WEEKEND CLASSICS: NINOTCHKA (Ernst Lubitsch, 2012)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
October 3-5, 11:00 am
Series continues through November 9
Greta Garbo laughs — and says she doesn’t want to be alone — in Ernst Lubitsch’s magnificent pre-Cold War comedy Ninotchka, which is being shown October 3-5 in a DCP projection as part of the IFC Center Weekend Classics series “1939 — Hollywood’s Golden Year.” In her next-to-last film, Garbo is sensational as Nina Ivanovna “Ninotchka” Yakushova, a Russian envoy sent to Paris to clean up a mess left by three comrade stooges, Iranov (Sig Ruman), Buljanov (Felix Bressart), and Kopalsky (Alexander Granach). The hapless trio from the Russian Trade Board had been sent to France to sell jewelry previously owned by the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) and now in the possession of the government following the 1917 Russian Revolution. But the duchess’s lover, Count Léon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), gets wind of the plan and attempts to break up the deal while also introducing the three men to the many decadent pleasures of a free, capitalist society. Then in waltzes the stern, by-the-book Ninotchka, who wants to set the Russian men straight, as well as Léon. “As basic material, you may not be bad,” she tells him atop the Eiffel Tower, “but you are the unfortunate product of a doomed culture.” At first, Ninotchka speaks robotically, spouting the company line, but she loosens up considerably once Léon shows her what communism has been depriving her of, yet it’s difficult for her to turn her back on the cause, leading to numerous hysterical conversations — the razor-sharp script was written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Billy Wilder, based on a story by Melchior Lengyel — that serve as both a battle of the sexes and social commentary on the Russian and French ways of life. “I’ve heard of the arrogant male in capitalistic society. It is having a superior earning power that makes you that way,” Ninotchka tells Léon shortly after meeting him on a Paris street. “A Russian! I love Russians! Comrade, I’ve been fascinated by your Five-Year Plan for the last fifteen years,” Léon responds, to which Ninotchka tersely replies, “Your type will soon be extinct.” Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay, Ninotchka is one of the most delightful romantic comedies ever made, filled with little surprises every step of the way (including a serious cameo by Bela Lugosi), serving up a blueprint that has been followed by so many films for three-quarters of a century ever since. The IFC Center series celebrating Hollywood’s most spectacular year continues through November 9 with such other splendid fare as Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind.
THE DECENT ONE (DER ANSTÄNDIGE) (Vanessa Lapa, 2014)
209 West Houston St.
October 1-14, 12:30, 2:40, 4:50, 7:00, and 9:15
Vanessa Lapa’s chilling feature documentary debut, The Decent One, reveals that there wasn’t a whole lot that was decent about Heinrich Himmler, the SS chief who was the architect of the Final Solution. In 2006, Lapa’s father purchased a collection of Himmler’s diaries, letters, documents, and photographs that had initially been discovered in his home by U.S. soldiers in May 1945. The treasure trove forms the narration for Lapa’s film, as actors read from many of the items in chronological order while home movies, still images, and rare archival footage of Himmler and the rise of the SS are shown onscreen. The film includes letters, postcards, and diaries from Himmler; his parents; his wife, Marga; his mistress, Hedwig Potthast; his beloved daughter, “Püppi”; his foster son, Gerhard von Ahé; and others, in which the Gestapo head discusses love and romance, racial purity, motherhood, duty and honor, order and obedience, the Jewish question, homosexuality, and subhumans, troubling views he developed from a young age. “People don’t like me,” he writes after not being accepted into a fraternal group at college. Looking for purpose in his life, he explains, “You start to think, if only there was a war again. If only I could put my life on the line. Fight! It would be a pleasure.” He was also fully aware of the brutality of the Nazi regime. “I can predict the horrors of the future,” he notes in 1927.
Even his love letters evoke the terror he brought to the world. “What a naughty man you have, with such an evil, naughty movement,” he writes to his wife. Lapa and editors Sharon Brook and Noam Amit move smoothly between pictures of Himmler with his wife and children and shots of him in uniform, inspecting the troops and meeting with Adolf Hitler. It all makes for an uncomfortable intimacy, especially when the actual letters fill the screen; seeing his handwriting while listening to his words is extremely disturbing, but it’s not done in an effort to humanize him, as there is not much humanity to be found in the mass murderer responsible for so many atrocities. The Decent One is disquieting and unnerving, but it is also essential viewing. Named Best Documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival, The Decent One begins a two-week run at Film Forum on October 1 (perhaps not coincidentally during the Days of Awe, the ten days of contemplation and repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur); Lapa will participate in Q&As following the 7:00 screenings October 1, 2, and 4.
HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT (Josh & Benny Safdie, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Thursday, October 2, Alice Tully Hall, 9:00
Sunday, October 5, Walter Reade Theater, 8:00
Festival runs September 26 - October 12
Josh and Benny Safdie’s Heaven Knows What is a harrowing tale about addiction and obsession, but it turns out that its back story is much more compelling than what shows up onscreen. Josh was researching a film about the Diamond District when he came upon Arielle Holmes, a nineteen-year-old temp assistant. He was determined to find out more about her and shortly discovered that she was a homeless junkie with a wild, unpredictable druggie boyfriend, Ilya. Josh and Benny, who had previous collaborated on such indie features as The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Daddy Longlegs and the documentary Lenny Cooke, commissioned Holmes to write her story, and she quickly delivered 150 pages that ultimately inspired the film, in which Holmes plays Harley, a young heroin addict living on the streets of New York City, spanging money (begging for spare change) for her next fix while in a combative relationship with Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). Harley has done something to alienate Ilya, and she says she will kill herself to prove her love and devotion. He tells her to go ahead and do it, so she slits one of her wrists and is rushed to the hospital. That sets the stage for the rest of the lurid and sordid narrative, as Haley bounces between the cruel Ilya and her drug dealer, the far more easygoing and mellow Mike (real-life street legend Buddy Duress in his acting debut); she is also followed around by Skully (rapper Necro), who wants to save her from herself but is clearly in no position to do so.
Working with cowriter and coeditor Ronald Bronstein (Daddy Longlegs, Frownland) and cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, Frownland), writer-director Josh and editor-director Benny immerse the viewer in this squalid subculture, as the characters, played by a mix of professional actors and real street kids, are trapped in their dirty little world, almost like a death sentence. Williams uses a tripod and long lenses that give the feel of a handheld camera while keeping a distance, which combine with Isao Tomita’s electronic versions of Debussy to create an operatic quality, but there’s no escaping a story that has been told before, and better. The Safdies were influenced by the HBO documentary Life of Crime, Andrzej Żuławski’s 1984 Possession, and Martin Wise’s 1984 Streetwise, but Heaven Knows What most closely resembles Jerry Schatzberg’s far superior 1971 classic, The Panic in Needle Park, even taking place in some of the same locations. In fact, Josh asked Schatzberg for his blessing in making Heaven Knows What, which doesn’t really cover any new ground in the genre. Holmes does an admirable job playing a version of herself, and a virtually unrecognizable Jones (X-Men: First Class, Queen and Country) throws himself into the part of Ilya with a frightening abandon, but it all ends up more like Heaven: So What. Heaven Knows What is having its U.S. premiere October 2 & 5 at the 52nd New York Film Festival; the Safdie brothers will participate in a Q&A following both screenings, joined by stars Holmes and Jones on October 2.
STRAY DOG (Debra Granik, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Thursday, October 2, Francesca Beale Theater, 7:30
Friday, October 3, Howard Gilman Theater, 6:15
Festival runs September 26 - October 12
Shortly after meeting Ron “Stray Dog” Hall at the Biker Church in Branson, Missouri, writer-director Debra Granik (Down to the Bone) cast the Vietnam vet as Thump Milton in her second feature, the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone. Upon learning more about him, she soon decided that he would be a great subject for a documentary, so she took to the road, following him across the country in the engaging and revealing Stray Dog. Nearly always dressed in black, including his treasured leather jacket covered in medals and patches — when he puts it in a suitcase for a trip, it’s a ritual like he’s folding the American flag — Hall is a wonderfully grizzled old man with a fluffy white beard. At home, he is learning Spanish online so he can communicate better with his new wife, Alicia, a Mexican immigrant, and her two sons (who still live across the border). He visits with his teenage granddaughter, who is making some questionable decisions about her future. In Missouri, he owns and operates the At Ease RV Park, where he gives breaks to fellow vets who can’t always afford to pay the rent. And when he goes on the road, participating in the Run for the Wall, joining up with thousands of other bikers heading for the annual service at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, he stops along the way at other ceremonies honoring soldiers who have gone missing, are POWs, or were killed in action in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars.
Hall is a gregarious, gentle man who people instantly flock to and gather around — a scene in which two of his cats sit on each of his knees is absolutely heartwarming — but he is also haunted by some of the things he did in Vietnam, suffering from nightmares that sometimes have him screaming out loud while sleeping in bed. And he wears one of his mottoes right on his arm: “Never Forgive Never Forget.” At one point he sits comfortably on a couch and says, “Just kind of being free, don’t hurt nobody, do what you want to do — a nice thing, ain’t it? You know, I’d rather live as a free man for a year than a slave for twenty.” Granik simply follows Hall as he experiences life with his surprisingly refreshing point of view; no one ever turns to the camera to make any confessions, and no talking heads are brought on board to evaluate what we’re seeing. Granik just lets this beautiful piece of Americana unfold at its own pace while also touching on such hot-button topics as immigration reform, gun control, the economic crisis, and PTSD, making no judgments as we follow the captivating exploits of a man who is part Buddha, part Santa, and all patriot. Stray Dog is making its New York premiere October 2-3 at the 52nd New York Film Festival, with Granik participating in Q&As following each screening.
