SUMMER 1993 (Carla Simón, 2017)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Opens Friday, May 25
Named Best First Feature at the 2017 Berlinale, Summer 1993, Carla Simón’s autobiographical full-length debut, is an exquisite, deeply involving tale about an extraordinary young girl facing a new life after both her parents die of AIDS. Six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) must move from Barcelona to La Garrotxa in the Catalan countryside, where she will live with her uncle Esteve (David Verdaguer), her mother’s brother; his wife, Marga (Bruna Cusí); and their four-year-old daughter, Anna (Paula Robles). Unsurprisingly, Frida has a difficult time adjusting. When she plays with other kids and skins her knee, a scared mother whisks away her child immediately, afraid of the virus. Frida begins acting out, first in small ways, then in bigger ones, taking advantage of her cousin Anna’s caring, innocent nature. She somewhat relaxes when her grandparents (Fermí Reixach and Isabel Rocatti) and other friends and relatives visit, including Lola (Montse Sanz), Angela (Berta Pipo), Irene (Etna Campillo), and Cesca (Paula Blanco), but going back to Barcelona is not an option. Esteve keeps giving his niece the benefit of the doubt while Marga grows more and more worried about Frida’s behavior, which becomes more complex and dangerous, especially toward Anna. All the while, Frida feigns innocence, until even she realizes she may be taking things too far.
Summer 1993 plays out like an intricate, intellectual horror film, reminiscent of such genre classics as Robert Mulligan’s The Other, Mervyn LeRoy’s The Bad Seed, and even Richard Donner’s The Omen, though without any supernatural elements. Frida is not inherently evil, but from the minute she tells Anna not to touch her doll collection, it is clear she is teetering on the brink. Artigas, who was cast after Simón had interviewed nearly one thousand other children, is absolutely riveting as Frida, in complete control of her complicated character, her knowing eyes revealing wisdom well beyond her years. Cinematographer Santiago Racaj’s camera adores Artigas, exploring her face and expertly revealing her point of view. Accompanied by a lovely, emotive score, the camera is almost always in motion, sometimes just the slightest bit, representing Frida’s slightly askew, on-edge world. Robles is a charmer as Anna, seemingly too young to know what she is doing as an actress yet physically and emotionally right on target. Cusí excels as Marga, who is suspicious of Frida early on but understands that she is a girl in the midst of terrible grief, in desperate need of real connection to deal with her loss. Writer-director Simón uses water as a threat throughout the film, the pure, fresh liquid, from a bathtub to a swimming pool to a forest stream, a counterpart to the diseased blood that might have been passed down to Frida from her parents. At its core, Summer 1993 is a wise, heartfelt drama about the fears of both adults and children as they try to find their place in an ever-shifting world that can be as cold and cruel as it can be warm and loving.
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (PER UN PUGNO DI DOLLARI) (Sergio Leone, 1964)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Clint Eastwood made a name for himself on the big screen playing the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s 1964 spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars, which is being shown in a new 4K restoration at Metrograph May 25-31. In his first lead movie role, Eastwood, the costar of the television series Rawhide, is a gunslinger draped in a poncho and smoking a small cigar who rides on a mule into San Miguel, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, home to an ongoing feud between the gun-running Baxters and the liquor-dealing Rojos. The stranger decides to play both sides against the middle, caring only that he earns lots of cash. “Never saw a town as dead as this one,” the stranger tells saloon owner Silvanito (Jose Calvo), who explains, “The place is only widows. Here you can only get respect by killing other men, so nobody works anymore.” The stranger hears the sound of banging outside and says, “Somebody doesn’t share your opinion.” Silvanito opens the window to reveal old man Piripero (Joe Edger) making coffins. “You’ll be a customer,” Silvanito tells the stranger with assurance. The stranger goes back and forth between the Baxters, led by the sheriff (W. Lukschy), and the Rojos, who follow the dangerous, unpredictable Ramón (Gian Maria Volontè). Also caught up in the Hatfield-McCoy battle are the sheriff’s wife, Consuelo (Margherita Lozano), and brother, Antonio (Bruno Carotenuto), along with Rojo brothers Benito (Antonio Prieto) and Esteban (S. Rupp) and their enforcer, Chico (Richard Stuyvesant). Ramón, meanwhile, has his eyes set on Marisol (Marianne Koch), who is married to Julio (Daniel Martín), who does not want to get involved in any fighting. Carefully watching it all is Juan de Díos (Raf Baldassarre), who rings the church bell at every death.
