SWIMMING POOL (François Ozon, 2003)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, February 4, 7:00; Thursday, February 15, 2:45; Friday, February 16, 2:25
Series runs February 2-16
Charlotte Rampling is divine in Swimming Pool, François Ozon’s playfully creepy mystery about a popular British crime novelist taking a break from the big city (London) to recapture her muse at her publisher’s French villa, only to be interrupted by the publisher’s hot-to-trot teenage daughter. Rampling stars as Sarah Morton, a fiftysomething novelist who is jealous of the attention being poured on young writer Terry Long (Sebastian Harcombe) by her longtime publisher, John Bosload (Game of Thrones’s Charles Dance). John sends Sarah off to his elegant country house, where she sets out to complete her next Inspector Dorwell novel in peace and quiet. But the prim and proper — and rather bitter and cynical — Sarah quickly has her working vacation intruded upon by Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), John’s teenage daughter, who likes walking around topless and living life to the fullest, clearly enjoying how Sarah looks at her and judges her. “You’re just a frustrated English writer who writes about dirty things but never does them,” Julie says, and soon Sarah is reevaluating the choices she’s made in her own life. Rampling, who mixes sexuality with a heart-wrenching vulnerability like no other actress (see The Night Porter, The Verdict, and Heading South), more than holds her own as the primpy old maid in the shadow of a young beauty, even tossing in some of nudity to show that she still has it. (Rampling has also posed nude in her sixties in a series of photographs by Juergen Teller alongside twentysomething model Raquel Zimmerman, so such “competition” is nothing to her.)
Rampling has really found her groove working with Ozon, having appeared in four of his films, highlighted by a devastating performance in Under the Sand as a wife dealing with the sudden disappearance of her husband. Sagnier, who has also starred in Ozon’s Water Drops on Burning Rocks and 8 Women, is a delight to watch, especially as things turn dark. Swimming Pool is very much about duality; the film opens with a shot of the shimmering Thames river while the title comes onscreen and Philippe Rombi’s score of mystery and danger plays, and later Sarah says, “I absolutely loathe swimming pools,” to which Julie responds, “Pools are boring; there’s no excitement, no feeling of infinity. It’s just a big bathtub.” (“It’s more like a cesspool of living bacteria,” Sarah adds.) Ozon (Time to Leave, Criminal Lovers) explores most of the seven deadly sins as Sarah and Julie get to know each other all too well. Swimming Pool is screening February 4, 15, and 16 in the Quad Cinema series “Crimes of Passion: The Erotic Thriller,” which runs February 2-16 and includes such other hot flicks as Angel Heart, Basic Instinct, Body Double, Body Heat, In the Cut, Vertigo, and Fatal Attraction.
GOD TOLD ME TO (Larry Cohen, 1976)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Friday, February 2, 7:00, and Sunday, February 4, 1:45
Series runs through February 14
Watching the first half hour of Larry Cohen’s 1976 thriller, God Told Me To, is extremely difficult, given the continuing spate of mass shootings in the United States and the battle over gun control. The film opens with a man (Sammy Williams) on top of a water tower in New York City, picking off random people down below with a .22 caliber rifle. Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) risks his life to go face-to-face with the soft-spoken killer, who says he did it because “God told me to.” A religious Catholic suffering a crisis of faith, Nicholas gets the same response from a series of other mass murderers, including a cop played by Andy Kaufman, in his big screen debut, who lets loose during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. (The next scene takes place at the Feast of San Gennaro, which is held every September in Little Italy, but it’s clear that six months have not elapsed, so we’ll give Cohen, a native of Washington Heights, poetic license in this case.) As Lo Bianco gets deeper and deeper into the mystery that involves an odd, cultlike figure named Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch), he also has to deal with his estranged wife, Martha (Sandy Dennis), and his younger girlfriend, Casey Forster (Deborah Raffin). As he gets closer to the truth, he is forced to look deep into his soul amid all the madness. God Told Me To is shot by cinematographer Paul Glickman guerrilla style primarily without city permits and using a handheld camera, keeping the viewer off balance; the choppy editing by Michael D. Corey, Arthur Mandelberg, and William J. Waters doesn’t help smooth things out. The production values are quintessential low-budget mid-’70s, eliciting screams not of horror but of campy enjoyment among the middle-aged, who grew up watching these offbeat films at offbeat times in wood-paneled basements. Inspired by the Bible and one of the very first “aliens visited Earth!” books, Erich von Däniken’s bestselling Chariots of the Gods, Cohen, a producer, director, and writer who made such other low-budget faves as Black Caesar, It’s Alive, Q, The Stuff, and The Masters of Horror episode Pick Me Up, creates some intense scenes, including a hellish visit to a burning underground lair, as the twisting plot enters sci-fi territory involving a very special vagina.
