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

“I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS”

“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians”

How the 1941 Odessa massacre has been remembered is the central focus of Radu Jude’s “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians”

“I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS” (ÎMI ESTE INDIFERENT DACĂ ÎN ISTORIE VOM INTRA CA BARBARI) (Radu Jude, 2018)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, July 19
212-924-7771
www.ifccenter.com
bigworldpictures.org

Romanian writer-director Radu Jude follows up his 2017 documentary, The Dead Nation, with “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians,” a bold, provocative fiction film with nonfiction elements that explores continuing anti-Semitism and bigotry in Romania, Eastern Europe, and the world. The title is taken from a statement made by Romanian military dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu to the Council of Ministers in the summer of 1941, just a few months before the Odessa massacre in which tens of thousands of Jews were killed by Romanian troops. The film is set in contemporary times, as theater director Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob) is preparing for a live, one-time-only massacre reenactment in the town square. Marin is determined to show what really happened during those days, complete with brutal murders and hangings, but Constantin Movilă (theater director Alexandru Dabija), her connection with the local government, insists that she leave out the gruesome parts, that the show should be a celebration of Romanian heroes. She argues that it would not be fair to the nearly four hundred thousand Jews that were ethnically cleansed by the Romanian military, but he quibbles over what’s true and what the community wants to see. As the show approaches, Movilă threatens to cancel it while numerous actors complain about the negative aspects being depicted, displaying affection for “Uncle Hitler” and a lack of empathy for the exterminated Jews.

“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” is like a post-Nouvelle Vague film, echoing elements of French cinema from Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette to Olivier Assayas and Arnaud Desplechin, with debates of texts by Isaac Babel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Joseph Goebbels, Nicolae Steinhardt, and others. But instead of becoming pedantic, the discussions serve to enlighten the arguments and define such characters as Movilă and, in particular, Marin, who not accidentally shares the same name with a Romanian poet who wrote, “Serene and bitter, I hurry across my native land / As if tomorrow had already been.” The entire film is seen from Marin’s determined point of view, whether she’s reading in bed with her lover, Ștefan (Șerban Pavlu), getting support from her lead actor, Traian (Alex Bogdan), and right-hand assistant, Oltea (Ilinca Manolache), or smoking and drinking in a bubbles-free bath. She’s mad at the state of the world and disgusted that people don’t want to know the truth of their history; she’s like the tank she insists she must have for the production — and like the tank, which has to stand still, Marin refuses to budge, understanding the difference between compromise and censorship.

In her first leading role, Iacob is mesmerizing throughout the film’s 140 minutes, giving a tour-de-force performance that lays it all out there as she portrays a bold and brash woman who won’t back down from her personal and professional desires; she’s so immersed in the part that at times you’ll think you’re watching a documentary, enhanced by cinematographer Marius Panduru’s wandering, unpredictable camera. Jude (Scarred Hearts, Aferim!) tackles such critical issues as governmental whitewashing of history, the public’s selective memory, and the definition of patriotism itself, a debate raging across America under the current administration as well as in other nations. Whether Marin gets to stage the show or not ends up being besides the point as the people around her reveal their biases and hatreds, something a play is not about to change. “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” is a necessary film, but it’s also a frightening one.

LIGIA LEWIS: SENSATION 1 / THIS INTERIOR

Ligia Lewis, minor matter, 2016. Photo by Martha Glenn.

Ligia Lewis, whose minor matter is seen above, translates Sensation 1 for the High Line this week (photo by Martha Glenn)

The High Line, Fourteenth Street Passage
July 23-25, free with advance RSVP, 7:30
www.thehighline.org
ligialewis.com

