In October 2008, in the midst of the Barack Obama / John McCain presidential election and the mortgage crisis, filmmaker Rachel Shuman took to the streets of New York City with Clay Pigeon, host of The Dusty Show on WFMU, interviewing people as they made their way across Manhattan and other boroughs. The Boston-born, Beacon-based Shuman intended to capture a moment in time and not release the film until after Obama’s second term ended to see how life in the city changed. The result is One October, a kind of love letter to who we were, are, and will be. Inspired by Chris Marker’s 1963 film Le Joli Mai, in which the French director interviewed people on the streets of Paris, Shuman follows Pigeon, Radio Shack mini tape recorder in hand, as he wanders through Central Park, Harlem, Washington Square Park, the Lower East Side, Madison Square Park, the Financial District, the Brooklyn Bridge, Willets Point, Tompkins Square Park, and other locations, approaching a series of men and women who share fascinating details about their personal and professional lives; the Iowa-born Pigeon has an innate knack for quickly understanding his subjects, asking intuitive questions that often surprise them. He speaks with a former freelance photographer who now works construction to make more money for his family, an ambitious lawyer who wants to work at the UN, a mixed-race couple sitting on a bench, a woman railing against the gentrification of Harlem, and a homeless man who turns the tables on the soft-spoken Pigeon. “It’s always interesting to see how the random collection of souls falls together and how the next chapter bears fruit or lies fallow,” he says on his radio show.
In between interviews, cinematographer David Sampliner beautifully photographs trees, buildings, storefronts, statues, the Halloween Parade, political rallies, the Columbus Day Parade, a housing protest, the Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, birds flying across blue skies, Muslims praying at the end of Ramadan, and Jews performing the ritual of Tashlich, casting away their sins by throwing pieces of bread into the East River. The shots, which include classic New York restaurants as well as institutions that have since closed, are accompanied by a bittersweet score by Paul Brill, featuring cellist Dave Eggar. Director, editor, and producer Shuman (Negotiations) has created a loving warning about the future of a city that has been undergoing major changes since October 2008. Executive produced by three-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton, the hour-long One October is having a special October screening at Nitehawk Cinema as part of the “Representation” series, which highlights the scarcity of women directors in the industry; the film will be preceded by Jon Bunning’s fifteen-minute short The Tables, about Ping-Pong in Bryant Park, and followed by a Q&A with Shuman and WFMU host Amanda Nazario.
NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: A TOUCH OF ZEN (King Hu, 1969)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Howard Gilman Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Tuesday, October 2, 6:30
Festival runs through October 14
Watching King Hu’s 1969 wuxia classic, A Touch of Zen, brings us back to the days of couching out with Kung Fu Theater on rainy Saturday afternoons. The highly influential three-plus-hour epic features an impossible-to-figure-out plot, a goofy romance, wicked-cool weaponry, an awesome Buddhist monk, a bloody massacre, and action scenes that clearly involve the overuse of trampolines. Still, it’s great fun, even if it is way too long. (The film, which was initially shown in two parts, earned a special technical prize at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.) Shih Jun stars as Ku Shen Chai, a local calligrapher and scholar who is extremely curious when the mysterious Ouyang Nin (Tin Peng) suddenly show up in town. It turns out that Ouyang is after Miss Yang (Hsu Feng) to exact “justice” for the corrupt Eunuch Wei, who is out to kill her entire family. Hu (Come Drink with Me, Dragon Gate Inn) fills the film with long, poetic establishing shots of fields and the fort, using herky-jerky camera movements (that might or might not have been done on purpose) and throwing in an ultra-trippy psychedelic mountain scene that is about as 1960s as it gets. A Touch of Zen is ostensibly about Ku’s journey toward enlightenment, but it’s also about so much more, although we’re not completely sure what that is. The film is screening on October 2 at 6:30 as part of the fifty-sixth New York Film Festival’s Retrospective tribute to Pierre Rissient, Cannes film scout, publicist, producer, distributor, etc., who believed, “It is not enough to love a film. One must love it for the right reasons!” Rissient passed away in May at the age of eighty-one; the sidebar also includes such other films that Rissient championed as Lino Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light, Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me, Fritz Lang’s House by the River, and Joseph Losey’s Time without Pity.
