An early and less often screened knockout from the fertile mind of Miyazaki, making his first film under the Studio Ghibli banner, this amazing, ornately animated adventure set in a fantastic version of the 19th century gets underway when an orphan girl, Sheeta, quite literally falls from the sky and into the arms of an unsuspecting boy named Pazu. Together, they set off to find Laputa, a fabled floating island that was once the home to an extinct civilization, and which hides a treasure of untold value—though they’ll first have to outwit sky pirates and army thugs in order to get there.
DIRECTOR: NICOLAS RAY, IDA LUPINO 1951 / 82min / 35mm
“Why do you make me do it?” Robert Ryan’s corroded cop, choking on this line as he prepares to pummel a perp, breaks down early in On Dangerous Ground, which then follows Ryan’s hothead, city-sickened metropolitan detective as he’s assigned to a homicide case in the countryside that’s meant to cool him off for a while. Not many movies about policework address the mental health issues that come with the gig, but not many movies are as brilliant and original as On Dangerous Ground, which thrusts Ryan—the most convincingly anguished actor of his generation, if not the best—into a murder mystery in the snowy boondocks, where a blind woman (Ida Lupino) becomes his closest ally, worst enemy, and only chance at salvation.
“A film that I saw for the first time in college, in an African American art history class I was taking. I truly appreciated the vivid cinematography, colors and costumes in this film. Like The Color of Pomegranates, it feels like a visual poem, representing the past, present, and future through the voice of an unborn child of the film’s protagonist. Dash embraces a nonlinear narrative structure, making the story feel familiar by tapping into the mood and atmosphere of the island, the family and their histories. It’s a really beautiful, poetic film that you experience differently each time.”—Alexandria Smith
Klein, the legendary American photographer and filmmaker, has put together a body of work as thrillingly eclectic as any living artist. In his 1969 film Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, he found a subject that combined his interest in sport and social criticism, and much the same combination can be seen at work, in a very different cultural context, in The French. Klein was the first person to be granted full, exclusive access to the French Open in its 90-year history, and using that doorway into locker rooms, TV studios, and players boxes, he shot the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at the 1981 tournament—a crucial moment in a crucial year in the history of a game—and its iconic players Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Yannick Noah, and Ivan Lendl. With Klein’s customary eagle eye and whirlwind energy, The French captures the noisy bedlam that accompanies any major sporting event while also revealing a level of candor from its subjects that is impossible to imagine in today’s secretive, media-trained world.
A Metrograph Pictures release.
The screening on Saturday May 28 at 9:00pm will include an introduction by David Campany, curator of the exhibit William Klein: YES; Photographs, Paintings, Films, 1948-2013 at the International Center of Photography.
“A film that brings the fantastical, the idea of spirits and ghosts, into the world of this young girl. She’s on a trip with her parents and they stop at this empty café where the parents start to indulge in food that doesn’t belong to them. The parents turn into pigs, these gluttonous creatures; the little girl freaks out, then is rescued by a young boy who helps her escape just as the sun sets and the spirits are entering this space. That’s the beginning of the film, and I love it; you’re seeing this fusion of the real world with the fantastical, the introduction of a whole other world that parallels her world in the film. It’s similar to how I think about spirituality in my work.”—Alexandria Smith
The first of Rossellini’s five films with Ingrid Bergman, who to great controversy had left her husband and Hollywood to work with Rossellini, and became his collaborator and wife, Stromboli took the glamorous Bergman and confronted her with the ruins of postwar Europe. Bergman’s Balkan refugee, Karin, stuck in a displaced persons camp, makes a marriage of convenience to a poor Italian fisherman, only to discover still greater desolation in his depopulated village, located on the slope of an active volcano on the island of the title. Her yearning for escape leads her on a road to epiphany, with some of Rossellini’s greatest scenes along the way, including a tuna fishing expedition shot in documentary style and Karin’s voyage on foot across the stygian volcanic landscape.
