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Radical Light, NYAFF, Kushner, "Nuremberg," Cold War, More

Updated through 5/10.

"The filmmaker and Oakland native Sidney Peterson once scatted that after World War II, San Francisco 'was a city hanging loose, a small pocket edition, for a brief period, of the Vienna of Wittgenstein and Musil, and the Zurich of Tzara, the Cologne, the Berlin, the Paris, the Hanover, the New York of Dada.'" In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis notes that the version of Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945 - 2000 presented at Anthology Film Archives today and tomorrow and at MoMA on Sunday and Monday "doesn't go as deep or as wide as the original, of course. But it's something of a movable feast nonetheless, and it gives you plenty to chew on, starting with an entire program dedicated to Peterson, a sculptor, painter and novelist whose adventures in the seventh art in the late 1940s turned him into a foundational figure in American avant-garde cinema." DC's, by the way, had a fine entry on Peterson last year.

The New York Asian Film Festival will be celebrating its tenth anniversary when it opens its two-week-long 2011 edition on July 1. Yesterday, the festival let loose a preview of the lineup. "In 2001, the NYAFF held the first major retrospective of Hong Kong's greatest director, Tsui Hark, and so it's with great pride that we bring Tsui Hark himself to the festival ten years later to headline our special focus, Wu Xia: Hong Kong's Flying Swordsmen." There'll also be a series of New Korean Thrillers and, from Japan, Takahisa Zeze's Heaven's Story and Noboru Iguchi's Karate-Robo Zaborgar. "Exploitation cinema from the Philippines will get its due with a screening of the festival fave documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed, which will be paired with the jaw-dropping 1980's Filipino exploitation mind-blower, Raw Force." Also in store is a special focus on Taiwan's Su Chao-pin and more.

It's likely you'll have heard that the City University of New York has nixed an honorary degree one of its colleges was planning to award Tony Kushner. At Salon, Justin Elliot reports that the "honorary degree was tabled on Monday night after one CUNY board member criticized — and, Kushner argues, distorted — the playwright's past statements on Israel." Kushner's fired off a letter to the board asking for "an apology for the careless way in which my name and reputation were handled at your meeting." Now the AP reports that CUNY trustees issued a statement yesterday that "fell short of an apology." Update, 5/10: As John Hudson reports for the Atlantic Wire, CUNY has reversed its decision and awarded Kushner an honorary degree.

Meantime, reviews are coming in for Kushner's new play, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures. In New York, Scott Brown finds it "often blindingly radiant, sometimes frustratingly remote, always un-look-away-able… A low iron cornice seems to cap the ancestral Carroll Gardens brownstone of the Marcantonio family, foreclosing on possibility, growth, hope itself — everything except a lot of grim laughs (some hyperliterate, many gratifyingly low) and some of the fiercest neo-Shavian insights into humanity's socio-spiritual penury since, well, Shaw." The NYT's Ben Brantley predicts that "theatergoers who have previously thrilled to Mr Kushner's heady language and his visceral commitment to ideas made flesh are sure to feel a rush of the old excitement in the opening scenes…. But when that first din of many voices disentangles itself into distinct strands of dialogue, a nagging impression emerges that the most important conversation that's happening in this play isn't among its characters; it's between Mr Kushner and a vast library of political theory and world drama."

In the Wall Street Journal, Steve Dollar has tips on what all else is going on in New York.



"This week the Music Box will present the Chicago premiere of Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today, a film produced by the US War Department in 1945 and '46 to document the landmark war-crimes trial of 22 top-ranking Nazis by an international military tribunal," writes the Reader's JR Jones, who finds the story behind the film "so interesting one wishes that, instead of merely restoring the film for US release, the producers had incorporated it into a longer work (just as Yael Hersonski used surviving footage from a Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw ghetto for his recent documentary A Film Unfinished)." Indeed, even though we have a roundup from last year's New York Film Festival, I find it impossible to resist clipping quite a bit from JR Jones's recounting:

The movie originated when US Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson, appointed chief prosecutor for the IMT by President Truman, decided to round up the Nazis' own photographs and film footage to be introduced as evidence. The US Army's Office of Strategic Services formed a special unit — commanded by director John Ford — to locate this material, and based on tips from informants (among them the legendary Leni Riefenstahl) collected a wealth of images before they could be destroyed. The unit created two films that were shown in court: The Nazi Plan, which ran four hours, and Nazi Concentration Camps, which compiled British and American footage of the camps being liberated.

