THE INCIDENT (Larry Peerce, 1967)
209 West Houston St.
Sunday, November 3, $7, 11:00 am
One of the ultimate nightmare scenarios of 1960s New York City, Larry Peerce’s gritty black-and-white The Incident takes viewers deep down into the subway as two thugs terrorize a group of helpless passengers. Joe Ferrante (Tony Musante) and Artie Connors (Martin Sheen, in his first movie role) are out for kicks, so after getting some out on the streets, they head underground, where they find a wide-ranging collection of twentieth-century Americans to torture, including Arnold and Joan Robinson (Brock Peters and Ruby Dee), Bill and Helen Wilks (Ed McMahon and Diana Van der Vlis), Sam and Bertha Beckerman (Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter, in her last role), Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill), Muriel and Harry Purvis (Jan Sterling and Mike Kellin), Alice Keenan (Donna Mills), soldiers Felix Teflinger and Phillip Carmatti (Beau Bridges and Robert Bannard), and others, each representing various aspects of contemporary culture and society, all with their own personal problems that come to the surface as the harrowing ride continues. It’s a brutal, claustrophobic, highly theatrical film that captures the fear that haunted the city in the 1960s and well into the ’70s, with an all-star cast tackling such subjects as racism, teen sex, alcoholism, homosexuality, war, and the state of the American family. A DCP restoration of the rarely shown drama, some of which was filmed in the actual subway system against the MTA’s warnings, is screening April 26 at Film Forum, with the Bronx-born Peerce, who made such other films as A Separate Peace, Two-Minute Warning, The Bell Jar, and Goodbye, Columbus, on hand to discuss the work.
THE PENGUIN COUNTERS (Peter Getzels & Harriet Gordon, 2016)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, April 21
Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon’s The Penguin Counters arrives at Cinema Village just in time for World Penguin Day on April 25, which celebrates the cute and cuddly black-and-white (and often yellow) aquatic birds. However, the tuxedoed animals are facing a major challenge, as climate change threatens their very existence. The film follows Ron Naveen and his small team — Thomas Mueller of Frankfurt’s Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, research ecologist Steve Forrest, Stony Brook assistant professor Heather Lynch, and PhD candidates Mike Polito and Paula Casanovas — as they go from Argentina to Deception Island, tracking three varieties of penguins and following in the footsteps of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who led a famously treacherous journey to the Antarctic in the first decade of the nineteenth century aboard the aptly named Discovery. In a bit of serendipitous luck, on a cruise ship he’s essentially hitchhiking on, Naveen meets Angie Butler, the biographer of Shackleton’s right-hand man, Frank Wild, who is transporting Wild’s ashes to South Georgia so they can be buried next to Shackleton’s remains, and Naveen joins her on her mission. Naveen, the founder and president of Oceanites, is gathering information for the Antarctic Site Inventory project, which has been detailing the plight of oceanic birds and the ecosystem for more than twenty years. “We’re not explorers, climbers, or athletes,” Naveen explains in a message about the film. “The weather we face is grueling. The terrain is hostile, and we’re only kitted out with golf-ball-sized tally-whackers and waterproof spiral notebooks. But our data has been instrumental in the formation of policies among polar scientists and the fifty member nations of the Antarctic Treaty Organization.”
“Penguins are my passion!” Naveen declares at the start of the film. “And why? Because penguins are indicators of ocean health, and they’re ultimately going to be sentinels of change.” Of course, penguins are also simply adorable, so the film is loaded with heartwarming shots of the flightless birds, as well as gorgeous panoramas of the Antarctic, lovingly photographed by Getzels and Erik Osterholm. And yes, there are scenes of his dedicated team counting nests in spectacular locations. A former government lawyer, Naveen’s cheerfulness about what he does is infectious, even in the face of dwindling numbers of penguins and the onslaught of climate change. But still, they’re just so darn cute. . . . After screening at film festivals all over the globe, The Penguin Counters opens April 21 at Cinema Village, with Getzels, Gordon, and Naveen participating in Q&As following the 7:15 shows April 21–26.