THE INCIDENT (Larry Peerce, 1967)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Friday, October 3, 4:30 & 9:15
One of the ultimate nightmare scenarios of 1960s New York City, Larry Peerce’s gritty black-and-white The Incident takes viewers deep down into the subway as two thugs terrorize a group of helpless passengers. Joe Ferrante (Tony Musante) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen, in his first movie role) are out for kicks, so after getting some out on the streets, they head underground, where they find a wide-ranging collection of twentieth-century Americans to torture, including Arnold and Joan Robinson (Brock Peters and Ruby Dee), Bill and Helen Wilks (Ed McMahon and Diana Van der Vlis), Sam and Bertha Beckerman (Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter, in her last role), Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill), Muriel and Harry Purvis (Jan Sterling and Mike Kellin), Alice Keenan (Donna Mills), soldiers Felix Teflinger and Phillip Carmatti (Beau Bridges and Robert Bannard), and others, each representing various aspects of contemporary culture and society, all with their own personal problems that come to the surface as the harrowing ride continues. It’s a brutal, claustrophobic, highly theatrical film that captures the fear that haunted the city in the 1960s and well into the ’70s, with an all-star cast tackling such subjects as racism, teen sex, alcoholism, homosexuality, war, and the state of the American family. The rarely shown drama, some of which was filmed in the actual subway system against the MTA’s warnings, is screening October 3 at BAMcinématek as part of “Retro Metro,” a ten-day festival of sixteen films with key scenes set underground.
A TIME TO LIVE, A TIME TO DIE (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1993)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Friday, October 3, $12, 7:00
Series runs through October 17
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Taiwanese New Wave masterpiece, A Time to Live, a Time to Die, is a bittersweet, nostalgic look back at his childhood, after his father’s government job moves the family from Mainland China just as the Cultural Revolution is taking effect. The semiautobiographical film is seen through the eyes of young Ah-ha (You Anshun) as his father (Tien Feng) suffers ill health, his older brother gets harassed by a local gang, his mother (Mei Fang) tries to maintain the household, and his grandmother (Tang Ju-yun) keeps getting lost, being brought back by rickshaw drivers who demand ever-larger payments. The family lives in a Japanese-style home that is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing, with Hou favoring long shots with limited camera movement, calmly shifting from scene to scene as Ah-ha grows up into a teenager (Hsiao Ai) and discovers a whole new set of problems and reality. The middle film in Hou’s coming-of-age trilogy (in between 1984’s A Summer at Grandpa’s and 1986’s Dust in the Wind), A Time to Live is a deeply personal, intimate, unforgettable story of life, death, and the bonds of family. The film is screening October 3 at 7:00 as part of the Museum of the Moving Image series “Also like Life,” which continues through October 17 with such other Hou works as Daughter of the Nile, Dust in the Wind, The Sandwich Man, and A City of Sadness as well as such related films as Chen Kun-hou’s Growing Up and Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew.
INNER VOICES: GRACE / THE OTHER ROOM
The TBG Theatre
312 West 36th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves., third Floor
October 4 - November 1 (official opening October 11)
In 2008, Premieres NYC expanded its mission to support the expansion of new music theater in New York City by starting the Inner Voices program, in which specially selected teams collaborate on original monologues told through song. Over the last several years, the participants in Premieres NYC projects have included Hunter Foster, Shuler Hensley, Laura Osnes, Jack Cummings III, Nilo Cruz, Michael John LaChiusa, and Arielle Jacobs. The fourth Premieres presentation is another eagerly awaited double bill, beginning October 4 at the TBG Theatre. Grace, written by Tony nominee Charlayne Woodard (Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Night Watcher) with music by Kirsten Childs (Miracle Brothers), stars Andrea Frierson (Once on This Island, Me & Ella) as an award-winning novelist facing a critical moment in her life. The show is directed by Shirley Jo Finney, with music direction by Rona Siddiqui and live bass by Marc Schmied. Grace is paired with The Other Room, written by librettist Mark Campbell (The Inspector, Songs from an Unmade Bed) with music by Marisa Michelson (The Lovers, Tamar of the River), musical direction by Ian Axness, and live cello by Brian Sanders; in the show, directed by Ethan Heard, Phoebe Strole (Spring Awakening, The Madrid) plays Lena, a woman who deals with a crisis in a positive way when learning that a dear friend has AIDS.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Inner Voices runs Monday through Saturday, October 4 to November 1, at the TBG Theatre, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name and daytime phone number to email@example.com by Thursday, October 2, at 3:00 to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.