Sometimes pointed to as a flamboyant misstep in the franchise to be course-corrected by J.J. Abrams’s “gritty” M:I III, Woo’s turn on the wheel now stands out from the pack for its vivacity, its red-blooded romanticism, and its giving the last evidence in the series of an authorial personality that outweighs Tom Cruise’s. (Also for its Limp Bizkit cover of the Lalo Schifrin theme.) Looking great with harlequin novel cover-worthy long locks, Cruise’s agent Ethan Hunt fools around and falls in love with cat burglar-turned-uneasy ally Thandie Newton—their car chase pas de deux on a mountain road in Spain is a Woo moment for the ages—while also finding time to free-climb sheer cliff faces, orchestrate insanely baroque heists, and land a sternum-crushing dropkick on Dougray Scott.
Woo’s gonzo action blow-out pairs John Travolta and Nicolas Cage—two actors perfectly attuned to their director’s operatic, over the top style—as sworn archnemeses, straight-arrow FBI Special Agent Sean Archer and Castor Troy, the mad criminal genius who’s the bane of Archer’s existence. A series of twists involving a double face transplant results in the men switching their identities and lives—a boon for Most Wanted Troy, but a revoltin’ predicament for Archer—and the movie’s magnificent anti-realist dream logic only flies further out from there. Gravity-defying feats of two-fisted gun fu, a thousand slow-motion doves, and “I could eat a peach for hours,” it’s about as freakily fun as blockbusters get.
“Animation was my first love; I wanted to be an animator from when I was very young, and in college I was an intern at an animation studio. Wallace and Gromit was one of my earliest introductions to stop-motion animation, after Frosty the Snowman and stuff like that, it was a big inspiration for me in college. You think about how labor intensive the work is, all towards this amazing, quirky storyline. And the characters are a lot of fun, too. I love the idea of a human protagonist and their animal counterpart; it’s a great combination, and Wallace and Gromit and claymation definitely inspire figures in my work. I like my work to have this sort of roundness, and quirkiness, and subversive humor… but also foreboding energy. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has all those qualities.”—Alexandria Smith
“One of my favorites. Every couple of years I re-watch it. It’s a love story, but also a story about self-discovery, and one of Jim Carrey’s serious films. He wants to erase his memory of a past relationship after a painful breakup. There are moments where Carrey’s character responds to things, maybe tapping into childhood trauma that he experienced, and the film and sets shift to show him as a small child in this large, adult world—and you’re experiencing that because you’re seeing his emotional and psychological experience projected onto his physical environment reflected his emotional state. There’s an incredible element of magical realism, and that’s part of why I love it so.”—Alexandria Smith
“I watched Killer of Sheep when I was at residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. There was just something really poetic about the story of this family and the trials and tribulations of the family patriarch. The film is shot through the lens or from the perspective of the children. There are moments when you’re at the same sight line as the children, and so you see the world through their eyes. And that, for me, resonated because I oftentimes think about what’s happening in the world through the perspective of children, being a teacher for so long, over a decade. There’s one scene where this little brown girl is singing to her white baby doll, sitting on the floor by herself. We’re at her level and she’s singing [Earth, Wind & Fire’s] “Reasons,” but she doesn’t know any of the words, just “La la la.” It’s a really poignant moment because in a way she’s trying to escape through this song, imagining the world through this white baby doll. That’s always a tender scene for me.”—Alexandria Smith
Shot over the course of five days on a mountaintop in high-altitude Quebec, La Région Centrale is the product, to some degree, of an artist surrendering control to chance operations and allowing a movie to make itself. The auteur here, it might be said, is the custom-designed Camera Activating Machine (CAM), a camera arm mechanism moving according to patterns pre-programmed by Snow, surveying and probing the white wastes of the north—and allowing us an idea of cinema as it might appear after the Age of Humanity has passed. “As fine and important a film as I have ever seen… the first film in which we see the world entirely through shots which are not based on our everyday way of seeing.”—Artforum
DIRECTOR: BOBBY FARRELY, PETER FARRELY 1998 / 130min / DCP
Cameron Diaz’s infamous “hair gel” up-do is but one of the innumerable comic peaks in the Farrellys’ surprise smash, which introduced a sweetly romantic sensibility—exemplified by the presence of Jonathan Richman as a starry-eyed balladeer/narrator—to the brand of gleeful lowbrow comedy they’d developed in Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin. Ben Stiller fights to win the heart of Diaz’s title character, but to do so he has to contend with Chris Elliott, Matt Dillon’s gleaming orthodontia, Brett Favre, and some memorable testicular trauma. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be very careful in the bathroom.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet relocated to turn-of-the-millennium Oakland, and a stylish fight-fest vehicle for Jet Li, then fresh off his high octane US debut in 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4. Li is a disgraced, rage-gnawed Chinese ex-cop who touches down in the Bay Area with the intention of investigating his brother’s fishy death, only to find his already difficult mission further complicated when he encounters the daughter of his brother’s likely killer, a star-crossed lover played by R&B icon Aaliyah in her first leading film role. Sizzling hot and sleek-cool, with grandstanding fight choreography courtesy the incomparable Corey Yuen.
