Mark Hartley's Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
[Editor's Note: The 15th edition of Film Comment selects opens tonight with Mark Hartley's Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Filmlinc unveiled the series' lineup in December and is re-posting the article as the event gets underway this weekend. The full line-up can be found below.]
Mark Hartley's Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films will open the 15th edition of Film Comment Selects February 20. The annual festival presents an array of discoveries “of the coming soon and the never-coming-back, the rare and the rediscovered, the unclassifiable and the underrated” selected by the publication's editors from the international film circuit over the past year. The festival, taking place February 20 – March 5, includes a selection of vintage, genre, and international fare and other highlights.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films is a tell-all oral history of the exploits of schlockmeisters Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus in ’80s Hollywood, and will be followed by a three-film retrospective of some of their greatest hits: J. Lee Thompson’s slashfest 10 to Midnight, starring Charles Bronson; Boaz Davidson’s teenage sex-comedy The Last American Virgin; and Sam Firstenberg’s delirious cult classic Ninja III: The Domination.
This year's Film Comments Selects includes a six-film retrospective of the “deeply personal autobiographical dramas” of acclaimed Danish director Nils Malmros, whose work over the past three decades have placed him at the forefront of his Denmark's auteurs. His latest film, Sorrow and Joy, retells the painful story of his wife’s killing of their baby during a psychotic episode in 1983.
Additional new international fare is highlighted by Cristián Jiménez’s Voice Over from Chile. The story of the unexpected family issues revealed when a 35-year marriage disintegrates will share its U.S. Premiere with the 2015 Miami International Film Festival. Other international selections include Franco Maresco’s Belluscone: A Sicilian Story from Italy; Duane Hopkins’s Bypass from the UK; Hong Kong New Wave axiom Ann Hui’s The Golden Era; Julie Lopes Curval’s High Society from France; Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales from Iran; two thrilling imports from Japan, Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain; and The Smell of Us by Larry Clark, who sets his new film in the streets and rave clubs of Paris.
Vintage films set for the festival include Philippe Garrel’s ultra-rare 1975 elegy, Un ange passe as well as a tribute to the late (and great) Mike Nichols with the seldom-screened and underrated The Fortune, starring Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson in addition to Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza, starring Ken Takakura and Robert Mitchum.
Genre fans will have a chance to see a special screening of the original preview cut of Joe Dante’s Gremlins, featuring five additional minutes. Horror fans can also get revved up with a unique feature-length compilation of the student-film work of Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter, and others who helped redefine the horror genre in the 1970s in Shock Value: The Movie—How Dan O’Bannon and Some USC Outsiders Helped Invent Modern Horror.
On January 16, prior to the festival, Film Comment Selects will kick off a year-round screening series with a special sneak preview of Peter Strickland’s highly anticipated “Euro lesbian fantasia” The Duke of Burgundy, followed by a Q&A with the director and a screening of Cleo Übelmann’s Mano Destra, one of the films that inspired Strickland’s latest.
“In the years we've been programming Film Comment Selects, no edition has ever quite turned out as we expected, and this one is no exception,” said Film Comment editor-in-chief Gavin Smith. “The competition for New York premieres has never been fiercer and this year's lineup reflects the resurgence of the extreme cinema stuff that we've specialized in over the years. At the other end of the spectrum, we're going out on a limb with a retrospective of an unknown Danish art-cinema master. So it could be a kind of snapshot of what you might find in any issue of Film Comment—old and new, genre movies and art films, the familiar and the unknown.”
Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza
Film Comment Selects films, descriptions, and schedule follow:
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Opening Night)
Mark Hartley, Australia, 2014, DCP, 106m
Charles Bronson! Break dancing! Ninjas! Arab terrorists! Dennis Hopper with a chain saw! Hercules hurling a bear into outer space! This off-the-charts hilarious piece of film history is an instant classic thrill ride recounting the taste-challenged exploits of Israeli producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who stormed Hollywood in the early ’80s, produced epic amounts of schlock, (and inadvertently made half a dozen seriously good films). Told at a breakneck pace and jam-packed with priceless clips from the Cannon library, Mark Hartley’s long-awaited documentary is a breathless oral history for the ages, rounding up seemingly everyone who came near the Go-Go Boys, from Molly Ringwald and Elliott Gould to Tobe Hooper and Dolph Lundgren.
