Richard III is one of the greatest characters in William Shakespeare’s canon, a hunchbacked purveyor of pure evil as he rises to power in fifteenth-century England. The deliciously maleficent and vengeful egomaniac has been played on stage and screen by a plethora of master thespians, including Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellen, Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alec Guinness, Peter Dinklage, Mark Rylance, and George C. Scott. But now there’s a new monarch in town, by far and away the best portrayer of the dastardly demon I have ever seen: German actor Lars Eidinger. In Schaubühne Berlin’s ferocious, nonstop version, continuing at the BAM Harvey through October 14 and directed by Thomas Ostermeier (An Enemy of the People, Hedda Gabler, both at BAM), Eidinger is electrifying, literally and figuratively, as the extraordinary last of the Plantagenets. Eidinger speaks most of his dialogue using an old-fashioned bullet microphone that dangles from above, equipped with a light and a camera for extreme close-ups. Eidinger occasionally throws the mic away from him, then grabs it as it circles back in a kind of homage to Roger Daltrey. At one point the night I went, the mic sent out electric shocks right into Eidinger’s face, but he gamely carried on, muttering about “technical difficulties” with a wry smile. Wearing a white T-shirt, black pants and shoes, and a leather-strap helmet, his Richard is part dilapidated Alex from A Clockwork Orange, part steampunk gone wild, in a world of fashionably dressed men and women who, at the beginning, are at a decadent party straight out of a Christian Schad painting. (The fanciful costumes are by Florence von Gerkan.)
As he takes care of business with his brothers, Clarence (Christoph Gawenda, also Dorset and Stanley) and Edward (Thomas Bading, also Lord Mayor of London and the Second Murderer), Hastings (Sebastian Schwarz, also Brakenbury and Ratcliff), Buckingham (Moritz Gottwald), Queen Margaret (Robert Beyer, also Catesby and the First Murderer), and Rivers (Laurenz Laufenberg), the hunched, club-footed Richard drags himself around Jan Pappelbaum’s set, which is fronted by a half-circle sandbox, with a two-story metal structure in the back, with poles that characters can slide down. When Richard wonderfully woos Lady Anne (Jenny König), he strips down almost completely, leaving only the black pillow that is fastened to his shoulder to form his hump. (Is it simply Eidinger’s prop, or could it be Richard’s?) Richard also makes his way into the audience several times, grabbing a seat, chatting patrons up, and waking up someone who was dozing off in the front row. He primarily speaks in German, although he ad libs in English, at which points he often looks back at one of the three surtitle screens to see if these words are projected there. He also quotes Tyler, the Creator and raps an Eminem song. But don’t let all of the unpredictable, devilish fun distract you from Richard’s real purpose: systematically dispatching anyone and everyone in his path to the throne, even a couple of puppets. Nils Ostendorf’s loud, furious score is made even more dramatic by Thomas Witte’s live drumming and Sébastien Dupouey’s video projections; Witte sits behind his kit stage left, clearly enjoying Eidinger’s antics. By the time Richard is ready for the final battle scene, there is no one else left onstage; he is fighting himself, as if the whole thing is taking place in his warped, deranged mind. It’s a captivating finale to a rousing version that breathes invigorating life into this always dependable warhorse.
VOYEUR (Myles Kane & Josh Koury, 2017)
New York Film Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Sunday, October 15, Francesca Beale Theater, $15, 9:00
Festival runs September 28 - October 15
“I’m a natural person to write about a voyeur because I’m a voyeur myself,” award-winning, bestselling journalist Gay Talese says in Myles Kane and Josh Koury’s Voyeur, which is getting a bonus screening at the New York Film Festival on October 15 prior to debuting on Netflix on December 1. The documentary makes a voyeur of the viewer as well as it follows the thirty-five-year journalistic relationship and offbeat friendship between Talese, longtime New York Times and Esquire writer and author of such books as Honor Thy Father and Thy Neighbor’s Wife, and Gerald Foos, the owner of a Colorado motel who claims he spent decades spying on people from a special crawl space he built above the rooms. In January 1980, Foos, owner of the Manor House Motel, wrote a letter to Talese, offering him a story about what he was doing; Foos considered himself a researcher, not a pervert or a peeping Tom. Using archival footage, news reports, and new interviews, Kane and Koury follow Foos, his second wife, Anita, and Talese as the journalist prepares to write a major piece for the New Yorker in advance of the release of his latest book, The Voyeur’s Motel. New Yorker articles editor Susan Morrison considers Foos a disturbed sociopath in need of attention, while Grove/Atlantic senior editor Jamison Stoltz and publisher Morgan Entrekin have their doubts about the veracity of Foos’s eerily specific tale. So as questions arise about key facts and Talese’s professional ethics, Foos wonders if he should have remained silent — “I’m used to private spaces, places that nobody could see me and I could see them,” he explains — and an angry Talese faces a potentially tarnished legacy.