Dancer and choreographer Ligia Lewis presents the next iteration of her Sensation series July 23-25 with Sensation 1 / This Interior, the first to be performed outside, taking place at 7:30 each night at the Fourteenth Street Passage on the High Line. Sensation 1 premiered as an indoor solo in 2011, followed the next year by Sensation 2; both pieces involved very slow movement that viewed the body as a sculptural object. Now the Dominican-born, Berlin-based Lewis, who has recently completed a trilogy consisting of Sorrow Swag (2014), minor matter (2016), and Water Will (in Melody) (2018), revisits Sensation with dancers Trinity Bobo, Emma Cohen, Rebecca Gual, Miguel Ángel Guzmán, Stephanie Peña, and Jumatatu M. Poe and music by Lewis’s brother, George Lewis Jr., aka Twin Shadow, focusing on the last note of a song on multiple bodies as a shared experience. Admission is free with advance RSVP.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Lubaina Himid’s Five Conversations is part of High Line group show “En Plein Air” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Be sure to show up early or stay late and take a walk along the High Line to see its current art commissions. The group show “En Plein Air” comprises works by Ei Arakawa, Firelei Báez, Daniel Buren, Sam Falls, Lubaina Himid, Lara Schnitger, Ryan Sullivan, and Vivian Suter that, like Sensation 1 / This Interior, take advantage of the outdoor location. Also be on the lookout for Simone Leigh’s giant Brick House, a sixteen-foot-high bronze figure of a black woman with long cornrow braids and a skirt that doubles as her body and a dwelling; Ruth Ewan’s Silent Agitator, which demands that it’s “time to organize”; Dorothy Iannone’s I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door, depicting three colorful versions of the Statue of Liberty; and Autumn Knight’s Complete Total Pleasure, a new video about anhedonia, power, race, and control.

And on August 6 at 5:00, the High Line will host “In Conversation: On Top of All This,” a free (with advance RSVP) three-hour gathering on the Spur at Thirtieth St. and Tenth Ave., with poetry, fiction, prompts, and predictions from poet and scholar Lucas Crawford, poet, curator, and artist Anaïs Duplan, and dancer, writer, curator, and choreographer Emily Johnson, including prerecorded audio reflections, readings, and a panel discussion.

MOSTLY MOZART: THE MAGIC FLUTE

(photo © Stephanie Berger, courtesy Lincoln Center)

Pamina (Maureen McKay) and Papageno (Rodion Pogossov) are looking for love in Mostly Mozart Festival production of The Magic Flute (photo © Stephanie Berger, courtesy Lincoln Center)

DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center
20 Lincoln Center Plaza
July 17-20, 7:00
Festival continues through August 10
212-496-0600
www.lincolncenter.org
www.davidhkochtheater.com

Komische Oper Berlin teams up with British company 1927 for a candy-colored fantastical version of The Magic Flute, which kicks off Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. Directed by Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky, the nearly three-hour delight features the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, conducted by Louis Langrée, playing in front of a terrific cast and a large white wall on which Paul Barritt projects fanciful hand-drawn animation throughout. The performers, who mostly appear and disappear through several doors at multiple levels of the wall — the set is by Esther Bialas, who also designed the fun costumes — interact directly with the cartoonish images, petting a black cat, sending hearts, blowing smoke rings, and being chased by a fire-breathing serpent. None of librettist Emanuel Schikaneder’s dialogue is spoken; instead, it is projected in dramatic fonts projected on the wall.

(photo © Stephanie Berger, courtesy Lincoln Center).

The Queen of the Night (Audrey Luna) hovers over it all like a giant spider in The Magic Flute (photo © Stephanie Berger, courtesy Lincoln Center)

After being saved in a dark forest by the Queen of the Night (alternately played by Audrey Luna or Aleksandra Olczyk), Tamino (Julien Behr / Aaron Blake) meets Papageno (Rodion Pogossov / Evan Hughes), who initially takes credit for the rescue and so is punished by the Three Ladies (Ashley Milanese, Karolina Gumos, and Ezgi Kutlu), who make him mute by taking away his mouth, which flies across the screen like a chattering teeth toy. The ladies, who serve the queen, show Tamino a picture of the ruler’s daughter, Pamina (Maureen McKay / Vera-Lotte Böcker), to Tamino, who instantly falls in love with her. But Pamina has been captured by the evil Monostatos (Johannes Dunz) for his boss, the intellectual Sarastro (Dimitry Ivashchenko / Wenwei Zhang). For protection, the ladies give Tamino a magic flute (an animated fairy) and Papageno magic bells that emerge from a box as tiny dancers. As Tamino tries to free Pamina through a series of trials (silence, temptation, fire and water), Papageno searches for his own love.