Friday, February 20, 8:30pm
Michael Almereyda, USA, 2014, DCP, 97m
In his brooding, noirish update of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, Michael Almereyda tackles one of the late “problem plays,” a story of star-crossed lovers, ruthless court intrigue, and long-lost sons, reimagined against the backdrop of a turf war between a drug-dealing biker gang and corrupt cops in an unnamed post-industrial city. When Cymbeline (Ed Harris), King of the Briton Motorcycle Club, discovers that Posthumus (Penn Badgley) has secretly married his only heir, Imogen (Dakota Johnson), he banishes his penniless former protégé. In need of money, the exiled Posthumus accepts a challenge from Iachimo (Ethan Hawke), who bets “ten thousand to your ring” that he can seduce Imogen and prove she’s not as pure as he thinks. Meanwhile Cymbeline’s Queen (Milla Jovovich) has her own secret agenda, aiming to win the king’s crown for her son from an earlier marriage, Cloten (Anton Yelchin), by marrying him to Imogen, while encouraging her husband to end his payoffs to the Roman Police Force, thereby breaking his truce with police chief Caius Lucius (Vondie Curtis-Hall). The Hollywood Reporter called Cymbeline a “mash-up of Sons of Anarchy with Game of Thrones,” but if this is one of the Bard’s more far-fetched plots, his language and terrific performances all round (add John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Delroy Lindo, and Kevin Corrigan to the cast list) make it sing, while Almereyda’s immensely inventive and skillful handling are a pleasure to behold. (Bonus points for Milla Jovovich’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Dark Eyes” and Tim Orr’s atmospheric cinematography.) A Grindstone Entertainment Group release.
Tuesday, March 3, 9:00pm (Q&A with Michael Almereyda)
Un ange passe
Philippe Garrel, France, 1975, 35mm, 79m
French with English subtitles
Philippe Garrel’s rarely screened elegy casts Nico as an ethereal poet haunting the gaps between scenes of Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Bulle Ogier, Laurent Terzieff, and Garrel’s father, Maurice, discussing the filmmaker’s staple topics: love, psychoanalysis, and the failures of May ’68.
Tuesday, February 24, 6:30pm
Belluscone: A Sicilian Story
Franco Maresco, Italy, 2014, DCP, 95m
Italian with English subtitles
A riotous anti-epic by gonzo satirist Franco Maresco about Silvio Berlusconi’s Mafia connections and the way in which his politics of spiritual debasement via tabloid TV have transformed Italy for the worse. Or rather, a film about the impossibility of making such a film… Done as a hybrid sort-of documentary about its own unmaking, it features real-life film critic Tatti Sanguineti arriving in Palermo to find out what became of Maresco’s abandoned project—the film we are actually watching!—and Maresco himself talking about his own film in the third person. What emerges is a Punch and Judy show that settles on some of Sicily’s weirdest show-business characters, led by a weaselly talent agent with sketchy connections and his two cheesy crooners, who perform “neomelodic” songs (a musical subgenre with close organized crime ties). Hard to believe they’re real—and in Maresco’s barrage of footage you can never be sure what’s real and what’s invented. The “Belluscone” of the title, by the way, is how someone with a thick Sicilian accent would pronounce Berlusconi…
Tuesday, February 24, 8:30pm
Duane Hopkins, UK, 2014, DCP, 105m
Filmed in a heightened, intensely impressionistic and fragmented style, Duane Hopkins’s follow-up to his 2008 Better Things (Film Comment Selects 2009) continues his tough, gritty exploration of the pressurized lives of socially marginal youth. Set in the economically stagnant Northern town of Gateshead, it centers on teenager Tim (George MacKay), who is forced to become the head of the household following the death of his mother, responsible for his younger sister, Helen (Lara Peake), with social services looking over his shoulder. To make ends meets, he follows in the criminal footsteps of his older brother Greg (Benjamin Dilloway), fresh out of prison, but when his girlfriend Lilly (Charlotte Spencer) gets pregnant and his criminal dealings spiral out of control, Tim is pushed to breaking point, triggering a mysterious illness. Make no mistake, there’s no light relief here—Hopkins’s tough and austere vision of his characters’ lives is uncompromising and utterly unsentimental, light years from the Ken Loach school of social concern and political solidarity. The writer/director draws strong work from his ensemble cast and DP David Procter, whose camerawork brings a singularly lyrical texture to a world of bleak circumstances.
