This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


The New York Botanical Garden takes visitors to Singapore this year (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The New York Botanical Garden takes visitors to Singapore this year (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The New York Botanical Garden
Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx
Through April 26, $10-$12 children two to twelve, $23-$28 adults, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

You have only until Sunday to catch the New York Botanical Garden’s seventeenth annual Orchid Show, which this year takes visitors to the beautiful land of Singapore known as the “City in a Garden.” Curated by Marc Hachadourian, the show re-creates the dazzling Supertrees in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay and the arched pathways at the National Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens in the Malaysian country. Among the hundreds of species and hybrids are the Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s national flower, and the Vanda Awkwafina, named for the New York City-born rapper and actress who played Goh Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians. “One of my first memories ever is of my mom taking me to NYBG. I’m truly honored!” she tweeted.

Seventeenth annual NYBG Orchid Show continues through April 28 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Seventeenth annual NYBG Orchid Show continues through April 28 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

There are still special orchid events you can attend, including the Orchid Insiders Tour daily at 12:30; Orchid Evenings ($38) on April 26 and 27 from 7:00 to 10:00 with the Bronx Night Market Pop-up, a light display, dancers, DJs, and cocktails; a “Troubleshooting with Orchids” lesson on April 27 and 28 at 2:30 and 3:30; an “Orchid Basics Q&A” in the shop every day from 1:30 to 4:30; and “Crazy Real Singapore” on April 27 and 28 at 1:30, with Margaret Leng Tan performing TOY TOY TOY! on her toy piano.


Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro will talk about their work together at the Beacon

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro will talk about their work together at the Beacon as part of the 2019 Tribeca FIlm Festival

Tribeca Film Festival
Multiple locations
April 24 - May 5, free - $50

One of the most exciting parts of the Tribeca Film Festival is the Tribeca Talks section, which features discussions with actors, directors, writers, and other film-crew members talking about their craft. Divided into “Directors Series,” “Future of Film,” “Master Class,” and “Storytellers,” the talks include such cool programs as Sarah Silverman with Mike Birbiglia, Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, Michael J. Fox with Denis Leary, David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence, Questlove with Boots Riley, Guillermo del Toro with Alec Baldwin, and Hideo Kojima with Norman Reedus along with such topics as “The Art of Adaptation,” “Is Anyone Home? Location-Based Entertainment,” “The Journey of Digital Storytelling to TV,” and “10 Years of 30 for 30.” The events, some of which are free with advance registration, take place at BMCC TPAC, the Tribeca Festival Hub, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, the SVA Theater, and the Beacon.

Thursday, April 25
Tribeca Games Presents: Hideo Kojima with Norman Reedus, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 6:00

Directors Series: Guillermo del Toro with Alec Baldwin, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 8:00

Friday, April 26
Future of Film: The Art of Adaptation, with Mathias Chelebourgh, Pete Billington, and Jessica Shamash, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 1:00

Future of Film: Building the New Storytellers, with Ken Perlin, Lance Weiler, Alfredo Salazar-Caro, and Jeremy Bailenson, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 2:30

Queen Latifah with Dee Rees with the Premiere of the Queen Collective Shorts, screening preceded by discussion with Queen Latifah and Dee Rees, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $40, 5:30

Saturday, April 27
Future of Film: Is Anyone Home? Location-Based Entertainment, with Coline Delbaere, Ethan Stearns, and Antoine Cayrol, moderated by Loren Hammonds, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 1:00

Storytellers: Jaron Lanier, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $40, 2:00

Directors Series: David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, rush, 6:00

Sunday, April 28
Directors Series: Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro, Beacon Theatre, 2:00

Monday, April 29
Future of Film: Immersive Storytelling Across the Mediums, with Jessica Brillhart and Aaron Katz, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 1:00

Future of Film — Sharing Is Caring: Shared Experiences in Mixed Reality, with Adam May, Lucy Hammond, May Abdalla, and Amy Rose, Tribeca Festival Hub, free with advance ticket, 2:30

