This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

MIKE BIRBIGLIA: THE NEW ONE

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Mike Birbiglia considers couches and babies in The New One at the Cherry Lane (photo by Joan Marcus)

Cherry Lane Mainstage Theatre
38 Commerce St.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 26
212-989-2020
www.thenewone.com
www.cherrylanetheatre.org

In his latest one-man show, The New One, Mike Birbiglia shares intimate information about his relationship with a piece of furniture. “I love my couch,” he says. “It’s the first big thing I dropped money on in my life.” I love my couch also. It was one of the first “adult” pieces of furniture I shopped for and purchased with my wife. We got it at Bloomingdale’s, and I remember being heartbroken when it turned out that the delivery people couldn’t fit the couch into the elevator in our building (even though they claimed they were sure it would fit when we bought it). They had to take this majestic item apart, then put it back together once inside our apartment. That couch has been with us a long time, through several colonizing cats, but now we might have to get rid of it because it’s too soft and comfortable for my back. Why am I telling you all this? Well, the couch, which Birbiglia calls “a bed that hugs you,” plays an integral role, along with a cat, in the show, which continues at the Cherry Lane through August 26. Like at such previous Birbiglia confessionals as Sleepwalk with Me and Thank God for Jokes, audiences leave the theater feeling the need to share aspects of their own life while still brushing away the tears brought on by Birbiglia’s tales, both from laughing at his perceptive musings on human nature and crying at his deeply personal revelations. He doesn’t hold anything back, getting as graphic as, um, let’s just say he gets pretty graphic. It’s a unique kind of cathartic experience that helps explain why his shows sell out so quickly.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Mike Birbiglia shares deeply personal stories about his severe health issues in latest one-man show (photo by Joan Marcus)

In The New One, the Massachusetts-born Birbiglia, who recently turned forty and, as he states, looks like a cross between Matt Damon and Bill O’Reilly, talks about how, after ten years of marriage, his wife, Jen — whom he regularly refers to as Chlo — suddenly decided she wanted to have a baby, something they had previously agreed they did not want. So Birbiglia spends most of the show discussing his current and past sex life, explaining how babies destroyed his brother’s once-happy life, and delving deep into his various health problems, several of which are extremely serious and quite frightening, including the dangerous sleepwalking that was the focus of his breakthrough performance. “There are details in my life that are both setups and punchlines,” he says after describing what he has to do to prepare for bed in order to try not to sleepwalk. He also lists reasons why he never wanted to have a kid in the first place, including: “I don’t think there should be children anymore.” At one point he also says, “I’m telling you this long, embarrassing story to make the point that I consider myself ‘decent.’”

Birbiglia, who won a Lucille Lortel Award for My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and wrote, directed, and starred in the 2016 film Don’t Think Twice, certainly comes off as decent in The New One, which is executive produced by Ira Glass (This American Life). Birbiglia freely admits his failings, as well as his successes, making us consider our own as well, like soldiers comparing battle scars. He’s just a regular, soft-spoken guy — his delivery grows stronger as the show goes on — with trials and tribulations that we all can relate to. Not that we’d want to have any of his illnesses, which are pretty horrific. Director Seth Barrish (Pentecost, The Tricky Part) and Tony-winning set designer Beowulf Boritt (Act One, Come from Away), who have both worked with Birbiglia before, keep things simple, save for one cool surprise. And the wooden slats, like window blinds, around the Cherry Lane make it feel as if the audience is within Birbiglia’s psyche, which is a comfortable place to be for seventy-five minutes. Kind of like a bed that hugs you.

