Devil’s Advocate: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968), which is streaming on The Criterion Channel at FilmStruck throughout the month of March, is rightly hailed as one of the best American horror films of the 1960s. It begins and ends with a mother’s lullaby but the unsettling story of Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse is anything but soothing. Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes star as a young married couple who move into an antiquated apartment building in New York with an unpleasant history. After reluctantly befriending some colorful and intrusive elderly neighbors (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), the Woodhouse’s lives are gradually transformed into a Faustian nightmare.

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All You Need To Know About The Crying Game (1992)

CRYING GAME, THE (1992)

If you didn’t see it when it first opened, there’s really no way to describe the visceral charge that went through audiences when The Crying Game first started to roll out in select American theaters just after Thanksgiving in 1992. Bill Clinton had just won his first presidential election, grunge was exploding, the Cartoon Network had just launched and Sinéad O’Connor was still in the public consciousness after ripping up a photo of the Pope on live TV. Moviegoers were experiencing whiplash with a wild array of films like Unforgiven, Basic Instinct, Wayne’s World, Scent of a Woman and Batman Returns turning into significant hits by year’s end, not to mention indie smashes for Robert Altman with The Player and some newbie named Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs. It was a strange time.

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Best Friends Forever: Girlfriends (1978)

GIRLFRIENDS (1978)

Claudia Weill described her companionable film Girlfriends (1978) with a quote from the Eleanor Bergstein novel Advancing Paul Newman: “This is a story of two girls, each of whom suspected the other of a more passionate connection with life.” Or to put it in modern parlance, it’s a comedy of FOMO (fear of missing out). Girlfriends portrays the NYC friendship between the Jewish brunette Susan Weinblatt (Melanie Mayron) and the WASP blonde Anne Munroe (Anita Skinner). Susan is delaying family life to pursue a career in photography, while Anne speeds into marriage and kids while putting her writing to the side. They envy the other’s freedom and security, respectively, and their once unbreakable bond begins to fray. Girlfriends began as a documentary project on Jewish American identity, with funding from the AFI, but instead Weill funneled all her research into an independent feature, one so well-received it was picked up by Warner Bros. for distribution. Though the set-up can be a bit schematic, Weill has the patience of a documentarian and allows the actors to build their characters from types into complex personalities (shooting on location in shabby NYC apartments helps with the verisimilitude). The cast is superb all around, from Mayron and Skinner to the men who pursue them with varying degrees of success (an anxious Bob Balaban, flighty Christopher Guest and a charismatic Eli Wallach). Girlfriends is streaming on FilmStruck, and is also airing on Turner Classic Movies Wednesday March 8 at 9:15am.

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Treasures Left Behind

THE GLEANERS AND I, (aka LES GLANEURS ET LA GLANEUSE), director Agnes Varda, 2000. ©Zeitgeist Films/

As of late a lot of my friends are purging themselves of records, books, movies and more. I’ve been the happy recipient of these spoils and, as best I can, I have been trying to give these items a good home. Something in this act reminds me of The Gleaners and I (2000) – a documentary by Agnès Varda about people who make their living sifting through that which has been discarded by others. Varda, who made her first film at the age of 26 (La Pointe Courte, 1955) and whose work was essential to the French New Wave, was the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d’or two years ago. Her work is infused with a deep intellect that is kind, ruminative and open to experimentation.

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Listen to The Boy with Green Hair (1948)

BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, THE (1948)

In 1948, director Joseph Losey made his first feature-length film, the beautiful technicolor comedy-drama, The Boy With Green Hair for RKO Pictures. Based on the 1946 short story written by Betsy Beaton, The Boy With Green Hair stars the great Dean Stockwell, Pat O’Brien and Robert Ryan. This post-WWII film undoubtedly attracted audiences, especially families with children, with its title and a shamrock-haired Dean Stockwell featured in the advertisements. Although the title and the opening credits suggest a fun-filled story, much like the live-action Disney films of the 1960s and 1970s, Losey’s film puts the spotlight on the very serious topic of war, its aftermath and victims.

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Is It Ever Really Easy? Blood Simple (1984)

BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)

It seems hard to believe, but the Coen Brothers made their debut film well over thirty years ago now. In 1984 they put together their own trailer, a trailer for a movie they hadn’t even made, and went about getting the financing to make the film come true. The result was Blood Simple, a crime thriller that was also a showcase for some of the best talent in the movies at that time, talent that, to this day, has never gotten its full due. But it also stands as a testament to how artists change, how they view their work and whether any of it matters in the final analysis.

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Creative Collaboration: Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988)

JaneBParAgnesV1988_6

When Jane Birkin (Blow-Up [1966], Wonderwall [1968], La Piscine [1968], Don Juan (or If Don Juan Were a Woman) [1973], Je t’aime moi non plus [1976], Death on the Nile [1978], Evil Under the Sun [1982], La Belle Noiseuse [1991]), Boxes [2006]) was getting ready to celebrate her 40th birthday in 1986 she confessed to filmmaker Agnès Varda that she had reservations about growing older. Varda, who was almost 60-years-old at the time, told Birkin that she was about to enter a wonderful phase in her life and asked if she could shoot a cinematic portrait of the actress, filmmaker, model and chanteuse that demonstrated her evolution. After some coaxing, Birkin agreed and together the two friends crafted the creative docudrama Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988) currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of The Masters: Agnès Varda collection.

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Every Day Is Like Black Sunday (1960)

BlackSunday1960_6

Okay, it may technically be Wednesday, but there’s never a bad day of the week to pay a visit to Black Sunday (1960), the grandmother of Italian horror films. Sure, the country produced a few movies with horrifying or macabre elements, most notably Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri (1957), but here’s where the magic really kicked into high gear and set the stage for a dazzling wave of phantasmagorical creations that would run well into the 1990s. [...MORE]

Workin’ Man’s Blues: Man is Not a Bird (1965)

MAN IS NOT A BIRD, A (1966)

Dušan Makavejev made his directorial debut with Man is Not a Bird (1965), a raucous portrait of a Yugoslav mining city currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of the Directed by Dušan Makavejev theme. Made with the full cooperation of the residents of Bor, an industrial town in eastern Serbia, the movie is filled with hypnotist acts, marriage breakdowns, circus routines and brief, bitter affairs. It is based on the real lives of people that Makavejev interviewed before shooting, while indulging the director’s love of the carnivalesque, injecting Makavejev’s absurdist humor into a film that, by subject matter anyway, inherits the tradition of the Communist social realist films of previous decades. But these worker-heroes, while awarded and celebrated by the local government, have made messes of their personal lives. Makavejev said that with this film he “was trying to explain that you can have global changes but people can still stay the same, unhappy or awkward or privately confused.”

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Pina (2011): Recreating the Stage Onscreen

PINA (2011)

If you have ever been to the theater, you know the exhilaration of watching actors perform live onstage. There’s something about it that’s completely unique. There is no equivalent in the cinema. By the same turn, the awe and grandeur of the cinema produces a different level of exhilaration, completely separate from the stage. When we watch the Death Star explode, or Popeye Doyle race beneath the elevated subway tracks of New York City, or Chief Brody get a big hello from a hungry shark, we know that’s something that can never be replicated on a stage and have the same impact. On the stage, simply seeing a person sing a song in front of you, or dance, or reveal their deepest fear or greatest joy, is a moment all its own. Pina (2011), directed by Wim Wenders, is one of the few films I have ever seen that replicates the stage experience and provides the best argument yet that cinema/stage fusion can indeed work.

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