One of the undersung actors of the 1970s, Lo Bianco, who starred in such films as The Honeymoon Killers, The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, and Bloodbrothers and played Mayor Fiorella La Guardia in his traveling one-man show The Little Flower, gives one of his most nuanced performances in God Told Me To, whether desperately trying to stop killers or learning some hard facts from an elderly woman in a nursing home, portrayed by Oscar winner Sylvia Sidney. (The film also features old-time Broadway and Hollywood actor Sam Levene as publisher Everett Lukas.) Oscar-winning composer Bernard Herrmann was supposed to write the score but sadly passed away before he could begin, so Frank Cordell took over; the film is dedicated to Herrmann, who had written the score for It’s Alive. Fans of 1960s and 1970s television series will have a field day recognizing familiar faces in small roles, character actors who appeared in multitudes of comedies and dramas; among the names you’ll be Googling to see what else they’ve been in are Mason Adams, Richard Lynch, Harry Bellaver, and John Heffernan. God Told Me To, which was also released as Demon, is a gritty, dark film that resonates in a new way today, especially since all of the killers are white American males with apparent links to a supreme being. The film is screening February 2 and 4 at MoMA as part of the series “You Are Now One of Us: Film at Club 57,” being held in conjunction with the exhibition “Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983,” a celebration of the countercultural underground venue in the basement of a Polish church on St. Marks Pl. where people gathered to experience alternative art; among the curators were Susan Hannaford, Tom Scully, Keith Haring, and Ann Magnuson. The series continues through February 14 with such other fine fare as David Cronenberg’s Rabid, Dennis Donnelly’s The Toolbox Murders, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, and “Cartoons You Won’t See on TV.”
A MAN VANISHES (NINGEN JŌHATSU) (Shôhei Imamaura, 1967)
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave. at Second St.
Saturday, February 3, 6:15; Thursday, February 8, 9:00; Sunday, February 11, 6:15
Series runs February 2 – February 20
Japanese filmmaker Shôhei Imamura blurs the lines between reality and fiction in his cinéma vérité masterpiece, A Man Vanishes. The 1967 black-and-white documentary delves into one of Japan’s annual multitude of missing persons cases, this time investigating the mysterious disappearance of Tadashi Ôshima, a plastics wholesaler who vanished during a business trip. Imamura sends out actor Shigeru Tsuyuguchi (The Insect Woman, Intentions of Murder) to conduct interviews with Ôshima’s fiancée, Yoshie Hayakawa, who develops an interest in her inquisitor; Yoshie’s sister, Sayo, who quickly finds herself on the defensive; business associates who talk about Ôshima’s drinking, womanizing, and embezzling from the company; and several people who remember seeing Sayo together with Ôshima, something she adamantly denies despite the building evidence. Throughout the 130-minute work, the film references itself as being a film, culminating in Imamura’s pulling the rug out from under viewers and calling everything they’ve seen into question in an unforgettable moment that breaks down the fourth wall and explodes the very nature of truth and cinematic storytelling itself. It also explores individual identity and just how much one really knows those closest to them. Originally supposed to be the first of a twenty-four-part series exploring two dozen missing-persons cases, A Man Vanishes ended up being such a challenging undertaking that it was the only one Imamura made, but what a film it is; it would be more than a decade before he returned to fiction, with 1979’s Vengeance Is Mine, which led the way to a spectacular final two decades that also included The Ballad of Narayama, Eijanaika, Black Rain, The Eel, Dr. Akagi, and Warm Water Under a Red Bridge. The amazing A Man Vanishes is screening February 3, 8, and 11 in the Anthology Film Archives series “Documentarists for a Day,” which highlights nonfiction works made by directors better known for their fiction films. The first part of the festival runs February 2-20 and also includes Orson Welles’s F for Fake, Roberto Rossellini’s India: Matri Bhumi and Interview with Salvador Allende, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Theater in Trance, and Louis Malle’s God’s Country before returning in the spring with documentaries by Eric Rohmer, Manoel de Oliveira, Claire Denis, Satyajit Ray, and others.