(photo © Stephanie Berger, courtesy Lincoln Center)

Mrs. Scwhatz, Klatsch, and Tratsch (Ashley Milanese, Karolina Gumos, and Ezgi Kutlu) offer a unique kind of help to Tamino (Julien Behr) and Papageno (Rodion Pogossov) in fanciful Mozart adaptation at Lincoln Center (photo © Stephanie Berger, courtesy Lincoln Center)

Combining vaudeville, silent movie tropes, a bawdy sense of humor, anime, and a heartfelt reverence for Mozart’s extraordinary music, this version of The Magic Flute — Wolfgang’s 1791 work, which premiered only a few months before his death at the age of thirty-five, was not made for opera aficionados but for the general public — creates a devilishly delicious, weird and wonderful world that will bring out the kid in you, although it is not necessarily for die Kinder. The staging is endlessly inventive, and the cast has everything timed to the second as they immerse themselves into the animation, which is spectacular, particularly the Queen of the Night, who is a giant eight-legged spider. Tantalizing references abound: The magic flute itself is a Tinker Bell-like naked winged creature, Monostatos evokes F. W. Murnau’s vampire Nosferatu, Sarastro looks like silent-film pioneer Georges Méliès, Papageno is a cross between Buster Keaton and Ed Wynn, and the magic bells and the three spirit boys recall Henry Darger’s drawings. Diego Leetz deserves special mention for his magnificent lighting design, with its many nods to silent cinema, as well as principal Jasmine Choi and Tanya Dusevic Witek on flute. It’s a shame this production, so bursting with life’s energy and romance, treachery and trepidation, is running only four days, as it’s a Magic Flute for the ages.

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

(photo by Ahron R. Foster)

The Daughters of Mary worship the Black Madonna in musical version of The Secret Life of Bees (photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 21, $106.50-$126.50
866-811-4111
atlantictheater.org

In a readers guide interview for her 2001 novel The Secret Life of Bees, author Sue Monk Kidd explains, “I began my bee education by reading lots of books. There’s a mystique about bees, a kind of spell they weave over you, and I fell completely under it. I read bee lore and legend that went back to ancient times. I discovered bees were considered a symbol of the soul, of death and rebirth. I will never forget coming upon medieval references which associated the Virgin Mary with the queen bee. I’d been thinking of her as the queen bee of my little hive of women in the pink house, thinking that was very original, and they’d already come up with that five hundred years ago!”

The Virgin Mary / queen bee symbolism lies at the heart of the story, which was made into a 2008 film by Gina Prince-Bythewood starring Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okonedo and has now been turned into a skillfully rendered musical continuing at the Atlantic through July 21. It’s the summer of 1964 in South Carolina, and twenty-two-year-old black maid Rosaleen (Tony nominee Saycon Sengbloh) is determined to exercise her brand-new right to vote. Fourteen-year-old white girl Lily (Elizabeth Teeter) insists on accompanying her. Rosaleen has been helping take care of Lily and her father, T-Ray (Chris Stack), ever since the tragic loss of Lily’s mother. Rosaleen gets attacked by two white racists and is arrested. Lily, after another fight with the angry T-Ray, goes on the run with Rosaleen, spurred by a postcard in her mother’s things of a black Madonna statue in Tiburon. “Not a damn thing in this town / I’m gonna miss / Wherever I’m goin’ / It’s gotta be better than this,” Lily and Rosaleen sing.

When they get to Tiburon, they find a pink house where a group of women make Black Madonna Honey and, as the Daughters of Mary, worship a statue of the black virgin; while August Boatwright (Tony winner LaChanze) immediately wants to take Lily and Rosaleen in, June (Obie winner Eisa Davis) is not so sure, and May (Anastacia McCleskey) is somewhere in between, stuck in mourning for July. Lily is soon working with Zachary (Brett Gray), a black teenager, and learning some life lessons, but T-Ray is trying to track her down — and the horrors of racism await around nearly every corner.

(photo by Ahron R. Foster)

LaChanze belts one out as August Boatwright in world premiere musical at the Atlantic (photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Directed by Tony winner Sam Gold (Fun Home, A Doll’s House, Part 2) and featuring music by Tony and Grammy winner Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening, Alice by Heart) — who was raised in South Carolina — lyrics by two-time Tony nominee and Drama Desk winner Susan Birkenhead (Jelly’s Last Jam, Working), and a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage (Sweat, Ruined), The Secret Life of Bees is a poignant, hard-hitting tale that feels all too real as voter suppression of people of color is still a major issue in America. The story loses its way near the end as it gets bogged down in religious fervor and treacly melodrama, but the majority of the show is smart and entertaining; especially notable is the creative way the bees flock around Lily. Mimi Lien’s homey set includes a nine-piece band on the periphery of the stage playing a mix of country, folk, blues, pop, and R&B, led by pianist, music director, and conductor Jason Hart and percussionist and associate music director Benjamin Rahuala.

