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“St Nick,” WC Fields, Cine las Americas, More

"The indie Texan filmmaker David Lowery receives a double bill at the reRun Gastropub Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and while Pioneer, a 16-minute short, and St Nick, an 86-minute feature, don't provide hard answers to their mysteries, both are deeply intriguing," writes Andy Webster in the New York Times. Regarding St Nick, a "potentially stifling ambience is deflected by quiet suspense and the awe-inspiring compositions of the cinematographer, Clay Liford. Decaying rustic interiors evoke Andrew Wyeth still lifes; pastoral long shots suggest a Southwestern walkabout. And Mr Lowery seems ready for a bigger canvas."

"Obliquely charting the terror, loneliness, and liberation of navigating a cold, callous grown-up world, St Nick follows nameless brother and sister runaways (played by real-life siblings Tucker and Savanna Sears) who take up impermanent residence in an empty Texas house," writes Nick Schager in Slant. "David Lowery's debut feature is long on silence and laden with a mood of oppressive dread, which, like the ever-stormy sky, hovers around its young protagonists, he 12 and she eight, as they take refuge in their ramshackle new abode, the boy stringing up a hanging-log trap against intruders and collecting twigs for wood-stove kindling while the girl draws with crayons found in the same dumpster where they scavenge for food. Why they've fled home remains a mystery, though the sight of the boy tearing up a happy family portrait (despite his sister's objections) and stating that he sometimes thinks of time travel to 'the past, when it was all normal,' imply a troubled home life as the root cause. As with his film's entirety, however, Lowery doesn't press this point, choosing instead to linger in the quiet of the children's tenuous situation, one that the writer-director dramatizes as an adult-free fairy tale of abandonment and loss, as well as — in the sight of the girl struggling to ride a giant bike — one about the difficulty of maturation."

Writing in the Voice, Nick Pinkerton finds that the "child performers are limited, while the filmmaking is too discrete, finally, to touch on the raw spots of childhood… Like a child bluffing at knowing a secret, St Nick teases and frustrates."

"Themes of childhood innocence and experience consume the imaginations of many filmmakers, but few nail them so perfectly as David Lowery," counters Steve Dollar in the Wall Street Journal. "The Dallas native is an accomplished cinematographer and writer with an unwillingness to impose too much external order on his stories, which play out at their own idiosyncratic tempo, alive with fleeting epiphanies and graced by an introspective tone that stealthily gathers up an emotional wallop." He also notes that "Pioneer was awarded the prize for best narrative short film at the recent South by Southwest film festival."

At his own site, David Lowery notes that he'll be giving away homemade editions of the film on DVD: "Each is individually illustrated and lovingly teastained. Particularly unique about this edition is that the discs themselves are hand encoded — each 1 and 0 that makes up the contents of the DVD has been typed, by hand, by myself, in a text file."

"A presence who transcends his vehicles, squinty-eyed, bulbous-nosed WC Fields (1880–1946) is less a movie star than a figure in our national mythology," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "A gifted physical comedian whose spindly-fingered startle reflex is a thing of beauty, Fields achieved his apotheosis with the talkies. His voice, a drawling monotone compared by critic Raymond Durgnat to the scrape of 'a rusty lavatory chain,' was his greatest creation (oft-imitated, an influence surely on the sarcastic bray of fellow misanthrope William Burroughs), used for sotto voce mutterings, mouse-squeaks of pain, and the atonal bellowing of chestnuts like 'Along the Wabash.'"

Film Forum's series, opening tonight and running through May 3, features the "familiar, ever-funny It's a Gift, The Bank Dick, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man [image above] and You're Telling Me," notes Armond White in the New York Press. "Even Fields's 1933 short The Fatal Glass of Beer (showing April 25) ranks with those classic features. A phenomenal example of Fields's vision, it's a vaudevillian caprice that to this day is also an avantgarde tour de force. It starts generically, as an American pioneer fable, satirizing DW Griffith, Jack London and — most audaciously — Chaplin's The Gold Rush…. Simon Louvish, author of Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of WC Fields, noted 'This is the first instance in film of Fields's abiding love for the puritanical temperance sermons of his youth, the delicious lampooning of his own era's Prohibitionists in the hackneyed argot of the 19th century.'"

Fields's first starring role in a feature was in DW Griffith's Sally of the Sawdust (1925). He plays "an itinerant magician, juggler, pickpocket, and shell-game sharper with a heart of gold," notes the New Yorker's Richard Brody, and "Griffith rarely displayed the scope of his genius as comprehensively or as generously." Yesterday, David Cairns considered the silent work Fields did with Gregory La Cava.

Update, 4/23: Cullen Gallagher at Alt Screen: "Fields was many things on-screen — a proselytizing misanthrope, a skilled raconteur, an embittered husband, a frequent imbiber, and a kicker of children and small dogs. He was also the rare honestly crooked man in a crookedly honest world. The essence of Fields's persona can be divided into two main types that are related like opposite sides of the same coin. He is both cinema's most crushable charlatan and the working class everyman beaten down by life's mundane frustrations. The two roles are a call and response: Con Man Fields is the yin to Conned Man Fields' yang. Together they're like object lessons in how to navigate the modern world. Cheat or be cheated."

