DOUBLE INDEMNITY (Billy Wilder, 1944) / THE LADY EVE (Preston Sturges, 1941)
209 West Houston St.
Saturday, December 7: Double Indemnity 1:30, 5:30, 9:30, The Lady Eve 3:40, 7:40
Series runs December 6-31
There are plenty of great double features in Film Forum’s nearly four-week retrospective of Barbara Stanwyck, but none are as ingenious as the pairing of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity with Preston Sturges’s The Lady Eve. In both black-and-white pictures, Stanwyck excels as an alluring, tough-talking swindler teamed up with a major American actor playing against type. (And each film also features at least one extremely clunky, head-scratching cut.) In 1941, a brunette Stanwyck, who was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in Brooklyn, played the title character in The Lady Eve; while it’s usually lumped in with the classic screwball comedies, Sturges’s film, based on an original story by Irish playwright Monckton Hoffe (who was nominated for an Oscar), is much darker and slower than its supposed brethren. A brunette Stanwyck is first seen as Jean Harrington, a con artist looking to trick a wealthy man on a cruise ship. At her side is her father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn), a gambler and a cheat. As soon as Jean sees rich ale scion Charles Pike (a wonderfully innocent Henry Fonda), she digs her claws into the shy, humble man, challenging the Hays Code as she shows off her gams and leans into him with a heart-pounding sexiness. Pike of course falls for, but when his right-hand man, Muggsy (William Demarest), discovers that she regularly preys on suckers, Charles is devastated. However, in this case, Jean’s feelings might actually be real, forcing her to go to extreme circumstances to try to get him back. Stanwyck is, well, a ball of fire as Jean/Eve, determined to win at all costs. Fonda, not usually known for his comedic abilities, is a riot as poor Hopsie, as Jean calls him; the looks on his face when she ratchets up the sex appeal are priceless, and a later scene when he keeps falling down at a party displays a surprising flair for physical comedy. The opening and closing credits feature a corny animated snake in the Garden of Eden; in The Lady Eve, Stanwyck offers the apple, and Fonda can’t wait to take a bite. And there’s nothing shameful about that.
Three years later, a blonde Stanwyck is looking for a way out of her loveless marriage when opportunity knocks in the form of acerbic insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in one of the grandest film noirs ever, Double Indemnity. Stanwyck stars as femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson, who falls for Neff and soon convinces him that they should do away with her husband (Tom Powers). They’re both in it “straight down the line,” as she repeats throughout the film, but insurance fraud investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) isn’t so sure that Mr. Dietrichson’s death was an accident. John F. Seitz’s inventive black-and-white cinematography — watch for those Venetian blind shadows — set the standard for the genre. MacMurray, who had to be convinced by Wilder to take the part because he thought he’d be awful in the role, is sensational as Neff, oh-so-cool as he recites his cynical dialogue and lights matches with one hand. He might think he’s tough, but he’s no match for Stanwyck, who rules the roost. Both Stanwyck and MacMurray would go on to successful careers in television in the 1960s, he in My Three Sons (with Sturges regular Demarest), she in The Big Valley. Directed by Wilder from a script he wrote with Raymond Chandler based on a pulp novel by James Cain, with music by Miklós Rózsa — how’s that for a pedigree? — Double Indemnity, which was nominated for seven Oscars and won none, is screening on December 7 as part of a twin bill with The Lady Eve at Film Forum, which is celebrating Stanwyck in conjunction with the first major biography of the glamorous star, Victoria Wilson’s A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940; Wilson will be introducing several films over the course of the series, which runs December 6-31, and will give an illustrated talk on December 8.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, December 7, free, 5:00 - 11:00 (some events require free tickets distributed in advance at the Visitor Center)
The December edition of the Brooklyn Museum’s free First Saturdays program takes a look at Brooklyn-based Kenyan visual artist Wangechi Mutu in conjunction with the midcareer survey “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey.” The evening will include a curator talk by Saisha Grayson on the Mutu show, an arts workshop demonstrating how to make Mutu-inspired collages, pop-up gallery talks, an artist talk by Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili, a screening of Arthur Jafa and Kahlil Joseph’s 2013 documentary Dreams Are Colder Than Death about being black in America, live music by Pegasus Warning and Rebellum, a spoken-word performance by Saul Williams, and book club readings by Kiini Ibura Salaam and Bridgett M. Davis, followed by a discussion examining their work in the context of Mutu’s art, moderated by Tayari Jones and presented by Bold as Love magazine. In addition, the galleries will be open late, giving visitors plenty of opportunity to check out “War / Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath,” “Twice Militant: Lorraine Hansberry’s Letters to ‘The Ladder,’” “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt,” “Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas,” “Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn,” “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” and other exhibits.
