Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, February 16, $25-$30, 2:00
Exhibit continues through July 19, $20
In 1979, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek show sought out new life and new civilizations by daring to go where no sci-fi television franchise had gone before: to Hollywood. Directed by five-time Oscar winner Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still), the film sent Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner), science officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan), weapons officer Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Starfleet officer Hikaru Sulu (George Takei) back into space together, attempting to get to the bottom of a dangerous energy cloud and the mysterious V’ger. It was not the most auspicious cinematic debut, but it kicked off a new era of the Star Trek universe and was followed by the best of the franchise’s films, The Wrath of Khan. The Museum of the Moving Image will be screening the underrated Star Trek: The Motion Picture on February 16 as part of its “See It Big! Outer Space” series and in conjunction with the exhibition “Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey.” Seventy-seven-year-old director and special effects master Douglas Trumbull, who worked on such classics as Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Andromeda Strain, Silent Running, and, of course, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 2001: A Space Odyssey, will give a multimedia presentation and take part in a Q&A at 2:00; a digital projection of the film will be shown afterward at 3:00. The $30 tickets include admission to the exhibition, which runs through July 19. “See It Big! Outer Space” continues through April 19 with such other films as Flash Gordon, Alien, Gravity, The Right Stuff, Wall-E, Interstellar, and Aelita, Queen of Mars.
I could watch Bill Cunningham talk for hours and hours. Although we get less than an hour of him serving up delicious stories in Mark Bozek’s seventy-four-minute documentary, The Times of Bill Cunningham, it’s time well spent. “I’m not a real photographer; I’m a fashion historian,” the beloved photographer and fashion historian says in the film, which opens February 14 at the Angelika. Bozek was scheduled to speak with the Boston-born Cunningham for ten minutes in 1994, shortly after the longtime Manhattan transplant had been hit by a truck while riding his bicycle, but Cunningham just kept sharing fab tales, literally until the tape ran out. An engaging, self-effacing raconteur, Cunningham traces his career, from working at Bonwit Teller first in Massachusetts, then in New York; running his own millinery shop, William J., where he provided chapeaux to a ritzy clientele; then working at Chez Ninon before becoming a photojournalist for Women’s Wear Daily and, from 1978 to 2016, for the New York Times, most famously with his popular “On the Street” column. He didn’t set out to take pictures; his life changed when his good friend, designer Antonio Lopez, gave him a 1967 black-and-white Olympus camera.
Throughout the interview, which lasted six hours, Cunningham is shot from the mid-body up, looking slightly off camera at Bozek as he discusses attending such fashion shows as Versailles ’73; meeting such luminaries as Diana Vreeland, John Fairchild, Stephen Burrows, Brooke Astor, Marlon Brando, Anna Wintour, and Bethann Hardison; learning his trade from such other photographers as Weegee and Harold Chapman; and dyeing the dress Jackie Kennedy wore at her husband’s state funeral. He also talks about living for half a century at Carnegie Hall Studios, utterly content even though he doesn’t have his own bathroom there; in addition, despite having taken millions of photographs of fashion folk, the rich and the powerful, and, primarily, people on the street, he doesn’t care very much what he wears himself, often depending on hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. “I know I should care more how I look, but it’s more important I go out and get the right picture. That’s the main thing,” he explains.
Cunningham makes it very clear that it is what his subjects are wearing that attracts him, not their celebrity status. In fact, he took the photo that launched his Times career, a candid shot of an unsuspecting Greta Garbo on the sidewalk, because of how she was dressed; he had no idea it was Garbo until someone told him later. “It makes people feel good,” he says of the attraction of being fashionable. “They get dressed to go out in the morning — I don’t care who you are, it lifts the spirits, it’s self-esteem. . . . As long as there are human beings, there will be fashion, because people want to feel good about themselves.” As happy as he is through most of the film, his big teeth and infectious smile dominating the screen, at one point he does turn sad and emotional, thinking about the impact of the AIDS crisis, which was so dire in 1994.
Bozek might not be the best interviewer — this is his directorial debut, having previously studied acting with Lee Strasberg, worked in marketing for WilliWear, then spent more than two decades as a home-shopping pioneer (he was portrayed by Bradley Cooper in Joy) — and his camera is fairly static, but he and editor Amina Megalli let Cunningham regale us while interweaving hundreds of never-before-seen photographs taken by Cunningham from throughout his career, along with shots of Cunningham from the 1950s to just a handful of years ago, when he could still be seen riding his bike in the city. (It’s somewhat hard to fathom that Bozek had forgotten about the footage he shot in 1994 until hearing of Cunningham’s death in 2016.)
Sex and the City fashion plate Sarah Jessica Parker adds fairly standard voiceover narration that is not quite revelatory but moves the story forward, while the soundtrack features numerous songs by Moby. The Times of Bill Cunningham is very different from Richard Press’s 2011 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, in which dozens of celebrities sang Cunningham’s praises; here’s it’s just the thoroughly charming Cunningham himself, raw and uncensored, accompanied by his photographs, his passion, his visual love letter to the city and the people who live, work, and play there. “The streets are reflecting precisely what’s going on in the political world, in the social upheaval of our times,” he says. “It’s all right there.” Bozek will participate in a pair of Q&As opening weekend at the Angelika, following the 7:45 screenings Friday night with André Leon Talley and Saturday night with Hardison.
