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

RATED X

Ralph Bakshis animatedFritz the Cat is part of Quad tribute to X-rated cinema

Ralph Bakshi’s animated Fritz the Cat is part of Quad tribute to X-rated cinema

Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Series runs December 14 - January 10
212-255-2243
quadcinema.com

In 1974, the promotional tag line for the porn sequel Emmanuelle II was “X was never like this.” While that film flaunted it, more mainstream movies treat the rating as a plague that could kill distribution and box office. The Quad is paying tribute to the controversial grade with “Rated X,” consisting of thirty-four films screening December 14 to January 10 that were either X-rated or had to make a few nips and tucks in order to avoid that tag. The films range from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, from Marco Bellocchio’s Devil in the Flesh and Pedro Almodóvar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! to Vilgot Sjöman’s I Am Curious (Yellow) and Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses. Keep watching this space for additional reviews of this, um, titillating film fest.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS

Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider star in Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial Last Tango in Paris

LAST TANGO IN PARIS (ULTIMO TANGO A PARIGI) (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
Saturday, December 15, 7.40
Sunday, December 16, 7:20
Friday, December 28, 8:35
Saturday, January 5, 8:55
www.fiaf.org

One of the most artistic films ever made about seduction, Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial X-rated Last Tango in Paris is part of the Quad’s “Paris Stripped Bare” and “Pictures from the Revolution: Bertolucci’s Italian Period” series in addition to “Rated X.” Written by Bertolucci (The Conformist, The Spider’s Stratagem), who passed away in Rome in November at the age of seventy-seven, with regular collaborator and editor Franco Arcalli and with French dialogue by Agnès Varda (Le Bonheur, Vagabond), the film opens with credits featuring jazzy romantic music by Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri and two colorful and dramatic paintings by Francis Bacon, “Double Portrait of Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach” and “Study for a Portrait,” that set the stage for what is to follow. (Bacon was a major influence on the look and feel of the film, photographed by Vittorio Storaro.) Bertolucci then cuts to a haggard man (Marlon Brando) standing under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim in Paris, screaming out, “Fucking God!” His hair disheveled, he is wearing a long brown jacket and seems to be holding back tears. An adorable young woman (Maria Schneider) in a fashionable fluffy white coat and black hat with flowers passes by, stops and looks at him, then moves on. They meet again inside a large, sparsely furnished apartment at the end of Rue Jules Verne that they are each interested in renting. Both looking for something else in life, they quickly have sex and roll over on the floor, exhausted. For the next three days, they meet in the apartment for heated passion that the man, Paul, insists include nothing of the outside world — no references to names or places, no past, no present, no future; the young woman, Jeanne, agrees. Their sex goes from gentle and touching to brutal and animalistic; in fact, after one session, Bertolucci cuts to actual animals. The film is nothing if not subtle.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS

Jeanne (Maria Schneider) and Paul (Marlon Brando) share a private, sexual relationship in Last Tango in Paris

The lovers’ real lives are revealed in bits and pieces, as Paul tries to recover from his wife’s suicide and Jeanne deals with a fiancée, Thomas (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who has suddenly decided to make a film about them, without her permission, asking precisely the kind of questions that Paul never wants to talk about. When away from the apartment, Jeanne is shown primarily in the bright outdoors, flitting about fancifully and giving Thomas a hard time; in one of the only scenes in which she’s inside, Thomas makes a point of opening up several doors, preventing her from ever feeling trapped. Meanwhile, Paul is seen mostly in tight, dark spaces, especially right after having a fight with his dead wife’s mother. He walks into his hotel’s dark hallway, the only light coming from two of his neighbors as they open their doors just a bit to spy on him. Not saying anything, he pulls their doors shut as the screen goes from light to dark to light to dark again, and then Bertolucci cuts to Paul and Jeanne’s apartment door as she opens it, ushering in the brightness that always surrounds her. It’s a powerful moment that heightens the difference between the older, less hopeful man and the younger, eager woman. Inevitably, however, the safety of their private, primal relationship is threatened, and tragedy awaits.

