Monday, February 5th
Eclipse Series 45: Claude Autant-Lara: Four Romantic Escapes from Occupied France
Spurned first by the French New Wave iconoclasts as belonging to the "tradition of quality" and later for the extremist political views their director embraced as a member of the right-wing National Front, Claude Autant-Lara's wartime films are rarely seen today. These four romances, produced during the dark days of the German occupation, are fueled by a slyly subversive voice and exquisite visual sense, and showcase the formidable talents of two of his closest collaborators. The charmingly impetuous Odette Joyeux sparkles at the height of her stardom in a quartet of protofeminist roles, crafted by screenwriter Jean Aurenche, who injects a strain of progressive social criticism that managed to evade the Nazi censors. Also noteworthy is the first screen appearance of Jacques Tati, in Autant-Lara's most popular and technically innovative success, Sylvie et le fantôme. These long unavailable gems deserve to be better known, if only as a record of some of the most talented film artists in France, working at the height of their powers during one of the most perilous periods in twentieth-century history.
Tuesday, February 6th
Tuesday's Short + Feature: Five Miles Out* and Life Is Sweet
Andrew Haigh and Mike Leigh, two of British cinema's sharpest observers of character, turn their attention to the close and sometimes painful bonds of sisterhood. Haigh's 2009 short reveals the volcanic emotions that lurk beneath everyday scenes, centering on a girl who is sent on vacation with her cousins but remains preoccupied with her hospital-bound sister back home. An international breakthrough for Leigh, Life Is Sweet is an intimate portrait of a working-class family with twin daughters who couldn't be more different: the bookish plumber Natalie (Claire Skinner) and the bulimic, ill-tempered Nicola (Jane Horrocks). Jim Broadbent and Alison Steadman exude warmth as the girls' parents, and Stephen Rea, David Thewlis, and Timothy Spall deliver winning performances as the eccentrics who orbit the family unit. The edition of Life Is Sweet is accompanied by an audio commentary by Leigh.
Wednesday, February 7th
Sweet Smell of Success: Edition #555
In this swift, cynical film by Alexander Mackendrick, Burt Lancaster stars as the vicious Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, the unprincipled press agent Hunsecker ropes into smearing the up-and-coming jazz musician romancing his beloved sister. Featuring deliciously unsavory dialogue, in an acid, brilliantly structured script by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, and noirish neon cityscapes from Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell of Success is a cracklingly cruel dispatch from the kill-or-be-killed wilds of 1950s Manhattan. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: a 1986 documentary about Mackendrick, a 1973 documentary about Howe, a video interview with film critic and historian Neal Gabler, and more.
Friday, February 9th
Friday Night Double Feature: The Misfits and The Harder They Fall
These two swan songs herald the end of the Hollywood star system with a nearly mythical sense of finality. John Huston's The Misfits features the last performances of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, and their costar Montgomery Clift would only appear in three more movies before dying at forty-five. Scripted by Monroe's husband Arthur Miller, the Nevada-set film sets the actress's inimitable mix of sensuality and vulnerability against the world-weary alienation of three hardened men, played by Gable, Clift, and Eli Wallach. Humphrey Bogart's last film, The Harder They Fall, stars the legendary actor as a down-on-his-luck sportswriter who gets roped into a scam by a fast-talking promoter (Rod Steiger) lining up fixed fights for a talentless (and clueless) Argentine heavyweight. Bogart would die less than a year after the film's premiere, and his understated portrayal of a reluctant hustler makes for a rich contrast with Steiger's Method-informed bluster, marking a shift in the tides of American film acting.
Tuesday, February 13
Tuesday's Short + Feature: Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist and The Emperor Jones
Courageously outspoken and wildly talented, Paul Robeson was one of the most commanding performers of his time. As a singer, actor, athlete, and activist, he broke barriers in Jim Crow-era America, campaigning for social justice and striving to reshape the public's idea of who a black man could be. Saul J. Turell's Oscar-winning documentary short, narrated by Sidney Poitier, traces the evolution of Robeson's career using a series of his performances of "Ol' Man River," a song that took on layers of meaning over time. That booming voice made its first appearance in sound cinema in The Emperor Jones, a 1933 adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play about a Pullman porter who muscles his way to power on a Caribbean island. Though the fearsome Brutus Jones may not have been the type of stereotype-busting role that Robeson hoped to bring to the screen, the character made him the first African-American leading man in mainstream cinema.