More than two dozen sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots have not diluted in the slightest the grandeur of the original 1954 version of Godzilla, one of the greatest monster movies ever made. If you’ve only seen the feeble, reedited, Americanized Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, made two years later with Canadian-born actor Raymond Burr inserted as an American reporter, well, wipe that out of your head. On February 2, Japan Society is screening the real thing, the restored treasure as part of its Monthly Classics series; it will be followed on February 21 with “Directing Godzilla: The Life of Filmmaker Ishirō Honda,” a talk with Steve Ryfle, author of Ishirō Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla to Kurosawa, moderated by Film Forum repertory programming director Bruce Goldstein, whose Rialto Pictures released the film in theaters in 2004 and 2014, followed by a book signing and reception with many old Godzilla posters and memorabilia items on view.
The film was inspired by Eugène Lourié’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and a real incident involving the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, a tuna-fishing boat that got hit by radioactive fallout in January 1954 from a U.S. test of a dry-fuel thermonuclear device in the Pacific Ocean. Writer-director Ishirō Honda and cowriter Takeo Murata expanded on Shigeru Kayama’s story, focusing on a giant dinosaur under the sea who comes back to life after H-bomb testing by the U.S. Standing 165 feet tall and able to breathe atomic gas, Godzilla — known as Gojira in Japanese, a combination of gorira, the Japanese word for gorilla, and kujira, which means whale — wreaks havoc on Japanese towns as he makes his way toward Tokyo. While the military and the government want to destroy the creature — who is played by Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka in a monster suit, tramping over miniature houses, streets, cars, trains, and buildings using the suitmation technique (both men also make cameos outside the costume) — Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) wants to study Godzilla to find out how the radiation only makes it stronger instead of destroying it. (Throughout, Godzilla is referred to as “it” and not “he,” perhaps because the creature is in part a representation of America and what it wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) “Godzilla was baptized in the fire of the H-bomb and survived. What could kill it now?” Dr. Yamane asks. Meanwhile, one of Dr. Yamane’s assistants, Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), is working on a secret oxygen destroyer that he will show only to his fiancée, Yamane’s daughter, Emiko (Momoko Kōchi), who is having trouble telling Dr. Serizawa that she is actually in love with salvage ship captain Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada). “Godzilla’s no different from the H-bomb still hanging over Japan’s head,” Ogata tells Dr. Yamane, who is none too pleased with his take on the situation. Through it all, the media risks everything to get the story.