Master Class: The Art of Cinematic Sound, with Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, and Midge Costin, moderated by Glenn Kiser, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, $40, 5:00

Storytellers: Sarah Silverman with Mike Birbiglia, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 8:00

Questlove will be interviewed by Boots Riley at the Tribeca Film Festival

Questlove will be interviewed by Boots Riley at the Tribeca Film Festival

Tuesday, April 30
Storytellers: Michael J. Fox with Denis Leary, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 6:00

Storytellers: Questlove with Boots Riley, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, rush, 2:00

Wednesday, May 1
Storytellers: Rashida Jones, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $40, 6:00

Friday, May 3
Master Class: Irwin Winkler on the Art and Craft of Producing, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, free with advance ticket, 3:30

Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award, Stella Artois Theatre @ BMCC TPAC, $50, 4:00

Prune Nourry and Serendipity, screening followed by discussion with Prune Nourry, Rita Charon, and Nina Collins, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $24, 8:00

Saturday, May 4
Tribeca Celebrates Pride Day, with Jeffrey Winter, Wade Davis, River Gallo, Sadé Clacken Joseph, Raul Castillo, Tanya Saracho, Ser Anzoategui, Roberta Colindrez, Kevin Huvane, Lesli Klainberg, John Cameron Mitchell, Leilah Weinraub, Simon Halls, Rivianna Hyatt, Fabrice Houdart, Alok Vaid-Menon, Tre’vell Anderson, Joanna Lohman, Sarah McBride, Malcolm Kenyatta, Stacy Lentz, Kathy Tu, Staceyann Chin, Twiggy Pucci Garçon, and many others, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Theater, $30, 10:00 am

Directors Series: Marielle Heller, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, $40, 1:00

Master Class — The Journey of Digital Storytelling to TV: A Discussion with HBO Talent, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, free with advance ticket, 5:30

Sunday, May 5
10 Years of 30 for 30, with Connor Schell, Ezra Edelman, Alex Gibney, and Marina Zenovich, moderated by Chris Connelly, SVA Theater 2 Beatrice, $30, 3:30


(photo by Joan Marcus)

Cat (Halley Feiffer) and Guy (Hamish Linklater) are on a first date not-necessarily-from-hell in The Pain of My Belligerence (photo by Joan Marcus)

Playwrights Horizons
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 12, $49-$89

In such plays as I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, playwright, screenwriter, and actress Halley Feiffer has shown that she doesn’t like to make things easy for the audience. In her latest provocation, The Pain of My Belligerence, which opened tonight at Playwrights Horizons, she’ll make you squirm and cringe over and over again, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off the train wreck of a relationship at the center of this bitter black comedy. Feiffer, the daughter of Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist and writer Jules Feiffer, portrays the squirrely Brooklyn-based, almost-thirty-year-old journalist Cat, who is on a first date with Guy (Hamish Linklater), a smarmy forty-year-old architect and restaurateur who was featured in a magazine article she wrote about his wildly successful business partner. They are in a small, private, cozy booth at one of his fancy eateries, and he is just about as hideous as a man can be, making insensitive sexist and racist jokes, repeatedly touching her inappropriately, and getting ridiculously mad at her when she tries to say something. But every time she thinks about leaving, he puts on his oily, smug charm and she relents — and even gets titillated by his gross come-ons.