Jeanne and Paul develop a complicated sexual relationship in LAST TANGO

Jeanne and Paul develop a complicated sexual relationship in Last Tango

“I’ve tried to describe the impact of a film that has made the strongest impression on me in almost twenty years of reviewing. This is a movie people will be arguing about, I think, for as long as there are movies,” Pauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker on October 28, 1972, shortly before Last Tango closed the tenth New York Film Festival. “It is a movie you can’t get out of your system, and I think it will make some people very angry and disgust others. I don’t believe that there’s anyone whose feelings can be totally resolved about the sex scenes and the social attitudes in this film.” More than forty years later, the fetishistic Last Tango in Paris still has the ability to evoke those strong emotions. The sex scenes range from tender, as when Jeanne tells Paul they should try to climax without touching, to when Paul uses butter in an attack that was not scripted and about which Schneider told the Daily Mail in 2007, “I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take.” At the time of the shooting, Brando was forty-eight and Schneider nineteen; Last Tango was released between The Godfather and Missouri Breaks, in which Brando starred with Jack Nicholson, while Schneider would go on to make Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger with Nicholson in 1975. Brando died in 2004 at the age of eighty, leaving behind a legacy of more than forty films. Schneider died in 2011 at the age of fifty-eight; she also appeared in more than forty films, but she was never able to escape the associations that followed her after her breakthrough performance in Last Tango, which featured extensive nudity, something she refused to do ever again. Even in 2018, Last Tango in Paris is both sexy and shocking, passionate and provocative, alluring and disturbing, all at the same time, a movie that, as Kael said, viewers won’t easily be able to get out of their system.

DESPERATE LIVING

Peggy Gravel’s quaint suburban life is about to go to hell in John Waters’s Desperate Living

DESPERATE LIVING (John Waters, 1977)
Friday, December 21, 8:35
Wednesday, December 26, 8:35
Wednesday, January 2, 8:35
quadcinema.com

A turning point in his career, John Waters’s Desperate Living is an off-the-charts bizarre, fetishistic fairy tale, the ultimate suburban nightmare. Mink Stole stars as Peggy Gravel, a wealthy housewife suffering yet another of her mental breakdowns. In the heat of the moment, she and the family maid, four-hundred-pound Grizelda Brown (Jean Hill), kill Peggy’s mild-mannered husband, Bosley (George Stover), and the two women end up finding refuge in one of the weirdest towns ever put on celluloid, Mortville, where MGM’s The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Toyland meet Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (with some Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, and Douglas Sirk thrown into the mix as well). “I ain’t your maid anymore, bitch! I’m your sister in crime!” Grizelda declares. Peggy and Grizelda move into the “guest house” of manly Mole McHenry (Susan Lowe) and her blonde bombshell lover, Muffy St. Jacques (Liz Renay). Mortville is run as a kind of fascist state by the cruel and unusual despot Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey), an evil shrew who enjoys being serviced by her men-in-leather attendants, issues psychotic proclamations, and is determined that her daughter, Princess Coo-Coo (Mary Vivian Pearce), stop dating her garbage-man boyfriend, Herbert (George Figgs). (Wait, Mortville has a sanitation department?) Camp and trash combine like nuclear fission as things get only crazier from there, devolving into gorgeous low-budget madness and completely over-the-top ridiculousness, a mélange of sex, violence, and impossible-to-describe lunacy that Waters himself claimed was a movie “for fucked-up children.”

DESPERATE LIVING

John Waters’s Desperate Living is a celebration of camp and trash, an extremely adult and bizarre fairy tale

The opening scenes of Peggy’s meltdown are utterly hysterical. When a neighbor hits a baseball through her bedroom window and offers to pay for it with his allowance, she screams, “How about my life? Do you get enough allowance to pay for that? I know you were trying to kill me! What’s the matter with the courts? Do they allow this lawlessness and malicious destruction of property to run rampant? I hate the Supreme Court! Oh, God. God. God. Go home to your mother! Doesn’t she ever watch you? Tell her this isn’t some communist day-care center! Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother I hate you!” The sets and costumes are deranged — and perhaps influenced Pee-wee’s Playhouse — the relatively spare score is fun, and the acting is, well, appropriate. The first half of the film is better than the second half, but it’s still a delight to watch Waters, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, which was shot in a kind of lurid Technicolor by Charles Ruggero, take on authority figures (beware of Sheriff Shitface), gender identity, class structure, hero worship, beauty, race, crime, nudity, and, of course, at its very heart, love and romance.