STREET OF SHAME (AKASEN CHITAI) (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1956)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Saturday, April 22, 5:45
Monday, April 24, 3:15 & 9:15
Made the same year Japan passed a major anti-prostitution law, Kenji Mizoguchi’s final film, 1956’s Street of Shame, is a brutally honest depiction of the decidedly unglamorous life of a group of courtesans at a Tokyo brothel. “Yoshiwara has been here three hundred years,” the Mamasan (Sadako Sawamura) says early on to a police officer. “Does an unnecessary business last so long?” Originally titled Red-Light District, the black-and-white film features an outstanding cast of women playing desperate geisha with serious family and financial problems that lead them to the embarrassment of trying to physically force men off the dark, dank street and into their rooms. Hanae (Michiyo Kogure) has to deal with aging, a baby, and a suicidal husband, Yumeko (Aiko Mimasu) doesn’t want her son to know what she does to earn money to attempt to give him a decent life, Yorie (Hiroko Machida) thinks a husband in a faraway village will gain her longed-for freedom, Yasumi (Ayako Wakao) has become a loan shark to her coworkers, and young Mickey (Machiko Kyō) is quick to share her opinions about the other women but not so quick to catch on to the debasement she is lowering herself to. The protofeminist director of such previous works as Sisters of the Gion, Osaka Elegy, Women of the Night, and The Life of Oharu as well as the brilliant two-part samurai epic The 47 Ronin, Mizoguchi spent much of his career — which included more than seventy films in thirty-three years, up to his death in 1956 at the age of fifty-eight — making films about the exploitation of women, partly influenced by having seen his sister sold into prostitution by their father. It’s a shame that Street of Shame, one of Mizoguchi’s best, also turned out to be his last, but what a way to go. Street of Shame is screening April 22 and 24 in the ongoing “Welcome to Metrograph: A to Z” series, which continues in April with such other S films as Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, Lowell Sherman’s She Done Him Wrong, and Lech Kowalski’s Story of a Junkie A.K.A. Gringo.
BORDER CROSSINGS: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, 1960)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
April 21-23, 11:00 am
“He was a very special friend, and I’ll always miss his unique way of looking at life,” Robert Vaughn wrote of Steve McQueen in his 2008 memoir, A Fortunate Life. The longtime pals made three films together, the first being John Sturges’s classic Western, The Magnificent Seven. (They also each got their start in low-budget sci-fi cheese, McQueen in The Blob and Vaughn in Teenage Cave Man.) The film, a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic Seven Samurai, features Vaughn, fresh off an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Young Philadelphians, and McQueen, who was in the middle of his run as Josh Randall in the television series Wanted: Dead of Alive, playing two of seven sharpshooters hired by the men in a poor Mexican farming village where a group of bandits led by the evil Calvera (Eli Wallach) have been running roughshod. McQueen is Vin Tanner, a cool drifter, while Vaughn is traumatized Civil War sharpshooter Lee; the other five are Yul Brynner as leader Chris Adams, Brad Dexter as fortune hunter Harry Luck, James Coburn as knife slinger Britt, Charles Bronson as pro Bernardo O’Reilly, and Horst Buccholz as the fiery young Chico. Brynner and McQueen famously went after each other in a hotly contested battle of acting one-upmanship even as their characters work together to save the town. The magnificent film, which was shot on location in Mexico and established McQueen as a star, also boasts an unforgettably American score by Elmer Bernstein.
As part of their bonding process, the seven performers also played cards during breaks; one series of publicity photos shows Vaughn sitting next to McQueen as each wins a hand. In addition, in a 2015 interview with the Mirror, Vaughn detailed a visit he and McQueen made to a brothel that didn’t go quite as planned. (“They said, ‘How many girls would you like?’ And Steve said, ‘Seven. We are the Magnificent Seven and we want seven girls.’ Even though not all seven of us were there.”) A 35mm print of The Magnificent Seven is screening April 21-23 at eleven o’clock in the morning in the IFC Center series “Weekend Classics: Border Crossings,” which continues Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings through July 2 with such other cool flicks as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, and Tony Richardson’s The Border.