Before we move on from the New York-specific goings on, let's note that B Kite will be teaching a course at The New School this summer, Writing and Film, and registration is open now. It's "a class for poets, essayists, fiction writers, and aspiring critics who wish to hone their skills and sensibilities through close engagement with another medium." You'd be watching the likes of Bresson's A Man Escaped and Hitchcock's Vertigo, but also Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda?, as well as reading work by Manny Farber, John Ashbery, Sergei Eisenstein, among others.



"At first glance, there is nothing funny about Marimbas del Infierno (Marimbas From Hell), the Guatemalan comedy that opens the 14th annual Cine las Americas International Film Festival," writes Richard Whittaker in the Austin Chronicle. "A miserable musician sits alone in his home, explaining to an unseen documentarian how extortionists have wrecked his family and his career…. Writer/director Julio Hernández Cordón describes the film as a lost story from his nihilist teen drama Gasolina (a 2007 CLA alum), but this oddly endearing comedy steers away from dark social realism and closer to the wry humor of Aki Kaurismäki."

The festival runs through Thursday and the Chronicle also has Kimberley Jones on Federico Veiroj's A Useful Life, Patricio Guzmán's Nostalgia for the Light and five master classes and Whittaker on Diego Muñoz's Bala Mordida (Bitten Bullet), which "swims in the same corrupt waters as Le Cop, Claude Zidi's 1984 dive into low-grade Parisian graft, but without the French comedy's sense of moral redemption and leavening humor. Instead, it is an unrelenting portrait of a culture of extortion and violence."

Rialto Pictures is taking Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest to Chicago and Los Angeles this weekend and Time Out's Ben Kenigsberg notes that the film "isn't just about faith but godlessness — the indifference of the world to kindness, a perspective with which even the martyring title character begins to sympathize."

"Based on Georges Bernanos's novel, this tale of an inexperienced and ailing priest who feels tossed aside by his parishioners and by God is an immersive portrait of the dark night of a soul," writes Doug Cummings. "The film doesn't rely on affection for Catholicism for its power — one reason it remains emotionally and spiritually vital even in an age when Christian politicians blame the poor rather than serve them, and priest sex-abuse scandals continue to haunt the headlines. Bresson spoke of his own faith (and disillusionment with the post–Vatican II church) well into his 80s, but his metaphysical musings were always framed by intellectual honesty, great sympathy for despair and a sensitivity to the plight of youth in a materialistic world — characteristics already evident in Diary of a Country Priest."

Also in the LA Weekly, Karina Longworth on Adam Curtis's It Felt Like a Kiss, screening at Echo Park Film Center tomorrow: "Like many of Curtis's documentaries (The Century of the Self, The Trap, The Power of Nightmares), Kiss consists primarily of footage painstakingly culled from the BBC's video archives. But this unrelenting montage of found footage — blending ads, propaganda films, Pillow Talk and other Day/Hudson vehicles, crime-scene photos, behind-the-scenes footage of both a fashion shoot and the making of Rosemary's Baby and much, much more — set to a nearly unbroken stream of pop music is stylistically unlike anything Curtis has made before…. Dispensing with the stentorian voice-over with which he led the viewer through previous works like Nightmares, Curtis here parcels out guiding anecdotes via on-screen text, describing a continuum of events beginning in 1959 and extending into the mid-60s…. It's a portrait of the peak of American hegemony giving way to its demise — a transition only perceptible from the vantage point of the future."

Tromadance runs today and tomorrow in Asbury Park and Carlos J Segura interviews Lloyd Kaufman at Cinespect.

Frank Ripploh's Taxi zum Klo (1980) returns to British theaters nearly 30 years since it first crossed the Channel in 1982. At the time, it "was groundbreaking in its unhysterical depiction of contemporary urban gay life," writes Jon Savage in the Guardian. "It was part of an international wave of gay films in the late 70s, the most notable of which, from a British perspective, were Derek Jarman's Sebastiane (1976) and Ron Peck's Nighthawks (1978)." The "graphic depictions of gay sex" are "not idealised — you can see the spots and the pale skin — but they made Taxi zum Klo notorious. It was seized by US customs. Denied a general release in the UK, it was shown on the alternative network that included the Scala, the ICA and the Screen on the Green. This frankness also tapped into a British fascination with Germany in general and Berlin in particular that peaked in the late 70s and early 80s…. The Berlin that attracted British artists was an open city. It was an anomaly, an oasis of extremity created by the cold war. Here, anything could happen. People lived ordinary lives, to be sure, but we see little of this in Taxi zum Klo: Ripploh's Berlin is peopled with bohemians and outcasts who enact a fragile, febrile freedom in their various ways. It's a film that sets bursts of color against the drab architecture of the postwar reconstruction."

For more goings on around the world, see Criterion's "Friday Repertory Roundup."

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