Thursday, February 26, 6:30pm
Riley Stearns, USA, 2014, DCP, 89m
Ansel Roth is at the end of his rope. Once a prominent authority on mind control and cult organizations, he’s now broke and alone, resorted to doing lame, sparsely attended seminars and book signings at crappy hotels. On the edge of suicide he is approached with a new assignment: to help “save” a distraught couple’s 28-year-old daughter Claire from the mysterious titular religious cult. He reluctantly accepts, and as the five-day deprogramming mission is carried out, events become increasingly messy and bizarre, with Ansel’s outside troubles also paying an inopportune visit. This contained film—mostly taking place within the walls of a motel room—is guided by the dynamite lead performances of Leland Orser as Ansel and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Claire, and a strikingly clever script (written by first-time feature director Riley Stearns) that is as funny and dark as it is surprising. A Screen Media Films release.
Monday, February 23, 8:30pm
Joe Dante's Gremlins
Fires on the Plain
Shinya Tsukamoto, Japan, 2014, DCP, 87m
Japanese with English subtitles
A disturbing and often nightmarish remake of Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 antiwar classic by one of Japanese cinema’s most singular mavericks—in addition to producing, writing, directing, photographing, art directing, and editing this stark and genuinely grim film, Shinya Tsukamoto also plays the film’s protagonist, a private who wanders the battlefield, cut off from his unit, and sinks deeper into the obscenity of war through a series of encounters with fellow soldiers all in one way or another unhinged by the horrors each day brings.
Saturday, February 21, 5:15pm
Mike Nichols, USA, 1975, 35mm, 88m
As a tribute to the late, great Mike Nichols, a rare screening of one of his lesser-known and most underrated comedies, made just before his 10-year hiatus from filmmaking. Nichols can be credited with discovering Stockard Channing in this jazz-era farce in which she plays Freddie, an heiress who elopes with smooth fortune hunter Nicky (Warren Beatty). Along with Nicky’s halfwit sidekick Oscar (Jack Nicholson), they head for California—but since Nicky is still awaiting a divorce, Oscar must temporarily marry Freddie in order to evade the dreaded Mann Act (which forbids the transportation of a woman across state lines for immoral purposes). Eventually the duo’s mercenary intentions dawn on Freddie, forcing them to take more extreme measures… Written by Five Easy Pieces screenwriter Carole Eastman (credited as Adrien Joyce due to a falling out over Nichols’s cuts to her 240-page screenplay), shot by Chinatown cameraman John A. Alonzo, and with production design by perennial Nichols co-conspirator Richard Sylbert, The Fortune was met with mostly poor reviews and was a box-office failure—an unjust fate for a film that can be read as a knockabout comedy retake on the claustrophobic ménage à trois of Carnal Knowledge, and one in which the flair and dazzling skill of Nichols’s mise en scène are unmistakable.
Thursday, March 5, 6:30pm
The Golden Era
Ann Hui, China/Hong Kong, 2014, DCP, 177m
Ever-surprising Hong Kong New Wave axiom Ann Hui forges a fractured, modernist epic on the life of Manchurian essayist and novelist Xiao Hong (Tang Wei), belatedly regarded as one of 20th-century Chinese literature’s most important figures. The film recounts her brief and tragedy-filled life—she died in 1941 at age 32—as one of constant struggle: to lead an independent life, fleeing from an abusive father and an arranged marriage; to survive, after she’s left destitute, pregnant, and in debt by a lover, until an essay finally catches the attention of the editors of a literary journal; and to overcome being regarded as merely another rather talented wife of a great writer once she marries novelist Xiao Jun (Feng Shao Feng). All of this unfolds during an era of monumental upheaval in Chinese social and political life. Xiao’s prose, in contrast to the politically charged fashions and needs of the day to which her husband catered, was intimate, often melancholic, bordering on bitter, and strongly autobiographical. Her story is told, sometimes direct to camera, from a variety of perspectives by those who knew her, creating a weave of recollections and reminiscences that refuse to neatly add up. Xiao remains an enigma to the illustrious literary peers who crossed paths with her—and probably to herself as well. In its grandeur and formal self-reflexiveness, The Golden Era is a true UFO in contemporary Chinese cinema, and represents Hui’s crowning achievement.