Kane and Koury, who previously collaborated on such documentaries as Journey to Planet X, We Are Wizards, and We Will Live Again, often use a model of the Manor House to depict certain events while also re-creating scenes of Foos watching couples having sex — including one time when Talese joins him in the snooping and experiences a wardrobe malfunction. (Kane and Koury also let the camera lovingly follow Talese as he impeccably dresses himself, every detail crucial to his overall appearance, much like a journalist getting every single fact right.) Over the years, Talese and the Fooses developed a unique kind of bond that is unusual for a writer and his subject, but the erudite Talese, now eighty-five, defends his actions. “My life has pretty much been living through other people’s experiences and to be a very accurate chronicle, an observer, watching other people, listening,” he says. “I take my time, and I am genuinely interested in the people I am writing about because there’s something about them that I feel I can identify with.” It is fascinating to watch the reactions of Foos and Talese as the article comes out, the book is published, and all hell breaks loose. Voyeur raises significant issues about truth in journalism, the writer’s ethical responsibilities, and the lure of salaciousness. Early on, Talese, in his writing bunker filled with decades and decades of carefully organized files — in a way similar to the collections of baseball cards and other objects Foos keeps in his basement — says, “The story never ends. Stories never die. A lot of reporters think when they leave a story, it’s all over. Sometimes it’s just beginning.” Kane and Koury stick with the story and end up with quite a tale, something that is not about to die anytime soon.
This past fall, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei had several concurrent exhibitions in New York City that dealt with the international refugee crisis. At Deitch Projects in SoHo, “Laundromat” included racks of clothing that had been worn by Syrian refugees at the Idomeni refugee camp in Iraq, all freshly cleaned and pressed, as if ready to give the migrant men, women, and children a new lease on life. Among other items, the gallery show also featured several monitors playing footage that Ai had shot in various refugee camps, film that has now been turned into the stunning documentary Human Flow. In 2016, Ai and his crew traveled to twenty-three countries, visiting dozens of camps in a year in which it was estimated that there were as many as 65 million displaced people around the world, fleeing war, poverty, famine, and persecution. In his first full-length documentary, Ai moves from macro to micro, shooting at a variety of scales. He uses drones to photograph tent cities in the desert from high above — reminiscent of the photography of Edward Burtynsky, turning individual items into parts of a vast pattern — along with gorgeous scenes of deserts and seascapes and intimate cell-phone footage and handheld camera shots that put viewers right in the middle of these makeshift villages, where some families live for decades. Ai, with his scruffy gray beard and in a hoodie, is often shown not only taking cell-phone videos but helping out and mingling with the refugees as dinghies arrive on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, or playfully trading passports with a refugee. Throughout the film, men and women stand proudly, often in traditional dress, looking directly at the camera for extended lengths of time, establishing their unique individuality, putting faces to what is most often seen in news clips as swaths of people struggling to survive. As Ai travels to each successive camp, he posts relevant quotes from writers and philosophers from that nation, from Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, the Dhammapada Buddhist scripture, and Persian poet Baba Tahir to Kurdish poet Sherko Bekas, Syrian poet Adonis, and U.S. president John F. Kennedy. Details about the situations are sometimes delivered news-crawl-style, along the bottom of the screen.