WAVERLY MIDNIGHTS — ROAD RAGE: BULLITT (Peter Yates, 1968)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
April 21-22, 12:15 am
New York City native Robert Vaughn, who passed away in November at the age of eighty-three, and good friend Steve McQueen, who was only fifty when he died in 1980, reunited onscreen in 1968 for the police-political thriller Bullitt. By then, each had starred in a television series — McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive, Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in the wildly successful, Emmy-nominated spy fave The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In Bullitt, McQueen virtually created the Hollywood antihero, playing a cool, calm cop who does things his way, often leaving a mess behind him; meanwhile, Vaughn began establishing himself as the manipulative high-class villain. In Bullitt, which was based on Robert L. Fish’s 1963 novel, Mute Witness, McQueen stars as San Francisco detective Lt. Frank Bullitt, a character inspired by real-life SF inspector Dave Toschi. Bullitt is personally selected by local politician Walter Chalmers (Vaughn) to protect an important witness, who is scheduled to testify against the Organization in forty hours. But things go awry, leading to murder and mayhem — and one of the all-time-great movie car chases — as Bullitt, distrustful of Chalmers, refuses to follow protocol. Shot on location by cinematographer William A. Fraker on the winding streets of San Francisco, the film, directed by Peter Yates and featuring a jazzy score by Lalo Schifrin, has quite a supporting cast, with Don Gordon and Carl Reindel as two members of Bullitt’s team, Simon Oakland as their boss, Norman Fell as a suspicious captain, Jacqueline Bisset as Bullitt’s designer girlfriend, Georg Stanford Brown as a doctor, Paul Genge and Bill Hickman as the hit men, Vic Tayback as the brother of the informant, and Robert Duvall as taxi driver.
Oh, and as far as the plot goes, just forget about it; it doesn’t make any sense. In his memoir, Vaughn noted that he only began to understand it as McQueen kept offering more money for him to be in the film. The two friends would go on to make one more movie together, the 1974 disaster epic The Towering Inferno, with McQueen as a fire chief and Vaughn as, well, a sleazy politician. A 35mm print of Bullitt is screening April 21 & 22 at 12:15 am in the IFC Center “Waverly Midnights” series “Road Rage,” which continues through June 24 with such other high-octane thrillers as William Friedkin’s The French Connection, George Miller’s Mad Max, and Peter Collinson’s The Italian Job.
145 Sixth Ave. at Dominick St.
Wednesday - Sunday through April 29, $30-$45
Since 2008, creator, director, and designer Reid Farrington has been staging wildly inventive multimedia re-creations of movies using a unique combination of live action and original footage. His past presentations include The Passion Project, based on Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gin & “It,” which went behind the scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, and A Christmas Carol, which brought together dozens of adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic. Farrington and his wife, Sara, have now turned their attention to the making of one of the greatest films in Hollywood history, Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca. In the 1942 movie, Humphrey Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, an American nightclub owner in Casablanca who encounters a former lover, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), who is in town to meet with her husband, resistance fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), seeking letters of transit that would allow them to escape the Nazis. Written by Sara Farrington and directed by Reid Farrington, who also designed the sets and the video, CasablancaBox takes the audience in front of and behind the camera, as the actors portray the characters in the film as well as the actors playing that character, and the film is “made” before our eyes. Thus, Roger Casey plays Bogart and Rick, Catherine Gowl plays Bergman and Ilsa, and Matt McGloin portrays Henreid and Laszlo. The proceedings are intricately choreographed by Laura K. Nicoll (who was Joan in The Passion Project), as actors carry flat wooden scrims of varying sizes on which clips from Casablanca are projected; behind them, the actors either mouth the parts, so film dialogue is heard, or they speak the lines, with the film sound turned off. (Travis Wright is the sound engineer, while the black-and-white lighting design is by Laura Mroczkowski.) The Farringtons use backstage discussions to lead into the final dialogue, particularly when Peter Lorre (Rob Hille), who plays the sleazy Ugarte, is worried when he is given new lines (“I won’t be fired. I’m the only actor in Hollywood who can make murderers into lovable little teddy bears,” he convinces himself) and when Henreid’s real life as an escapee of the Nazis affects his performance in several takes of a critical scene.