Sunday, March 1, 6:30pm
Gremlins (preview cut)
Joe Dante, USA, 1984, 35mm, 112m
A rare screening of the test preview cut of Gremlins featuring five additional minutes. Joe Dante’s scary-funny classic from the mid-’80s remains the perfect Christmas from Hell movie as Gizmo, a cute little furry “mogwai,” spawns a horde of mischievous, malevolent Gremlins who run amok in the film’s Capra-esque Everytown, USA. As ever, Dante’s vision of the world is one in which chaos rules. “Most every movie has at least one preview, that nail-biting moment when the filmmakers gauge whether they’ve nailed it or not. Gremlins had only one, in San Diego. We didn't need another because the reaction was unexpectedly, exuberantly tumultuous. But even so, we thought there were adjustments to be made to make it play even better. This is the print we previewed, five minutes longer than the release version. You may notice various subtle changes, but the main difference is we dropped two of Judge Reinhold’s scenes, one which further explains Mrs. Deagle’s plans to sell out the town to the HiTox Chemical Company, and another where our heroes find him hiding in the bank vault, a bit deranged by his Gremlin encounter. You can imagine how he felt about that! (At the opening he sat behind me muttering, “Look in the vault, look in the vault!”) Another major change was a reshoot in which Gizmo saves the day, not Billy (much to Zach Galligan’s chagrin).—Joe Dante
Sunday, February 22, 1:00pm
High Society / Le beau monde
Julie Lopes Curval, France, 2014, DCP, 95m
French with English subtitles
A delicately observed but incisive Bildungsroman that subtly explores the relationship between social class, love, and creativity, High Society marks the return to New York audiences of Julie Lopes Curval, whose Seaside screened in New Directors/New Films in 2002. Through a chance encounter, Alice (Ana Girardot), who comes from a modest Normandy background, finds a patron in Parisian designer Agnès (Aurélia Petit), who helps her with her fashion-school application. Alice’s ambitions set her apart from her friends and arriving in the big city, she comes into the romantic orbit of her mentor’s son, Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), an aspiring artist who seeks to escape his privileged upbringing and is drawn to Alice’s working-class roots. Alice and Antoine begin an intense love affair, but while Antoine’s goals as a photographer are grand, Alice sees her work as utilitarian and her approach to fashion is as a humble tradesperson—attesting, in a classic case of false consciousness, to her unacknowledged belief that beauty, metaphor, and self-expression are the luxuries of a higher social class.
February 28, 6:00pm (Q&A with Ana Girardot)
How to Live
Marcel Lozinski, Poland, 1977, 35mm, 83m
Polish with English subtitles
Somebody is always watching in Marcel Lozinski’s deeply unnerving and at times hilarious hybrid documentary about a summer camp for young families run by the Union of Young Polish Socialists. Amid rickety lakeside cabins, husbands and wives are observed and graded on their political commitment and their participation in activities, with nosy supervisors awkwardly dropping by to ask questions. Lozinski, a leading light in Poland’s rich documentary history, is keenly attuned to the satirical and dramatic possibilities of the bizarre situation, pitting one overeager official (who neatly illustrates the tendency toward cronyism) against an outsider couple who couldn’t care less about the whole charade.
Monday, February 23, 6:30pm
Larry Clark's The Smell of Us
Christian Petzold, Germany, 2014, DCP, 98m
German with English subtitles
Christian Petzold’s riveting new film follows Nelly (Petzold muse Nina Hoss), a concentration camp survivor returning to Berlin in search of Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), the husband she still loves, who may or may not have betrayed her to the Nazis. Set in the intriguing period immediately following the war that gave rise to the Trümmerfilm (literally “rubble film”)—or “After the Camp” as Petzold puts it—Phoenix is an engrossing reflection on the postwar reconstruction of identity (as the title suggests, although it also turns out to be the name of the bar where she finds Johnny) couched as a noirish thriller of mistaken identity. Co-written with the late Harun Farocki, it is a precisely and exquisitely crafted chamber piece, resonant and gripping, softly building up to a stunning finale. A Sundance Selects release.