LaChanze (The Color Purple, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical) is absolutely lovely as August, a strong woman asserting her power, while Sengbloh (Eclipsed, In the Blood) is warm and becoming as Rosaleen, and Teeter (The Crucible, The Hard Problem) is impressive as Lily, a tough kid making grown-up decisions. The cast also includes Romelda Teron Benjamin as Queenie, Vita E. Cleveland as Violet, and Jai’Len Christine Li Josey as Sugar Girl, three Daughters of Mary who serve as a kind of Greek chorus, and Nathaniel Stampley as Neil, a principal who has his heart set on marrying the cold and distant June. The musical might be set fifty-five years ago, but it feels all too real given the racial, economic, and political divides that are tearing this country apart, buzzing around us like so many angry hornets, delivering poisonous stings instead of sweet honey.

CATCH HER IF YOU CAN

(photo by Rachel Neville Photography)

Drew Jacoby and Maria Kochetkova get groovy at the Joyce in Rachel, Nevada (photo by Rachel Neville Photography)

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Ave. at 19th St.
July 16-21, $56-$96
212-242-0800
www.joyce.org

Thirty-five-year-old Moscow-born ballerina Maria Kochetkova gives audiences an intimate look into her future with her first solo project, Catch Her If You Can, continuing at the Joyce through July 21. After eleven years as a principal with San Francisco Ballet, the last two overlapping as a principal here in New York City with ABT, Kochetkova has worked with the Joyce Foundation on an evening of seven short pieces and one longer one by seven contemporary choreographers created specifically for the Moscow-born ballerina and several of her friends and colleagues. The program displays a talented woman bridging the gap between the classicism of ballet and the unpredictability of modern dance, and while some pieces are more exciting than others, it makes for a splendid introduction to what is next for Kochetkova.

(photo by Rachel Neville Photography)

Maria Kochetkova performs in David Dawson’s At the End of the Day in independent debut (photo by Rachel Neville Photography)

The evening begins with William Forsythe’s Bach Duet (from New Suite), in which Kochetkova pairs with Sebastian Klorborg in a romantic pas de deux that is more balletic in nature, focusing on exquisite use of the upper body and arms in particular. Following Carlo Di Lanno’s bold solo in Myles Thatcher’s Painting Greys, with music by Emmit Fenn, Drew Jacoby wows with her muscular solo in Marco Goecke’s Tué, set to music by Barbara; Jacoby’s back muscles ripple in a dance all their own. Kochetkova next takes center stage, showcasing innovative footwork and astonishing flexibility on the floor to Oleg Malov’s version of Alexander Knaifel’s “O Heavenly King” in Marcos Morau’s Degunino. In David Dawson’s White Swan Pas de Deux (from Swan Lake), Di Lanno and Sofiane Sylve, two statuesque, athletic presences, perform breathtaking lifts and carries to Tchaikovsky’s familiar sounds.

The first act concludes with Jacoby and Kochetkova having a blast with the world premiere of Jacoby’s Rachel, Nevada. Their substantial size difference is put to good effect in front of a screen showing mostly black-and-white optical illusions designed by TOYKYO, with music by Sam Spiegel and opaque costumes by Anja Mlakar. Following intermission, Kochetkova and Kloborg offer up Dawson’s romantic duet At the End of the Day, set to Szymon Brzóska’s “Migrations,” but it’s the grand finale, the world premiere of Jérôme Bel’s Masha Machine — Kochetkova is affectionately known as Masha — that lays bare Kochetkova’s style, devotion to dance, and perhaps surprising sense of humor in a comic and revealing media-rich duet.

LUZ

Luz

Luz (Luana Velis) has a strange story to tell, told in a strange way, in debut feature by Tilman Singer

LUZ (Tilman Singer, 2018)
IFC Center, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn, Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg
Opens Friday, July 19
yellowveilpictures.com/luz

German director Tilman Singer’s feature film debut, Luz, is a mesmerizingly dark and moody psychothriller, a thickly atmospheric seventy-minute foray into the unknown. Made on an extremely low budget as his thesis project at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, the film is about — well, I’m not sure I really know what it’s about, but I also cannot stop thinking about it. The film, which takes place in the late 1980s/early 1990s, opens with a long shot of an office reception area and hallway. A man is working behind the desk when a young woman in a baseball cap walks in agonizingly slowly, buys a soda from a vending machine, and says to the man, “Is this how you wanna live your life? Is this seriously what you want?”

