1 Center St., Newark
Sunday, September 24, $44-$99, 3:00
In 1975, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, and John Cleese made one of the funniest movies ever, the outrageously hysterical Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the span of ninety-two minutes, the Monty Python troupe skewered royalty, government, religion, poverty, history, masculinity, the French, and just about everything else under the sun. On September 24, Cleese, who also starred in Fawlty Towers and was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for A Fish Called Wanda, in which he also played Barrister Archie Leach, will be at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center for a screening of Holy Grail, followed by a discussion with Montclair Film executive director Tom Hall. VIP tickets include a photo op with Cleese, who in the movie portrays Sir Lancelot the Brave (“We were in the nick of time. You were in great peril”), the Black Knight (“Just a flesh wound”), the French Taunter (“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”), Tim the Enchanter (“Well, that’s no ordinary rabbit”), and other roles.
NEIL YOUNG TRUNK SHOW (Jonathan Demme, 2009)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Sunday, August 20, 7:00
Series runs through August 24
BAMcinématek’s three-week tribute to Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, who passed away in April at the age of seventy-three, continues with a pair of outstanding concert films. In April 2005, Neil Young underwent brain surgery for an aneurysm. Four months later, he gathered together friends for two special nights at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, captured on film by Demme, who had previously helmed such fab music docs as Stop Making Sense and Storefront Hitchcock. Neil Young: Heart of Gold was an intimate portrait of man who looked death in the face and survived; the film featured acoustic songs primarily from Young’s beautiful Prairie Wind album. But the Godfather of Grunge wasn’t about to let a little thing like a brain aneurysm stop him from rocking in the free world. As he continued his long-term project of reaching deep into his past for his archival box sets, he released Chrome Dreams II in October 2007, a sequel to an unreleased 1977 album that was rumored to include such future Young classics as “Pocahontas,” “Like a Hurricane,” “Homegrown,” and “Powderfinger.” For Chrome Dreams II, Young strapped on the electric guitar and held nothing back, joined by longtime partners in crime Ralph Molina on drums, Rick Rosas on bass, and Ben Keith on guitars and keyboards.
Young took the show on the road, playing small clubs across the country, where each song was announced by a live painting by Eric Johnson. Demme captured two searing performances at the Tower Theater in Pennsylvania, filming them guerrilla-style with eight cameras, mostly handheld, that get right up in Young’s face. While the actual concerts were divided into two separate sets, first solo acoustic, then electric with the band, which also featured backup vocals by then-wife Pegi Young and Anthony “Sweetpea” Crawford, Demme mixes them up in Neil Young Trunk Show, an exhilarating music documentary that limits behind-the-scenes patter and instead concentrates on the powerful music. At the time, Young had been at the game for nearly fifty years, but he plays with a young man’s abandon in the film, his eyes deep in thought on such gorgeous acoustic gems as “Harvest,” “Ambulance Blues,” “Sad Movies,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” while really letting loose with extended jams on the new “Spirit Road” and “No Hidden Path” before tearing everything apart on “Like a Hurricane.” The sixty-two-year-old Canadian legend even includes an instrumental from his high school days with the Squires, “The Sultan,” complete with Cary Kemp banging a gong. As with most Young concerts, Trunk Show is not about the greatest hits; to truly enjoy it, just let the music take you away – and make sure the theater has the volume turned up loud. The movie is screening August 20 at 7:00 as part of the “Jonathan Demme: Heart of Gold” retrospective and will be followed by a Q&A with cinematographer Declan Quinn and camera operators Charlie Libin, Kathleen Corgan, Gerard Sava, Patrick Capone, Hollis Meminger, and Anthony Jannelli.
NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (Jonathan Demme, 2006)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Sunday, August 20, 4:30
Series runs through August 24
The BAMcinématek screening of Neil Young Trunk Show will be preceded by another stellar collaboration between Jonathan Demme and Neil Young, Neil Young: Heart of Gold. In March 2005, less than a week before a scheduled operation for a brain aneurysm, Canadian country-folk-rock legend Neil Young headed to Nashville, assembled friends and family, and in four days recorded one of the best — and most personal — albums of his storied four-decade career, Prairie Wind. On August 18, he had recovered enough to put on a poignant show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, captured on film by Demme, whose previous music-related works included Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense, Robyn Hitchcock in Storefront Hitchcock, and videos by the Pretenders and Bruce Springsteen. The concert film begins with brief interviews with band members as they prepare for the show; Demme does not harp on Young’s health but instead focuses on the music itself and the warming sense of a family coming together. And what music it is.