Tuesday, February 13th
Night of the Living Dead*: Edition #909
Shot outside Pittsburgh on a shoestring budget by a band of self-taught filmmakers, horror master George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead is a great story of independent cinema: a midnight hit turned box-office smash that became one of the most influential films of all time. A deceptively simple tale of a group of strangers trapped in a farmhouse who find themselves fending off a horde of recently dead, flesh-eating ghouls, Romero's claustrophobic vision of a late-1960s America literally tearing itself apart rewrote the rules of the horror genre, combined gruesome gore with acute social commentary, and quietly broke ground by casting a black actor (Duane Jones) in its lead role. Stark, haunting, and more relevant than ever, Night of the Living Dead is back. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film; a program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez; a never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel; and more.
*Premiering on the Channel this month.
Wednesday, February 14th
In the Mood for Love: Edition #147
At once delicately mannered and visually extravagant, Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love is a masterful evocation of romantic longing and fleeting moments. In 1960s Hong Kong, Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) move into neighboring apartments on the same day. Their encounters are formal and polite-until a discovery about their spouses creates an intimate bond between them. With its aching musical soundtrack and exquisitely abstract cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin, this film has been a major stylistic influence on the past decade of cinema, and is a milestone in Wong's redoubtable career. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: a documentary on the making of the film; Hua yang de nian hua (2000), a short film by Wong; Toronto International Film Festival press conference from 2000, with Cheung and Leung; and more.
Thursday, February 15th
The Red Balloon and The Black Balloon
Floating from midcentury Paris to contemporary Manhattan, these two portraits of urban life breathe a whimsical sensibility into a particular inanimate item. In Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon (1956), a boy embarks on a series of adventures with an inflatable-yet sentient-companion. A gritty variation on that beloved classic, Josh and Benny Safdie's The Black Balloon (2012) follows the stray object of the title on an odyssey through the streets of the filmmakers' native New York City.
Friday, February 16th
Friday Night Double Feature: A Slave of Love and Knight Without Armor
The Russian Civil War provides the roiling backdrop for these two sweeping romantic adventures. Nikita Mikhalkov's A Slave of Love (1976) tells the tale of a silent-film star who falls for a Bolshevik on set. Jacques Feyder's Knight Without Armor (1937) revolves around a British spy posing as a revolutionary (Robert Donat) and the countess whom he loves and seeks to save (Marlene Dietrich).
Tuesday, February 20th
Tuesday's Short + Feature: Bluebeard* and Bluebeard
A classic fairy tale, read two ways. With his colorful claymation short Bluebeard (1938), Jean Painlevé departed from the nature filmmaking that was his specialty, giving a playful charge to the dark story of a young wife and her murderous new husband. For her 2009 adaptation of Charles Perrault's classic fable, French director Catherine Breillat keyed into the material's more provocative elements, using the fable to explore her perennial themes of sex, power, and sisterhood.
*Premiering on the Channel this month.
Wednesday, February 21
Frances Ha*: Edition #681
A leading contender for this year's best director Oscar, Greta Gerwig delivered one of her most enchanting performances as Frances, a woman in her late twenties in contemporary New York trying to sort out her ambitions, her finances, and, above all, her intimate but shifting bond with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Meticulously directed by Noah Baumbach with a free-and-easy vibe reminiscent of the French New Wave's most spirited films, and written by Baumbach and Gerwig with an effortless combination of sweetness and wit, Frances Ha gets at both the frustrations and the joys of being young and unsure of where to go next. This wry and sparkling city romance is a testament to the ongoing vitality of independent American cinema. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: a conversation between filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and Baumbach; a conversation between actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley and the film's cowriter and star, Greta Gerwig; and more.
*Premiering on the Channel this month.
Wednesday, February 21st
Festival*: Edition #892
Before Woodstock and Monterey Pop, there was Festival. >From 1963 through 1966, Murray Lerner visited the annual Newport Folk Festival to document a thriving, idealistic musical movement as it reached its peak as a popular phenomenon. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash, the Staple Singers, Pete Seeger, Son House, and Peter, Paul and Mary were just a few of the legends who shared the stage at Newport, treating audiences to a range of folk music that encompassed the genre's roots in blues, country, and gospel as well as its newer flirtations with rock and roll. Shooting in gorgeous black and white, Lerner juxtaposes performances with snapshot interviews with artists and their fans, weaving footage from four years of the festival into an intimate record of a pivotal time in music-and in American culture at large. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: a documentary about the making of the film; a selection of unreleased performances by Clarence Ashley, Johnny Cash, Elizabeth Cotten, John Lee Hooker, Odetta, and Tom Paxton; and more.
*Premiering on the Channel this month.
