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Daily Briefing. “Nasty-Ass” Pre-Code, Melvin van Peebles and More

Also: Ruiz in Berkeley, the EU in Chicago and listening to Nina Menkes and Slavoj Žižek.
The DailyThe Bitter Tea of General Yen

Hollywood Before the Code: Nasty-Ass Films for a Nasty-Ass World! runs from today through Thursday at the Roxie in San Francisco and Dennis Harvey has a fun preview in the Bay Guardian. A snippet: "March 4 offers a shocking double dose of pure white femininity finding themselves in, ahem, 'Yellow Peril' — miscegenation being something Hollywood could only begin to embrace a few decades later. Frank Capra's atypically erotic The Bitter Tea of General Yen, with Barbara Stanwyck alllllmost surrendering the white flag to a 'charismatic Chinese warlord' (Swede Nils Asther, eyes narrowed), has become a minor classic since flopping in 1933. No such luck for The Cheat (1931), a remake of Cecil B DeMille's 1915 shocker that was part of Paramount's brief, failed attempt to make stage sensation Tallulah Bankhead a movie star. Her gambling-addicted socialite gets branded (literally) in lieu of repayment not by the original's Far East businessman (dashing Sessue Hayakawa) but by a mere rich Caucasian perv with Sinophile pretensions (Irving Pichel). The big courtroom climax is a notable howler.

Michael Guillén has more; and Michael also previews The Library Lover: The Films of Raúl Ruiz, opening today at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and running through April 15.

New York. Melvin Van Peebles's "little seen first feature film, Le Permission (The Story of a Three Day Pass), screens on Saturday night at 92YTribeca, followed by a Q&A, and then a performance by his band Laxative ('Because I don't take no shit')." Miriam Bale introduces her interview at the L:

The film is a subtle, intelligent and sexy film about a black serviceman on three-day leave who has a romance with a white French woman, and it's often considered Peebless' best. He followed up this film by inventing rap. ("Is that true?" I asked him. "Yep," he said matter-of-factly.) And later went on to become the first black trader on Wall Street. He currently splits his time among residences in New York, Los Angeles and Paris. In my visit to his 10th-floor Manhattan apartment, filled with windows and his large paintings and sculptures, he also taught me to play the piano. Since he didn't know how to read music, but composed the music to his films, he long ago devised a simple numeric system which he taught me. Within three minutes, I could play the [Sweetback's Baadasssss Song] theme. There's nothing this man cannot do.
The New York International Children's Film Festival

The New York International Children's Film Festival, opening today and running through March 25, will screen "more than 100 films over four weekends at seven locations for an expected audience of 25,000," notes Laurel Graeber in the New York Times. "'We're a festival now on the festival circuit,' said Eric Beckman, who started the nonprofit operation in 1997 with his wife, Emily Shapiro. 'We're not a little weekend kiddie event.'"

Chicago. The European Union Film Festival is on at the Gene Siskel Film Center through March 29 and the Reader's got a first round of capsule reviews. Also, Ben Sachs offers a few thoughts on previewing a good dozen titles at home: "I'd argue there's a substantial difference between discovering a movie with an audience and on one's own, and that this difference is even greater when talking about festival films."

In the works. "Sacha Gervasi has tapped Scarlett Johansson and James D'Arcy to play Psycho stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins in Fox Searchlight's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," reports Variety. "Anthony Hopkins will play the iconic director, while Helen Mirren will play his wife, Alma."

Reading. "This is the tale of a very famous Hollywood mogul and a not-so-famous movie director. In May of 1933 they embarked together on a hunting trip to Canada, but only one of them came back alive. It's an unusual tale with an uncertain ending, and to the best of my knowledge it's never been told before." William Charles Morrow. Also in the Chiseler: Dan Callahan on Constance Collier.

Fandor's Jonathan Marlow talks with Geoff Dyer about Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room.


In the March issue of Electric Sheep, dedicated to "the flamboyant brilliance of the late British director Ken Russell," Richard Bancroft comes to the defense of Lisztomania (1975).

In other news. Nisi Masa, a network of young professionals, students and enthusiasts of European cinema, has issued a call for participants for Nisimazine Cannes 2012. There'll be a Film Journalism Workshop and more. Deadline: March 10.

John Irving is 70 today.

Listening. Nina Menkes is a guest on Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment (28'33"). Watch several of the films they discuss here.

Slavoj Žižek, "The Wire or the clash of civilizations in one country" (100'49"), followed by a Q&A (40'59").

Obits. Via Glenn Kenny comes word from Tim Lucas that Lina Romay, "the actress and filmmaker best-known as the wife and longtime creative partner of Spanish director Jesús 'Jess' Franco," succumbed to cancer on February 15. She was only 57. "No other woman gave quite as much of herself to the fantastic cinema as Lina Romay. The sprawling filmography of Jess Franco can be divided, unevenly and much in her favor, between the films he made Before Lina and With Lina; she became so synonymous with his work, as its focus and behind-the-scenes facilitator, that an After Lina period seems frankly unimaginable."

Frances D'Emelio for the AP: "His musical roots were in jazz, but his songs ranged from folk to pop to classical to opera, creating a soundtrack beloved by generations of Italians. Lucio Dalla, one of Italy's most prolific singer-songwriters, died Thursday in Switzerland during a European concert tour…. Dalla also composed songs for some of Italy's most famous film directors, including Mario Monicelli, Michelangelo Antonioni, Carlo Verdone and Michele Placido."

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Thanks for the shout-outs, Dave. Am looking forward to both the pre-Code and Ruiz programs.
The Bitter Tea of General Yen – one of my favorite films.

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