Using an ever-changing roster of participants, including Emmylou Harris, then-wife Pegi Young, steel guitarist Ben Keith, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, bass player Rick Rosas, the Nashville String Machine, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, the Memphis Horns, and others, Young goes song by song through Prairie Wind (skipping only the Elvis tribute “He Was the King,” which can be found as an extra on the DVD), a moving album written by a man looking death squarely in the face. (Pegi Young points out that it was like Neil’s life flashing before his eyes.) Young introduces several songs with stories about his recently deceased father, growing up on a chicken farm, his daughter’s departure for college, and Hank Williams, whose guitar Young plays. (He also does a few songs on a Steinway.) Cinematographer Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan) gets up close and personal with Young, zooming in for extended shots of his face, his eyes peeking out from under his cowboy hat. Eleven years later, Young is still at the top of his game, releasing great new music and playing incendiary live shows. “Jonathan Demme: Heart of Gold” continues through August 24 with The Master Builder, Ricki and the Flash, a program of music videos, and a double feature of What’s Motivating Hayes and Haiti Dreams of Democracy.
In 2011, Franco-British documentarian Max Pugh was asked by an elder monk to make a film about Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching tour of the United States and Canada. Pugh, whose younger brother had become a Buddhist monk studying with Thich Nhat Hanh, teamed up with codirector Marc J. Francis to follow the popular Vietnamese master as he and his monastics visited various towns and cities in North America before returning to their home base, Plum Village, in the southwest of France. The result is the gentle, meditative, and poetic Walk with Me, which is having its New York premiere at the Rubin Museum. In agreeing to the film, Thich Nhat Hanh, who was born in Vietnam in 1926, conveyed that he did not want to be the focus of the narrative; instead, Pugh and Francis, who also served as producers, editors, and cinematographers, concentrate on a group of monastics who, as the tour continues, perform rituals, chant, get their hair cut off, and go about their daily duties. There are no labels identifying anyone by name, no text telling viewers the date or location, no talking heads discussing Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, or his teachings. Every once in a while they break away from the fly-on-the-wall narrative to present voice-over recitations by Benedict Cumberbatch, reading from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fragrant Palm Leaves journals from the 1960s as the camera sets its sights on scenes from nature, from snow rushing past trees to shimmering reflections on a lake. “At first, it seemed like a passing cloud, but after several hours I began to feel my body turning to smoke and floating away,” Cumberbatch says as clouds slowly make their way across the moon. “I became a faint wisp of a cloud. I had always thought of myself as a solid entity, and suddenly I saw that I am not solid at all. I saw that the entity I had taken to be me was really a fabrication. My true nature, I realized, was much more real, both uglier and more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.”
The film works best when Thich Nhat Hanh, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, is present and when his words are read by Cumberbatch, offering an enveloping warmth and solace. As the master, who was exiled from his home country by both sides because of his opposition to the Vietnam War, ventures through natural settings, often wearing his brown knit cap, his eyes take in everything around him, zeroing in on the present moment, experiencing a constant state of mindfulness. It’s not nearly as interesting when it shows the monastics — Sister An Nghiem, Sister Dang Nghiem, Brother Phap Huu, Brother Phap Linh, Brother Phap Dung, Brother Phap De, Brother Phap Sieu, and Sister Dinh Nghiem — interacting with prisoners, discussing why they became monks, tracing their personal history, and meeting up with long-lost friends or visiting with relatives. The film concludes with a glorious sunset, as one day ends and another one is ready to begin. Shortly after filming was completed, Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a debilitating stroke, in November 2014, but his mindfulness programs and humanitarian foundation continue. Walk with Me is screening at the Rubin August 18-26, with all three shows on August 19 featuring some combination of group meditation (in conjunction with the sound installation “Le Corps Sonore”), a monastic encounter, and/or a Q&A with Francis, Pugh, and some of the monks from the film. In addition, on August 19 at 10:00 am, there will be a free pop-up, monastic-led group meditation in Union Square Park that will also be livestreamed here.