The Italian-German-Spanish production is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which led to legal entanglements when the Japanese auteur demanded, well, a fistful of dollars in financial compensation. According to Christopher Frayling’s Sergio Leone — Something to Do with Death, Leone received a note from Kurosawa that read, “Signor Leone — I have just had the chance to see your film. It is a very fine film, but it is my film. Since Japan is a signatory of the Berne Convention on international copyright, you must pay me.” Frayling also suggests that Leone was influenced by Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters and did not feel he was stealing only from Kurosawa. In The BFI Companion to the Western, Frayling quotes Leone as saying, “Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was inspired by an American novel of the serie-noire so I was really taking the story back home again.” (For a montage of similarities between the two films, check out this video.). Regardless, A Fistful of Dollars, made for about two hundred grand, set the standard for the new genre, and Eastwood was its antihero. He and Leone would team up again on the sequel, For a Few Dollars More, which is not a direct remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo follow-up, Sanjuro, as well as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the best of the Dollars Trilogy.
Fistful is steeped in violence and death, from Iginio Lardani’s rad title sequence of silhouettes in black, white, and blood red to an early shot of the stranger riding under a noose and giving it a long look. Whereas Toshirô Mifune played the bodyguard in Yojimbo with a devilish glee, Eastwood — in a role that had been previously offered to Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and others — is much more serious as the Man with No Name, who would become more sympathetic in future outings. The extremely poor dubbing only adds to the film’s magnificence. To enhance its foreign appeal to American audiences, several members of the cast and crew appear under pseudonyms in the credits, including Leone (Bob Robertson), cinematographer Massimo Dallamano (Jack Dalmas), actor Gian Maria Volontè (John Wells), and composer Ennio Morricone (Leo Nichols or Dan Savio). There is no mention of Kurosawa or Yojimbo anywhere.
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE . . . (Max Ophüls, 1953)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, May 20, 4:50, and Tuesday, May 22, 9:05
Series runs through May 22
Max Ophüls’s The Earrings of Madame de . . . (also known as just Madame de . . .) is a marvelously told tale, a majestic cinematic achievement that Andrew Sarris considered the greatest movie ever made and Dave Kehr called “one of the most beautiful things ever created by human hands.” In 1950, the German-born auteur made La Ronde, a merry-go-round of romance in which one of the two lovers from one scene moves on to someone else in the next. Three years later, Ophüls again follows a series of current, past, and potential lovers in The Earrings of Madame de . . . , but this time via a pair of diamond earrings whose meaning and importance are altered every time they change hands. The film opens with the Comtesse Louise de . . . (a radiant Danielle Darrieux) looking through her personal possessions, from jewelry to furs to a Bible. During a two-minute continuous shot with a handheld camera, Ophüls shows only her hands and the side of her face until she sits down and looks at herself in the mirror; it not only immediately establishes the woman’s character — like her fancy things, she has become merely another object, an empty reflection — but lets the audience know that they are in the grip of a master, that the very motion of the camera itself will play a central role in what we’re about to experience.
And indeed, Christian Matras’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, composed of wonderfully orchestrated close-ups and sweeping montages, guides us along as we follow the travels of a pair of diamond earrings that, through various circumstances, keeps coming back to the countess. Louise, whose last name we never learn through clever blocks made in sound and image, needs money, but she is afraid to let her husband, Général Andre de . . . (a stern Charles Boyer), know. She decides to sell the diamond earrings he gave her as a wedding present — she not only wants the cash but also is seeking to rid herself of what the jewelry represents, a love that is not what it once was. Meanwhile, her husband is saying goodbye to his lover, Lola (Lia Di Leo), shipping her off to Constantinople as if she were a piece of jewelry he no longer requires. But when Louise’s playful flirtation with the graceful Italian diplomat Baron Fabrizio Donati (Neorealist director Vittorio De Sica) threatens to become more serious, Andre gets more serious as well, and the heart-wrenching melodrama reaches epic dilemmas.