Meanwhile, director Curtiz (Kevin R. Free) barks orders and gets a massage, a pair of Eastern European refugees (Gabriel Diego Hernandez and McGloin) argue about being extras and playing Nazis merely as background atmosphere, Bogart’s wife, actress Mayo Methot (Erin Treadway), stalks the set, and the four screenwriters — Lenore Coffee (Lynn Guerra), Philip Epstein (Adam Patterson), Howard Koch (Kyle Stockburger), and Julius Epstein (Jon Swain) — argue over key plot points. Trying to hold it all together is Irene (Stephanie Regina), who serves as a kind of stage manager as well as the announcer. (The real stage manager, Alex B. West, deserves kudos as well.) The show also tackles censorship issues, shares an anecdote about Errol Flynn and horses, and delves into how no one knew how the film was going to end. The cast also includes Zac Hoogendyk as Claude Rains and Captain Renault, Patterson as Conrad Veidt and Major Strasser, Stockburger as Sydney Greenstreet and Signor Ferrari, Toussaint Jeanlouis as Dooley Wilson and Sam, and Hoogendyk as Bergman’s husband, Peter Lindstrom, and her lover, Roberto Rosselini. Not all of the behind-the-scenes detail is completely factual, and a few scenes grow repetitive, but the Farringtons accomplish their stated goal to “tell the beautiful, chaotic, and sometimes accidental story of a work of artistic genius.” Inspired by the cinematic style of Robert Altman and what the Farringtons refer to as “theatricalizing the camera,” CasablancaBox is also surprisingly relevant, given the current refugee crisis and the spread of hate crimes around the world. But mostly it’s a lot of fun, a creative look at an American classic.
Italian artist and prankster extraordinaire Maurizio Cattelan has built his wildly successful career out of controversy, provocation, and mystery, taking on the very art world that has made him a superstar. Documentarian Maura Axelrod includes the same elements in her vastly entertaining film, Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. The title refers to both the beginning of Cattelan’s career, a Milan solo show in which he locked the gallery door and hung a sign on it that said “Torno Subito” (Be Right Back) as well as what might or might not be the end, as he announced his retirement following the brilliant 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim, “All,” in which he hung all of his works from the Guggenheim ceiling, as if signaling their death. “His career is based on anecdotes and lies and imaginary stories,” Milan gallerist Massimo De Carlo says in the film. “Some people are suspicious that Maurizio is pulling the wool over their eyes and he is some kind of flamboyant artistic con man,” adds art historian Sarah Thornton. “I think he’s probably one of the greatest artists that we have today, but he could also be the worst. It’s gonna be one or the other; it’s not gonna fall in the middle,” cracks one of his collectors. Axelrod also speaks with former Guggenheim artistic director Nancy Spector, former Public Art Fund director Tom Eccles, Cattelan archive director Victoria Armutt, Guggenheim curator Katherine Brinson, gallerists Marian Goodman and Emmanuel Perrotin, art critics Calvin Tomkins and Dodie Kazanjian, and Cattelan’s sister, Giada, former fiancée Victoria Cabello, and current girlfriend Victoria Yee Howe. They share stories about Cattelan’s working methods and proclivities, delving into such pieces as “Daddy Daddy,” a facedown Pinocchio in a pool of water that was inspired by Cattelan’s childhood; “La Nona Ora” (The Ninth Hour), a lifelike sculpture of the pope knocked down by a meteorite; “Another Fucking Readymade,” in which he stole the inventory of another artist’s show and claimed them as his own; “Him,” a rendering of a kneeling child who turns out to be Adolf Hitler; and “L.O.V.E.” (Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità), a marble sculpture of a giant middle finger in Milan’s financial district. He even staged his own pseudo–Caribbean Biennial, featuring such artists as Wolfgang Tillmans, Elizabeth Peyton, Gabriel Orozco, Pipilotti Rist, Chris Ofili, and Mariko Mori gathered together on the island of St. Kitts. (The critics were not amused.)