The next scene is set in a gloomy bar where Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt), a psychologist who is being repeatedly paged, and a mysterious woman, Nora Vanderkurt (Julia Riedler), are the only ones drinking. She approaches him, takes a sniff of what appears to be coke, mixes some strange cocktails, and tells him about her girlfriend, who has jumped out of her taxi. He eventually answers his pager; two cops, Bertillon (Nadja Stübiger) and Olarte (Johannes Benecke), have called him in to help interrogate a young woman in a baseball cap who has had an accident in her cab. Her name is Luz (Luana Velis), and she is prone to scream out a unique and profane version of the Lord’s Prayer at any moment. After a few more bizarre moments, Dr. Rossini joins the cops in one of the strangest interrogations you’ll ever see, a brilliantly staged spectacle involving hypnosis, suggestion, and a genius use of sound and image as Luz relates exactly what happened to her, going back to a bizarre ritual held at her Catholic school when she was a girl. (Olarte’s reactions are particularly memorable.) “What you see is distorted,” Luz says at one point, and indeed, everything we see is distorted, and convoluted, and twisted, but all in a captivating way as Singer channels David Cronenberg, David Lynch, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulgi, creating a wholly unpredictable work of gleeful madness that immerses you in a hypnotic, demonic labyrinth.

Luz was originally meant to be a thirty-minute short centered around the interrogation, which was filmed first, but writer-director-producer Singer kept expanding it, inspired initially by police sketch artists and then by tales of his wife’s experience in a Catholic girls school in Colombia. He admits that he is not one for scripts, but it doesn’t really matter in this case. Shooting on 16mm film completely indoors and often in claustrophobic spaces, cinematographer Paul Faltz employs a stark palette of muted colors with sparse camera movement, while composer Simon Waskow harkens back to 1970s horror with his ever-threatening score. There’s a theatrical quality to the look of the film — the eerie production design, reminiscent of Stranger Things and Assault on Precint 13, is by Dario Méndez Acosta, who is also one of the producers — as well as the acting. In fact, Singer trained as a theater actor, as did most of the cast; the long interrogation scene is set in a room with rows and rows of chairs, as if an empty theater. Luz opens July 19 at IFC Center, Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn, and Nitehawk Cinema, where all the seats deserve to be filled.

BURT LANCASTER: ROBERT SIODMAK’S THE KILLERS / DON SIEGEL’S THE KILLERS

THE KILLERS

Burt Lancaster makes a killer film debut in classic 1946 noir from Robert Siodmak

THE KILLERS (Robert Siodmak, 1946)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
July 19–25
Series runs July 19 - August 15
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

In 1950, Edmond O’Brien starred as auditor Frank Bigelow in Rudolph Maté’s classic noir D.O.A., a story told in flashback as Bigelow tries to figure out why someone has poisoned him. Four years earlier, O’Brien dealt with another kind of fatalism in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers, playing insurance agent Jim Reardon, who is investigating why a gas station attendant was brutally gunned down in his bed in suburban Brentwood, New Jersey. The film — which kicks off Film Forum’s four-week salute to Manhattan-born Hollywood star Burt Lancaster on July 19 in a new 4K restoration — opens with cold-hearted contract killers Al (Charles McGraw) and Max (William Conrad) arriving in town, looking for the Swede (Lancaster), aka Pete Lund and Ole Andreson. They waltz into Henry’s Diner, giving orders and exchanging mean-spirited dialogue with no fears or worries. When Nick Adams (Phil Brown) warns the Swede that the men are coming to kill him, the former boxer knows there’s nothing he can do about it anymore; he’s tired of running, and he’s ready to meet his end.