MEL CHIN: ALL OVER THE PLACE

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Mel Chin brings together “Safehouse Door” and “Fundred Project” at revelatory exhibit at Queens Museum (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Queens Museum
New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Wednesday - Sunday through August 12, suggested admission $8 adults, $4 seniors, free for children eighteen and under
718-592-9700
queensmuseum.org
www.nolongerempty.org

The name of Houston-born conceptual artist Mel Chin’s current exhibition at the Queens Museum, “Mel Chin: All Over the Place,” is aptly titled. The show, which runs through August 12, features works that involve New Orleans, Washington DC, Minnesota, Chile, North Carolina, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, New York City, Flint, Michigan, and other locations. In addition to pieces at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park institution, Chin, who lived on the Lower East Side for nearly twenty years, also has pieces in Times Square and the Broadway-Lafayette subway station. And this past Sunday, Chin was back at the Queens Museum, where, as a young boy at the 1964-65 World’s Fair, held partly in the same building, he suffered a breakdown that resulted in shock therapy and partial, permanent memory loss; he even had to relearn how to draw. He related this story and many more during a sensational impromptu tour he led that afternoon; he was like the pied piper, as the visitors following him grew from one to three to five to nine to thirty over the course of two very enlightening, rather intimate hours.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Mel Chin shows his tongue was basis of one side of “Shape of a Lie” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The show is spread across the entire museum, which is hosting the exhibit in conjunction with the nonprofit organization No Longer Empty. (Chin has even staged interventions in the Panorama of the City of New York and the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany objects). Every work is layered with deeply personal and political meaning; Chin, the son of Chinese immigrants, occasionally incorporates aspects of his own life into the art while also making sharp, often subtle observations about consumption, marketing, economics, science, democracy, the environment, capitalism, refugees, astronomy, alchemy, corporate greed, racism, ethnocentrism, mythology, history, and war. The pieces first grab you because of their visual splendor, but you need to read the labels to get the full impact — or have Chin with you to talk about them. “Everything has a cultural weight,” he said on the tour. He sees “art as a catalytic motivator” that can make a difference in this world through the “liberation of images.” He also considers his work, which he calls “meditations,” to consist of “lamentations on my life as I’ve come to understand it.”

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

“Gate of the New Gods” references LeBron James, racism, capitalism, celebrity culture, and Michael Jordan (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

His process and materials are just as important as the final piece itself. “Shape of a Lie” features a Native American pipestone replica of his own tongue on one side of a wall, a bronze representation of a little toe, large gonads, and a twisted gut on the other. “Lecture Ax” is an encased ax with a blade made of pages from notes for a lecture he was giving at the New School; during the class, he drank a six-pack of beer and slammed the ax into the blackboard. “Cabinet of Craving” recalls Louise Bourgeois’s large-scale “Spider” but contains a vitrine with a Victorian teapot that references colonialism, the Opium Wars, and the narcotic’s impact on his family. For “Presence of Tragedy,” Chin re-created his own smile and placed it on the center of a porcelained steel plate that he perforated, a statement on the AIDS crisis and fear.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