Meanwhile, the artist speaks profusely on camera, sharing such insights as “I knew what was expected of me and I decided I was going to be something else” and “I’ve always been very good at faking things.” Indeed, about two-thirds of the way through the film, there is a fabulous twist that only art-world insiders are likely to have guessed, as Axelrod takes a page from Orson Welles’s magical F for Fake. Writer, producer, and director Axelrod incorporates home movies, family photographs, playful animation, and new and old footage to try to figure out just what makes Cattelan tick, what he’s really like, but she lets viewers in only so far, like his tiny elevator installation in which no one can fit. Among the many words used to describe the iconoclastic artist and his oeuvre are “tasteless,” “profound,” “funny,” “tragic,” “disrespectful,” “vulnerable,” and “uncanny beauty,” as people also point out that he is anxious, very demanding to live and work with, and, while seeing art as commodity, uses the vanity of collectors against themselves. Of course, all of those are true, in one way or another. His art can be as thrilling as it is offensive, as silly as it is prescient as he explores such themes as failure, alienation, mortality, and personal identity. “You need to go pretty far, otherwise the piece doesn’t exist,” he says. “You need to push your friends and enemies and collaborators further, and you have to be uncomfortable about it. The further you go, the more satisfaction is created by the level of discomfort in which all the participants were put.” The last section of the film details “All,” which a clearly uncomfortable Spector had her doubts about but insisted that “the risk had to be real,” worrying that it would cause the Guggenheim to collapse within itself but they had to proceed. And as far as Cattelan’s retirement is concerned, this past September he installed “America” at the Guggenheim, an eighteen-karat-gold fully functional toilet, the first new piece he has exhibited since “All.” Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back opens April 14 at the newly renovated Quad Cinema, with Axelrod participating in Q&As on April 14 (with Spector and New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni) and April 15 at 7:45 and April 16 at 5:30.
Daria and Scooby-Doo meet The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic in graphic novelist Dash Shaw’s first full-length feature animation, the awkwardly titled, awkwardly plotted, yet awkwardly entertaining My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. In the somewhat semiautobiographical tale, Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) runs the school newsletter with his best friend, Assaf (Reggie Watts); the two consider themselves investigative journalists, even if no one reads their stories. Dash is further frustrated when Assaf shows an interest in Verti (Maya Rudolph), who has different ideas for the newsletter. After publicly embarrassing Assaf, a stunt that disappoints the relatively cool Principal Grimm (Thomas Jay Ryan), Dash discovers that the high school’s new roof, which is under construction, is not up to code. Just as he starts telling everyone that, the school begins breaking apart and falling into the ocean. Dash soon finds himself with Assaf, lunch lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon), and his archenemy, Mary (Lena Dunham), as they try to stay above water and survive the maelstrom that is swirling all around them. In order to make it, they’ll have to go from the freshman floor, the lowest one, up through the sophomore, junior, and senior floors to potential safety, a clever way of having them grow up fast. But their journey is a gory one as they encounter plenty of dead students and teachers along with lots of body parts.
Shaw (Cosplayers, Bottomless Belly Buttons) wrote and directed the film, with his partner, Jane Samborski, serving as lead animator, creating much of the DIY-style art in his Brooklyn kitchen; the two previously collaborated on the online series The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D., based on Shaw’s 2009 graphic novel. The cartoon style is all over the place, from sketchy and purposely amateurish to hallucinogenic and surreal, incorporating images of real fire and water; at times it looks like the film is being projected by the iconic 1960s psychedelic Joshua Light Show. (In fact, one of the other animators was Curtis Godino, who has worked with JLS and founder Joshua White; Frank Santoro also contributed to the film.) A cool elevator sequence pays homage to early German animator Lotte Reiniger. The narrative contains ginormous plot holes; try to suspend disbelief and just let the tongue-in-cheek madness play out onscreen. Shaw and Samborski do a good job of capturing the general angst and ennui of high school life, although it does become repetitive during the too-long seventy-seven-minute running time. And a direct reference to Shaw’s publisher is completely gratuitous. The film also features the voices of Alex Karpovsky as slacker Drake, John Cameron Mitchell as jock Brent Daniels, and Louisa Krause as popular girl Gretchen, with music by Rani Sharone of the band Stolen Babes and the haunting solo project Thrillsville. A selection of the New York Film Festival, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea opens April 14 at Metrograph, with Q&As with Shaw, Samborski, and producer Kyle Martin at the 7:00 shows April 14-16. (The April 14 Q&A will be moderated by Mitchell.)