It’s a shocking way to begin a movie; up to that point, it’s a faithful version of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, but the rest is the splendid invention of writers Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, and John Huston and producer Mark Hellinger. Reardon soon finds himself meeting with a series of gangsters as they relate, through flashbacks, a plot to rob a payroll, perpetrated by a motley crew that includes “Dum Dum” Clarke (Jack Lambert), “Blinky” Franklin (Jeff Corey), the Swede, and mastermind Big Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker), along with Big Jim’s gun moll, femme fatale extraordinaire Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). Reardon’s boss (Donald MacBride) wants him to forget about it, since it’s essentially about a meager $2,500 insurance claim, but Reardon is determined to find out what happened to a quarter million in cash, with the help of the Swede’s childhood friend, Lt. Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene).

Ava Gardner turns more than a few heads in THE KILLERS

Ava Gardner turns more than a few heads in The Killers

The Killers is an intense, passionate heist flick, structured like Citizen Kane, starting with a death and then putting everything together via interviews and flashbacks. Lancaster and Gardner are magnetic, he in his screen debut, she in the film that made her a star. Siodmak (The Dark Mirror, The Spiral Staircase) masterfully navigates the noir tropes, from Miklós Rózsa’s jazzy score, which jumps out from the opening credits, and Woody Bredell’s oft-angled black-and-white cinematography that maintains an ominous, shadowy sensibility throughout to deft characterizations and surprising plot twists. As it makes its way through the seven deadly sins, The Killers lives up to its fab billing as a “Raw! Rugged! Ruthless drama of a man who gambled — his luck — his love — his life for the treachery of a girl’s lips.”

Nominated for four Oscars, for Best Director, Best Film Editing (Arthur Hilton), Best Music, and Best Adapted Screenplay, The Killers, which was also made into a 1958 student short by Andrei Tarkovsky and a 1964 crime drama by Don Siegel starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Norman Fell, and Ronald Reagan, is screening July 19-25 at Film Forum; the Lancaster tribute continues through August 15 with such other Burt classics as Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity, and Louis Malle’s Atlantic City in addition to such lesser-known movies as John Cassavetes’s A Child Is Waiting, Sidney Pollack’s The Scalphunters, and Norman Foster’s Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.

The Killers

The future’s not so bright, but Clu Gulager and Lee Marvin still have to wear shades in remake of The Killers

THE KILLERS (Don Siegel, 1964)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Saturday, July 20 – Monday, July 22
212-727-8110
filmforum.org

In conjunction with the screening of the 1946 version of The Killers kicking off Film Forum’s four-week Burt Lancaster festival, the downtown institution is also presenting Don Siegel’s 1964 remake July 20-22. Siegel, who at one point was supposed to direct the 1946 original, sets this adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story in a bright, candy-colored world that is a far cry from the intricate, shadowy darkness of Robert Siodmak’s earlier noir version; in fact, it’s so luminous that hitmen Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) are often wearing dark sunglasses (à la Jake and Ellwood Blues), and the film opens with them walking into a home for the blind, passing by two blind boys playing their own version of cops and robbers. The men are there to kill former race-car driver Johnny North (John Cassavetes), who is now a teacher. Despite being warned by an old man (longtime character actor Burt Mustin) that they are coming, Johnny waits for them, choosing not to run. His lack of a survival instinct confounds Charlie, who goes on a search to find out why Johnny didn’t fight for his life but instead essentially welcomed a brutal death.

The Killers

Ronald Reagan plays a villain for the first time in his last movie, Don Siegel’s 1964 version of The Killers

Johnny’s sordid tale is related to Charlie and Lee in flashback as they meet up with his mechanic and best friend, Earl Sylvester (Claude Akins); Johnny’s lover, femme fatale Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson); Farr’s other lover, crime boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan); and Jack’s flunky, Mickey Farmer (Norman Fell), as they tell a story of racing, double crosses, and a million-dollar heist. Written by Gene L. Coon and initially intended as a television movie but deemed too violent in the wake of the assassination of JFK and released theatrically, The Killers features plenty of cheesy scenes and none-too-subtle melodrama, but it’s still loads of fun, with a campy sense of humor lurking behind all the blood and guts, with a Rat Packy feel. Reagan is fun to watch in his final movie role before turning to politics — and his first time playing a villain — while the glamorous Dickinson shows off some fine hairdos and couture. Siegel, who had previously directed Invasion of the Body Snatchers and would go on to make Dirty Harry, Madigan, and Escape from Alcatraz, never veers off track as he relies on the great Lee Marvin, in the midst of a terrific run that included The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Cat Ballou, The Dirty Dozen, and Point Blank, to drive the action. It might not be very Hemingway-esque, but who cares?