“Flint Fit” shows art and activism in action and making a difference above “The Relief Map of the New York City Water Supply System” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Divided into four thematic, nonchronological sections — “Destroying Angels of Our Creation,” “Artifice of Facts and Belief,” “Levity’s Wounds and Gravity’s Well,” and “The Cruel Light of the Sun” — the exhibit includes several installations in which Chin takes action, not only pointing out social ills but doing something about it. For “Flint Fit,” one of numerous projects in which Chin investigates lead poisoning, he has partnered with New York fashion designer Tracy Reese, North Carolina textile company Unifi, and the Flint-based St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center to turn recyclable water bottles into rain- and swimwear. He has brought together “Safehouse Door,” a repurposed door that was on a home in a post-Katrina New Orleans neighborhood that had high levels of lead, with the ongoing “Fundred Project,” which consists of hundreds of thousands hundred-dollar-bill templates with drawings by families and schoolchildren across America that are sent to the Fundred Reserve in Washington, DC.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Mel Chin’s “Wake” and “Unmoored” features a shipwreck in Times Square (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Chin, who has double vision that requires him to sometimes wear glasses with the left lens blacked out, gets some of his ideas from dreams, including “Circumfessional Hymenal Sea (Portrait of Jacques Derrida),” “QWERTY-Courbet” (be sure to look at the keyboard side through your camera lens to more clearly see the image), and “Spilled Vision.” He seems downright prescient with “Gate of the Gods,” a wall hanging of rope and basketballs above a re-creation of the gate of LeBron James’s Los Angeles home, which was spray-painted with a racial slur; nearby is a Michael Jordan sneaker, resulting in the piece evoking President Trump’s recent tweet lambasting James and praising Jordan. Chin also can be sneaky; for “Total Proof: The GALA Committee,” he was able to get politically motivated works of art placed on the set of Melrose Place for three seasons without Aaron Spelling’s knowledge. Among the other don’t-miss works are “Our Strange Flower of Democracy,” a bamboo version of a Vietnam War bomb, dangling dangerously overhead; “The Funk & Wag from A to Z,” a room of alphabetical images cut out of twenty-five volumes of 1950s Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias; and “Landscape,” a trio of paintings, which Chin calls “windows,” referencing different time periods, artistic styles, and countries along the thirtieth parallel, along with landfill waste seeping out the bottom of the walls; and “Sea to See,” two huge domes representing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, lit up with digital imagery dealing with endangered species and climate change.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Mel Chin’s rededicated subway installation “Signal” alerts straphangers when trains are arriving (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Curated by Laura Raicovich, and Manon Slome, the exhibit also spreads out to Times Square with “Wake,” a re-creation of the skeleton of a ship based on the USS Nightingale, which had quite a history, fronted by a large-scale robotic replica of opera star Jenny Lind, known as the Swedish Nightingale. “Wake” expands into augmented reality using the “Unmoored” app. And at the Broadway-Lafayette subway station, Chin’s 1990s site-specific “Signal” has been rededicated, giving credit to collaborator Peter Jemison of the Six Nations of the Iroquois and Seneca Tribe. The work relates to the Dutch settlement in New York, the Native American Wickquasgeck Trail, and a wampum-belt-inspired statement about peace while alerting straphangers to the next approaching train. Indoors and outside, indeed all over the place, the sixty-six-year-old Chin’s oeuvre is remarkably well researched and beautifully realized, so make sure you have plenty of time to delve into the myriad details of every piece as Chin explores truth and power in brilliant ways. And don’t be surprised if you feel yourself activated because of it.

REBEL VERSES

Rebel Verses (photo by Bobby Rodriguez)

Rebel Verses Youth Arts Festival pairs young artists with award-winning performers (photo by Bobby Rodriguez)

Vineyard Theatre
Gertrude and Irving Dimson Theatre
108 East 15th St. between Union Square East & Irving Pl.
August 9-11, 16-18, $15-$25, 7:00
212-353-0303
www.developingartists.org
www.vineyardtheatre.org

For nearly twenty years, Developing Artists has helped nurture young actors, providing them with the freedom necessary to share their diverse voices. In 2001, the organization founded Rebel Verses, in which company members stage original works. This year’s Youth Arts Festival takes place August 9-11 and 16-18 at the Vineyard Theatre, with an all-star lineup of special guests working with the young troupe, which consists of thirteen-to-nineteen-year-olds from all five boroughs of New York City and elsewhere. The first week will feature presentations by the Door, the Alumni Theatre Company, and the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, with two-time Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent, Anna in the Tropics) on August 9, poet, singer, and actor Flaco Navaja (East WillyB) on August 10, and Kevin Mambo (Ruined, Fela!) on August 11. The second week includes the MCC Youth Company, Epic Next, 6th Borough Slam, and Girl Be Heard, with Laura Gómez (Orange Is the New Black, The House of the Spirits) on August 16, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon (Hamilton, The Scottsboro Boys) on August 17, and Emmy winner Joe Morton (Scandal, The Brother from Another Planet) on August 18.

“There is a void in our community that Developing Artists fills by establishing a creative home for young people and instilling in them a sense of confidence and freedom of expression. Growing up in the New York public school system, I wished for an artistic outlet that would give voice to my culture and experience,” Developing Artists Advisory Board member Rubin-Vega said in a statement. “The positive impact Developing Artists has on both the performing arts community and our city as a whole is immeasurable. Rebel Verses Youth Arts Festival is a hotbed of new forms of learning through the arts, empowering young people to become successful artists and allowing them to recognize that their stories are a part of the fabric of this world.” Tickets ranging from five to twenty-five dollars are going fast to see this important collaborative program that is an important part of the next generation of theater.