MIchael Rooker stars as a troubled murderer in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER

Michael Rooker stars as a troubled murderer in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (John McNaughton, 1986)
Thursday, December 27, 6:45
Saturday, January 5, 1.00
quadcinema.com

More than thirty years ago, when director John McNaughton (Mad Dog and Glory, Wild Things) was asked by executive producers Malik B. and Waleed B. Ali to make a low-budget horror film, he and cowriter Richard Fire decided to base their tale on the exploits of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, whose story McNaughton had just seen on 20/20. The result was this creepy, dark, well-paced effort starring Michael Rooker as Henry, a brooding, casual serial killer who can’t quite remember how he murdered his mother. Henry lives in suburban Chicago with ex-con Otis (Tom Towles), whose sexy young sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), comes to stay with them to get away from her abusive husband. As the relationship among the three of them grows more and more complicated, Henry continues to kill people — and get away with it. The opening tableau of some of Henry’s murder victims — the actual killings aren’t shown in the beginning — is beautifully done, although it also fetishizes violence against women, which is extremely disturbing. (Several of the victims are played by the same woman, Mary Demas, in different wigs.) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which was not released until 1989 because of its graphic content, was nominated for six Independent Spirit Awards in 1990, and Rooker was named Best Actor at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Michel Piccoli prepares to make a pig of himself in La Grande Bouffe

Michel Piccoli prepares to make a pig of himself in La Grande Bouffe

LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) (BLOW-OUT) (Marco Ferreri, 1973)
Tuesday, January 1, 5:30
Friday, January 4, 9:15
quadcinema.com

Fed up with their lives, four old friends decide to literally eat themselves to death in one last grand blow-out. Cowritten and directed by Marco Ferreri (Chiedo asilo, La casa del sorriso), La Grande Bouffe features a cast that is an assured recipe for success, bringing together a quartet of legendary actors, all playing characters with their real first names: Marcello Mastroianni as sex-crazed airplane pilot Marcello, Philippe Noiret as mama’s boy and judge Philippe, Michel Piccoli as effete television host Michel, and Ugo Tognazzi as master gourmet chef Ugo. They move into Philippe’s hidden-away family villa, where they plan to eat and screw themselves to death, with the help of a group of prostitutes led by Andréa (Andréa Ferréol). Gluttons for punishment, the four men start out having a gas, but as the feeding frenzy continues, so does the flatulence level, and the men start dropping one by one. While the film, which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, might not be quite the grand feast it sets out to be, it still is one very tasty meal. Just be thankful that it’s not shown in Odoroma. Bon appetit!

THAT WAY MADNESS LIES…

That Way Madness Lies...

A man’s descent into mental illness is documented by his sister in That Way Madness Lies...

THAT WAY MADNESS LIES... (Sandra Luckow, 2018)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, December 14
212-529-6799
www.madnessthemovie.com
www.cinemavillage.com

Filmmaker Sandra Luckow documents her brother’s battle with mental illness in the very personal That Way Madness Lies... “What happened to Duanne? And why didn’t we see this coming?” she asks. Luckow, who for her Yale thesis in 1986 made Sharp Edges, about unknown fifteen-year-old figure skater Tonya Harding, follows the sad tale of her brother, Duanne, as he spirals out of control, trapped in a system that is not built to help him. “Our eccentricity defined who we were, but where was the line between creativity and crazy?” Sandra says about Duanne, who had his own very successful business as a car restorer — he was considered a magician at it — before his troubled mind destroys his ability to function. He experiences manic episodes, falls for conspiracy theories, and believes he is destined to marry an internet self-help guru. Duanne was also an amateur filmmaker himself, and Sandra includes footage from short movies Duanne made when he was a kid, as well as his recordings from his stays in Oregon State Hospital, where One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed. Sandra and Duanne’s elderly parents, the mother a dollhouse builder, the father also an auto specialist, are at a loss as to what to do as Sandra shares information about Duanne’s exploits, which grow ever more confounding and threatening, particularly as he sides with scam artists instead of his family. “My big mistake has been trying to circumvent the suffering,” Sandra tells a lawyer of her attempts to help her brother.

Duanne and Sandra Luckow are seen in happier times in That Way Madness Lies...

Duanne and Sandra Luckow are seen in happier times in That Way Madness Lies...