In addition to giving voice to the refugees themselves — “Where am I supposed to start my new life?” one woman asks — Ai speaks with crisis workers on the ground and United Nations officials and other experts, such as UNHCR Communications Officer Boris Cheshirkov, Princess Dana Firas of Jordan, Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, UNHCR Pakistan Senior Operation Coordinator Marin Din Kajdomcaj, UNICEF Lebanon representative Tanya Chapuisat, former Syrian astronaut Mohammad Fares, Dr. Cem Terzi of the Association of Bridging Peoples, and Dr. Kemal Kirişci, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who gets right to the point, explaining, “It’s going to be a big challenge to recognize that the world is shrinking, and people from different religions, different cultures, are going to have to learn to live with each other.” The powerful, immersive film was edited by Niels Pagh Andersen, who worked on Joshua Oppenheimer’s searing The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, from nine hundred hours of footage, with a score by Karsten Fundal and a dozen cinematographers, among them Ai, Christopher Doyle, Zhang Zanbo, Konstantinos Koukoulis, and Johannes Waltermann. “The more immune you are to people suffering, that’s very, very dangerous. It’s critical for us to maintain this humanity,” one woman says, and that gets right to the heart of the film. Human Flow is very personal to Ai, whose own battles with Chinese authorities and exile — he spent much of his childhood in a hard labor camp in the Gobi Desert because his father, a poet and intellectual, was part of a revolutionary group, and as an adult Ai has been imprisoned, placed under house arrest, and beaten for his activism — were detailed in the Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. A masterful Conceptualist whose work explores sociocultural elements through a historical lens, Ai has always believed that artists have a responsibility to reveal the truth, and that’s precisely what he does in Human Flow, with a determined fearlessness to do what’s right.
In one of the film’s most heart-wrenching moments, thirteen thousand refugees, mostly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, walk through the Greek countryside toward the Macedonian border, only to find that a fence has been erected and the entrance is now closed, leaving them with nowhere to go. It’s a harrowing scene, but Ai is no mere doomsayer. There are many shots in the film that show children running about and playing, laughing and smiling for the camera, still filled with hope for a better life. It’s the rest of the world’s job to make that happen, and as Ai exemplifies, every one of us can make a difference. Human Flow opens at the Angelika and the Landmark at 57 West on October 13; Ai will participate in Q&As following the 7:00 screening at the Landmark on October 13 and after the 1:50 show on October 14 at the Angelika. The film is being released in conjunction with the Public Art Fund project “Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” consisting of dozens of installations and interventions in all five boroughs: at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, the Washington Square Arch, the Unisphere, Essex Street Market, the Cooper Union, bus shelters, lampposts, newsstand kiosks, and other locations, furthering Ai’s artistic ideas about immigrant bans and the treatment of refugees, spread across a city he called home in the 1980s.
THY FATHER’S CHAIR (Alex Lora & Antonio Tibaldi, 2015)
Village East Cinema
181-189 Second Ave. at 12th St.
Opens Friday, October 13
Directors Antonio Tibaldi and Alex Lora put the viewer right in the middle of twin brothers Abraham and Schrag’s desperately crowded and traumatic situation in the compulsively watchable observational documentary Thy Father’s Chair. After their parents died, the slovenly, unmarried Jewish scholars just plain stopped cleaning up after themselves, allowing newspapers, magazines, food, garbage, kitty litter, and myriad other items to pile up around them. They were not collectors hoarding valuable possessions or personal mementos; they were simply unable to organize anything or throw stuff away in their Brooklyn apartment. Only when their upstairs tenant stopped paying rent in protest, demanding they clean their place — the tenants had to deal not only with bad odors from the brothers’ apartment but with vermin as well — do they seek out assistance, hiring an Israeli man named Hanan of Home Clean Home to come and make their apartment safe and livable again. But it’s no easy task, as Abraham watches Hanan and his hazmat-suited team very carefully, continually trying to talk them out of tossing away certain items HCH insists must go; meanwhile, Schrag just moans on and on as he downs bottles of wine. (One of the only ways to tell the identical twins apart is by the wine stains on Schrag’s white shirt.) “What the hell! Nobody’s helping me,” Abraham cries out. “We are here to help you!” Hanan says. “You’re not going to help me. You’re going to tell me what to do,” Abraham replies. Later, Abraham tells Hanan, “What is it, a punishment?” Hanan responds, “It’s not punishment. I’m trying to help you; you’re not working with me.” Abraham just can’t bear to get rid of what is clearly mostly junk and garbage, including vastly outdated electronic equipment and canned food. The only item that the brothers search for that is indeed worth keeping is their megillah scroll, but that is the exception. Abraham also agonizes over his father’s favorite chair, not wanting Hanan to take it yet debating whether he is even worthy enough to sit in it. “The Torah wants everything to be clean, but unfortunately we veered from it,” he concedes. The brothers actually do understand what is going on, that their hoarding is patently absurd and dangerous, but they are powerless to stop it.