KEW GARDENS FESTIVAL OF CINEMA — MIDNIGHT MADNESS GRINDHOUSE HORROR: TRAUMA

Trauma

Four women are trapped in a horrific nightmare in Lucio A. Rojas’s Trauma, screening at Kew Gardens fest

TRAUMA (Lucio A. Rojas, 2017)
United Artists Midway 9
108-22 Queens Blvd.
Friday, August 10, $15, 11:59 pm
Festival continues through August 12
www.kewgardensfestivalofcinema.com

Lucio A. Rojas’s Trauma opens with a brutal, extraordinarily difficult-to-watch scene that is severe torture porn, daring viewers to look away as it goes places I won’t even begin to describe here. If you stick around to see what happens next, you might just feel dirty and shameful and maybe even hate yourself for doing so. That said, Rojas doesn’t hide what he has done; he has made a ferociously savage film that the opening credits say was inspired by real events, initiated by the ruthless barbarity of the Pinochet regime toward its own people in Chile. The trailer itself is NC-17, and the film is described as “extreme horror.” It has been awarded honors at the Mórbido Film Festival (Special Mention), Horrorant Fright Nights (Best Cinematography), and Vancouver Badass Film Festival (Best Actress). And now it’s the Midnight Madness Grindhouse selection on Friday night at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. The first scene, which involves a mother and son in a grisly, gruesome situation, takes place in 1978; thirty-three years later, four young women — Andrea (Catalina Martin), her sister, Camila (Macarena Carrere), Camila’s girlfriend, Julia (Ximena del Solar), and Camila and Andrea’s cousin Magdalena (Dominga Bofill) — are going on vacation to a remote house that, little do they know, has quite a history, one that even local cops Pedro (Eduardo Paxeco) and Diego (Claudio Riveros) choose not to share with them. Soon they are at the mercy of Juan (Daniel Antivilo), a monster of a man — the 1978 child grown up — and his son, Mario (Felipe Rios), whose relentless evil knows no bounds.

Trauma

Torture and terror take center stage in Trauma, screening in the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema this week

Evoking such genre favorites as Saw, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Hostel, Rojas outdoes all of them in his depiction of depravity, gore, and mayhem. Rojas (Sendero, Perfidia) is a skillful filmmaker and a brash manipulator; Trauma is not for the mere horror aficionado but for those fans who thirst for more. The movie reaches down dark and deep, showing things that really don’t need to be seen, even if they happened exactly as Rojas depicts, however unlikely that is. (There are numerous flashbacks as the story shifts between 1978 and 2011.) I have no problem with terrifying films filled with lots of blood and guts; however, Rojas’s attempts to relate the destruction and repression wrought by Pinochet get lost in all the abhorrent torment, while his biblical theme concerning the sins of the father gets overplayed. It’s essentially an exploitative women-in-danger flick — yes, there is nudity and sex because, well, you know — taken to another level. There’s a reason the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema advises, “Absolutely no refunds will be given under any circumstances, including walk-outs.” Consider yourself warned.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN

(photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer, and Paul Schneider are the title characters in Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men (photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

The Hayes Theater
240 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 9, $69 - $149
2st.com/shows

Through brilliant bits of added stagecraft, Young Jean Lee and director Anna D. Shapiro have taken Lee’s 2014 Public Theater presentation, Straight White Men, to the next level, transforming it into a more relevant, much funnier Broadway success. The first Asian-American woman to have a play on the Great White Way, Lee, who has previously explored such issues as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and body size and image, chooses the setup of an all-straight, all-white, all-male family gathering to celebrate Christmas together — but this time around she has some key twists. As you enter 2nd Stage’s Hayes Theater, which features a glittering shimmer curtain lit by many colors that instantly makes you question what you’re about to see, two flashily dressed people are walking through the crowd, stopping to talk to audience members, asking them whether they like the loud, female rap music or whether it is making them feel uncomfortable. They are known in the script as Person in Charge 1 and Person in Charge 2, played, respectively, by Kate Bornstein and Ty DeFoe. “In case you were wondering, neither of us is a straight white man,” Bornstein, who identifies as a nonbinary Jew from the Jersey Shore, says. DeFoe explains, “I’m from the Oneida and the Ojibwe nations. My gender identity is Niizhi Manitouwug, which means ‘transcending gender’ in the Ojibwe language.” Bornstein and DeFoe form a great comic duo playfully raising issues of comfort and privilege. “Tonight Kate and I are here to try something a little tricky,” DeFoe says. “As foreign as they are to us, we’re gonna try to find some understanding for straight white men. That’s what we wish everyone would do for us.” Lee is not out to skewer straight white men, which has become easy target practice these days, but nor is she out to praise or defend them.