Nominated for the Women Film Critics Circle’s Courage in Filmmaking award, That Way Madness Lies... is indeed a brave work by Luckow, who did not intend to spend so much time in front of the camera herself. She fights a broken system, thwarted again and again by government agencies and the courts. But she sees the film as a tool for change. “The last thing I ever wanted to do was to turn the camera on my own family and expose the vulnerability, suffering, and loss that took place,” she has said. “However, I believe lives depend on this film having been made and seen. People will be able to understand why it is almost impossible to help the most vulnerable in our society.” She was inspired to make the documentary after asking Duanne to record his experiences in Oregon State Hospital and seeing the footage, which devastated her personally but also made her realize that the story was bigger than just her family. It’s a heart-wrenching tale, one that exposes a deep crack in America’s treatment of the mentally ill.

BODYS ISEK KINGELEZ: CITY DREAMS

Bodys Isek Kingelez, Ville Fantôme, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other various materials, 1996 (CAAC - The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva / photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Bodys Isek Kingelez, “Ville Fantôme,” paper, paperboard, plastic, and other various materials, 1996 (CAAC — The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva / photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Through January 1, $25
212-708-9400
www.moma.org

“If you succeed in building a model, you visualize what is living inside you so that the outside world can adapt it, study it, discover it, see it,” Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez says in a promotional video for the dazzling exhibition “Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams,” continuing at MoMA through January 1. The deservedly popular show consists of buildings, plazas, and urban areas that sprung from Kingelez’s vast imagination, using paper, paperboard, plastic, and such found materials as soda cans and bottlecaps, that practically beg visitors to study them, discover them, see them. And as playful and colorful as they are, with an infectious, childlike quality, they also comment on economic inequality, the importance of community, and a government’s responsibility to its citizenry. Kingelez, who was born in Kinshasa in 1948 and passed away in 2015, built an urban utopia that included such fantastical architectural structures as “Kinshasa la Belle,” “U.N.” “Miss Hotel Brussels,” “The Scientific Center of Hospitalisation the SIDA,” and “Palais d’Hirochima,” reimagining urban renewal and the social contract while referencing the AIDS crisis, international diplomacy, tourism, and nuclear war. Most impressive are several large areas that resemble gigantic game boards, such as “Ville Fantôme,” “Ville de Sète 3009,” and “Kimbembele Ihunga,” but they are more than just massive toys or maquettes for the future. “Without a model, you are nowhere. A nation that can’t make models is a nation that doesn’t understand things, a nation that doesn’t live,” Kingelez said.

Bodys Isek Kingelez, Ville de Sète 3009, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other various materials, 2000 (Collection Musée International des Arts Modestes (MIAM), Sète,  France / photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Bodys Isek Kingelez, “Ville de Sète 3009,” paper, paperboard, plastic, and other various materials, 2000 (Collection Musée International des Arts Modestes (MIAM), Sète, France / photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Curators Sarah Suzuki and Hillary Reder organize the show with plenty of room to wander around the installations, as well as adding ceiling mirrors to better experience the remarkable details on several of the bigger works. In a back room, “Ville Fantôme” comes alive in a large-scale, sophisticated virtual reality experience that allows the viewer to navigate through one of Kingelez’s creations as if life-size. The exhibition, the first American retrospective of his work, also features a soundtrack selected by Carsten Höller and Kristian Sjöblom, with songs by Franco & Le T.P.O.K. Jazz, Docteur Nico & l’African Fiesta Sukisa, Pepe Ndombe & L’Orchestre Afrizam, M’Pongo Love, and Ndombe Opetum, Pepe Ndombe & Zing Zong Personnel, among others, bringing music into these inviting spaces. In search of a “better, more peaceful world,” Kingelez described himself as “a designer, an architect, a sculptor, engineer, artist.” He might have saved “artist” for last, but he is finally being recognized for his bold, imaginative artistic expression. On December 10, MoMA will host “An Evening with Bogosi Sekhukhuni,” with the South African artist presenting video works dealing with technology and the diaspora, followed by a conversation with Sekhukhuni, poet manuel arturo abreu and MoMA curatorial fellow Hanna Girma. On December 5 (11:30), 12 (1:30), and 19 (11:30), Angela Garcia will lead the Gallery Sessions tour “Bodys Isek Kingelez’s Extreme Maquettes”; on December 15 and 31 (1:30), Maya Jeffereis will lead “Drawing in Bodys Isek Kingelez”; and on December 22 (11:30) and 27 (1:30), Petra Pankow will lead “Bodys Isek Kingelez’s Urban Dreamscapes.”