The Wu-Tang Clan took their name from a 1983 Hong Kong film, and Wu-affiliated albums are littered with soundbites lifted from Shaw Bros. titles, so it should come as no surprise that Wu’s prime architect and producer, RZA, would make his own foray into martial arts cinema. RZA plays the title role himself, an emancipated American slave who’s settled down as a blacksmith in 19th-century China, only to be drawn into a bloody brouhaha involving warring clans, boozy Brit mercenary Russell Crowe, and Lucy Liu as the lethal madame of the Pink Blossom brothel. An homage that oozes with love for Hong Kong cinema, and a bountiful banquet of sweet skull-cracking.
Saturday Afternoon Cartoons is New York City’s prime theatrical showcase of early and classic animated cartoons, shown in vintage 16mm film prints from the personal archives of historian Tommy José Stathes. Beginning over 20 years ago as a casual effort to find and see early cartoons that were unavailable on home video, Stathes’s collection has grown to become perhaps one of the largest of its kind. It includes many titles and ‘orphan films’ that are difficult to access or view elsewhere.
For May, Stathes presents a program of travel-themed shorts for the spring vacation season, featuring the likes of Mighty Mouse, Popeye, Porky Pig, Farmer Al Falfa, Gumby, and more.
“Based on the book by Toni Morrison, who’s one of my favorite authors. The family in the film is haunted by the ghost of Seth, a baby who passed away and is seeking revenge. Seth represents the trauma of the historical past and slavery, but also the traumas within their family. Beloved was one of the hardest books of Morrison’s to read for me, and the film does an incredible job of bringing her poetic language to life. It’s a haunting movie, a different kind of ghost story that brings the mystical and the spiritual into the realm of the real.” —Alexandria Smith
“I always love when fiction films use a documentary approach—that fusion of the fictitious and the real challenges traditions and destabilizes the viewer—and Watermelon Woman does that. It’s another really inventive film in its technical approach, that was ahead of its time. I appreciate the parallel love stories, a young lesbian filmmaker trying to learn more about a 1930s Black actress unidentified in the film credits, and in the filmmaker’s attempts to learn more about this actress, she is also discovering herself. More importantly, we are witnesses to the day to day life of a lesbian couple without the fetishization”—Alexandria Smith
“A coming-of-age film that shows three different chapters of a young Black boy’s life; he’s trying to understand his place in the world and come to terms with his sexual identity. It doesn’t revert to stereotypes or tropes, it’s really beautiful. The way Barry Jenkins lit Black people in that film is in my work; the blues, the purples just reflect so beautifully on the skin of the Black actors, and I don’t think it’s ever been done successfully before Moonlight, to be honest. Overall, the film just wasn’t what I expected, but was everything I needed.”—Alexandria Smith
For years, audiences had been demanding a film that would pair Jet Li and DMX. Finally, in 2003, the studios listened. Li, the biggest martial arts star to emerge in Hong Kong cinema since Jackie Chan, re-teams with his Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds director Bartkowiak, playing a Taiwanese intelligence agent who finds himself in an odd-couple teaming with X’s growly jewel thief, whose trademark bark is much present on the hip-hop heavy soundtrack. Two guys you really wouldn’t want to throw hands with, but it’s a blast watching them rack up a body count together.