Saturday, February 28, 8:30pm
Shock Value: The Movie—How Dan O’Bannon and Some USC Outsiders Helped Invent Modern Horror
John Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon, Terence Winkless, Alec Lorimore & Charles Adair, USA, 2014, DCP, 80m
For this unique feature-length compilation, archivist Dino Everett has assembled the student-film work of Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter, and others who helped redefine the horror genre in the ’70s, to demonstrate that USC was a hotbed of genre filmmaking. Featuring recently uncovered and previously unseen student films by O’Bannon, Carpenter, and classmates Terence Winkless (co-writer of The Howling), Alec Lorimore (an Oscar-nominated documentary producer), and Charles Adair (co-writer of Bleeders). The highlight is Winkless and Lorimore’s 1971 15-minute short Judson’s Release (aka Foster’s Release), starring O’Bannon as a killer, which became the blueprint for Halloween. The compilation also includes:
The Demon (Charles Adair, 1970, 19m) A woman left alone in a desert home begins to feel she is being watched.
Good Morning Dan (Dan O’Bannon, 1968, 19m) Set in what was then the distant future of 2006, an old man reminisces on his days back at USC.
Captain Voyeur (John Carpenter, 1969, 7m) A dull office worker transforms into a costumed peeping tom at night.
Blood Bath (Dan O’Bannon, 1969/1976, 8m) A slovenly young man commits suicide out of curiosity and boredom. O’Bannon expanded his 1969 short while working on Star Wars, making it slightly longer and giving it a blood-red tint.
Saturday, February 21, 7:30pm (Presented by USC archivist Dino Everett & author Jason Zinoman)
The Smell of Us
Larry Clark, France, 2014, DCP, 92m
French, English, and Japanese with English subtitles
Set in the streets and rave clubs of Paris and updated to a world of iPhones and digital cameras, The Smell of Us revisits the world of Kids for an impressionistic, immersive study of the lives of teen skateboarders and rent boys that delivers a strong dose of explicit sex and substance abuse. A bleak, nonjudgmental look at an amoral, heartless generation, The Smell of Us is an outing in what might be called ethnographic voyeurism, fixated on adolescent sexuality and the young bodies of a largely anonymous assortment of teens, with the accent on hanging out and getting high. The plot is pared to the minimum, following the comings and goings of its ensemble cast, occasionally crossing paths with Rockstar, a middle-aged homeless man who might almost be a self-portrait of Clark. If there’s a main character among these descendants of Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, it’s Math (Lukas Ionesco), who turns tricks and roams the streets with his sidekick JP (Hugo Behar-Thinières). Math is strictly gay-for-pay and doesn’t reciprocate JP’s infatuation with him—he’s “too selfish to have any friends,” according to his mother (Dominique Frot). Collaborating with writer “Scribe” (24-year-old Mathieu Landais) and cinematographer Hélène Louvart, Clark makes a strong return to the ground zero of his debut film, capturing this teeming urban setting with a bracing immediacy.
Thursday, February 26, 8:45pm (Q&A with Larry Clark)
Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead, USA, 2014, DCP, 109m
Cementing the promise Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead showed with 2012’s Resolution, Spring is a bona fide original that invests its supernatural horrors with a genuinely romantic undertow. After his mother dies and he loses his job, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) impulsively jumps on the next flight to Europe to run away from his problems. He meets three British lads and travels with them to an Italian coastal village, and in this idyllic setting he is soon drawn to the charming and elusive Louise (Nadiar Hiker). Staying on after the Brits decamp, he waits every night to meet up with this woman and before long they are falling in love—but little does he know that she harbors a terrifying secret. Louise suffers from a mysterious affliction that causes her body to mutate and drives her to feed off whoever crosses her path. You may think you know what’s coming next, but what follows defies standard genre categories and, in the name of love, brings Evan face to face with monstrous primordial forces rooted in a realm that’s nothing short of mythic. A Drafthouse Films release.