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Alice Tully Hall
West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
September 28 - October 14
The fifty-sixth annual New York Film Festival is under way, consisting of more than two weeks of international shorts, features, documentaries, experimental works, and immersive, interactive virtual reality presentations. There are documentaries about Roger Ailes, Steve Bannon, Carmine Street Guitars, Maria Callas, the Memphis Belle, Bill Cunningham, and Watergate; retrospective tributes to Dan Talbot and Pierre Rissient; talks with Claire Denis, Alfonso Cuarón, Alice Rohrwacher, Errol Morris, Jia Zhangke, Mariano Llinás, Willem Dafoe, Morgan Neville, Frederick Wiseman, and Ed Lachman; revivals of such films as Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba, and Ronald Neame’s Tunes of Glory; and postscreening Q&As with Jodie Foster, Michael Almereyda, Richard Thompson, Alex Gibney, Elizabeth Holtzman, Lesley Stahl, Emma Stone, Julian Schnabel, Joel and Ethan Coen, Laetitia Casta, Elisabeth Moss, Eric Stoltz, Robert Pattinson, Olivier Assayas, Tamara Jenkins, Vincent Lacoste, Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and many others. Below is a list of at least one highlight per day; keep checking twi-ny for reviews and further information.
Saturday, September 29
Special Events: The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, 2018), Alice Tully Hall, $25, 2:15
Sunday, September 30
Revivals: Enamorada (Emilio Fernández, 1946), Howard Gilman Theater, $17, 12 noon
Monday, October 1
Free Events — NYFF Live: In Conversation with Frederick Wiseman, moderated by Kent Jones, EBM Amphitheater, free, 7:00
Tuesday, October 2
Retrospective: A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1971/75), Howard Gilman Theater, $17, 6:30
Wednesday, October 3
Talks — On Cinema: Claire Denis, Walter Reade Theater, $25, 6:00
Thursday, October 4
Retrospective: Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957), Howard Gilman Theater, $17, 6:30
Friday, October 5
Projections: Your Face (Tsai Ming-liang, 2018), Howard Gilman Theater, $17, 4:30
Saturday, October 6
Talks — Directors Dialogues: Alfonso Cuarón, Walter Reade Theater, free, 2:30
Sunday, October 7
Talks — Film Comment Live: Filmmakers Talk, with Louis Garrel, Jodie Mack, Alex Ross Perry, and Albert Serra, EBM Amphitheater, free, 7:00
Monday, October 8
Special Events: An Afternoon with Barry Jenkins, in Conversation with Darryl Pinkney, Alice Tully Hall, $25, 12 noon
Tuesday, October 9
Retrospective: My Dinner with André (Louis Malle, 1981), Howard Gilman Theater, $17, 6:30
Wednesday, October 10
Retrospective: The American Friend (Wim Wenders, 1977), Howard Gilman Theater, 6:30
Thursday, October 11
Convergence: iNK Stories – Fire Escape: An Interactive VR Series (Navid Khonsari, 2018), followed by a Q&A, EBM Amphitheater, 6:00 & 7:30
Friday, October 12
Convergence: Virtual Reality Documentary Program, featuring My Africa (David Allen, 2018), narrated by Lupita Nyong’o, The Drummer (Ana Kler, 2017), and the world premiere of Hope Amongst the Haze (Tiffany Hill, 2018), EBM Amphitheater, $10, 4:00 & 6:00
Saturday, October 13
Spotlight on Documentary — Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (Alexis Bloom, 2018), Howard Gilman Theater, $25, 2:45
Sunday, October 14
Special Events: The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2018), Francesca Beale Theater, $25, 12 noon
Psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both used the metaphor of a house to represent the whole of a person and his or her psyche. Siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín explore that concept in 306 Hollywood, an imaginative documentary in which they seek to define who their beloved late grandmother was — and where she is after her death. In 2011, Annette Ontell passed away at the age of ninety-three. In her will, she left her home of sixty-seven years, a relatively basic suburban house at 306 Hollywood Ave. in Hillside, New Jersey, to Elan and Jonathan, who at first were encouraged by their mother, Marilyn Ontell, to sell it. But after funeral director Sherry Anthony tells the siblings that it is believed that following a death, the soul of the deceased hovers around its home for nearly a year, they changed their mind. “You have eleven months to make your grandmother tangible again,” she explains. And the Bogaríns take that time to turn the house into an archaeological dig, excavating through physical items that spur memories of the past to celebrate the life of their beloved grandmother. “As far as we knew, the house was her world,” Jonathan says. “When you lose someone you love, you start to look for new ways to understand the world,” Elan adds.