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK: ELEPHANTS CAN PLAY FOOTBALL

Vladimir Mishukov

Masha (Sonya Gershevich) and Dmitry (Vladimir Mishukov) develop an unusual relationship in Elephants Can Play Football

ELEPHANTS CAN PLAY FOOTBALL (слоны могут играть в футбол) (Mikhail Segal, 2018)
SVA Theatre, Beatrice
333 West Twenty-Third St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Wednesday, December 12, 8:00pm - Elephants Can Play Football - Drama. Directed by Mikhail Segal
Festival runs December 8-14
cherryorchardfestival.org

Held in conjunction with the multidisciplinary Cherry Orchard Festival, Russian Film Week takes place December 8-14 at the SVA Theatre, consisting of fourteen new works as well as a fifteenth anniversary screening of Alexey Uchitel’s award-winning The Stroll, presented by the director in person. On December 12 at 8:00, Mikhail Segal’s (Franz+Polina, Film about Alekseev) fourth feature, Elephants Can Play Football, will be shown, an offbeat and unpredictable black comedy that follows the trials and tribulations of lonely and successful fortysomething businessman Dmitry (Vladimir Mishukov), who has a thing for much younger women, although not necessarily in ways one might expect. Over the course of the film, Dmitry, aka Dima, develops unique relationships with Masha (Sonya Gershevich), the seventeen-year-old daughter of his college friend (Segal, who also composed the score) and his wife (Alla Nesterova); the younger Sveta (Varya Pakhomova), whose parents (Yuriy Bykov and Nadezhada Gorelova) travel a lot; and twenty-year-old Lika (Sasha Bystrzhitskaya), whose roommate, Vera (Elena Korotkova), is battling severe depression, which actually leads to several outrageously funny scenes. Dmitry either lies about the relationships or hides them from his best friend, Sergey (Sergey Mamotov), and his wife (Irina Pakhomova) as he fastidiously insinuates himself into the young women’s lives.

Elephants Can Play Football

Lika (Sasha Bystrzhitskaya) and Dmitry (Vladimir Mishukov) frolic through a field in Elephants Can Play Football

Elephants Can Play Football has creepy, uncomfortable moments, and not all of it makes sense, but Mishukov is compelling as the strange Dmitriy, and Eduard Moshkovich’s camera adores Gershevich and Bystrzhitskaya. The film is very much about time — actually, a fear of death — and being an active participant in a life outside oneself. Dmitry is obsessed with youth; when he talks to his parents on the computer, their heads are cut off, as if he doesn’t want to see their elderly faces. Meanwhile, he regularly says that he’ll just look out the window, as if what’s happening out there is better than what is going on inside him. At one point he rails against a man who is three minutes late to a meeting, but to Dmitry, three minutes could be a lifetime, particularly after an incident that nearly kills him. Elephants Can Play Football is often head-scratchingly confusing, and the sexual dynamics can be disturbing, but then a twist onscreen will bring you right back into its narrative grip. Among the other works being shown during Russian Film Week are Avdotya Smirnova’s The Story of One Appointment, Karen Shakhnazarov’s Anna Karenina: Vronsky’s Story, Sarik Andreasyan’s Unforgiven, and Konstantin Khabensky’s Sobibor, with many screenings followed by Q&As with members of the cast and/or crew.

BACK ROADS

Back Roads

Harley (Alex Pettyfer) sits down for dinner with sisters Jody (Hala Finley) and Misty (Chiara Aurelia) in Back Roads

BACK ROADS (Alex Pettyfer, 2018)
Roxy Cinema
2 Sixth Ave., cellar level, Roxy Hotel
Opens Thursday, December 6
212-519-6820
www.samuelgoldwynfilms.com
www.roxycinematribeca.com

In 2008, English-American actor Alex Pettyfer auditioned for Adrian Lyne’s Back Roads, an adaptation of Tawni O’Dell’s bestselling 2000 novel, an Oprah’s Book Club pick. It took ten years to make, but Pettyfer finally stars in the film, which he also produced and directed, a grim, morose drama about a dysfunctional family trying to hold on after tragedy. Pettyfer (I Am Number Four, Stormbreaker) is Harley Altmyer, a grim, morose twenty-year-old who has to take care of his younger siblings after their mother, Bonnie (Juliette Lewis), is sent to prison for killing their father. Moving almost painfully slowly and saying very little, barely opening his mouth when he mumbles, Harley works at the local grocery store, having given up college to raise his three sisters: the adorable, smart-beyond-her-six-years Jody (Hala Finley), the mysterious, perennially glum twelve-year-old, Misty (Chiara Aurelia), and promiscuous sixteen-year-old Amber (Nicola Peltz), who taunts Harley with her overt sexuality and bold threats to run away with older men. Harley is like an outsider in his own life until he falls for Callie Mercer (Jennifer Morrison), a thirtysomething married mother, and the two get involved in a dangerous affair that consumes Harley. Meanwhile, he attends his regular sessions with Dr. Betty Parks (June Carryl), a therapist trying to get him to open up about himself and the family’s sordid past, and speaks with the sheriff (Robert Patrick), who has an important question for him.