Saturday, February 21, 10:30pm
Sunday, February 22, 5:45pm
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Iran, 2014, DCP, 88m
Persian with English subtitles
Iran’s leading female filmmaker withdrew from features 10 years ago, but she’s back with a panoramic portrait of Tehran’s lower depths, cunningly shot as a series of shorts to evade censorship red tape. Following multiple characters, nine of them drawn from her earlier films, Tales interweaves melodrama, farce, suspense, and satire to examine the predicaments and struggles of the people who live unnoticed at the bottom of the social order, from a cab driver who’s a former drug dealer and an illiterate factory worker who becomes jealous of his wife when she receives a letter from an ex, to the mother of a student jailed for political reasons and a social worker with a violent drug-addict ex-husband. Iranian independent filmmaking as political as it gets.
Friday, February 20, 6:30pm
Sunday, February 22, 8:15pm
Cristián Jiménez, 2014, Chile, DCP, 99m
Spanish with English subtitles
Out-of-work actress and mother of two Sofia (Ingrid Isensee), seeking to purify herself, separates from her husband and swears off cell phones and e-mail for a year. Little does she realize the repercussions her “disconnection vow” will have on everyone in her orbit—most critically her father, Manuel (Cristián Campos), who walks out his marriage after 35 years. While attempting to reinvent herself as a TV commercial voiceover artist, Sofia tries to keep the threads of her life from unraveling and understand the truth about the man who raised her. Set in director Cristián Jiménez’s hometown of Valdivia, Voice Over presents a seriocomic four-generation portrait of a family and the dubious assumptions on which it’s founded. Featuring the legendary Paulina García (star of last year’s acclaimed Gloria) as Sofia’s mother. Co-presented with the Miami International Film Festival. A TODO CINE LATINO release.
Tuesday, March 3, 6:30pm
The World of Kanako
Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan, 2014, DCP, 118m
Japanese with English subtitles
A time-shifting and super-intense revenge thriller about a brutal former cop (Kiyoshi Kurosawa axiom Koji Yakusho) whose ex-wife enlists him to investigate the disappearance of their 17-year-old daughter, Kanako. Devastated by what he uncovers about Kanako’s secret life, he bludgeons his way through a lurid world of drug-using high-school kids, grudge-holding cops, and ruthless yakuzas in his search for the truth. Boldly fragmented, visually kaleidoscopic and wildly over the top, The World of Kanako reconfirms Confessions director Tetsuya Nakashima as a dynamic and no-holds-barred filmmaker reinventing cinema for the 21st century—for better or for worse.
Thursday, March 5, 8:30pm
Sydney Pollack, USA, 1975, 35mm, 112m
East meets West in the form of two iconic stars in this special tribute to the late Japanese gangster film star Ken Takakura, here teamed with Robert Mitchum in a thriller set in the treacherous waters of the Tokyo’s criminal underworld. Retired cop Kilmer (Mitchum) returns to Japan after many years to help a businessmen and old army buddy (Brian Keith) whose daughter has been kidnapped by a Yakuza boss. Navigating the complex codes of the Yakuza ethos, he is guided by Ken (Takakura), a former gangster and brother of Kilmer’s old flame, but betrayals and double crosses lie ahead. Working with a screenplay written by Robert Towne, Paul Schrader, and Leonard Schrader, Pollack proves he’s fully capable of handling riveting action choreography.
Sunday, February 22, 3:15pm
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead's Spring
10 to Midnight
J. Lee Thompson, USA, 1983, 35mm, 101m
Death Wish II marked the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Cannon and the then 61-year-old tough-guy icon Charles Bronson—in this, the second of six films he would make with them, he plays an LAPD detective fired for planting evidence on a serial killer who murders in the nude (Gene Davis). When his daughter becomes the next target in the ensuing grudge match, it’s a case of “Forget what’s legal, do what’s right!” as the film’s tagline went.
Saturday, February 21, 3:00pm
The Last American Virgin
Boaz Davidson, USA, 1982, 35mm, 92m
An early Cannon hit, this leering but ultimately surprisingly serious-minded teen sex comedy (virtually a scene-for-scene remake of Menahem Golan’s 1977 Israeli smash hit Lemon Popsicle) is a mash-up of Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High with a trio of suburban L.A. youths chasing girls and competing for the attentions of a cute transfer student. Time Out’s Sheila Johnston’s memorably blinkered review had it that “fear/contempt for the female festers like a squeezed pimple; an abortion is shown more lasciviously than any sex,” but she misses the point: as with Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times, the film’s rites of puberty hijinks eventually give way to darker, more painful experiences, until the true meaning of the film’s title becomes clear.