(photo by Joan Marcus 2018

Kate Bornstein and Ty DeFeo are the people in charge of Straight White Men at the Hayes Theater (photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

The shimmer curtain parts to reveal a cozy living room with a couch, a small bar, wall-to-wall carpeting, and other standard elements, nothing fancy. Todd Rosenthal’s set is encased in a large frame, at the bottom of which is a gold plaque that reads: “STRAIGHT WHITE MEN.” It’s as if we’re looking at a human environment in a zoo or a modern historical painting. The inhabitants of this residence are widowed patriarch Ed (Stephen Payne) and his oldest son, Matt (Paul Schneider), a Harvard grad now doing part-time office work for a small charitable organization. Joining them for the holiday are sons Jake (Josh Charles), a divorced banker with kids, and Drew (Armie Hammer), a novelist and teacher who flits about from relationship to relationship. Boys will be boys, so they spend much of the ninety-minute intermissionless production acting out childhood rituals, good-naturedly razzing and annoying one another, and playing a board game called Privilege, adapted by their mother from Monopoly to teach them liberal values. When Jake draws an “Excuses” card, he reads, “‘What I said wasn’t sexist-slash-racist-slash-homophobic because I was joking.’ Pay fifty dollars to the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.” Drew next picks up a “Denial” card, reading, “‘I don’t have white privilege because it doesn’t exist.’ Get stopped by the police for no reason and go directly to jail.” All four men later sing Matt’s high school adaptation of the title song from Oklahoma!, which includes such KKK-related lines as “Where we sure look sweet, in white bed sheets / with our pointy masks upon our heads!” The song is delightfully choreographed by Faye Driscoll, who has proved she can energize an audience in such works of her own as the Thank You for Coming trilogy and There is so much mad in me as well as Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show and We’re Gonna Die.

(photo by Joan Marcus 2018

Brothers Drew (Armie Hammer) and Matt (Paul Schneider) face off while their father (Stephen Payne) looks on in Straight White Men (photo by Joan Marcus 2018)

The narrative makes a sharp turn when Matt suddenly starts crying as the men eat their Chinese-food dinner. His brothers and father debate why the prodigal son has broken down, whether it’s because he is depressed about his personal situation, the state of the world, or something else. Matt even refers to himself as a “loser,” that most Trumpian of words. At the heart of the discussion is whether Matt has failed to live up to his potential, whether he has not taken advantage of everything white privilege had to offer him, although that phrase is not used specifically. Knowing that Broadway audiences are primarily white, Tony winner Shapiro (August: Osage County, This Is Our Youth) and two-time Obie winner Lee (The Shipment, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven) don’t skewer the title characters, nor do they ask for any judgment. They just lay it all out there, although the motto for Lee’s theater company (2003-16) was “Destroy the audience.” The manipulations that have been added for the Broadway run are meant to make attendees feel on edge. If an audience member expresses to Bornstein (Gender Outlaw, Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger) or DeFoe (Masculinity Max, Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon) that the entrance music is too loud or offensive, for example, one of the options for them is to be led out to the lobby until the show starts; the music is not going to be changed or lowered for anyone.