“Are you bored?” he asks. “A little,” she says, adding, “Joking.” He responds, “You bitch,” and she laughs. A moment later she begins, “How do you —” He cuts her off, saying, “Shut up.” She argues, “I wasn’t interrupting!” He says, “I know, just wanted to see how it’d feel to tell you to shut up.” She asks, “How did it feel?” He replies, “Amazing,” and she laughs again. She calls him “terrible” and “horrible,” while he describes himself as “evil, a serial killer, a monster, the devil, a sociopath,” but instead of getting up from the table, she sidles over closer to him, even moving in for a possible kiss. Everyone in the theater — from the actors and the characters themselves to the audience — knows this potentially destructive relationship can only be trouble, as Guy is a textbook example of toxic masculinity and the white patriarchy — but Cat appears to be reveling in her brutal subjugation. All it takes is a few words from him (“I’m being a jerk. I’m really sorry. I just. I get nervous. Around women who I want to like me. I overcompensate.”) and she seems happy to drive right through what should be big red stoplights. Their poisonous codependency continues into the second act before leading to a brilliant turn of events in the third.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Cat (Halley Feiffer) and Guy (Hamish Linklater) have some cross words for each other in world premiere at Playwrights Horizons (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Pain of My Belligerence takes place on election day in 2012, 2016, and 2020, with Mark Wendland’s entrancing set design expanding in each act as director Trip Cullman and Feiffer, in their sixth collaboration, put things in perspective, with Cat becoming ever more compressed each step of the way. No political figures are named in the eighty-minute play, but we inherently understand what occurred in the first two presidential elections while being fearful of what might happen next, casting a pall even over a graphic sex scene. Feiffer gives a bold, brave performance, baring all, while Linklater (Seminar, Cymbeline) earns the audience’s wrath as a master manipulator, but Vanessa Kai (KPOP, Somebody’s Daughter) steals the show in the third act as a beguiling surprise character, her every movement exquisitely choreographed by Cullman (Lobby Hero, Significant Other) as the play reexamines victimization, misogyny, harassment, and hypocrisy during the #MeToo era. Although the play is not autobiographical, it is loosely based on deeply personal and intimate elements of Feiffer’s life, including dealing with a debilitating illness and searching for answers in unstable relationships with men. She doesn’t exactly tie it all up in a cute little bow at the end, instead continuing our discomfort until the lights go out — and the unique experience of the play follows us out into the street, sticking with us like an aching bruise that just won’t go away.


Carmine Street Guitars

Rick Kelly and Cindy Hulej are a mutual admiration society in Carmine Street Guitars

Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Opens Wednesday, April 24

In the second half of Ron Mann’s utterly delightful and unique documentary Carmine Street Guitars, a well-dressed, well-groomed young man enters the title store in Greenwich Village and identifies himself as Adam Shalom, a Realtor who is selling the building next door. Shalom tries to talk about square footage, but Carmine Street Guitars founder and owner Rick Kelly barely looks up as he continues cleaning a fret. It’s a critical, uncomfortable moment in an otherwise intimate and inviting film; throughout the rest of the eighty-minute documentary, the soft-spoken Kelly talks guitars and craftsmanship with a stream of very cool musicians and his punk-looking young apprentice, Cindy Hulej. But Shalom’s arrival hearkens to one of the main reasons why Mann made the movie: to capture one of the last remaining old-time shops in a changing neighborhood, a former bohemian paradise that has been taken over by hipsters and corporate culture, by upscale stores and restaurants and luxury apartments. You’ll actually cheer that Kelly gives Shalom such short shrift, but you’ll also realize that Shalom and others might be knocking again at that door all too soon.

Carmine Street Guitars

Rick Kelly welcomes “instigator” Jim Jarmusch to his Greenwich Village shop in Carmine Street Guitars

The rest of the film is an absolute treat. Mann follows five days in the life of Carmine Street Guitars; each day begins with a static shot of the store from across the street, emphasizing it as part of a community as people walk by or Kelly, who was born in Bay Shore, arrives with a piece of wood he’s scavenged. The camera then moves indoors to show Kelly and Hulej making guitars by hand, using old, outdated tools and wood primarily from local buildings that date back to the nineteenth century. Kelly doesn’t do computers and doesn’t own a cell phone; he leaves all that to Hulej, who posts pictures of new six-strings on Instagram. Meanwhile, Kelly’s ninetysomething mother, Dorothy, works in the back of the crazily cluttered store, taking care of the books with an ancient adding machine. Over the course of the week, they are visited by such musicians as Dallas and Travis Good of the Sadies (who composed the film’s soundtrack), “Captain” Kirk Douglas of the Roots, Eleanor Friedberger, Dave Hill of Valley Lodge, Jamie Hince of the Kills, Nels Cline of Wilco, Christine Bougie of Bahamas, Marc Ribot, and Charlie Sexton. Bill Frisell plays an impromptu surf-guitar instrumental version of the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl.” Stewart Hurwood, Lou Reed’s longtime guitar tech, talks about using Reed’s guitars for the ongoing “DRONES” live installation. “It’s like playing a piece of New York,” Lenny Kaye says about the guitars made from local wood while also referring to the shop as part of the “real village.”

