CUTIE AND THE BOXER (Zachary Heinzerling, 2013)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, November 26, 8:00
Series continues through January 16
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am
Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer is a beautifully told story of love and art and the many sacrifices one must make to try to succeed in both. In 1969, controversial Japanese Neo Dada action painter and sculptor Ushio Shinohara came to New York City, looking to expand his career. According to the catalog for the recent MoMA show “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde,” which featured four works by Ushio, “American art had seemed to him to be ‘marching toward the glorious prairie of the rainbow and oasis of the future, carrying all the world’s expectations of modern painting.’” Four years later, he met nineteen-year-old Noriko, who had left Japan to become an artist in New York as well. The two fell in love and have been together ever since, immersed in a fascinating relationship that Heinzerling explores over a five-year period in his splendid feature-length theatrical debut. Ushio and Noriko live in a cramped apartment and studio in DUMBO, where he puts on boxing gloves, dips them in paint, and pounds away at large, rectangular canvases and builds oversized motorcycle sculptures out of found materials. Meanwhile, Noriko, who has spent most of the last forty years taking care of her often childlike husband and staying with him through some rowdy times and battles with the bottle, is finally creating her own work, an R. Crumb-like series of drawings detailing the life of her alter ego, Cutie, and her often cruel husband, Bullie. (“Ushi” means “bull” in Japanese.) While Ushio is more forthcoming verbally in the film, mugging for the camera and speaking his mind, the pig-tailed Noriko is far more tentative, so director and cinematographer Heinzerling brings her tale to life by animating her work, her characters jumping off the page to show Cutie’s constant frustration with Bullie.
During the course of the too-short eighty-two-minute film — it would have been great to spend even more time with these unique and compelling figures — the audience is introduced to the couple’s forty-year-old son, who has some issues of his own; Guggenheim senior curator of Asian Art Alexandra Munroe, who stops by the studio to consider purchasing one of Ushio’s boxing paintings for the museum; and Chelsea gallery owner Ethan Cohen, who represents Ushio. But things never quite take off for Ushio, who seems to always be right on the cusp of making it. Instead, the couple struggles to pay their rent. One of the funniest, yet somehow tragic, scenes in the film involves Ushio packing up some of his sculptures — forcing them into a suitcase like clothing — and heading back to Japan to try to sell some pieces. Cutie and the Boxer is a special documentary that gets to the heart of the creative process as it applies both to art and love, focusing on two disparate people who have made a strange yet thoroughly charming life for themselves. Cutie and the Boxer is screening November 26 at 8:00 as part of MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders” and will be followed by a discussion with Heinzerling. “The Contenders,” which consists of exemplary films that MoMA believes will stand the test of time and continues with such films as Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight.
METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, 1927)
209 West Houston St.
Monday, September 2, 5:40, 8:30
Series runs through September 5
Film Forum master programmer Bruce Goldstein has made quite a scheduling choice for Labor Day, screening the 153-minute definitive reconstruction of Fritz Lang’s epic silent masterpiece Metropolis as part of the “Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror” series. Set one hundred years in the future, Metropolis pits man vs. machine, the corporation against the worker, and sin vs. salvation in a futuristic society run by business mogul Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel). While Fredersen rakes in the big bucks on the surface, the workers are treated like slaves way down below, in a dark, dank hell where they perform their automaton-like jobs. When Fredersen’s son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), starts feeling sympathy for the workers and falls for Maria (Brigitte Helm), an activist who is trying to convince the men, women, and children of the lower depths that they deserve more out of life, Fredersen has mad inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) create a man-machine version of Maria to steer his employees to a revolution that will lead them to self-destruct, although things don’t quite turn out as planned. Written by Lang and his wife, Thea Von Harbou, Metropolis is a visual marvel, featuring jaw-dropping special effects by Eugen Schüfftan (who was developing his Schüfftan process of using miniatures) and a stunning man-machine designed by sculptor Walter Schulze-Mittendorff.
The complex story incorporates biblical elements, from direct references to the Tower of Babel to other allusions, including fire and flood, while focusing on the relationship between father and prodigal son that evokes both God and Jesus and Abraham and Isaac. A parable that also relates to the battle between employers and unions, the film features a series of doppelgängers: there are two Marias, the real one, who is loving and genuine, and the cold and calculating man-machine; Freder and worker 11811, Georgy (Erwin Binswanger), who temporarily switch places; and Fredersen’s wife, Hel, who died while giving birth to Freder but has been revived into the initial man-machine by Rotwang, who was also in love with her. The massive achievement was shot by Karl Freund (Dracula, Key Largo) with Günther Rittau and Walter Ruttmann, who give it a dazzlingly dramatic look in every scene, accompanied by a soaring score by Gottfried Huppertz that incorporates snippets of Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle’s “La Marseillaise.” The film declares, “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!” Lang explores all three in this remarkable film, which has been shown over the years in various versions and with different music, most famously Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 score, but this screening at Film Forum is the real deal, getting as close to Lang’s intended original as possible. It’s quite a way to spend part of your Labor Day weekend.