Saturday, February 21, 1:00pm
Ninja III: The Domination
Sam Firstenberg, USA, 1984, 35mm, 95m
A relentless no-holds-barred comic strip of a film, Ninja III: The Domination marks the ne plus ultra culmination of Cannon’s Ninja martial-arts obsession. An action-packed but cut-price cult classic, it features arguably one of the Go-Go Boys’ most ludicrous plots, with Breakin’ lead Lucinda Dickey (who was being groomed to be a Cannon star) as an aerobics instructor and telephone repair woman who is intermittently possessed by the spirit of a Black Ninja who uses her to exact bloody revenge on the cops who killed him, using all his formidable Ninja powers and the sword he handily passed on to her before dying. (As the tagline goes: “He’s the Ultimate Killer. She’s the perfect weapon.”) But as silly as it sounds, the fight choreography is actually top-notch, and the fusion of martial arts and horror/fantasy results in some striking setpieces.
Friday, February 20, 10:45pm
Nils Malmros in Focus:
Århus by Night
Nils Malmros, Denmark, 1981, DCP, 101m
Danish with English subtitles
Malmros’s only all-out comedy is a whimsical fantasy about the making of his 1977 film Boys, in which the shoot becomes a sexual free-for-all while shy director Frederik gets lost in the erotic reveries he’s trying to capture on film. It’s a film about filmmaking and a portrait of Århus, the center of Malmros’s world. Århus by Night is something of a turning point—it’s Malmros’s first work not only inspired by his own experiences and observations but a reflection of his life in cinema. Yet it has a highly ambiguous relationship with what we might call factual truth. Frederik is not Malmros, even if the films he has made do bear a striking resemblance to those of Malmros. In its moods and tones, it’s a step away from the intimate poetics of his earlier work, moving toward a slightly folksier idiom befitting its trenchant look at a 1970s Denmark torn between a glibly superficial sense of permissiveness and a deep-seated suspicion of any real kind of bourgeois liberty.
Sunday, March 1, 3:30pm (Q&A with Nils Malmros)
Nils Malmros, Denmark, 1977, Digibeta, 86m
Danish with English subtitles
A film in three movements about boys growing into men—but not necessarily maturing. From acquiring a basic notion of sex, through first experiences, to finally finding a certain sense of sexual freedom—with all the responsibilities and pain that come with it—Boys looks for the essence of male development and, as to be expected from Malmros, things get complicated. The fun and carefree frolicking is tinged with bitterness, while even crazy carousing and boozing may sow the seeds of sweet memories.
Sunday, March 1, 1:00pm (Q&A with Nils Malmros)
Facing the Truth
Nils Malmros, Denmark, 2002, Digibeta, 98m
Danish with English subtitles
Before he turned to filmmaking, Nils Malmros practiced neurosurgery, following the career path of his father, Richard, a famous neurosurgeon who became caught up in a scandal when it became public that during the German occupation he had used a carcinogenic radio contrast agent in his operations, putting hundreds of people at risk. Facing the Truth is not a biopic of Malmros’s father, nor even an attempt to portray the man himself, but rather an exploration of the moral dilemma he faced and the general circumstances of his life as a jumping off point for a consideration of guilt and what leads someone to take desperate measures.
Saturday, February 28, 1:00pm (Q&A with Nils Malmros)
Pain of Love
Nils Malmros, Denmark, 1992, Digibeta, 120m
Danish with English subtitles
In this film about the life of his wife before she met him, a character based on Malmros is only a secondary presence. Pain of Love gives us scenes from the life of Kirsten (Tanja Skov), covering her childhood and teenage years to early adulthood. How she discovers sex and men; how one guy after the other turns out to be a disappointment; how her life slowly becomes a hell of depression and despair. Kirsten's life is closely—but not too closely—modeled on that of Malmros’s wife, making Pain of Love a kind of prequel or counterpart to Sorrow and Joy. Here, many of the experiences and dilemmas Sorrow and Joy only allude to are examined in detail. And while Sorrow and Joy finds a way to end on a note of unquiet grace, Pain of Love is a descent into the abyss. Kirsten's sense of loneliness, inadequacy, and insignificance in a world that seems so demanding and vast is simply crushing. One of the most devastating, exhilarating, enlightening experiences within Malmros’s oeuvre.