Mann, the Canadian director of such previous nonfiction films as Grass, Know Your Mushrooms, and Comic Book Confidential, was inspired to make the movie at the suggestion of his friend Jarmusch, who in addition to directing such works as Stranger Than Paradise (which featured Balint), Down by Law, and 2016 NYFF selection Paterson is in the New York band Sqürl. Plus, it was Jarmusch who first got Kelly interested in crafting his guitars with wood from buildings, “the bones of old New York,” resulting in Telecaster-based six-strings infused with the history of Chumley’s, McSorley’s, the Chelsea Hotel, and other city landmarks. Carmine Street Guitars, which is far more than just mere guitar porn, opens April 24 at Film Forum, with Mann, Kelly, and Hulej participating in Q&As following the 7:45 show on Wednesday night, joined by Jarmusch, and after the 6:00 screening on Friday and 4:10 show on Saturday.


(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Adam Driver and Keri Russell star in Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 14, $59 - $315

Adam Driver is scorching hot and Keri Russell sizzles in Michael Mayer’s otherwise surprisingly lukewarm revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, which opened last week at the Hudson Theatre. Oscar and Emmy nominee Driver is deserving of a Tony nod for his ferociously physical, incendiary performance as Pale, a Jersey restaurant manager unable to deal with the tragic death of his younger brother Robbie, a gay dancer who was killed in a boating accident with his lover, Dom. The play is set in 1987 and takes place in a huge industrial loft apartment in Lower Manhattan where Robbie lived with fellow dancer Anna (Russell), a straight woman in a relationship with successful screenwriter Burton (Tony nominee David Furr), and Larry (Tony nominee Brandon Uranowitz), a wisecracking gay man who works in advertising. One night Pale shows up drunk, loudly complaining about New York City, parking, phone messages, new shoes, social politeness, and anything else that comes to mind, rattling on without a filter. He constantly uses words about heat when talking about himself and his life, declaring that his “feet are in boiling water,” he has a toaster oven for a stomach, his normal temperature is about 110, and it’s hot enough in the apartment for them to “bake pizza.” He says he’s “a roving fireman. Very healthy occupation. I’m puttin’ out somebody’s else’s fire. I’m puttin’ out my own. . . . Or sometimes you just let it burn.”

Despite her better judgment, Anna, who is branching out as a choreographer, is strangely attracted to Pale, who is a stark contrast to the more self-contained Burton, who lives in Canada and is always talking about the cold, including snow and “glacier activity”; the only time he brings up heat is when he tells Anna about her upcoming dance, “Make it as personal as you can. Believe me, you can’t imagine a feeling everyone hasn’t had. Make it personal, tell the truth, and then write ‘Burn this’ on it.” Here Wilson is describing his own process in writing the play; it was indeed personal, inspired partly by the death of a friend’s brother, as well as the AIDS epidemic claiming the lives of so many New York artists. He wrote “Burn this” at the top of every page until he realized it should be the title of the play.

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Burton (David Furr), Anna (Keri Russell), and Larry (Brandon Uranowitz) have a brief moment to cool down in Burn This at the Hudson Theatre (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Despite the strong cast, led by Lortel Award winner Driver (BlacKkKlansman, Look Back in Anger), whose body commands the stage with an intense, dangerous fury, and Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee Russell (The Americans, Fat Pig), who has a sweet tenderness as Anna, the play never catches fire. Derek McLane’s set is lovely, with large back windows that look out on the city, an outside world that the characters can’t reach yet, and Clint Ramos’s costumes are sexy and alluring, from Pale’s sharp suits to Anna’s slinky dresses and hapi coat. The unending references to hot and cold, fire and ice grow tiresome, including the leitmotif of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”; would Larry really sing that? Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson (Talley’s Folly, Angels Fall) and Tony winner Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) also incorporated Springsteen songs into a 1984 revival of 1965’s Balm in Gilead. The play made its Broadway debut in 1987, running for more than a year at the Plymouth Theatre, with John Malkovich as Pale and a Tony-winning Joan Allen as Anna. A 2002 revival at the Signature paired Edward Norton and Catherine Keener. In order for the play to work, it has to have the fire and passion at least reminiscent of A Streetcar Named Desire, but this production, even with its powerful moments and strong performances, too often simmers when it needs to blister and blaze.