They don’t come much more inspirational than Sidiki Conde. Born in Guinea in 1961, Sidiki contracted polio when he was fourteen, ultimately losing the use of his lower legs. But he didn’t lose his inner spirit and sense of humor, strengthening his upper body and learning how to walk — and dance — using his hands. Director Alan Govenar (The Beat Hotel) shares Sidiki’s inspiring story in the new documentary You Don’t Need Feet to Dance, opening at the Quad on March 22. Govenar follows Sidiki as he goes through a normal day: waking up, brushing his teeth, walking down five flights of stairs in his apartment building, putting together his wheelchair, rolling through the streets of New York greeting his many friends, taking the bus or the subway, going for a ride in his specially made bicycle (powered by his hands), and, primarily, teaching disabled children how to play music and love life. All the while, he wears a big ear-to-ear smile, loving virtually every minute of what is not exactly an easy existence. A singer, dancer, composer, drummer, and choreographer, Sidiki was a member of Mohamed Komoko Sano’s Merveilles D’Afrique in Guinea, and in 1998, after immigrating to the United States, he founded the Tokounou All-Abilities Dance and Music Ensemble. His joie de vivre is nothing short of infectious; the only thing that gets him down is when not enough people show up for a party. Govenar doesn’t turn Sidiki into some kind of circus sideshow; instead, he lets Sidiki tell his story his own way, the only way he knows how: with plenty of love, humor, and gratitude to spread around.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave. at Second St.
Friday, November 30, 7:00, Tuesday, December 4, 9:00, and Sunday, December 9, 6:30
Series runs November 30 - December 10
Based on a magazine serial by Jack Finney, Don Siegel’s 1956 classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was the ultimate thriller about cold war paranoia. Twenty-two years later, in a nation just beginning to come to grips with the failure of the Vietnam War, Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, Quills) remade the film, moving the location north to San Francisco from the original’s Los Angeles. When health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and lab scientist Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) suspect that people, while they sleep, are being replaced by pod replicas, they have a hard time making anyone believe them, especially Dr. David Kibner (Leonary Nimoy), who takes the Freudian route instead. But when Jack and Nancy Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright) seem to come up with some physical proof, things begin to get far more serious — and much more dangerous. Kaufman’s film is one of the best remakes ever made, paying proper homage to the original while standing up on its own, with an unforgettable ending (as well as an unforgettable dog). It cleverly captures the building selfishness of the late 1970s, which would lead directly into the Reagan era. As an added treat, the film includes a whole bunch of cameos, including Siegel as a taxi driver, Robert Duvall as a priest, and Kevin McCarthy, who starred as Dr. Miles Bennell in the original, still on the run, trying desperately to make someone believe him. The sc-fi thriller, adapted by W. D. Richter (Daniel Mainwaring wrote the 1956 version), is screening as part of the fourth installment of Anthology Film Archives’ “From the Pen of . . .” series, which highlights the work of screenwriters and their original sources, whose work often gets overlooked if it doesn’t win an Oscar. The eleven-day festival also includes such films as John Boorman’s Point Blank, written by Alexander Jacobs based on a Donald Westlake novel; Philip D’Antoni’s The Seven-Ups, written by Jacobs and Albert Reuben, with French Connection and Cruising cop Randy Jurgensen on hand to talk about the movie at the December 1 screening; and John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, written by Waldo Salt based on the the novel by James Leo Herlihy.
One of two closing-night features of the International Film Festival Manhattan (along with Chris McIntyre’s 21 & a Wake-Up) Susan Seidelman’s Musical Chairs is a predictable, plodding tale that is meant to be a celebration of life but is dragged down by Marty Madden’s ridiculously cliché-riddled script. E. J. Bonilla stars as Armando, a young man who dreams of becoming a ballroom dancer. His mother, Isabel (Priscilla Lopez), wants him to hook up with his childhood friend Rosa (Angelic Zambrana), but he has his heart set on his boss’s (Philip Willingham) girlfriend, Mia (Leah Pipes). After Mia and Armando share a hot dance at the studio where they both work, she is hit by a cab and paralyzed. She is ready to give up on everything, but Armando won’t let her, even trying to convince her to take part in the first-ever New York wheelchair ballroom dance competition. Musical Chairs feels more like an overly simplistic Family Channel movie-of-the-week than a theatrical film, mired down by a continuous stream of inspirational messages about love and life that get tiresome quickly, delivered by cardboard caricatures in telegraphed scenes that couldn’t be more obvious. Seidelman’s career started so promisingly in the 1980s with Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan, but her successes have disappointingly been few and far between ever since, and it’s best to just sit out her latest. Musical Chairs will be screening November 15 at 9:00 at the Quad with Jerell Rosales’s short Born to Dance This Way, closing out the IFFM, a week of independent films by and about New Yorkers.
Legendary British ska band the English Beat is doing double duty today at the CMJ Music Marathon, with Dave Wakeling playing an acoustic set at 5:00 at Spike Hill in Brooklyn, followed by what should be an electrifying full-band gig at B.B. King’s with the Paul Collins Beat opening up. The English Beat is touring behind the massive multi-CD/DVD boxed set Special Beat Service, which recounts the history of this highly influential group that still knows how to kick out the jams.
Brothers Alan and Jarrett Steil, who grew up in Montauk and previously teamed up to form the duo Suddyn, have recruited drummer Brandon Cooke for the trio the Rebel Light. As the band prepares its debut EP, you can check out three groovy new anthemic indie tunes, “Wake Up Your Mind,” “My Heroes Are Dead,” and “Goodbye Serenade.” The Rebel Light will kick things off Saturday on the Second Stage at the Catalpa Festival on Randall’s Island, on a bill with the Sheepdogs, Zola Jesus, Hercules and Love Affair, TV on the Radio, the Black Keys, and others. To find out more about Catalpa, read our interview with the festival’s founder, Dave Foran, here.