Even for 1954, many of the special effects, photographed by Masao Tamai, are cheesy but fun, and composer Akira Ifukube’s fiercely dramatic score goes toe-to-toe with the monster. The Toho film is no mere monster movie but instead is filled with metaphors and references about WWII and the use of atomic bombs, examining it from political and socioeconomic vantage points while questioning the future of technological advances. “But what if your discovery is used for some horrible purpose?” Emiko asks Dr. Serizawa, who wears an eye patch, as if he can only see part of things. Godzilla could only have come from Japan, much like King Kong was purely an American creation produced by Hollywood; in fact, the two went at it in Honda’s 1962 film, King Kong vs. Godzilla. The next year, Akira Kurosawa would make I Live in Fear (Ikimono no kiroku), an intense psychological drama about the nuclear holocaust’s effects on one man, a factory owner played by Toshirô Mifune — who meets with a dentist portrayed by Kurosawa regular Shimura — a kind of companion piece to Godzilla. Honda, who served as an assistant director to Kurosawa on many films before making his own pictures, would go on to make such other sci-fi flicks as Rodan, The H-Man, Mothra, and Destroy All Monsters, but it was on Godzilla that he got everything right, capturing the fate of a nation in the aftermath of nuclear devastation while still managing to gain sympathy for the monster. It is also difficult to watch the film in 2018 without thinking of America’s current debate over illegal immigration and fear of the other, particularly when Godzilla approaches an electrified fence meant to keep him out, as well as the threat of nuclear war as President Trump battles Kim Jon Un on Twitter.
A TOUCH OF SIN (TIAN ZHU DING) (Jia Zhangke, 2013)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Tuesday, January 30, 12 noon, and Wednesday, January 31, 3:00
Series runs through February 10
During his sixteen-year career, Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke has made both narrative works (The World, Platform, Still Life) and documentaries (Useless, I Wish I Knew), with his fiction films containing elements of nonfiction and vice versa. Such is the case with his 2013 film, the powerful A Touch of Sin, which explores four based-on-fact outbreaks of shocking violence in four different regions of China. In Shanxi, outspoken miner Dahai (Jiang Wu) won’t stay quiet about the rampant corruption of the village elders. In Chongqing, married migrant worker and father Zhao San (Wang Baoqiang) obtains a handgun and is not afraid to use it. In Hubei, brothel receptionist Ziao Yu (Zhao Tao, Jia’s longtime muse and wife) can no longer take the abuse and assumptions of the male clientele. And in Dongguan, young Xiao Hui (Luo Lanshan) tries to make a life for himself but is soon overwhelmed by his lack of success. Inspired by King Hu’s 1971 wuxia film A Touch of Zen, Jia also owes a debt to Max Ophüls’s 1950 bittersweet romance La Ronde, in which a character from one segment continues into the next, linking the stories. In A Touch of Sin, there is also a character connection in each successive tale, though not as overt, as Jia makes a wry, understated comment on the changing ways that people connect in modern society. In depicting these four acts of violence, Jia also exposes the widening economic gap between the rich and the poor and the social injustice that is prevalent all over contemporary China — as well as the rest of the world — leading to dissatisfied individuals fighting for their dignity in extreme ways. A gripping, frightening film that earned Jia the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes, A Touch of Zen is screening January 30 and 31 in the Metrograph series “Martial/Art,” which continues through February 10 with such other high-end martial-arts fare as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zhang Yimou’s Hero, and, appropriately enough, King Hu’s A Touch of Zen.
For the January 28 edition of its Sunday Sessions series held in the VW Dome, MoMA PS1 is teaming with Topical Cream, a self-described “New York-based platform [that] has supported a community of artists, writers, designers, and technologists through digital publishing and public programming initiatives.” From 2:00 to 6:00, there will be live performances, readings, film, and installations exploring how artists deal with self-preservation and resistance. The afternoon includes a performance by Analisa Teachworth with Jonas Wendelin, videos presented by Jacksonville-based artist Redeem Pettaway, live music by Zsela and Deli Girls, and a new piece by Julia Scher on surveillance and security. In addition, there will be video and poetry in the main museum building by Michelle Young Lee, Sara Hornbacher, Sarah Zapata, Maya Martinez, Rin Johnson, Sophia Le Fraga, and Natasha Stagg.