Elan and Jonathan use re-creations, home movies, family photographs, and filmed interviews they made with Annette, a fashion designer who was married to an accountant named Herman, every year from 2001 to 2011, in which she honestly and entertainingly shares her thoughts about her long life, including discussions of death. The siblings, who employ a visual sense of humor and magical realism akin to that of a Wes Anderson movie combined with the documentary style of Chantal Akerman and Agnès Varda, speak with their mother, Annette’s daughter, Marilyn Ontell, as well as fashion conservator Nicole Bloomfield; Rockefeller archivist Robert Clark; Biblioteca Casanatense librarian Isabella Ceccopieri and director Rita Fioravanti; archaeologist Jan Gadeyne; and MIT physicist and novelist Alan Lightman, who all offer views about interpreting physical and psychological aspects of a person’s life, from items they collected to papers they saved to the clothes they wore. Two of the most compelling scenes involve clothing; Elan and Jonathan film their grandmother trying to put on dresses, with the help of her daughter, that she made more than half a century before. Annette sits in a chair in her bra and panties, her aging body mostly exposed to the camera, as she insists she won’t fit into the chic clothes. Later, Bloomfield performs a forensics-like investigation on the dresses, offering yet more information about Annette.
Elan and Jonathan also have a precise miniature version of the house made by Rick Maccione of Dollhouse Mansions and often film inside it, playing with the scale of history, time, and memory and the role of the camera in recording the past. “It was plain to me that the house represented a kind of image of the psyche,” Jung wrote. But as Jonathan notes at one point, “Grandma’s house isn’t a home anymore. It’s a ruin.” And finally, Lightman asks, “Where is she?,” declaring that question to be the “great mystery of existence.” After watching 306 Hollywood, which the Bogaríns directed, produced with Judit Stalter, edited with Nyneve Laura Minnear and composer Troy Herion, and photographed with Alejandro Mejía, you’ll have a very clear picture of who Annette Ontell was — and you’ll wonder about who your own late relatives were, in addition to where they might be at this very moment. The Sundance hit opens September 28 at the Quad, which will host numerous postscreening Q&As with the filmmakers, Herion, Mejía, and such organizations as POV, the Wassaic Project, New York Women in Film & Television, Cinema Tropical, and WeCroak.
After delighting audiences with such outstanding indie fare as Blood Simple (1984), Fargo (1996), and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), brothers Joel and Ethan Coen hit a midcareer slump with the mediocre The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), the much-maligned Intolerable Cruelty (2003), and the just plain awful remake of The Ladykillers (2004). It was three years before they released their next film, the Oscar-winning monster hit No Country for Old Men. In 2008 they toned things down again with the slight but entertaining Burn After Reading. John Malkovich is hysterical as Osborne Cox, an angry, bitter, foul-mouthed CIA agent who loses his job and decides to write a tell-all memoir, which bizarrely ends up in the hands of a pair of bumbling idiots, Chad Feldheimer (an extremely funny Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). Linda really wants to get a whole bunch of plastic surgery done, so she plans on squeezing a lot of money out of old Mr. Cox, who has no patience for anyone other than himself. Throw in a cold-as-ice wife (Tilda Swinton), a philandering G-man (George Clooney), a Russian ambassador named after Severn Darden’s character in The President’s Analyst, a stellar cast that also includes Richard Jenkins, J. K. Simmons, David Rasche, Elizabeth Marvel, and Dermot Mulroney, and some shocking violence and — well, we’ve told you too much already. Burn After Reading might not be grade-A Coen brothers, but it’s still a worthwhile endeavor from two of America’s most ingenious filmmakers. The movie, which asks the question “The Russians? Are you sure?,” is screening at Nitehawk on September 24 as part of the “Booze & Books” series and will be followed by a Q&A with Film Comment contributor and Harpers digital editor Violet Lucca and Adam Nayman, author of the new book The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together. In addition, Nitehawk will be serving a special cocktail for the event, the Krapotkin.