Loosely adapted by Ophüls with Marcel Achard and Annette Wademant from the novel by Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin, The Earrings of Madame de . . . is a ravishing film, every moment a gem. Darrieux, who also appeared in Ophüls’s House of Pleasure and La Ronde and only passed away this past fall at the age of one hundred, is bewitching as the countess, a long-unsatisfied woman attempting to break out of the shell she has been held captive in. Boyer, who had previously starred in Anatole Litvak’s Mayerling with Darrieux, is beguiling as the general, a proud man who is protective of certain possessions. And De Sica, who appeared in more than 150 films but is best known as the director of such Italian stalwarts as The Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D., and Miracle in Milan, is enchanting as the baron, who has fallen passionately in love with Louise and doesn’t care who knows it. Their courtship is breathlessly depicted in a whirling, swirling series of dances at various balls where they are the last to leave. James Mason, who starred in Ophüls’s Caught and Letters from an Unknown Woman, famously wrote, “A shot that does not call for tracks / Is agony for poor old Max, / Who, separated from his dolly, / Is wrapped in deepest melancholy. / Once, when they took away his crane, / I thought he’d never smile again.” Ophüls, who died in 1957 at the age of fifty-four during the making of Les Amants de Montparnasse, goes all out in The Earrings of Madame de . . . , an unforgettable movie with a spectacular ending. The film is screening May 20 and 22 in the Quad Cinema series “La Cinémathèque française presents: French Melodrama,” a dozen films running through May 22 selected by French critic Jean-François Rauger that also includes Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, François Truffaut’s The Woman Next Door, Alain Resnais’s Mélo, and André Téchiné’s Hôtel des Amériques.
A POP CULTURE EXTRAVAGANZA
Milk Studios (and other venues)
450 West Fifteenth St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19, free - $160
New York magazine’s fifth annual Vulture Festival takes place this weekend at Milk Studios and other locations, celebrating pop culture. Below are only some of the nearly three dozen events that encompass film, music, comedy, art, podcasts, books, and more; all tickets include complimentary access to the Vulture Lounge following the event. Among the other participants are Julianna Margulies, Rachel Bloom, Adam Pally, Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, Debi Mazar, Darren Star, Wendy Williams, Johnny Knoxville, Cameron Esposito, Marti Noxon, Rachael Ray, Adam Platt, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Groff, Liev Schreiber, David Edelstein, Bo Burnham, and Wyatt Cenac.
Saturday, May 19
John Leguizamo: In Conversation, moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz, followed by a book signing, Milk Studios — Penthouse, $30, 11:30 am
One Book, One New York, One Event: Jennifer Egan in conversation with Adam Moss, Milk Studios — Studio 1, free with advance registration, 2:30
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Five Acts, conversation focusing on five of her projects, Milk Studios — Penthouse, $30, 4:00
Roxane Gay and Amber Tamblyn Present Feminist AF, with special guests Jennine Capó Crucet, Sharon Olds, and Morgan Parker, Milk Studios — Studio 1, $30, 6:45
Tracy Morgan in Hilarious Conversation, moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz, Milk Studios — AT&T Studio, $30, 8:00
Sunday, May 20
Jerry Saltz’s Masterly Tour of the Met Breuer, tour of the Met exhibit “Like Life” led by Jerry Saltz, Met Breuer, $150, 9:00 am
Boozy Brunch with Your Best Friends Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer, and Phoebe Robinson, conversation with stars of new Netflix film Ibiza, moderated by Michelle Buteau, Milk Studios — Studio 4, $30, 12 noon
Claire Danes and Jim Parsons’s A Kid Like Jake, discussion of new movie with actors Claire Danes and Jim Parsons, director Silas Howard, and writer Daniel Pearle, Milk Studios — Studio 1, $30, 2:15
In Conversation with Samantha Bee, the Full Frontal Team, and Rebecca Traister: discussion with Samantha Bee, Melinda Taub, Ashley Nicole Black, Allana Harkin, Mike Rubens, and Amy Hoggart, moderated by Rebecca Traister, Milk Studios — AT&T Studio, $40, 5:45
Ava DuVernay and the Cast of Queen Sugar, with Ava DuVernay, Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and Kofi Siriboe, Milk Studios — Studio 4, $30, 6:45
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 runs May 11-17 at the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, where it will be shown with Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr.’s ten-minute short The Monolith, about artist Gwyneth Leech’s reaction when a new high-rise hotel threatens her view of the city skyline from her studio window. Most screenings will be followed by a special Q&A and/or panel discussion, including a behind-the-scenes interview with Pigeon and a Q&A with Shuman and Leech on May 11, a Q&A with Shuman and Pigeon on May 12, a Q&A with Shuman, Sampliner, and Monolith cinematographer Andy Bowley on May 13, an editing panel with Shuman and Monolith editor Rosie Walunas on May 15, and a hyper-gentrification panel with Michael Henry Adams and Nellie Hester Bailey on May 16.