Director and cinematographer Tibaldi and director and editor Lora cast no judgment on the two men; the filmmakers work, much like the Maysles brothers did, like flies on the wall, recording the crazy things going on in this railroad apartment in Midwood for eight days. Complicating matters, Tibaldi couldn’t always get the kinds of shots he wanted, as he was physically limited as to where he could stand because of the mounds of filth. There’s no back story; we find out almost nothing about who Abraham and Schrag are and what they have done with their lives, what their hopes and dreams might have been, other than what little they reveal of themselves onscreen, which is dominated by an overwhelming fear of things being taken away from them. There are also no talking heads offering expert opinions or psychological evaluations about the brothers and their situation. Both melancholic and absurdly funny, the twins’ predicament is sort of what would happen if the Beale women of Grey Gardens had mated with Homer Lusk Collyer and Langley Wakeman Collyer, the famous hoarding brothers who died less than two weeks apart in their Harlem brownstone, no longer able to survive their suffocating surroundings. Bjarke Kolerus and Simon Don Eriksen’s gentle music also doesn’t comment on the ridiculousness of it all, instead treating it with understanding. “I feel sorry and sad to see you sad,” Hannan tells Abraham, who replies, “I feel bad about the stuff that’s being thrown out, but it has to be done,” trying to convince himself that it’s all going to be okay. The Father’s Chair, which is dedicated to Chantal Akerman, opens Friday, October 13, at the Village East and will be preceded by Artemis Shaw and Alexander Lewis’s 2016 short Single Room Occupancy.
THE VENERABLE W. (Barbet Schroeder, 2017)
New York Film Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Friday, October 13, Walter Reade Theater, $25, 6:00
Saturday, October 14, Francesca Beale Theater, $25, 1:00
Festival runs September 28 - October 15
According to long-standing traditions and beliefs, Buddhists have empathy and compassion for all sentient beings. For example, in the recently released documentary The Last Dalai Lama?, His Holiness expressed such feelings even for the Chinese military and government that have waged war on the Tibetan people for more than fifty years and have decided that they will select the next Dalai Lama. So when Iranian-born Swiss-French director Barbet Schroeder heard about Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk in Myanmar advocating violence against a Muslim minority known as the Rohingyas, he headed to the country, formerly known as Burma, where he was so shocked and disturbed by what he saw that he can still barely say the monk’s name in interviews. Nor could he bring himself to use it in the title of his film about the controversial figure, The Venerable W., which is screening at the New York Film Festival on October 13 and 14, followed by Q&As with the director. With the documentary, Schroeder, who is best known for such works as Barfly, Reversal of Fortune, and Single White Female, concludes his Trilogy of Evil, which began with General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait in 1974, about the Ugandan dictator, and continued in 2007 with Terror’s Advocate, about lawyer Jacques Vergès, who has defended such clients as a former Nazi, a Khmer Rouge leader, and a Holocaust denier. The Venerable W. consists of archival footage and new interviews with Wirathu, as Schroeder essentially lets the leader speak his mind, in sermons to his rabid followers, at public events, and in his monastery, where he espouses his beliefs to the filmmaker. “The main features of the African catfish are that: They grow very fast. They breed very fast too. And they’re violent. They eat their own species and destroy their natural resources. The Muslims are exactly like these fish,” Wirathu, who was born in Kyaukse near Mandalay in 1968, says with a sly smile. He regularly boasts of his accomplishments in subduing the Rohingyas, whom he often refers to using a slur that is the equivalent of the N-word in America.
A megalomaniacal nationalist with extremist positions on patriotism, protectionism, and border crossings and a clever manipulator of social media, Wirathu, inspired by the 1997 book In Fear of Our Race Disappearing, also makes extravagant, debunked claims using false statistics, from declaring that he started the 2007 Saffron Revolution to arguing that the Rohingyas are burning down their own villages so they can blame the Buddhists. Much of what he is saying sounds eerily familiar, evoking racist, nationalist sentiments that are gaining ground around the world, particularly in France, England, and America. “In the USA, if the people want to maintain peace and security, they have to choose Donald Trump,” Wirathu says. Schroeder also speaks with seven men who share their views about Wirathu: W.’s master, U. Zanitar; investigative magazine editor Kyaw Zayar Htun; Saffron Revolution monk U. Kaylar Sa; Fortify Rights creator Matthew Smith; Muslim political candidate Abdul Rasheed; Spanish journalist Carlos Sardiña Galache; and highly revered monk U. Galonni. Together they paint a portrait of a dangerous fanatic who is fomenting bitter hatred that has led to extensive episodes of rape, violence, and murder while the military and the government, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, either support what Wirathu’s doing or merely look the other way. In numerous voiceovers, Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros recites quotations from Buddhist texts, including the Metta Sutta, and states various sociopolitical facts. “The Buddha is often above good and evil, but his words should help us limit the mechanics of evil,” she narrates. Meanwhile, Wirathu, who was declared “the Face of Buddhist Terror” in a June 2013 Time magazine cover story, insists he is doing the right thing for his country. “I help people who have been persecuted by Muslims,” he says. “The threat against Buddhism has reached alert level.” It’s a brutal film to watch, infuriating and frightening, as Schroeder and editor Nelly Quettier clearly and concisely present the facts, without judgment, including scenes of people on fire and being viciously beaten; the director might not make any grand statements against what Wirathu and his flock are doing — he lets the monk take care of that by himself — but the film is a clarion call for us all to be aware of what is happening around the world, as well as in our own backyard. Both screenings of The Venerable W. will be preceded by the short film What Are You Up to, Barbet Schroeder?, which goes behind the scenes of his decision to tell Wirathu’s story.