SCHLOCK (John Landis, 1973)
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn
445 Albee Square West
Sunday, September 23, 9:30
We New Yorkers are spoiled with a plethora of art-house cinemas showing old favorites, undiscovered gems, American indies, foreign films, and just about anything else ever put on celluloid. Even so, the third annual Art House Theater Day, taking place at nearly one hundred venues around the country and in Canada, holds a neat surprise here in the city. On September 23, the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in downtown Brooklyn and Yonkers will be showing a new 4K restoration of Schlock, John Landis’s schlocky first film, a horror comedy shot in twelve days for a mere sixty grand when he was only twenty-one. “Hi, I’m John Landis, and you’re about to watch Schlock. I’m sorry,” the writer-director explains in the intro on the DVD. But he need not apologize, as Schlock is stupid fun. In a small town in the Southern California suburbs (Agoura), the so-called Banana Massacre has resulted in the brutal death of more than two hundred people so far, all found with banana peels in their vicinity. Weirdo detective Sgt. Wino (Saul Kahan, who also took the production stills) is on the case, sure that there will be more killings; he’s not exactly getting the best of help from his team of cops, which includes the klutzy Ivan and the hapless Officer Gillis (Richard Gillis).
The story is being covered by smooth-talking local news anchor Joe Putzman (Eric Allison), a well-groomed gentleman who never misses an opportunity to hype upcoming programs on the station, most prominently the fake movie See You Next Wednesday. While much of the public is frightened, others are curious or think they are immune to the threat of violence, not the best choice made by a group of alliterative teens, Billy (Gene Fox), Betty (Susan Weiser), Bobby (assistant director Jonathan A. Flint), and Barbara (Amy Schireson), who really shouldn’t go near that hole. Scientific expert Professor Shlibovitz (E. G. Harty) believes the murderer might just be the missing link in the mammalian chain. And Mindy (Eliza Garrett, who played Brunella in Landis’s Animal House and has been married to Eric Roberts since 1992), a sweet and innocent young blind woman in love with Cal (Charles Villiers), becomes friends with the twenty-million-year-old Schlockthropus, thinking he is a big dog. While some scenes are just plain silly, others are smart and funny, in particular the vending machine episode.
Schlock is a giddy homage to the horror film and motion pictures themselves, with direct and indirect references to King Kong, The Blob, Godzilla, Frankenstein, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with a large dose of Woody Allen and even Rod Serling. It’s a hit-or-miss smorgasbord of goofy moments that serves as a forerunner to such later Landis flicks as Kentucky Fried Movie, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places. An American Werewolf in London, and Into the Night. The film was shot by Emmy-winning cinematographer Bob Collins, with cheesy music by David Gibson and editing by executive producer George Folsey Jr., who went on to cut many Landis movies (and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video) as well as Hostel and Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s also one of special effects guru and seven-time Oscar winner Rick Baker’s first films — and yes, that is none other than Landis himself in the ape suit, portraying Schlockthropus. “It’s bad, and appropriately named,” Landis says in a trailer for a post-Animal House rerelease of the film, apparently done without Landis’s approval and retitled The Banana Monster. A movie that could only be made by someone in love with movies, the restored Schlock is screening Sunday night at 9:30 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn and at 10:00 in Yonkers; the Yonkers Alamo is also showing Jim Cummings’s SXSW Grand Jury winner Thunder Road, which is named after the Bruce Springsteen song, on Sunday at 4:30 as part of Art House Theater Day.