MoMA’s FESTIVAL OF INTERNATIONAL NONFICTION FILM AND MEDIA: FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO (Lynne Sachs, 2020)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, February 11, 8:00, and Friday, February 14, 4:30
Series continues through February 19
“We’re pretty candid about who Dad is, and we’ve seen him through a lot, but we’re also able to shift what we might recognize as who he really is to what we want him to be,” experimental documentarian Lynne Sachs says in Film About a Father Who, a revealing look at the patriarch of her seemingly ever-expanding family, her dad, Ira Sachs Sr. Inspired by Yvonne Rainer’s seminal 1974 work A Film About a Woman Who . . . , a cinematic collage exploring sexual conflict, and Heinrich Boll’s 1971 novel Group Portrait with Lady, Sachs’s movie, screening February 11 and 14 in MoMA’s annual Documentary Fortnight series, consists of footage taken over a period of fifty-four years, beginning in 1965, using 8mm and 16mm film, VHS, Hi8, Mini DV, and digital images, edited by Rebecca Shapass. Now eighty-three, Ira Sachs Sr. was a sex-loving, pot-smoking minor-league hotelier, a neglectful, emotionally unavailable husband and father, both selfish and generous, carefully guarding secrets that Lynne, her sister, journalist and author Dana Sachs, and her brother, filmmaker Ira Sachs Jr., discuss with their six half-siblings, children their father had with other wives and girlfriends, some of whom they did not know about for many years.
Ira Sr.’s mother, Rose Sachs, known as Maw-maw, who left him when he was young, says of his womanizing, “I can’t stand that way of life.” His first wife, Lynne’s mother, Diane Sachs, speaks about what an easy decision divorcing him was. “Marriage was just a lot of being up at night, going to the window, wondering when he was coming home,” she explains. His second wife, Diana Lee, says through tears, “He’s a mistake.” Yet nearly all the women in his life, relatives and companions alike, profess their undying love for the long-haired, bushy-mustached man who was able to cast a spell over them despite, at least outwardly, not appearing to be a particularly eloquent Don Juan type and never remaining faithful. But there’s also more than a hint of psychological abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. “She treated me as an enemy,” he says.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the first three children of such a secretive man all went into the storytelling arts, mixing fiction and nonfiction in film and literature; Ira has won awards for such films as Forty Shades of Blue and Love Is Strange, Dana’s books include the novel If You Lived Here and the Vietnam memoir The House on Dream Street, and Lynne’s documentaries range from Investigation of a Flame and Sermons and Sacred Pictures to Your Day Is My Night and States of UnBelonging. There are numerous shots of family members filming other relatives; at one point, Lynne is filming Ira Jr. filming Ira Sr. while watching home movies on the television. A Film About a Woman Who . . . , which features music by sound artist Stephen Vitiello, is a striking portrait of an unusually dysfunctional family, a true story that has been in the making for more than a half century and even now provides only some of the answers. Perhaps you can find out more when it screens at MoMA’s Festival of International Nonfiction Film and Media on February 11 at 8:00, introduced by Lynne; it is also being shown February 14 at 4:30.
CANE RIVER (Horace B. Jenkins, 1982)
BAMfilm, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
After nearly forty years, Horace B. Jenkins’s Cane River is finally being released theatrically, playing at BAM Rose Cinemas from February 7 to 20, not uncoincidentally during Black History Month. Shortly after its premiere in 1982, Jenkins died at the age of forty-two and the film disappeared without distribution. The original negative was found in 2013 in the DuArt Film & Video Vault and is now screening in a new 4K digital restoration overseen by IndieCollect. Cane River is a touching love story set amid colorism, classism, misogynoir, and the far-reaching tentacles of slavery in Natchitoches Parish in Louisiana, where tensions between blacks, whites, and Creoles have festered for hundreds of years.
A cast of mostly first-time actors (many in their only film) is led by Richard Romain as Peter Metoyer, a college football star who returns to his rural hometown of Cane River instead of pursuing a gridiron career; he was drafted by the New York Jets but would rather be a poet and a writer, choosing to help run the family farm with his father (Lloyd La Cour) and sister, Dominique (Barbara Tasker). One day he is visiting the Melrose plantation — where his ancestor Marie Thérèse Coincoin became a freed slave and successful land owner who married French merchant Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, had ten children, and controversially kept slaves as well — when he meets eighteen-year-old Maria Mathis (Tommye Myrick), who is getting ready to leave for college at Xavier. She is reading The Forgotten People: Cane River’s Creoles of Color by Gary B. Mills, a book partly about the very real Metoyer family history and the Melrose plantation. She is so desperate to get away from the boring and staid Cane River while he has come back to make a calm, easygoing life there. Despite his being a Catholic Creole and her being a black southern Baptist, they fall in love, which angers her mother (Carol Sutton), but Maria doesn’t want to stay, adamant to not get caught in the trap her brother (Ilunga Adell) is in, working in the hatchery, getting drunk, and having no perceptible future. “What is more poetic than planting a seed and watching it grow?” Peter asks Maria, both filled with hope.