Back Roads

The married Callie (Jennifer Morrison) and the dour Harley (Alex Pettyfer) are about to begin a torrid affair in Back Roads

Back Roads is a frustrating melodrama, with plot points arriving at a snail’s pace, like the words coming out of Harley’s mouth. When the big twists come, they are surprising and unexpected and bring the story together just as it’s about to fall apart. Too many of the situations push the bounds of credulity, particularly involving Harley and Callie, but there are also some surprising, deeply felt moments, like Harley’s reaction when he catches Amber having sex on the living room couch. Cinemaphotographer Jarin Blaschke favors shots of Harley seen from behind, standing rigid and still, unsure of his next move. The script, by O’Dell and Lyne, loses focus, though the final fifteen minutes or so provide thrills and chills. The film, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, will have you wanting to reach out and hug Harley while also pushing him away, a troubled soul who may already be a lost cause.

ACTOR FOR HIRE: THE OTHER SIDE OF ORSON WELLES

Orson Welles makes one of the greatest entrances in film history in The Third Man

THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed, 1949)
Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Friday, December 7, 9:00, and Sunday, December 9, 8:30
Series runs December 7-13
212-255-2243
quadcinema.com

In order to finance his career as a director (and pay off tax debts), Orson Welles acted in other people’s films and made television commercials, from the sublime to the ridiculous; between 1958 and 1961 alone, he appeared in or narrated nearly a dozen and a half movies. In conjunction with the celebrated release of the long-unfinished project The Other Side of the Wind, about attempts to complete a Hollywood auteur’s final film after his death, the Quad is presenting “Actor for Hire: The Other Side of Orson Welles,” running December 7-13 and consisting of thirteen movies the Boy Genius acted in but did not write or direct. The very best of them is The Third Man, screening December 7 and 9. (Among the rarer, less-well-known entries are Henry Hathaway’s The Black Rose, Matt Cimber’s Butterfly, Henry Jaglom’s A Safe Place, and Bert I. Gordon’s Necromancy.) Carol Reed’s 1949 thriller is quite simply the most entertaining film you’re ever likely to see. Set in a divided post-WWII Vienna amid a thriving black market, The Third Man is heavy in atmosphere, untrustworthy characters, and sly humor, with a marvelous zither score by Anton Karas. Joseph Cotten stars as Holly Martins, an American writer of Western paperbacks who has come to Vienna to see his old friend Harry Lime (Welles), but he seems to have shown up a little late.

While trying to find out what happened to Harry, Martins falls for Harry’s lover, Anna (Alida Valli); is told to get out of town by Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) and Sergeant Paine (Bernard “M” Lee); meets a stream of Harry’s more interesting, mysterious friends, including Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) and Popescu (Siegfried Breuer); and is talked into giving a lecture to a literary club by old Mr. Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White). Every scene is a finely honed work of art, filled with long shadows, echoing footsteps, dripping water, and unforgettable dialogue about cuckoo clocks and other strangeness. The shot in which Lime is first revealed, standing in a doorway, a cat brushing by his feet, his tongue firmly in cheek as he lets go a miraculous, knowing smile, is one of the greatest single moments in the history of cinema.

