In the winter of 1997 I was in L.A. on a job. I invited a woman to see a Buster Keaton movie at a place called Old Town Music Hall. She stood me up, but I went anyway and had one of the greatest nights of my life. I recently visited L.A. and went back to see another Buster movie at the Music Hall. Good to know such a place exists, you know?
[Photo Credit: Ambitus Orchestra]
If you have not seen D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance since film school, or film appreciation class, or years ago on public television, etc., or worse yet (or maybe better yet, as it happens) have never seen it at all, get yourself down to Manhattan’s Film Forum starting tomorrow and catch it, in a stunning new restoration released by The Cohen Film Collection. It is nearly one hundred years old and I will put money down that it will be the most spectacularly vital film running theatrically in the five buroughs as of its first screening.
Why? Well, it’s not just the structure: in making this ostensible “answer picture” to the (completely justified) protests pertaining to his 1915 The Birth of a Nation, Griffith conceived four tales of this movie’s title theme, each set in a different age and place, and interwove them cinematically, with one of the key effects being, as Kevin Brownlow has so memorably described, a sweeping up of the viewer into four separate and equally engrossing climaxes in the film’s final third. This was/is admitedly a daring storytelling gambit, and not a whole lot of conventional narrative filmmakers have tried to meet this challenge since (although in a mildly ironic coincidence, noted Griffith disapprover Quentin Tarantino has performed structural tricks that Intolerance certainly set a kind of precedent for, in both Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown). That’s the thing I absorbed pretty well on my first screening of Intolerance long ago, so it didn’t knock me out this time around. Nor, for that matter, did the content, although it is quite fascinationg. The discursive “modern day” story finds Griffith wrestling with his inner Victorian to concoct a condemnation of priggish reformers. The conception of the fall of Babylon has an interesting proto-feminist component in the person of a character named “Mountain Girl.” And so on. All good stuff. Pauline Kael has noted that the film contains the seeds of every kind of silent and then sound studio film that came immediately after it. And more than that: the movie has surprising scenes of nudity, quasi-nudity, and extreme violence and gore. There’s a beheading or two; the effects for these are not particularly convincing, but hey, they were in there pitching. In this respect, and given the movie’s still staggering scale of spectacle and set-construction (it’s almost impossible to believe that Griffith conceived, produced, shot, edited, and released such an elaborate movie in a mere year after his prior one), what Kael says still goes.
“ ‘Million Dollar Movie’ was VHS before there was VHS,” Mr. Goldstein said.
That childhood experience led him, with Ms. Cooper, to create Film Forum Jr., an attempt to acquaint today’s children — generally, age 5 and up — with the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton and great musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain.” His own first movie, at 5, was “Pal Joey,” in 1957. “I didn’t know how sexy it was till years later,” he said.
“You can’t talk down to kids,” he said. “Kids have taste.” On Mother’s Day, he screened Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much, which involves an assassination plot and a boy’s kidnapping.
“Someone said, ‘That’s not for kids, it’s too scary,’ ” Mr. Goldstein recalled. “I said: ‘Yeah, it’s scary. But it’s not as scary as ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ The Disney movies are really scary.” So he showed the Hitchcock film and “the kids loved it.”
For Mr. Goldstein, nothing compares to watching a movie with others around.
“You focus on the film,” he said. “You don’t focus at home or on your iPhone. Second, you get the benefit of the other audience members picking up on things you might not have noticed.” While it is not a phrase he likes, he added, there is such a thing as “communal experience.”
“Some films don’t work on video at all,” he said. “Silent comedy doesn’t work on video, as far as I’m concerned. You need an audience to laugh with you and to pick up on the gags you may not notice at home because you’re distracted in 20 different directions.”
[Photo Via: Gothamist]
“I like to act in films, I like to shoot ‘em, I like to direct ‘em, I like to be around ‘em. I like the feel of it and it’s something I respect. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a crappy film or a good film. Anyone who can make a film, I already love. But I feel sorry if they don’t put any thought in it because then they missed the boat.”
So far, summer 2013 seems like a dud of a movie-going season. Luckily, BAM is coming to the rescue with a retrospective of the films of iconoclastic filmmaker and actor John Cassavetes. It’s often said that Cassavetes’ films are not for everyone, which is true, but it should be taken as a compliment. The series, which runs through July 31st, mixes Cassavetes’ work as a writer and director with some of his more memorable roles acting for other directors, like Robert Aldrich’s THE DIRTY DOZEN (which won him an Oscar nomination), Don Siegel’s THE KILLERS, Elaine May’s MIKEY AND NICKEY (co-starring Falk) and Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY.
Cassavetes’ self-financed 1968 film FACES (screening on July 17) was nominated for three Academy Awards, and had a major impact on the industry itself and also on filmmakers like his friend and protégé Martin Scorsese, and contemporaries like Woody Allen, Robert Altman and Peter Bogdanovich. In addition to paving the way for the independent film movement in the United States, Cassavetes’ movies present human emotion and behavior in stark, jarring, occasionally hilarious and sometimes harrowing ways. Simply put – there’s nothing else quite like them. Cassavetes created a stock company of fantastic and idiosyncratic performers, including Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassel and perhaps most famously and importantly, his wife and muse, the great Gena Rowlands. Rowlands’ performance in Cassavetes’ A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE was widely lauded, Oscar-nominated and has become justly legendary, but her work her husband’s other films, like the criminally under-seen OPENING NIGHT, which kicks off the series on Saturday, is equally stunning. It’s enough to cure you of superhero movies.
Here’s something to bookmark: Screen Slate. This site keeps us up-to-date on all the happenings at the revival houses in town.
Through this weekend the entire Criterion Collection can be seen for free at Hulu. Don’t sleep.
Tonight at Walter Reade, one of P. Kael’s favorites: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.