THE TOWERING INFERNO (John Guillermin, 1974)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Saturday, August 19, 8:15, and Wednesday, August 23, 3.30
Series runs August 18-24
Disaster flicks were a big thing in the 1970s, and none was bigger than The Towering Inferno. The $14.3 million epic, the first coproduction between two major studios, Warner Bros. and 20th Century-Fox, was based on two novels, Richard Martin Stern’s The Tower and Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson’s The Glass Inferno and stars a host of Hollywood greats, led by the dynamic duo of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Newman is recently retired architect Doug Roberts, who has come back to San Francisco for the opening-night party celebrating the final building he designed, the 138-story Glass Tower, owned by wealthy businessman James Duncan (William Holden). When a small electrical fire starts in a storage room on the eighty-first floor, Roberts becomes suspicious that Duncan’s son-in-law, smarmy electrical engineer Roger Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), did not follow the specs exactly and cut critical corners. As the fire grows, security chief Harry Jernigan (O. J. Simpson) calls in the fire department, anchored by battalion chief Mike O’Hallorhan (McQueen) and his right-hand man, Kappy (Don Gordon). O’Hallorhan insists that Duncan move the elegant party in the Promenade Room on the 135th floor to the lobby, but by the time Duncan agrees, the flames have spread and escape options become more and more limited — and dangerous. Among the others struggling to survive are con man Harlee Claiborne (Fred Astaire, earning his sole Oscar nomination), his potential target, Lisolette Mueller (Jennifer Jones, in her last performance), U.S. senator Gary Parker (Robert Vaughn), slick public relations man Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner), his secretary and mistress, Lorrie (Susan Flannery), Duncan’s daughter, Patty Duncan Simmons (Susan Blakely), the deaf Mrs. Allbright (Carol McEvoy) and her two children, Angela (Carlena Gower) and Phillip (The Brady Bunch’s Mike Lookinland), and Roberts’s fiancée, Susan Franklin (Faye Dunaway). Meanwhile, throughout it all, bartender Carlos (Gregory Sierra) remains cool and calm.
In spectacular scene after spectacular scene, director John Guillermin (Waltz of the Toreadors, King Kong), screenwriter Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night, Village of the Damned), and action director, producer, and disaster-movie king Irwin Allen (The Lost World, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) ups the ante as Roberts and O’Hallorhan play the heroes against corporate greed. “Jim, I think you suffer from an edifice complex,” Roberts tells Duncan. A huge hit when it was released in 1974, The Towering Inferno received eight Oscar nominations, winning for best song (“We May Never Love Like This Again,” sung by Maureen McGovern), Best Production Design, and Best Cinematography, by Fred J. Koenekamp and Joseph Biroc, who capture daring aerial shots and dazzling stunts. If the film resembles The Poseidon Adventure, that’s no, er, accident; the 1972 disaster film was also produced by Allen, with a score by John Williams and an Oscar-nominated theme song sung by McGovern (“The Morning After”). The Towering Inferno has taken on new meaning since 9/11, but it’s not as upsetting as you might think, although it is particularly difficult watching a few people jump or fall out of the building. It’s also impossible not to smirk when you see O.J. in a uniform, playing a heroic character. Newman and McQueen — the latter, as was his wont, insisted on equal billing and the same number of lines of dialogue as Newman — make a terrific duo, their stunning blue eyes fighting for equal screen time as well. And somehow the film avoids getting overly soapy and maudlin like so many of its brethren were. A true disasterpiece, The Towering Inferno is screening August 19 and 23 in the fab Quad series “Disasterpieces,” which runs August 18-24 and includes such other genre hits and duds as Airport and Airport ’75, Earthquake (but not in Sensurround), Black Sunday, The Poseidon Adventure, A Night to Remember, Two-Minute Warning, Airplane!, and the flop that ended the glut, 1980’s When Time Ran Out.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (SALINUI CHUEOK) (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, August 18
In 2006, South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho burst onto the international cinematic landscape with the sleeper hit The Host, a modern-day monster movie with a lot of heart. He followed that up with the touching segment “Shaking Tokyo” in the compilation film Tokyo!, and Mother, the futuristic thriller Snowpiercer, and Okja, about an extraordinary pig. IFC Center is now going back to Bong’s second film, 2003’s Memories of Murder, screening a new digital restoration beginning August 18. Inspired by actual events, Memories of Murder is a psychological thriller set in a rural South Korean town. With a serial killer on the loose, Seoul sends experienced inspector Suh (Kim Sang-kyung) to help with the case, which is being bungled by local detectives Park (Song Kang-ho) and Cho (Kim Roe-ha), who consistently tamper with evidence, bring in the wrong suspects, and torture them in both brutal and ridiculously funny ways. But as the frustration level builds and more victims are found, even Suh starts considering throwing away the book and doing whatever is necessary to catch the killer. Bong’s first major success, earning multiple awards at film festivals around the world, Memories of Murder is a well-paced police procedural that contains just enough surprises to overcome a few too many genre clichés. The film is beautifully shot by Kim Hyung-gu, from wide-open landscapes to a busy, crowded factory. But the film is dominated by Song’s (The Host, Thirst) big, round face, a physical and emotional wonder whether he’s goofing around with a prisoner or dead-set on catching a criminal.
DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME / NEW ADVENTURES IN NONFICTION: TWO BY BILL MORRISON — BEYOND ZERO 1914-1918 / JUST ANCIENT LOOPS
“What power has gold to make men endure it all?” a title card asks in William Desmond Taylor’s 1928 silent film, The Trail of ’98, based on a novel by Robert Service. Both Taylor and Service were at one time residents of Dawson City, the town in the Yukon in Canada that was at the center of the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s. In June 1978, while construction was just under way to build a new recreation center behind Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall in Dawson, Pentecostal minister and city alderman Frank Barrett uncovered a treasure trove of motion picture stock, hundreds of silent films that had been believed to have been lost forever. Writer, director, and editor Bill Morrison uses stunning archival footage from those films in his elegiac, beautiful documentary, Dawson City: Frozen Time, which brilliantly tells the story of greed, perseverance, and the growth of the entertainment industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After gold was discovered in Dawson, the indigenous Hän people were relocated to Tr’ochëk and some hundred thousand prospectors stampeded in, the gold mining destroying the Hän’s fishing and hunting grounds. Morrison also follows the invention of film itself, celluloid stock that would end up causing many fires, including one every year in Dawson for nine years. Bookended by an original interview with Michael Gates, Parks Canada curator of collections, and his wife, Kathy Jones-Gates, director of the Dawson Museum, the film traces the boom-and-bust fortunes and misfortunes of Dawson, as gambling casinos, movie theaters, hotels, and restaurants are built, including the Arctic, a hotel and restaurant owned by Ernest Levin and Fred Trump, the president’s grandfather, that might have served as a brothel as well. The film is supplemented with photographs by Eric A. Hegg, a giant in the field who left behind glass plates when he ultimately departed Dawson. Among others making their way through Dawson at one time or another are newsboy Sid Grauman, who went on to build Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; New York Rangers founder Tex Rickard; comic superstar Fatty Arbuckle; and Daniel and Solomon Guggenheim, who dominated the mining there.
Morrison, whose previous films, including Decasia, The Miners’ Hymns, and The Great Flood, employ archival footage to often tell historical tales, uses thousands of clips in Dawson City: Frozen Time, from newsreels to such films as Temperance Town, The Half Breed, The End of the Rainbow, and The Frog. Footage from the found clips, identified as “Dawson City Film Find” on the screen, also delves into the evolving battle between workers and owners, the deportation of political radicals, and the Black Sox scandal, all of which Morrison relates to the upstart movie industry. The film is a tour de force of editing, as Morrison streams together scenes of actors going through doorways, kissing, or moving in vehicles, not just a torrent of random images, all set to Alex Somers’s haunting experimental score. (Somers’s brother, John, is the sound designer.) The film also sets a new personal high for Morrison, clocking in at 120 minutes, by far his longest work; all of his previous features are less than 80 minutes, but this latest one further establishes that Morrison’s mesmerizing but unusual visual approach is not time-sensitive. With Dawson City: Frozen Time, Morrison has created a magical ode to the history of film, to preservation, to pioneers, and to perseverance, told in his hypnotic, unique style. Following its initial theatrical run this past June at IFC Center, the film is screening August 18-20 at the Museum of the Moving Image, with Morrison on hand Friday at 7:30 to talk about the work. In addition, as part of its “New Adventures in Nonfiction” series, MoMI is presenting “Two by Bill Morrison: Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 and Just Ancient Loops” on August 20 at 4:30, which is free for those with tickets to the 6:30 screening of Dawson City: Frozen Time that night.