THE WIND (Victor Sjöström, 1928)
Museum of the Moving Image, Redstone Theater
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, October 15, $15, 2:00
Series runs October 13-22
Author Brian Selznick’s 2007 book The Invention of Hugo Cabret proved to be movie magic; it was turned into the film Hugo by Martin Scorsese, which garnered eleven Oscar nominations and won four. In conjunction with the theatrical release of the latest movie based on a Selznick book, Todd Haynes’s adaptation of Selznick’s 2011Wonderstruck, the Museum of the Moving Image is hosting the series “Inspiring Wonderstruck,” consisting of nine films that influenced and inspired the author. One of the most direct influences was Victor Sjöström’s 1928 now-classic silent film The Wind, starring Lillian Gish as Letty Mason, a young woman traveling from Virginia to Texas to live with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle). Traveling from the cultured, civilized East to what was still the wild West, the uncertain Letty must confront the fierceness of nature head-on — both human nature and the harsh natural environment. On the train, she is wooed by cattleman Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love), but her fears grow as she first sees the vicious wind howling outside the train window the closer she gets to her destination. Once in Sweetwater, she is picked up by her cousin’s neighbors, the handsome Lige Hightower (Lars Hanson) and his goofy sidekick, Sourdough (William Orlamond). Both men take a quick liking to Letty, who seems most attracted to Wirt. Soon Beverly’s wife, Cora (Dorothy Cumming, in her next-to-last film before retiring), becomes jealous of Letty’s closeness with her husband and kids and kicks her out, leaving a desperate Letty to make choices she might not be ready for as the wind outside becomes fiercer and ever-more dangerous. The Wind is a tour de force for Gish in her last silent movie, not only because of her emotionally gripping portrayal of Letty but because she put the entire production together, obtaining the rights to the novel by Dorothy Scarborough, hiring the Swedish director and star Hanson, and arguing over the ending with the producers and Irving Thalberg. (Unfortunately, she lost on that account, just about the only thing that did not go the way she wanted.)
Sjöström (The Phantom Carriage, The Divine Woman), who played Professor Isak Borg in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, and cinematographer John Arnold create some dazzling effects as a twister threatens and Letty battles both inside and outside; she is regularly shot from the side, at the door of the shack where she lives, not knowing if she’d be safer inside or outside as the wind and sand blast over her. The film, an early look at climate change, was shot in the Mojave Desert in difficult circumstances; to get the wind to swirl, the crew used propellers from eight airplanes. Dialogue is sparse, and the story is told primarily in taut visuals. “Lillian Gish [is] at the height of her powers, fighting the wind and insanity nonstop for the entire movie,” Selznick says of The Wind. “A silent film made just after the silent era ended, the film is now recognized as one of Gish’s greats. The character of Lillian Mayhew, played by Julianne Moore in Wonderstruck, is directly inspired by Gish, and the fictional movie within a movie, Daughter of the Wind, is exactly that, an offspring of this very movie.” A restored 35mm print of The Wind with the original music and effects soundtrack is screening October 15 at 2:00 at the Museum of the Moving Image. “Inspiring Wonderstruck” runs October 13-22 and also includes, among others, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Haynes’s I’m Not There and Poison, Diane Garey and Lawrence Hott’s Through Deaf Eyes, Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and Hal Ashby’s Being There as well as a preview screening of Wonderstruck, followed by a Q&A with Selznick, production designer Mark Friedberg, and costume designer Sandy Powell and a book signing with Selznick.