In addition, at the start of each of the three acts, Bornstein and DeFoe guide some of the actors onto the stage and put them into place, as if carefully re-creating the past, when white men were at the top of the chain. But now the people in charge are nonbinary, gender fluid, able to identify themselves however they want. It’s almost as if the four white men are pawns in their hands, the power dynamic completely reversed; it might come as no surprise that Lee has been a dollhouse maven since she was a lonely Korean-American child, unable to make friends. The Broadway stage has become her dollhouse, where she can design her own world, word by word, character by character, scene by scene. In their Broadway debuts, Charles (The Antipodes, The Distance from Here), Schneider (Bright Star, Goodbye to All That), and Hammer (Call Me by Your Name, Sorry to Bother You) are fully believable as the siblings, whether goofing around or getting serious, never feeling like stereotypes onstage just to make a sociopolitical point. Payne (Superior Donuts, August: Osage County) is about a half beat behind the others, and the role-playing scene is still awkward. But this iteration of Straight White Men feels right at home on the Great White Way, tenderly looking at how things were, how they are, and perhaps how they will be.

THE LAST MOVIE

Dennis Hopper found himself in Hollywood exile after making The Last Movie

Dennis Hopper found himself in Hollywood exile after making The Last Movie

THE LAST MOVIE (Dennis Hopper, 1971)
Metrograph
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
August 3-8
212-660-0312
metrograph.com/film
arbelosfilms.com

Flying high off his international success with Easy Rider in 1969, cowriter, director, and star Dennis Hopper was given carte blanche by Universal for his next film, 1971’s The Last Movie, a controversial picture that, despite winning the Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival, led to Hopper’s unofficial exile from Hollywood for nearly a decade. The Last Movie has now been released in a gorgeous 4K digital restoration made by Il Cinema Ritrovata from the original 35mm camera negative, screening at Metrograph through August 8. As documented in Nick Ebeling’s 2017 Along for the Ride and elsewhere, The Last Movie was a longtime labor of love for Hopper and his cowriter, Stewart Stern (who had penned Rebel without a Cause, in which Hopper played a key role), but it ended up being a critical and financial flop. Over the years, there have been occasional rare screenings as the film’s legend grew, and the restoration proves that the mythos was fully justified. Hopper stars as Kansas, a movie wrangler working on a Western about Pat Garrett (Rod Cameron) and Billy the Kid (Dean Stockwell) in Chinchero, Peru, directed by one of the toughest auteurs of them all, the great, cigar-chomping Samuel Fuller (Pickup on South Street, Shock Corridor). Kansas is with former prostitute Maria (Stella Garcia), but he is instantly attracted to the fur-wearing Mrs. Anderson (Julie Adams), the wife of a wealthy factory owner (Roy Engel). Kansas’s best friend, Neville Robey (Don Gordon), wants Mr. Anderson to invest in his gold mine while both Anderson and Maria become jealous of Kansas’s romantic interest in Mrs. Anderson. In addition, following the accidental death of a stunt man during a dangerous scene, the local community of Chinchero blames Kansas and begins making their own movie directed by the vengeful Tomas Mercado (Daniel Ades), using real violence and fake equipment, creating a kind of passion play with Kansas at the center, much to the chagrin of the concerned priest (Tomas Milian), who was never in favor of Hollywood bringing its decadence to his town. It all leads to a stunning, unforgettable finale that questions much of what has come before.

last movie 2

Hopper, who was also a photographer and painter, said about the film, “The Last Movie is something that I made in Peru. I won the Venice Film Festival with it, and Universal Pictures wouldn’t distribute it. You should think about [Jean-Luc] Godard a little when you watch it. I made it because I’d read him say that movies should have a beginning, a middle, and an end — but not necessarily in that order. I was trying to use film like an Abstract Expressionist would use paint as paint. I’m constantly reminding you that we’re making a movie — I’m constantly making references to the fact that maybe you’re just being silly sitting in an audience, being sucked into a movie and starting to believe it — and then I jar you out of it. It’s not a very pleasant experience for most audiences.” But things have changed significantly over the last half-century, and audiences are now more attuned to watching nonlinear, more unorthodox films that merge fiction and reality and challenge them with purposely confusing plot twists and character development. Some scenes repeat, while others might have been lost — several times a title card identifies that a scene is missing, but it is impossible to know whether that is true or Hopper is playing with the viewer yet again. (The film was edited by David Berlatsky, Antranig Mahakian, and Hopper.) In fact, Tomas and the priest regularly refer to moviemaking as a game. It’s also not always clear when we’re watching the film, the film-within-a-film, or even a different film as Hopper explodes genre tropes to continually defy expectations. At one point the soundtrack features Kris Kristofferson singing “Me and Bobby McGee,” but the camera soon finds Kristofferson himself, guitar in hand, warbling away. Thus, when we later hear a song by John Buck Wilkin, we look for him as well.