(images  courtesy  of  MGM  /  Cineteca  di  Bologna  /  Park  Circus)

Clint Eastwood introduces the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (photo courtesy MGM / Cineteca di Bologna / Park Circus)

Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Saturday, April 20, 4:30, and Monday, April 22, 4:40
Series runs April 19 - May 16

Clint Eastwood made a name for himself on the big screen playing the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s 1964 spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars, which is being shown April 20-23 at Film Forum as part of its awesome Trilogies series. In his first lead movie role, Eastwood, the costar of the television series Rawhide, is a gunslinger draped in a poncho and smoking a small cigar who rides on a mule into San Miguel, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, home to an ongoing feud between the gun-running Baxters and the liquor-dealing Rojos. The stranger decides to play both sides against the middle, caring only that he earns lots of cash. “Never saw a town as dead as this one,” the stranger tells saloon owner Silvanito (Jose Calvo), who explains, “The place is only widows. Here you can only get respect by killing other men, so nobody works anymore.” The stranger hears the sound of banging outside and says, “Somebody doesn’t share your opinion.” Silvanito opens the window to reveal old man Piripero (Joe Edger) making coffins. “You’ll be a customer,” Silvanito tells the stranger with assurance. The stranger goes back and forth between the Baxters, led by the sheriff (W. Lukschy), and the Rojos, who follow the dangerous, unpredictable Ramón (Gian Maria Volontè). Also caught up in the Hatfield-McCoy battle are the sheriff’s wife, Consuelo (Margherita Lozano), and brother, Antonio (Bruno Carotenuto), along with Rojo brothers Benito (Antonio Prieto) and Esteban (S. Rupp) and their enforcer, Chico (Richard Stuyvesant). Ramón, meanwhile, has his eyes set on Marisol (Marianne Koch), who is married to Julio (Daniel Martín), who does not want to get involved in any fighting. Carefully watching it all is Juan de Díos (Raf Baldassarre), who rings the church bell at every death.

The Italian-German-Spanish production is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which led to legal entanglements when the Japanese auteur demanded, well, a fistful of dollars in financial compensation. According to Christopher Frayling’s Sergio Leone — Something to Do with Death, Leone received a note from Kurosawa that read, “Signor Leone — I have just had the chance to see your film. It is a very fine film, but it is my film. Since Japan is a signatory of the Berne Convention on international copyright, you must pay me.” Frayling also suggests that Leone was influenced by Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters and did not feel he was stealing only from Kurosawa. In The BFI Companion to the Western, Frayling quotes Leone as saying, “Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was inspired by an American novel of the serie-noire so I was really taking the story back home again.” (For a montage of similarities between the two films, check out this video.). Regardless, A Fistful of Dollars, made for about two hundred grand, set the standard for the new genre, and Eastwood was its antihero. He and Leone would team up again on the sequel, For a Few Dollars More, which is not a direct remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo follow-up, Sanjuro, as well as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the best of the Dollars Trilogy.