A Man for All Seasons

Orson Welles stars as Cardinal Wolsey in Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (Fred Zinnemann, 1966)
Quad Cinema
Saturday, December 8, 1:00, and Tuesday, December 11, 5:00
quadcinema.com

Orson Welles plays the real-life Cardinal Wolsey in Fred Zinnemann’s majestic adaptation of Robert Bolt’s 1962 Tony-winning stage drama, A Man for All Seasons. Paul Scofield won a Tony for the Broadway production as well as an Oscar as Sir Thomas More in the classic film, which earned a total of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Bolt. Unable to produce a male heir with his wife, Catherine, King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) is seeking a divorce in order to marry Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave), but that would mean going against church doctrine, something the honest and principled Sir Thomas refuses to do. Sir Thomas finds himself at odds not only with the cardinal and the king but also with Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern) and the ruthlessly ambitious Richard Rich (John Hurt). His friend the Duke of Norfolk (Nigel Davenport) tries to get him to sign a document allowing the king to divorce and remarry, changing the power of the church, begging him, “Oh, confound all this. I’m not a scholar. I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!” Sir Thomas famously replies, “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”

It’s a spectacular moment in a film filled with spectacular moments as More’s wife, Alice (Wendy Hiller), daughter, Margaret (Susannah York), and potential son-in-law, William Roper the Younger (Corin Redgrave), want him to reconsider his choices and the king himself states his case, but Sir Thomas isn’t budging; he’s one of the most principled, brilliant characters ever put on celluloid, in one of the best historical dramas ever made. And in a key scene, Welles has this wonderful exchange with Scofield: “That thing out there, at least she’s fertile,” a dour Cardinal Wolsey says, referring to Anne. “But she’s not his wife,” Sir Thomas responds. “No, Catherine’s his wife, and she’s barren as a brick. Are you going to pray for a miracle?” the cardinal asks, to which More concludes, “There are precedents.”

Orson Welles

Will Varner (Orson Welles) runs just about everything and everybody in The Long, Hot Summer

THE LONG, HOT SUMMER (Martin Ritt, 1958) & COMPULSION (Richard Fleischer, 1959)
TLHS: Saturday, December 8, 5:40, and Thursday, December 13, 5:00
C: Sunday, December 9, 6:30, and Wednesday, December 12, 5:00
quadcinema.com

In Martin Ritt’s The Long, Hot Summer and Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion, the big, blustery Orson Welles, his sweat practically dripping off the screen, takes center stage though primarily a supporting character. Welles claimed that he hated making The Long, Hot Summer, a fiery Tennessee Williams–like melodrama based on several works by William Faulkner, although clearly inspired by Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Welles plays Will Varner, a wealthy plantation magnate who essentially owns a small southern town. He is grooming his son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa), to take over his empire, but when ambitious drifter and rumored barn burner Ben Quick (Paul Newman, who played Brick in Cat the same year) shows up looking for work, Will decides to set him against Jody, with the winner capturing the spoils, which in the case of Quick might also include Will’s young but already spinsterish daughter, Clara (Joanne Woodward, who married Newman during production). Shot in blazing CinemaScope, the film, which also stars Angela Lansbury as Will’s girlfriend, Lee Remick as Jody’s shopping-loving wife, and Richard Anderson as Clara’s momma’s boy beau, boils over with sexual energy that lives up to the original trailer’s declaration that “nothing — but nothing! — will be withheld!” The Long, Hot Summer earned no Oscar nominations and was not a box-office hit, but Newman became an international superstar by being named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, while the film was in competition for the Palme d’Or.

Orson Welles

Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles) meets with clients Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie Strauss (Bradford Dillman) in Compulsion

The next year, Welles and costars Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman shared the Best Actor award at Cannes for Compulsion, a searing exploration of crime and punishment in the guise of a teen exploitation flick. (Dig that crazy opening credit sequence!) Based on the novel and play by Meyer Levin that fictionalized the Leopold and Loeb case, Compulsion explores the nature of good and evil as it follows wealthy Chicago law school students Artie Strauss (Dillman) and Judd Steiner (Stockwell) on their mad rampage of murder and rape, determined to commit the perfect crime and get away with it because of their superior intellect. But when fellow student Sid Brooks (Martin Milner) finds a pair of glasses that might be the key to discovering who killed little Paulie Kessler, it’s going to take a lot more than understanding Friedrich Nietzsche to keep Artie and Judd from the hangman’s noose. Fleischer, who had a diverse career that ranged from Violent Saturday, The Vikings, Fantastic Voyage, and Doctor Dolittle to The Boston Strangler, Red Sonja, and Amityville 3-D, adds Hitchcockian flourishes to Compulsion, evoking the homoeroticism of Strangers on a Train and Rope (which was also a fictionalized retelling of the Leopold and Loeb story) while having most of the violence occur offscreen. (Fleischer’s cinematic use of the pair of glasses is also a direct reference to the glasses in Strangers on a Train, while Judd’s study of ornithology, highlighted by the stuffed birds in his bedroom, foresees Norman Bates’s taxidermy obsession in Psycho, made a year later.)