Beautifully photographed by László Kovács, The Last Movie turns Kansas into a kind of Jesus figure. Both text and image often reference various stories from the Bible, directly and indirectly, including Jesus being whipped, his relationship with prostitute Mary Magdalene, a celebration around a golden calf, Jesus rising from a cave, and Christ being led to the cross. All seven deadly sins — gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride — enter the narrative. The color red plays a significant role, as if staining the land with blood, from fake movie blood to the color of Kansas’s truck. Everyone ends up guilty of something, with some paying a higher price than others; as the original 1971 production notes explain: “Every character in the film is an innocent. Only as they are tarnished by their participation in the games do they become agents of their own destruction. The dreams that they succumb to are all encompassed in or produced by the American dream. Their sin, however, is the movies.” Hollywood has done them in, as it will Hopper himself, who filled the cast with such nonconventional, mostly non-Hollywood actors as Henry Jaglom, Toni Basil, Severn Darden, Sylvia Miles, Warren Finnerty, Peter Fonda, Clint Kimbrough, John Phillip Law, Russ Tamblyn, and Michelle Phillips, who was married to Hopper for eight days. The two-time Oscar-nominated Hopper went on to direct such films as Out of the Blue, Colors, and The Hot Spot and appear in such works as Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, True Romance, and Speed before passing away in May 2010 at the age of seventy-four. His legacy is now cemented with the restoration of The Last Movie, a masterpiece that should finally get the due it, and Hopper, deserves.

THE FEMALE GAZE: TOKYO SONATA

Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) has trouble facing his sudden unemployment in Kiyoshi Kurosawas Tokyo Sonata

Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) has trouble facing his sudden unemployment in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata

TOKYO SONATA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008)
Walter Reade Theater, Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Tuesday, August 7, 6:45
Festival runs through August 9
212-875-5050
www.filmlinc.org

Winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes, Tokyo Sonata serves as a parable for modern-day Japan. Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) is a simple family man, with a wife, Megumi (Kyōko Koizumi), two sons, Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) and Kenji (Kai Inowaki), and an honest job as an administration director for a major company. When Ryuhei is suddenly let go — he is being replaced by much cheaper Chinese labor — he is so ashamed, he doesn’t tell his family. Instead, he puts on his suit every day and, briefcase in hand, walks out the door, but instead of going to work, he first waits on line at the unemployment agency, then at an outdoor food kitchen for a free lunch with the homeless — and other businessmen in the same boat as he is. Taking out his anger on his family, Ryuhei refuses to allow Kenji to take piano lessons and protests strongly against Takashi’s desire to join the American military. But then, on one crazy night — which includes a shopping mall, a haphazard thief (Koji Yakusho), a convertible, and some unexpected violence — it all comes to a head, leading to a brilliant finale that makes you forget all of the uneven missteps in the middle of the film, which is about a half hour too long anyway.

Kagawa (Sukiyaki Western Django, Tokyo!), is outstanding as the sad-sack husband and father, matched note for note by the wonderful pop star Koizumi (Hanging Garden, Adrift in Tokyo), who searches for strength as everything around her is falling apart. And it’s always great to see Yakusho, the star of such films as Kurosawa’s Cure, Shohei Imamura’s The Eel, Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, seen here as a wild-haired, wild-eyed wannabe burglar. Tokyo Sonata, which is warmly photographed by Akiko Ashizawa, is screening August 7 at 6:45 in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “The Female Gaze,” consisting of nearly three dozen films shot by women, investigating whether they bring something different to cinematic storytelling than men do. The series continues through August 9 with such other works as Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy, photographed by Crystel Fournier; Wim Wenders’s Pina in 3D, photographed by Hélène Louvart; Babette Mangolte’s The Camera: Je or La Camera: I, photographed by Mangolte; and Jacques Rivette’s Around a Small Mountain, photographed by Irina Lubtchansky.

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