(photo courtesy  MGM / Cineteca di Bologna / Park Circus)

Clint Eastwood watches his back in first of the Dollars Trilogy (photo courtesy MGM / Cineteca di Bologna / Park Circus)

Fistful is steeped in violence and death, from Iginio Lardani’s rad title sequence of silhouettes in black, white, and blood red to an early shot of the stranger riding under a noose and giving it a long look. Whereas Toshirô Mifune played the bodyguard in Yojimbo with a devilish glee, Eastwood — in a role that had been previously offered to Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and others — is much more serious as the Man with No Name, who would become more sympathetic in future outings. The extremely poor dubbing only adds to the film’s magnificence. To enhance its foreign appeal to American audiences, several members of the cast and crew appear under pseudonyms in the credits, including Leone (Bob Robertson), cinematographer Massimo Dallamano (Jack Dalmas), actor Gian Maria Volontè (John Wells), and composer Ennio Morricone (Leo Nichols or Dan Savio). There is no mention of Kurosawa or Yojimbo anywhere.

Sergio Leone

Rival bounty killers colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) and Manco (Clint Eastwood) join forces in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More

Saturday, April 20, 4:30, and Tuesday, April 23, 4:40

Determined to capitalize on the immediate success of A Fistful of Dollars, director and cowriter Sergio Leone and stars Clint Eastwood and Gian Maria Volonté quickly got back in the saddle to make the initially underrated, now celebrated follow-up, For a Few Dollars More. In the 1965 spaghetti Western, filmed in Almería, Spain, and at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios — and featuring a town doubling as El Paso built by production designer Carlo Simi that still stands today, part of the MiniHollywood theme park in Tabernas — Eastwood is a bounty killer that some call Manco, but he is essentially the Man with No Name again. He travels from wretched place to wretched place with his horse, poncho, cigar, squinty eyes, and guns, shooting criminals and collecting rewards. When he encounters a rival, former Confederate colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), they are initially at odds, going after the same trophies, but they ultimately decide to join forces to capture and kill El Indio (Volonté), a murderous psychopath who likes to use a pocket watch that plays a gentle tune when opened when he is getting ready to shoot someone, an element from his past (involving a mystery woman played by Rosemary Dexter) that haunts him. Manco embeds himself with Indio’s mangy gang, which includes Groggy (Luigi Pistilli), Niño (Mario Brega), Cuchillo (Aldo Sambrell), Tomaso (Lorenzo Robledo), Sancho Perez (Panos Papadopulos), Slim (Werner Abrolat), Blackie (Frank Braña), Chico (José Canalejas), Frisco (Antonio Molino Rojo), Hughie (Benito Stefanelli, who was in all three Dollars films), and Wild (the one and only Klaus Kinski). As Indio prepares to rob a bank in El Paso, a series of double crosses and personal vengeance lead to a memorable ending.

For a Few Dollars More

Manco (Clint Eastwood) becomes part of Indio’s (Gian Maria Volonté) gang in For a Few Dollars More

Written by Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni with added dialogue by Sergio Donati, For a Few Dollars More fits right in between A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, from its overall look and mood to Ennio Morricone’s stupendous score and Massimo Dallamano’s beautiful cinematography, both veterans of Fistful. Eastwood further established his ability to carry a film as a compelling antihero, Van Cleef (How the West Was Won, Escape from New York) earned one of the three title roles in Ugly, and Volonté, who would go on to make such classics as A Bullet for the General, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, and Christ Stopped at Eboli, is superbly grimy as a brutal villain hiding a soft spot. Genre tropes abound, highlighted by Leone’s love of close-ups of his characters’ eyes, shifting from one side to the other as they face their destinies.

Clint Eastwood is the Good in classic Sergio Leone operatic oater

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (Sergio Leone, 1966)
Saturday, April 20, 9:00, and Sunday, April 21, 4:40

One of the all-time-great spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone’s dusty three-hour operatic oater stars Clint Eastwood as the Good (Blondie), Lee Van Cleef as the Bad (Angel Eyes), and Eli Wallach as the Ugly (Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez, whose list of criminal offenses is a riot), three unique individuals after $200,000 in Confederate gold buried in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere. Nearly twenty minutes of never-before-seen footage was added to the film several years ago, with Wallach and Eastwood overdubbing brand-new dialogue, so if you haven’t seen it in a while, it might just be time to catch it again. Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score and Torino delli Colli’s gorgeous widescreen cinematography were also marvelously enhanced; their work in the scene when Tuco first comes upon the graveyard will make you dizzy with delight. And then comes one of the greatest finales in cinema history. The Film Forum trilogy series continues through May 16 with official and unofficial hat tricks by Fritz Lang, Wim Wenders, Carol Reed, Whit Stillman, Lucretia Martel, Michelangelo Antonioni, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and many others.