DIRECTOR: JøRGEN LETH, LARS VON TRIER 2003 / 90min / 35mm
“I can’t remember when I saw this film. I was probably in grad school in my early twenties when I first went to NYU for my art education degree. It’s an experimental documentary where Lars von Trier challenges another filmmaker, Jørgen Leth, to remake a film of his [1967’s The Perfect Human] five different times under different circumstances, with different obstructions… You’re forced to think about the patterns in your practice; how can you challenge yourself to work outside of those habits in order to create something new? It’s remixing, and that’s what I do in my work; I’m collaging, I’m repeating motifs and symbols over time. I also try to teach and challenge my students to experiment, because the spirit of experimentation is, I think, the key to longevity, to renewing your love for what you do.”—Alexandria Smith
“The Color of Pomegranates is a film that I was recently introduced to by an artist friend. There are so many different techniques in it—stop-motion animation, silent film—and the way it tells the story feels like a poem. The muted color palette intensifies the experience of the central character [18th-century poet and troubadour Sayat-Nova], following them from childhood through adulthood and understanding their relationships to women. I’m still processing it because it’s so new; I definitely need to watch it multiple times, it’s wonderfully strange.”—Alexandria Smith
Based on José Luandino Vieira’s novella about the harrowing abuses faced by prisoners during the battle for Angolan independence, Maldoror’s landmark film—set at the height of the conflict in 1961—follows a woman, Maria (Elisa Andrade), as she searches for her husband, Domingos, a revolutionary who’s fallen into the hands of brutally repressive Portuguese colonial officials. (The film’s title refers to a neighborhood in Luanda that housed one of the most infamous Portuguese prisons.) Co-written with Maldoror’s husband, Mário Pinto de Andrade, a leading figure in the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MLPA), shot largely with non-professionals, and radical in its attention to a distinctly female experience of revolutionary struggle.
A Janus Films release
Restored in 4K by Cineteca di Bologna and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project at L’Image Retrouvée (Paris) from the 35mm original negatives, in association with Éditions René Chateau and the family of Sarah Maldoror. Funding provided by Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.
This restoration is part of the African Film Heritage Project, an initiative created by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers and UNESCO—in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna—to help locate, restore, and disseminate African cinema.
This very Ozu tale—his first color film—of a traditional father butting heads with his modern-minded daughter is as splendid and moving and aching as any of the Japanese master’s great works, with one beautiful composition after another.
Groundbreaking American female filmmaker Loden’s lone feature was a vanguard work, a totally uncompromised writer-director-star turn in which she embodies a listless young mother in Pennsylvania coal country who drifts away from her domestic prison and shacks up with perhaps the least glamorous outlaw in cinema history, Michael Higgins’s cantankerous “Mr. Dennis.” A deeply personal work by Loden, herself a child of poor Appalachia, an extraordinary clear-eyed expression of dead-end despondency, a life-marred document of a scuffed, sad, left-behind working-class world—and without question one of the greatest American films of the 1970s.
Two young sisters move to the country with their father and discover that the surrounding forests are home to a race of big, adorably plush beings called Totoros, who take them on a trip on a furry Cheshire Cat-like Catbus. A delight from beginning to end, and an international success that made Miyazaki a household name. Preparing the film, the director wrote: “My Neighbor Totoro aims to be a happy and heartwarming film, a film that lets the audience go home with pleasant, glad feelings. Lovers will feel each other to be more precious, parents will fondly recall their childhoods, and children will start exploring the thickets behind shrines and climbing trees to try to find a Totoro. This is the kind of film I want to make.” He did it, all right.