A response to the blaxploitation movies of the 1970s and partially inspired by the true story of Jenkins’s longtime partner, Carol Balthazar, who served as a consultant on the project, Cane River is a film entrenched in dichotomy, mixing fact and fiction to explore the inherent differences between the country and the city, in the expectations of men versus women, of factory work and higher education, of flashy convertibles speeding down the highway and horseback rides along a beautiful lake, and, most centrally, the color of one’s skin. “You Creoles are different people,” Maria tells Peter, but that statement is more loaded than she realizes. The low-budget film is too static; cinematographer Gideon Manasseh’s camera seldom moves (although it does focus on many gorgeous natural landscapes), and editor Debi Moore can’t establish a consistent rhythm and pace. The acting is often less than compelling, the script can be overly earnest, and Leroy Glover’s score features songs with lyrics that often repeat exactly what you’re seeing onscreen. But there’s a deep-rooted charm to the film, which explores topics that are still hot-button issues today, especially colorism. “Black folks don’t stand a chance,” one character says, evoking the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. It’s important to have this film back in circulation, and BAM is celebrating its return by hosting four Q&As opening weekend with Romain, Myrick, Jenkins’s son Sacha, and, at one, his daughter Dominique.
New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher St.
February 6-9, individual events free - $10, day/fest passes $15-$30
New Ohio Theatre’s fourth annual NY Indie Theatre Film Festival finishes in a big way on February 9 with a special screening of Charles Busch’s 2006 coming-of-age tale A Very Serious Person, in which the writer-director stars as a gay male nurse taking care of an ailing woman portrayed by Polly Bergen. Busch, whose work includes The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, The Tribute Artist, and the current Primary Stages production The Confession of Lily Dare at the Cherry Lane, will participate in a talkback after the screening. The festival begins February 6 at 7:00 with a screenplay reading of Brooke Berman’s Polly Freed with Annie Parisse, Paul Sparks, Sadie Seelert, Alysia Reiner, Jamie Harrold, Austin Ku, Sebastian Martinez, Clara Young, Becca Lish, Erin Gann, and Julienne Kim and a free opening-night party at 9:00. There will be five screening blocks of short films and web series episodes February 7-8, including works written and/or directed by Victoria Clark, David Zayas Jr., Wendy MacLeod, Caroline V. McGraw, and Alyssa May Gold. On February 9 at 2:00, the competitive Film Race will take place, a benefit for F*It Club in which teams present movies they made only after getting required script elements on February 5; at 4:00, the panel discussion “What Makes a Pitch Sizzle?” brings together Thom Woodley, Sarah Donnelly, and Gideon Evans. “Our mission is to support indie theatre artists wherever their inspiration takes them. If it takes them into new mediums, we want to be there to help,” New Ohio artistic director Robert Lyons said in a statement. Individual events are $5 to $10, with day or festival passes ranging from $15 to $30.
BEANPOLE (Дылда) (Kantemir Balagov, 2019)
209 West Houston St.
Through February 11
Russia’s official submission for the Oscar for Best International Film, for which it was shortlisted, Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole is an unsparing look at PTSD in women, here specifically in WWII but also more generally as mothers and caretakers. In 1945 Leningrad, Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) is a very tall, quiet, former anti-aircraft gunner working in a military hospital for men with severe injuries. She is particularly drawn to Stepan (Konstantin Balakirev), who is paralyzed. She has a condition in which her body freezes, as if trapped in a limbo between life and death, and it horrifically leads to tragedy. Iya’s best friend and lover, Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), returns from the front, bearing a frightening scar. She deviously sets out to have a child, involving the oddball Sasha (Igor Shirokov) and the head of the hospital, Nikolay (Andrey Bykov), which confuses and deeply upsets Iya.
Inspired by Belarus author Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Prize-winning 1987 book The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of World War II, Balagov’s second film, following his 2017 drama, Closeness, is a thoroughly unpredictable and purposefully uncomfortable journey into the minds of men and, more specifically, women shell-shocked by war. In their film debuts, Miroshnichenko and Perelygina are mesmerizing; cinematographer Ksenia Sereda zeroes in on Miroshnichenko’s head and Perelygina’s face as if they are characters unto themselves. The film’s palette is ochre-based, with explosions of bright yellows, reds, and especially greens — the color of rebirth, renewal, and envy — which pop up in wallpaper, paint, Iya’s sweater, and Masha’s dress. It’s a world in which women, after experiencing such pain and suffering, are expected to get married and pregnant amid all the death surrounding them. Balagov won Un Certain Regard’s Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for this stark, brutal portrayal of average people looking for love amid the ruins. It might be set in 1945, dealing with the aftereffects of the Siege of Leningrad and what it did to the soul of the Russian city, but its exploration of the physical and psychological trauma of war is as relevant today as it was then.