at Film Forum. That movie, which is not in fact about “Johnny Guitar” is difficult to categorize because of the avalanche of contradictions it embodies. It is a western, with requisite elements of the frontier, the railroad and the returning, retired gunslinger. It is a deconstruction of the western presenting outlaws as posers and scapegoats, non-violence as admirable and a woman gunslinger, Vienna (the enthralling Joan Crawford) as more of a hardy character than any man in the film. It is also, by turns, a satire, a gaudily-colored “B-movie” and one of the most potent and articulate films about McCarthyism.

Sound impossible?

The “me” who was waiting in line to see it would have agreed with you. As for the “me” who came out, well, he was compelled to write this.

But it’s not just Johnny that defines Nick Ray’s career: he is in Scorsese’s massive compliment to him, the best of the “smugglers”, filmmakers like Sam Fuller and Fritz Lang who snuck messages and interesting aesthetic ideas into their films unbeknownst to the studio heads that employed them. A great example of this in Ray’s career was Bigger Than Life, a film independently produced by its star, the great James Mason, but later sold to a studio. In that movie, a schoolteacher and all-around virtuous man (Mason) enjoys a good son and a beautiful wife, but can’t make ends meet. He works odd-jobs in his off hours for more money for the family. But despite his apparent virtue and all-American work ethic, he is struck by a rare heart disease and, given a death sentence by his doctor, embarks on an experimental treatment. The treatment works and he survives, but strange things begin to happen. He starts noticing injustices in his life, he starts harkening back to the bible. He sees corruption and wrongness everywhere and complacency and idiocy in his schoolchildren, as well as his own son. At one point, his wife, who becomes the protagonist of the film as he degenerates, tries to avert him from his plans to sacrifice his son ala Isaac and Abraham, pointing out that God stopped Abraham, Mason utters the epic words of the movie: “God was wrong.”

There’s obviously something going on here beyond the wild mood-swings of experimental treatment. Bigger Than Life, made in 1956, is in many ways a scathing indictment of the false pretenses and complacency of 1950s America, an attack on the idea of the American Dream. But what is so brilliant is that unlike contemporary examiners of American malaise, like Lars Von Trier or Sam Mendes, Nick Ray makes his message oblique, giving his film a “happy” ending where the aforementioned filmmakers’ Dogville and Revolutionary Road respectively, make their criticisms all too obvious. By the end of Bigger Than Life, Mason’s character is “cured” and can go back to his wife, son and life. But while some viewers may see this as happy, for Nick Ray it is the ultimate subversion: suggesting that the return to complacent 50’s lifestyle is really a tragic defeat.

In those films and in his others, like the spectacular In A Lonely Place, Nicholas Ray proves himself the American version of acclaimed Japanese filmmaker and contemporary Kenji Mizoguchi. Like Mizoguchi, who also made genre films for studios, Nick Ray was an auteur before auteurs, a filmmaker that put his brand, his indelible mark of a quality on each of his films. Like Mizoguchi, he also gave women their due, as women are the strong-willed and independent protagonists of both Johnny Guitar and Bigger Than Life, as well as In a Lonely Place, showing a sensibility transcending the times. But even to compare Nicholas Ray to Kenji Mizoguchi, a master of cinema, is misleading: he is his own beast, an auteur in his own right and style.

Was Nicholas Ray the perfect director of Hollywood genre films? Perhaps that’s not even a question anyone can answer.

A simpler question might be: should you see his movies?

The answer: a resounding yes.

The Nicholas Ray Retrospective at the Film Forum continues through August 6th.

Nicholas Feitel also writes for his own blog, Feitelogram.

Hamlet, After the Fall

July 22, 2009


When Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet came out in 2000, it seemed a vision of the excess of America and New York City in particular (its locale). The film updates the tale of that woefully split Prince of Denmark to the young woefully split, hipster/indie-filmmaker son of the “King and CEO” of the “Denmark Corporation”. From the get-go, one can tell that this is not a Kenneth Branagh film. First of all, there’s the presence of such non-Shakespeareans as Steve Zahn and Bill Murray, idling around in suits and punked-out leather jackets making jibes from the Bard’s lines. Second of all are all the backdrops, constantly moving tableaux of the New York elite ranging from the billboards on Times Square to the interior of the Guggenheim museum. Instead of a proscenium or a replica of mid-1500s Denmark, we are given the interiors of lofty skyscrapers, looking down on the rest of New York City.

Obviously, there is a parallel to be made here and Almereyda tries explicitly to make it: While back in Shakespeare’s time the kings and princes might have been the elite, in the year 2000 it is the heads of corporations, the ultra-rich. It is a world where Hamlet does not engage in self-reflection via mirror or a soliloquy, but instead by recording his own monologues via a DV camera, attempting to piece together the disparate feelings in his life. The movie feels somewhat stuck between the world it attempts to create and its faithfulness to the text–leather jackets or no, they’re the same lines they’ve been saying since Shakespeare’s time–but at least, for the time, it was admirable in its attempt.

However, looking back on the film in 2009, it seems in someways dated and someways prescient. While it might be strange to talk of a film from the same decade as “dated”, it is notable that the CEOs of ambiguous corporations such as the fictional “Denmark Corporation”, or say Enron, are no longer regarded as kings or unreachable figures. Every week in the New Yorker or the New York Times is another tale of high-paid CEOs as extremely fallible humans, in lesser or greater parts responsible for the current recession. When we hear about people like Countrywide or Bear Stearns, companies going under, we find out that their CEOs were car salesmen or bridge players, drafted in a competive game of chance and hucksterdom into higher and higher ranks of the organization, leading to their own personal downfalls. In a world where we’ve lost both significant portions of the automobile and financial industries, not only are the rich inclined to keep a low profile, but many of them have been deposed. In other words, it is unsure that Hamlet would even have his Denmark to worry about.

In other ways, in the realms of excesses, Almereyda’s Hamlet seems prescient. Kyle MacLachlan’s Claudius rises to the top of the Denmark Corporation through fairly literally back-stabbing that seems only slightly more figurative in the business world today. Bill Murray’s Polonius seems to be a brainless yes-man, dressed up in a suit, attempting politics in what seems like a pre-Bush-era sendup. Even Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet seems to be a blogger, involved in web-video before the trend came on.

Still, other parts, like the replacement of Hamlet‘s famous “play-within-a-play” (“The play’s the thing by which I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Hamlet says), with an experimental video seems a bit much, if maybe only to show the whineyness and degradation of Shakespeare’s archetype in our current times.

Still, looking back on Almereyda’s Hamlet of the 2000s proves and interesting time capsule of what life once was, both far and not-so-long ago.

-Nicholas Feitel

The Bard Goes Global continues this week at The Walter Reade Theater. Tickets on sale now.

Nicholas Feitel also writes for his blog, Feitelogram