A TOUCH OF SIN (TIAN ZHU DING) (Jia Zhangke, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Saturday, December 7, 7:00
Series continues through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
During his sixteen-year career, Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke has made both narrative works (The World, Platform, Still Life) and documentaries (Useless, I Wish I Knew), with his fiction films containing elements of nonfiction and vice versa. Such is the case with his latest film, the powerful A Touch of Sin, which explores four based-on-fact outbreaks of shocking violence in four different regions of China. In Shanxi, outspoken miner Dahai (Jiang Wu) won’t stay quiet about the rampant corruption of the village elders. In Chongqing, married migrant worker and father Zhao San (Wang Baoqiang) obtains a handgun and is not afraid to use it. In Hubei, brothel receptionist Ziao Yu (Zhao Tao, Jia’s longtime muse and now wife) can no longer take the abuse and assumptions of the male clientele. And in Dongguan, young Xiao Hui (Luo Lanshan) tries to make a life for himself but is soon overwhelmed by his lack of success. Inspired by King Hu’s 1971 wuxia film A Touch of Zen, Jia also owes a debt to Max Ophüls’s 1950 bittersweet romance La Ronde, in which a character from one segment continues into the next, linking the stories. In A Touch of Sin, there is also a character connection in each successive tale, though not as overt, as Jia makes a wry, understated comment on the changing ways that people connect in modern society. In depicting these four acts of violence, Jia also exposes the widening economic gap between the rich and the poor and the social injustice that is prevalent all over contemporary China — as well as the rest of the world — leading to dissatisfied individuals fighting for their dignity in extreme ways. A gripping, frightening film that earned Jia the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes this year, A Touch of Sin is screening December 7 at 7:00 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” which consists of exemplary films that MoMA believes will stand the test of time, continuing with such works as Spike Jonze’s Her, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, and J. C. Chandor’s All Is Lost.
THE GENERAL (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, 1926)
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave. at Second St.
Saturday, December 7, 5:30
Buster Keaton’s Civil War-set The General was a box-office failure upon its release in 1926-27, but it is now deservedly recognized as a silent-film classic. Based on William Pittenger’s memoir, The Great Locomotive Chase, the film stars Keaton as Johnnie Gray, a Georgia train man who is rejected by the Confederate army when he tries to enlist to impress his fiancée, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). Little does he know that he was turned away because the Confederacy believes he will be more valuable to them as a civilian engineer; meanwhile, Annabelle and her family think he’s a coward, not believing he even tried to sign up to fight in the first place. But when Union spies led by Captain Anderson (Glen Cavender) steal his beloved train, affectionately known as the General — and capture Annabelle in the process — Johnnie steams into action, doing whatever it takes to get his two loves back while also trying the save the South from a sneak attack. Directed by the Great Stone Face with regular collaborator Clyde Bruckman, The General is a thrilling ride chock-full of dangerous stunts that Keaton performed himself, often involving the moving Western & Electric Railroad train. Keaton manages to make the South sympathetic, depicting the North as evil and conniving, while avoiding any political aspects of the war. And in another sly turn, he casts his father, Joe, who appeared in more than a dozen of his films, as a Union general. The riotous romp was entered into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in its inaugural year, 1989, alongside such other classics as The Best Years of Our Lives, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Dr. Strangelove, Gone with the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Modern Times, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, On the Waterfront, Singin’ in the Rain, The Searchers, Sunrise, The Wizard of Oz, and others, which is high praise indeed. The General is screening on December 7 at 5:30 at Anthology Film Archives; at 3:30, Anthology will be showing four of Keaton’s shorts, One Week, Neighbors, The Scarecrow, and The Play House.
MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S (MA NUIT CHEZ MAUD) (Eric Rohmer, 1969)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, December 7, free with museum admission, 3:30
Series runs through December 29
Nominated for the Palme d’Or and a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, My Night at Maud’s, Éric Rohmer’s fourth entry in his Six Moral Tales series (Clarie’s Knee, Love in the Afternoon), continues the French director’s fascinating exploration of love, marriage, and tangled relationships. Three years removed from playing the romantic racecar driver Jean-Louis in Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman, Jean-Louis Trintignant again stars as a man named Jean-Louis, this time a single thirty-four-year-old Michelin engineer living a relatively solitary life in the French suburb of Clermont. A devout Catholic, he is developing an obsession with a fellow churchgoer, the blonde, beautiful Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), about whom he knows practically nothing. After bumping into an old school friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), the two men delve into deep discussions of religion, Marxism, Pascal, mathematics, Jansenism, and women. Vidal then invites Jean-Louis to the home of his girlfriend, Maud (Françoise Fabian), a divorced single mother with open thoughts about sexuality, responsibility, and morality that intrigue Jean-Louis, for whom respectability and appearance are so important. The conversation turns to such topics as hypocrisy, grace, infidelity, and principles, but Maud eventually tires of such talk. “Dialectic does nothing for me,” she says shortly after explaining that she always sleeps in the nude. Later, when Jean-Louis and Maud are alone, she tells him, “You’re both a shamefaced Christian and a shamefaced Don Juan.” Soon a clearly conflicted Jean-Louis is involved in several love triangles that are far beyond his understanding, so he again seeks solace in church. My Night at Maud’s is a classic French tale, with characters spouting off philosophically while smoking cigarettes, drinking wine and other cocktails, and getting naked. Shot in black-and-white by Néstor Almendros, the film roams from midnight mass to a single woman’s bed and back to church, as Jean-Louis, played with expert concern by Trintignant, is forced to examine his own deep desires and how they relate to his spirituality. Fabian (Belle de Jour, The Letter) is outstanding as Maud, whose freedom titillates and confuses Jean-Louis. One of Rohmer’s best, most accomplished works despite its haughty intellectualism, My Night at Maud’s is screening December 7 at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of its “See It Big! Great Cinematographers” series, which continues with such films as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, shot by Michael Ballhaus; Joseph H. Lewis’s The Big Combo, photographed by John Alton; and Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law, shot by Robbie Müller.