British actor Leon Vitali was already carving out a successful career for himself in the swinging London of the late 1960s and early ’70s when he landed a key role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 epic, Barry Lyndon. Vitali was doing such a good job as Lord Bullingdon that Kubrick wrote additional scenes for him. But it turns out that what Vitali really wanted to do — ever since he first saw A Clockwork Orange — was work for Kubrick behind the scenes, to learn the art of filmmaking at the foot of the master. So Vitali gave up acting in 1977 and spent the next two decades as Kubrick’s right-hand man, doing whatever he was asked, whatever was needed. Documentarian Tony Zierra details Vitali’s long, strange journey in Filmworker, which opens May 11 at Metrograph; on opening weekend Zierra and Vitali will participate in several Q&As with special guests such as Alec Baldwin and The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick coauthor Dr. Rodney Hill. “When someone would say to Stanley, I’d give my right arm to work for you, he would kind of smile, because I actually think he thought, ‘Well, why are you lowballing me? What, just the right arm?’” Vitali, who refers to his occupation as “filmworker,” says in the film. Over the years, Vitali became involved in casting, cutting, sound mixing, marketing, shipping, sales, dubbing, trailers, licensing, video transfers, color correcting, inventory, frame-by-frame restoration, and archiving, among myriad other responsibilities. “Leon did for Stanley what half a dozen executive producers and associate producers and production managers and drivers and tailors do on other movies for directors,” says former Warner Bros. SVP Julian Senior. “You have to understand Stanley Kubrick before you can even begin to understand what Leon Vitali did, does, went through, what’s imprinted on his soul and mind. It’s only when you understand that this remarkable man, a genius, a nightmare, warm, caring, distant, cold, expansive, funny, hugely intelligent, totally driven man would do to make his movies.”
Zierra (Carving Out Our Name, My Big Break) incorporates archival photographs, home movies, letters, notebooks, diaries, and original interviews with a vast array of men and women who have worked with Kubrick and Vitali, most of whom are in awe of what the latter did for the former. “What Leon did was a selfless act, a kind of crucifixion of himself,” Full Metal Jacket star Matthew Modine says. “This industry has been built on people like that,” technical services EVP Beverly Wood says of Vitali. Among the others singing Vitali’s praises are Barry Lyndon star Ryan O’Neal; Oscar-winning Full Metal Jacket gunnery sergeant R. Lee Ermey; Daniel Lloyd, who played Danny in The Shining; Stellan Skarsgård and Pernilla August, who worked with Vitali on Ingmar Bergman’s production of Hamlet; and Vitali’s siblings and three grown children. It took Zierra a year to convince Vitali, who also played Red Cloak in Eyes Wide Shut, to share his story, since he prefers being in the background. But once he opens up, there’s no stopping him as he describes the highs and lows of working for Kubrick while clarifying that he was not merely the master’s assistant or protector. “I never handled Stanley. I handled myself so I could exist in Stanley’s world,” he explains. The scenes of Vitali interacting with Kubrick, Lloyd, and others on sets make this a must-see for Kubrick fans as well as anyone who just loves the art of the movies. “I don’t have an obsession for creativity,” Vitali notes. “It just is a necessary requirement. You either love it so much you can’t help it, or you’re a fucking idiot, or you’re a mixture of both.” (In conjunction with Filmworker, Metrograph is presenting “Stanley Kubrick x 8” May 11-27, consisting of eight works by Kubrick, several of which are featured in the documentary.)