Like The Long, Hot Summer, Compulsion boasts a strong — and familiar — supporting cast, including E. G. Marshall (The Bold Ones) as clever DA Harold Horn, Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat) as one of his assistants, Diane Varsi (Peyton Place) as Sid’s girlfriend, Edward Binns (12 Angry Men) as a crack reporter, and Anderson (Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man) as Judd’s older brother. But it is Welles’s presence that takes over the film in its later stages; playing larger-than-life defense attorney Jonathan Wilk, a character based on Clarence Darrow, he enters the film in a grand manner, as Fleischer opens up a space for him to come through a door and dwarf everyone else. Wilk’s eloquent closing argument about capital punishment is one that should be studied by lawyers, actors, directors, and death penalty proponents — even if Welles required the use of a teleprompter to get him through the powerful speech in a single take. Like The Long, Hot Summer, Compulsion received no Oscar nominations and was a box-office failure. When seen back-to-back, the two films work extremely well together, with smoldering story lines, expert cinematography (by Joseph LaShelle in the former, William C. Mellor in the latter), intense acting, and, yes, Orson Welles.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND EXPERIENCE

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Velvet Underground fans can immerse themselves in the sounds and images of the band in Village exhibition (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

718 Broadway
Tuesday - Sunday through December 30, $30-$50
velvetunderground-experience.com

The front cover of Michael Leigh’s 1963 paperback, The Velvet Underground, declares, “Here is an incredible book. It will shock and amaze you. But as a documentary on the sexual corruption of our age, it is a must for every thinking adult.” Fittingly, one of the most influential bands in music history took its name from that tome, one of many facts one can learn at “The Velvet Underground Experience,” a pop-up exhibit continuing in Greenwich Village through December 30. From 1964 to 1970, the Velvet Underground released four studio albums that ultimately helped change the face of rock and roll and thoroughly situated music amid the avant-garde art world. The exhibition consists of hundreds of photographs (by Fred W. McDarrah, Stephen Shore, Nat Finkelstein, Billy Name, and others), archival footage, six new short nonfiction films, and biographical stations dedicated to each band member — Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker, Angus MacLise, Nico, Doug Yule, and Walter Powers — in addition to others who played a role in the band’s development, including Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Danny Williams, Gerard Malanga, Candy Darling, Piero Heliczer, Jonas Mekas, Barbara Rubin, La Monte Young, and Allen Ginsberg. Allan Rothschild’s twelve-minute film goes back and forth between the childhoods of Reed and Cale, revealing fascinating similarities and differences (for example, they were born merely a week apart in March 1942), and Reed’s younger sister, Merrill Reed Weiner, shares intimate details about her brother’s psychological issues. Véronique Jacquinet’s ten-minute work traces the rise of Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Multimedia pop-up exhibit pays tribute to the Velvet Underground (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Curated by Christian Fevret, and Carole Mirabello and designed by Matali Crasset, the exhibition is centered by a tentlike structure where visitors can lie down on silver mattresses and watch projections of rare, short films surrounding the band’s debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, aka the Banana Album, and the live show known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Warhol’s screen tests of the band run continuously on one wall. Tony C. Janelli and Robert Pietri’s animated short, The Velvet Underground Played at My High School, is a fun film about the band’s first gig at Summit High School in New Jersey in December 1965 (opening for the Myddle Class), which did not exactly go over so well, save for its impact on one fifteen-year-old student. Downstairs is a look at what Greenwich Village was like in the 1960s and 1970s, with clips of Nico, Cale, and Reed’s acoustic reunion show in 1972 in Le Bataclan, a split-screen tribute to Rubin by Mekas, and experimental works from the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, including Rubin’s X-rated art-porn favorite, Christmas on Earth. (There is also a lower level where talks are held on Tuesday nights and concerts on Thursday evenings.) And of course, there’s the music, with multiple versions of such songs as “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Venus in Furs,” “Femme Fatale,” “Heroin,” and “Sweet Jane” (from the group’s four main albums, The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground, and Loaded) echoing through the space. “The Velvet Underground Experience” is not an exhaustive study of the band, and it does have a lot of peripheral material in the New York City section, probably because the show was originally presented in Paris, but it is still a treat for VU devotees and those curious about a seminal moment in the history of music.