Friday, February 27, 6:30pm (Q&A with Nils Malmros)
Sorrow and Joy
Nils Malmros, Denmark, 2013, DCP, 107m
Danish with English subtitles
For over 20 years, Nils Malmros has been in the habit of announcing each new film as his final work, maintaining that he’d exhausted everything in his personal experience that might interest an audience. But there was still one story he longed to tell, traces of which have appeared in his films since Pain of Love, but which seemed an impossible undertaking, even though it continued to haunt him—the story of a personal catastrophe: the killing of his baby daughter by his wife during a psychotic episode in 1983. Malmros finally managed to bring himself to put these events on film 30 years later. Sorrow and Joy begins with filmmaker Johannes (Jakob Cedergren), the eighth of Malmros’s on-screen alter egos, returning home from delivering a lecture to find his parents stricken with grief. It isn’t until close to the end of Sorrow and Joy that Johannes’s wife Signe (Helle Fagralid) describes exactly what happened in the intervening hours, answering a question that has gone unspoken for decades. The subject of Sorrow and Joy isn’t infanticide, however, it’s about one man trying to save the woman he loves, and how society helps him.
Friday, February 27, 9:15pm (Q&A with Nils Malmros)
Tree of Knowledge
Nils Malmros, Denmark, 1981, DCP, 110m
Danish with English subtitles
This absolutely wondrous autobiographical film about the life of pre-teen children travels back to 1950 to depict the elite high school Nils Malmros attended. In a series of episodes and anecdotes of amazing subtlety and clarity, Malmros describes with dead-on accuracy the dynamics at play in the relationships and behavior of boys and girls on the cusp of adolescence. A tender, compassionate film of looks and smiles, mischief, troubling glimpses, and schoolchildren’s merciless politics of popularity (understood here as having a sexual dimension). Made over the course of two years so that the cast of nonprofessional actors would grow up on screen, it’s among the most moving and delightful films about childhood ever made.
Saturday, February 28, 3:15pm (Q&A with Nils Malmros)
Film Comment January Preview
The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland, UK, 2014, DCP, 104m
Having improbably and triumphantly blended Italian giallo with British midlife angst in Berberian Sound Studio, director Peter Strickland returns with a May-September romance nested in a ’70s Euro lesbian fantasia. With a nod to Jean Genet, Evelyn (Berberian Sound Studio’s Chiara D’Anna) and Cynthia (Borgen’s Sidse Babbett Knudsen) enact a maid-mistress domination ritual, but while entomologist Cynthia takes on the role of stringent employer, it’s the younger, increasingly restless Evelyn dictating the terms of their relationship. So lush that its opening titles credit perfume and lingerie, The Duke of Burgundy, named for a species of butterfly, weds Jess Franco’s softcore aesthetic to the female codependency of Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, with trapped insect symbolism recalling William Wyler’s The Collector. Yet Strickland goes beyond pastiche to fashion a work that is both deliciously kinky and heartrendingly intimate. A Sundance Selects release.
Cleo Übelmann, Switzerland, 1986, Digibeta, 53m
Cleo Übelmann’s seldom-seen meditation on restraint and anticipation transcends its bondage trappings with obsessively composed cinematography and evocative foley. At first, reminiscent of Chris Marker’s La Jetée, the seeming stillness is betrayed by the occasional twitch of a calf muscle under the severe rope trickery. Übelmann’s ice-cold approach to form serves the subject matter perfectly, as both willing “captive” and audience submit to waiting and waiting. High-heel footsteps within varying distances are what either promise or deny us and the submissive any release, both literal and metaphorical. I saw Mano Destra at London’s Scala Cinema over 20 years ago, and some of the ideas found in it, as well as some of its tenderness (underneath the minimal, chilly surfaces), were strong influences on The Duke of Burgundy. Along with the films of Monika Treut, MM Serra, and Maria Beatty, Mano Destra is a vital and covert exploration of different desires in the absence of men.—Peter Strickland
Friday, January 16, 7:00pm (Q&A with Peter Strickland)