Thursday, February 22nd
Four Luis Buñuel Editions
One of cinema's great subversives, Luis Buñuel spent nearly half a century taking aim at a number of humankind's most cherished orthodoxies. This month, we're presenting editions of four of his late-career French films, which plunge into the surreal and satirical. A ribald deconstruction of contemporary and traditional views on Catholicism, 1969's The Milky Way (Criterion Collection Edition #402) inaugurated what Buñuel saw as a trilogy about "the search for truth." That cycle's next two films, the absurdist masterpieces The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (#102) and The Phantom of Liberty (#290), take place at high-society gatherings disrupted by absurd occurrences, revealing the hypocrisy of conventional morality and the arbitrariness of social arrangements. Buñuel's final film, 1977's That Obscure Object of Desire (#143), is a dizzying game of sexual politics that brings full circle the director's lifelong preoccupation with the darker side of desire. Supplements in this program include a documentary about Buñuel's life and work, and a video with Jean-Claude Carrière.
Friday, February 23rd
Friday Night Double Feature: Birdman of Alcatraz and Down by Law
Get a glimpse of life behind bars in John Frankenheimer's 1962 drama Birdman of Alcatraz and Jim Jarmusch's 1986 misfit "neo-Beat noir comedy" Down by Law. Featuring a powerful performance by Burt Lancaster, Frankenheimer's film is one of the blueprints of the prison movie, telling the story of a convicted murderer who, after developing an affinity for birds while in prison, goes on to become a distinguished ornithologist. Jarmusch's sophomore feature turns that blueprint on its head, bringing together Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni for an idiosyncratic tale about a Louisiana prison break that leads to a dreamlike adventure.
Monday, February 26
Observations on Film Art No. 16: The Darkness of War in Wooden Crosses
Raymond Bernard's 1932 masterpiece Wooden Crosses, often referred to as France's All Quiet on the Western Front, is one of the most poignant films to envision the horrors of combat during World War I. Widely celebrated for its lavishly expensive and realistic reconstruction of life in the trenches, the film is also remarkable for the subtlety of Bernard's techniques. For this month's episode of Observations on Film Art, a Channel-exclusive series that takes a look at how great filmmakers use cinematic devices and conventions, film-studies scholar Kristin Thompson explores how Wooden Crosses combines the brutality of other war dramas of its era with a lyricism all its own, achieved largely through the film's exquisite use of lighting.
Tuesday, February 27
Tuesday's Short + Feature: Nadja in Paris and Breathless
Two French New Wave titans find inspiration in the experiences of young American women studying abroad in Paris. In his 1964 short Nadja in Paris, Rohmer teams up for the first time with the great cinematographer Néstor Almendros, observing the everyday comings and goings of an exchange student discovering the city while writing her thesis on Marcel Proust. In his landmark 1960 debut feature, Breathless, Godard pays tribute to American gangster movies with a jazzy tale of a criminal who becomes romantically involved with an American student (the incandescent Jean Seberg) living in Paris.
Tuesday, February 27
4 by Agnès Varda: Edition #418
Agnès Varda used the skills she honed early in her career as a photographer to create some of the most nuanced, thought-provoking films of the past fifty years. She is widely believed to have presaged the French New Wave with her first film, La Pointe Courte, long before creating one of the movement's benchmarks, Cléo from 5 to 7. Later, with Le bonheur and Vagabond, Varda further shook up art-house audiences, challenging bourgeois codes with her inscrutable characters and offering effortlessly beautiful compositions and editing. Now working largely as a documentarian, Varda remains one of the essential cinematic poets of our time and a true visionary. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: video interviews with Varda; excerpts from a 1964 episode of the French television series Cinéastes de notre temps, in which Varda discusses her early career; a documentary about the making of Cléo from 5 to 7; and more.
Wednesday, February 28
Adventures in Moviegoing with Megan Abbott
An award-winning novelist and a writer for David Simon's HBO drama The Deuce, Megan Abbott joins film critic Michael Sragow to talk about her precocious filmgoing life, beginning with her family trips to the revival house in her hometown of Grosse Point, Michigan, where she first fell in love with the speed, grit, and thump of crime films like The Public Enemy. She also remembers her epiphany seeing Blue Velvet, which revealed a hidden world and new dimensions to an American suburb like her own. For the program that accompanies the interview, Abbott has picked a slate of films that echo that revelation in different ways, including Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Samuel Fuller's The Naked Kiss, as well as movies like Blood Simple, which reflects her ongoing obsessions with film noir, and Picnic at Hanging Rock, which she regards as a breakthrough treatment of female adolescence.