Kaji has to search hard to find the humanity in the world (© Shochiku Co., Ltd.)

THE HUMAN CONDITION (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959-61)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
April 20-29
Series runs April 19 - May 16

Some stories are just too big to be told in one film, let alone two, so from April 19 to May 16, Film Forum is showing well-known and under-the-radar official and unofficial trilogies, including three-packs from Francis Ford Coppola, Sergio Leone, Lucas Belvaux, Andrzej Wajda, Jean Cocteau, Ingmar Bergman, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Satyajit Ray, among others. (Note: There is separate admission to each film.) Masako Kobayashi’s ten-hour epic, The Human Condition, based on a popular novel by Jumpei Gomikawa, is one of the most stunning achievements ever captured on film. Shot over the course of three years, the film follows one man’s harrowing struggle to never give up his humanity as he is dragged deeper and deeper into the morass of WWII. Tatsuya Nakadai is remarkable as Kaji, a man who believes in common decency, personal discipline, and, above all else, that humanity will always triumph. In the first part, No Greater Love, the steadfastly practical Kaji is hesitant to marry his sweetheart, Michiko (Michiyo Aratama), for fear that he will be called to serve in the Japanese army and might not come back to her alive. But when his detailed plan to treat workers fairly is accepted by the government, he is made labor supervisor of a mine in far-off Southern Manchuria, where hundreds of Chinese prisoners are brought in as well — and regularly starved, beaten, and, on occasion, brutally killed in cold blood. Kaji’s methods, which have close ties to communism, leading many to refer to him as a “Red,” anger both sides — the Japanese want to treat the workers like animals, and the Chinese prisoners don’t trust that he has their welfare in mind. A series of escape attempts threatens the stability of the labor camp and comes between Kaji and Michiko, whose undying love is echoed in the yearning, unfulfilled desire between a Korean prisoner and a Japanese prostitute. Broken promises, lies, and betrayal reach a tense conclusion that sets the stage for the second part of Kobayashi’s masterpiece.

Michiyo Aratama and Tatsuya Nakadai hope that love trumps all in antiwar epic (© Shochiku Co., Ltd.)

SPOILER ALERT: Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens in parts II & III!

In Road to Eternity, Kaji has been drafted into the Kwantung Army, going through basic training in preparation for battle. Kaji hopes to find some semblance of humanity in the army, but the superiors are constantly slapping and hitting the recruits, punishing them in brutal ways. When Michiko suddenly shows up, Kaji suffers harassment as it is being decided whether he will be allowed to spend the night with her. With the Soviets on the march, a firefight beckons, but the Japanese troops are woefully short on weapons and ammunition — and confidence, with rumors of Japan’s demise rampant. The epic concludes with the powerful, emotional A Soldier’s Prayer. Kaji is determined to make it back to Michiko, even if it means desertion, but a long, treacherous trip awaits him and he is dangerously low on supplies. He is trying desperately to hang on to his dignity and humanity, but it becomes more and more difficult as the weather worsens, hopelessly lost people join him through the forest, and food is nowhere in sight.

The Human Condition, which has had a profound influence on such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Andrei Tarkovsky, and so many others, might take place during WWII, with Japan fighting for the Axis powers while also immersed in the Second Sino-Japanese War, but its story about man’s inhumanity to man is timeless. At its core, it’s not about Fascism, socialism, democracy, and ethnocentricity but humankind’s need for love and truth. Kaji and Michiko represent everyman and everywoman, separated by a cruel, cold world. Kobayashi provides no answers — the future he envisions is bleak indeed. At Film Forum a few years back for a tribute to his career, Nakadai talked about how brutal the making of The Human Condition was — it is also brutal to sit through, but it is a landmark work that must be seen.