Jackson also wanted the OSS unit to record the entire trial, which lasted ten and a half months, though ultimately that chore went to the US Army Signal Corps, which managed to shoot only about 25 hours of footage. After the trial was over, Pare Lorentz — the great documentary maker who'd chronicled the Depression in The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1938) — commissioned a movie about the trial in his capacity as film coordinator for the US War Department. The assignment went to a young member of the OSS unit, Stuart Schulberg (whose father, BP Schulberg, had been a key executive at Paramount Pictures, and whose older brother, Budd, would script On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd). Schulberg was hamstrung by the dearth of available footage, though he was able to draw on complete audio recordings of the trial, which he awkwardly synced up with what imagery there was, and on the library of archival material that had been collected.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert notes that the film that eventually got put together "was exhibited throughout Germany in 1948 and 1949, and then taken from release and never seen in America. It gave audiences the spectacle of seeing such iconic Nazis as Göring, Borman, Hess and Speer, now humbled in an international courtroom, earphones clamped to their heads as they listen to the irrefutable evidence of their infamy."

Back in the Reader, Ben Sachs and Fred Camper write up three films screening in the Architecture and Design Film Festival running through Monday and JR Jones rounds up notes on more local screenings.



Summer Children, James Bruner's 1965 attempt to make a beach party movie that would enhance the genre with a dash of realism, is the Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey's pick of the week: "As a film, it was very much of a time, unremarkable except for the cheekbones of its star Stuart Anderson and its exquisite black-and-white look, a stylish mix of beauty, seduction and provocation. But what it shows is the way talent can impact even a slight project. The cinematographer was a Hungarian refugee named Vilmos Zsigmond whose footage of the revolution had paid for his ticket out. He knew how to work with what the natural world gave him: the way light plays off faces and flexed muscles; a beach after midnight, its shadows hiding both threat and safety; fevered youth in the crush of rock 'n' roll mating dances."

Screens Tuesday at the Egyptian Theatre, but you can watch it here on MUBI as well.

In the LA Weekly, Phil Coldiron lists a few more LA area screenings.



"'I'd say, since the war, our methods — our techniques, that is — and those of the Communists have become very much the same,' claims Cyril Cusack's spymaster in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1965)." Michael Brooke for Sight & Sound: "This essential truth is demonstrated by The Celluloid Curtain, a fascinating season of 11 spy thrillers from various European countries made between 1960 and 1974. Despite the majority originating behind the Iron Curtain, they do indeed often display the same preoccupations and even clichés as their Western counterparts."


Writing for the Guardian, Alex Von Tunzelmann, author of Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean, sees "the same recurring themes either side of the iron curtain: the secrets and intrigue of the cold war, the futuristic new style of the space age, the exciting possibilities of high technology, and the even more exciting possibilities of the sexual revolution. Any preconceptions about the Soviet bloc being a dour place full of grumpy peasants in headscarves queuing all day for turnips may be left at the door. Instead, these films depict a world that is, like Bond's, wildly aspirational: these are films with fast cars, sharp suits, hard drinking, and a seemingly endless supply of bouffanted young women in heavy eyeliner taking their clothes off."

More from the BBC's Vincent Dowd. The season runs from tonight through Monday at Riverside Studios before moving onto Berlin in June.



Ty Burr in the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Bay Guardian — and Criterion's "Friday Repertory Roundup" spans the globe.

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