New Yorkers are spoilt for choice this weekend, so much so that I'm siphoning those choices right off the roundup to follow. Besides the New York Asian Film Festival, here's what else is on.
"There are a handful of silent, black-and-white old movies that have the power to make all the subsequent advances in the medium look redundant," writes the AO Scott in the New York Times. "When you watch, say, Charlie Chaplin's City Lights or The General by Buster Keaton, you are aware of such complete mastery of the emotional and narrative possibilities of cinema that color and sound seem like so much distraction and filigree. Everything you could possibly want is here, and indeed the addition of anything else would only subtract from the perfection of the art. I Was Born, But... a silent feature from 1932 directed by Yasujiro Ozu, is such a movie."
"Ozu's film achieves its careful, tender variation of the coming-of-age story without ever smacking of sentimental platitudes," writes Ricky D'Ambrose in Slant. "Its success as a portrait of adulthood from afar — and its interest in what happens when children have their first, mollifying glimpses of adult life — is one effect of its honesty and graciousness as an ongoing cross-examination between two different generations, moving across perspectives in ways that parallel the altitude shifts of Ozu's camera."
The New Yorker's Richard Brody: "If any further incentive were needed to head over to see this graceful, many-layered comedy on the big screen, IFC provides one: showing along with it will be the surviving fourteen-minute fragment of A Straightforward Boy, a medium-length silent comedy by Ozu from 1929."
More from Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Nicolas Rapold (L), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager (Voice) and James van Maanen.
The Voice's J Hoberman reviews The Law, "a vintage 1960 French-Italian co-production directed by the Hollywood exile Jules Dassin from Roger Vailland's Goncourt Award–winning novel, an intellectual shocker concerning the primitive power relations of a southern Italian fishing village. Left out of Film Forum's 2009 Dassin retro, a new, uncensored 35mm print turned up last March in Lincoln Center's annual Rendez-Vous With French Cinema and is now having its US theatrical premiere at BAM."
The "convoluted plot concerns a tawdry sexual saltarello between... gorgeous virginal housekeeper (Gina Lollobrigida), a melancholy local hottie (Melina Mercouri), and elegant suitors like the engineer Enrico (Marcello Mastroianni) and Yves Montand's Matteo," writes Justin Stewart in the L Magazine. "The constant and confusing back-and-forth volleying of the lovers never allows an empathetic comfort zone, which might be part of the agenda, but Dassin's camera smartly never strays far from The Law's central symbol — Lollobrigida's glorious cleavage, lit, flaunted and micromanaged with a meticulousness Howard Hughes would've appreciated."
Eric Hynes for Time Out New York: "Poised between comedy and tragedy, art-house prestige and overheated exploitation, The Law is everything that this season's lackluster blockbusters are not: a damn good time." The New York Times has a clip.
"The prime cut of Anthony Mann's career crosses 20 years of popular genres — postwar noir, 50s western, 60s epic," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Film Forum's 32-film retrospective serves it all." And it opens today and runs through July 15. Hopefully, you haven't missed Doug Dibbern's piece here in The Daily Notebook: "Anthony Mann is one of those directors admired by cinephiles but not well known to the casual moviegoer, the cinematic equivalent of what we call a 'writer's writer.'"
"Mann came to the western in 1950, with no less than three electrifying oaters," writes Fernando F Croce in Slant. "The Devil's Doorway humanizes Robert Taylor's Native-American rebel without condescension or pious speechifying, while The Furies captures the complex, crazy synergy between Barbara Stanwyck's prairie Electra and Walter Huston's cattle-ranch patriarch. It was in Winchester '73, however, that the filmmaker located the ideal actor for his dissections of cowboy heroism. Here, the James Stewart who rides into town seeking 'the gun that won the west' is a baleful, haunted version of the actor's earlier dawdling sopranos, a man who's been to war and seen horrors and, now back, expects to see more.... Mann loved the west like he loved Greek tragedy or Shakespeare (Lears abound in his ranches), as an arena for moral and visceral conflict, so intense as to become mythical."
"It was with the western that Mann cemented his reputation for thoroughly mining complex material within a single genre, an inimitable talent already anticipated in the noirs." Michael Rowin for Artforum: "Several themes run through this earlier and frequently overlooked period of Mann's career — perhaps richest of all is the tenuous and unstable nature of identity in a threatening, suspicious world."
"A sense of reality coming unglued permeates Mann's noirs even when, as in T-Men (1947) and He Walked by Night (1948), the director casts his material in the guise of a pseudo-documentary via newsreel-style narration." Nick Schager for the L: "And this vision of a frighteningly off-kilter landscape is in large part attributable to his collaboration with cinematographer John Alton, whose stark chiaroscuro lighting and geometrically arranged visuals — never more blistering than in the subterranean finale of He Walked by Night, or Raymond Burr's crime boss hideout in Desperate (1947), illuminated only by a single, swinging overhead bulb — create an ominous mood of claustrophobia, suspicion and obsessive neurosis."
"As his career evolves, Mann's films become increasingly schematic in their formal and structural precision," writes Paul Brunick for Bomb, "but this does not correspond to a moral schematic. Just the opposite. His films set up ethical paradoxes and inescapable double binds, and invite the viewer to hash out the complex moral calculus for themselves.... His films are phenomenological studies of power and ethics — he places man in nature in order to better understand the nature of man."
Back to Nick Pinkerton: "Mann's last great collaboration was with Samuel Bronston, an open-wallet independent producer who built history to scale in his Spanish studios for 70mm spectacles. The coronation parade bringing Christopher Plummer's Commodus to the Temple of Zeus in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) is Mann's most lavish climb, a world away from Poverty Row, with every penny of Bronston's bankruptcy onscreen. Commodus earlier tells of Rome's 'new generation, a whole new feeling.' He might be reporting from Hollywood. Mann didn't live to work amid the industry's barbarian invasions — but America's great midcentury tragedian remains the model of classical style."
The Northside Festival is happening right now in Brooklyn and will go on happening through the weekend. The L Magazine, a presenter, carries on spotlighting its features, too.
For more goings on in NYC, see Simon Abrams (New York Press) and Steve Dollar (Wall Street Journal).
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