BENEATH (Larry Fessenden, 2013)
289 Kent Ave. at South Second St.
Friday, December 6, 9:30
Festival runs December 6-8 (three-day pass $56)
Jaws and Friday the 13th meet Lifeboat and Lord of the Flies in indie filmmaker Larry Fessenden’s latest thriller, Beneath. Made for Syfy’s Chiller TV channel, Beneath is the first feature film Fessenden (The Last Winter, Habit, Wendigo) has directed but did not write; the occasional actor and musician also served as producer and editor, while the script is by Tony Daniel and Brian D. Smith. The story takes place on a Connecticut lake, where a group of teenagers have gone to celebrate high school graduation. Sexy blonde Kitty (Bonnie Dennison), athletic meathead brothers Matt (Chris Conroy) and Simon (Jonny Orsini), camera-obsessed nerd Zeke (Griffin Newman), demure brunette Deb (MacKenzie Rosman), and pouty townie Johnny (Daniel Zovatto) head out on a rowboat to cross the Black Lake, but they soon learn that they’re going to need a much bigger boat, as there’s something lurking in the water that prefers not to be disturbed. As the teens battle the evil, giant piranha/monkfish, deep, dark secrets float to the surface, leading the kids to fight amongst themselves as much as their mechanical tormentor. Fessenden clearly has fun playing with genre clichés, although there are still plenty of moments in which viewers will find themselves yelling at the screen because of stupid decisions or gigantic plot holes, but he does a good job given his restrictions — because this is essentially a basic-cable movie, there is no cursing or nudity, and the tense action has to have carefully timed pauses built in to allow for eventual commercials. Still, Beneath is an involving, claustrophobic tale in which the characters’ true individual natures emerge as their fear of death grows. To find out more about the history of the lake, a prequel comic book is available, written by Daniel and Smith and illustrated by Brahm Revel. Beneath is being shown December 6 at 9:30 at IndieScreen in Williamsburg as part of the second annual Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival, three days of shorts and features directly or indirectly inspired by the author of such seminal sci-fi works as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, A Scanner Darkly, Ubik, The Man in the High Castle, and VALIS; among the films based on his writings are Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, Screamers, Paycheck, and The Adjustment Bureau. The festival runs December 6-8 and also includes such shorts as Nicholas Zafonte’s The First Day, Don Schechter’s Ascendants, Shahab Zargari’s The Crystal Crypt, Efren Ramirez’s Territorial, Suite Zao Wang’s Honeymoon, and Michel Goosens’s Exit and such features as Adam Ciancio’s Vessel, Éric Falardeau’s Thanatomorphose, and Daniel Abella’s The Final Equation..
NEW SOUNDS FROM IRAN
Asia Society, Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium
725 Park Ave. at 70th St.
Saturday, December 7, $30, 8:00 (free preshow lecture at 7:00)
Asia Society will conclude its New Sounds from Iran series on December 7 at 8:00 with “Sound: The Encounter, New Music from Iran and Syria.” Held in conjunction with the Aga Khan Music Initiative and the exhibition “Iran Modern,” which comprises more than one hundred works from twenty-six artists dating from the three decades prior to the 1979 revolution, “Sound” features new compositions and arrangements from Iranian musician and dancer Saied Shanbezadeh (on ney-ban, neyjoti, boogh horns, and voice) and Syrian performer Basel Rajoub (on sax and duclar), joined by Saied’s son Naghib on tombak/zarb and darbuka and Kenan Adnawi on oud. Part of Asia Society’s continuing Creative Voices of Muslim Asia program, the evening will be preceded by a free lecture by Dartmouth music professor Theodore Levin at 7:00.