Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anthology Film Archives hosts another lusty Lustig fest: sex, sleaze and 70s genre stuff

That's the man: Host and curator William Lustig (shown above) is the film director of Relentless, Maniac and the Maniac Cop group, whose Anthology Film Archives series WILLIAM LUSTIG PRESENTS runs  from August 12 through the 20.  (Click the series link above to view the entire set of ten films, then click on each individual film for its description.)

Last summer AFA gave free rein to Mr. Lustig (and concerning this guy, that's a lotta rein) – filmmaker and founder of Blue Underground, that DVD label devoted to the, shall we say, more marginal genre films -- who shared his kaleidoscopic knowledge of seventies cinema (U.S.-style) and presented a line-up of largely forgotten or ignored-in-their-day crime, gangster and vigilante movies. That series may look in retrospect like a genre-film paradise – but this year's, to my mind, looks ever better, as it opens out a bit into what we might call "world" genre cinema. Alain Delon, Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo put in appearances, along with Jan-Michael Vincent; there's a pair of docudramas, one mildly terrifying (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), the other (The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover by the near-great Larry Cohen) edifying; a couple of star-studded European crime thrillers (see the poster for one of these, above), a lesser-known film by the legendary John Frankenheimer and another (Dark of the Sun by director Jack Cardiff) that seems to be "re-discovered" nearly yearly) .

Though TrustMovies had seen most of this year's group decades earlier, three of the succulent naughties had their premiere viewing by him via press screenings or screeners for this series.  Each is worth the time, trouble and relatively inexpensive price of a visit to AFA.  (Tickets run $9 general admission;  $7 for students, seniors & children 12 & under (though the kiddie group probably won't be the best audience for this series); and $6 for AFA members.)

Larry Cohen's THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER is such a goddamned interesting film -- in so many ways -- that if you missed it upon its 1977 release (it runs 112 minutes and will be shown in 35mm), you owe it to yourself to see it now. I've never met Cohen but from what I gather from his many films, he's pretty liberal and progressive. And yet, instead of giving us the broadside that many expected against the man who ran the FBI for decades, the filmmaker offers up a remarkably balanced, even empathetic look at this very troubled and even more troubling man.  Sure, the movie is a great gossipy provocation from the B-movie master Mr. Cohen.  Yet its screenplay makes clear how Hoover often tried to be on the right side (he was against interring the Japanese-Americans in California during WWII, and during the Ellsberg-into-Watergate period, when the Nixon crew asks him, re wiretapping, break-ins and the like, "If you can do it, why can't we?" he answers succinctly and truly: "Because I have no political ambitions, gentlemen, and that's where we differ."

As brought to life by Broderick Crawford in one of his better performances (and by the terrific James Wainwright as the younger Hoover), the man is driven but torn, confused but certain, however mistakenly, of at least some things.  You come from this film with a bizarre mix of respect for and fear of the guy.  As straight-ahead, rat-tat-tat as the movie is, it works because of its very even-handedness, ham-fisted as the hand sometimes is.  The scene of Hoover listening to a tape of a sexual tryst is weirdly disturbing and blackly comic, as are his two "run-ins" with ladies (played by Ronee Blakely in his younger years, and Celeste Holm in the later).  You feel for this guy, just as did the women who tried to help him.

The supporting cast is a vertiable Who's Who of Hollywood, from Michael Parks as RFK to José Ferrer as Lionel McCoy, Rip Torn as Dwight Webb, Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, June Havoc as "Mom" and the too-little-seen Michael Sacks as Melvin Purvis.  The possi-
ble sexual relationship between Hoover and Tolson is left open, but the indication is that something was indeed afoot.  The film plays Saturday, August 14, at 2:15 and Friday, August 20, at 6:45.

Somehow, though I was a huge fan of Alain Delon, I managed to miss Henri Verneuil'THE SICILIAN CLAN / LE CLAN DES SICILIENS upon its initial theatrical release. Made in 1969 and running a full two hours (this one, too, will be shown in an 35mm archival print,courtesy of 20th Century Fox), the movie is a smart combination of heist film and police procedural that offers enough clever incident and believable dialog to pass the time relatively quickly. Movies, and their editing, have quickened greatly over the forty years since the film was made, and this shows from time to time in the pacing and editing. We would not need to see quite as much as we do here to get the point. Otherwise, the film holds up quite well. Jean Gabin plays a Sicilian mob boss working quietly behind the scenes in Paris, Delon is a cop-killing criminal about to break out of police custody (this whole scene is a lollapalooza) whose dick get him in constant trouble, and Lino Ventura is commanding as the Police Commissioner trying his best to give up smoking. The shapely Irina Demick provides ample femme-fatality. With cinematography by the great Henri Decae and music from Ennio MorriconeThe Sicilian Clan plays Saturday, August 14, at 6:45 and Wednesday, August 18, at 9:00.

I had never paid attention to the work of Italian filmmaker Giuliano Montaldo (probably best known over here for his 1971 Sacco and Vanzetti movie), and I don't think that his MACHINE GUN McCAIN / GLI INTOCCABILI (from 1969) is going to change that much. However I am glad I trekked over to AFA for the press screening on a ridiculously hot day, because seeing the film, even in a not-terribly-good print, on the big screen and in its 2:35.1 aspect ratio was a lot of fun. Based on the book by Ovid Demaris, a noted journalist and detective-story writer whose specialty was the Mafia, the movie, manned by the presumably non-English-speaking Montaldo and his co-writer Mino Roli does not  offer a wealth of decent dialog.  However, its cast all do their level best to pump some life into the proceedings, and since that cast includes John Cassavetes (on poster and below, center), Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, Britt Eklund (below- right), plus Italy's Gabriele Ferzetti and Brazil's Florinda Bolkan, the movie remains immensely watchable. Simply seeing Cassavetes, Rowlands and Falk so young and gorgeous (well, the first two, anyway) is a trip in itself.  The direction is often near-leisurely, the pacing seldom varies and the musical score -- unless much of it went missing (the film's beginning and end credits were also nowhere to be seen) -- is ridiculous, appearing at the oddest times imaginable.
The music is said to come from Ennio Morricone, but from what we could hear of it at the press screening, that claim seems ridiculous.) None of this will finally matter to those who appreciate Cassavetes' and Falk's sometimes over-the-top arias and Rowlands' gut-perfect performance late in the film as a moll with heart, brains and courage. Machine-Gun McCain, 94 minutes, screens Saturday, August 14 at 9:30, Sunday, August 15 at 4:30, and Wednesday, August 18 at 7:00.

The AFA extends special thanks for making this series possible to William Lustig, Larry Cohen, Jared Sapolin (Sony), Ross Klein (MGM), Caitlin Robertson (20th Century Fox), Brian Block (Criterion Pictures USA), Pat Doyen & Daniel Bish (George Eastman House), and Marilee Womack (Warner Bros).

2 comments:

a fog of ideas said...

What a treat! Pity I can't see any of these movies right now (being in the UK), but this post has made me determined to track them down

James van Maanen, said...

Hey, Fog--
Good to hear from you, and I hope you ARE able to track, and more importantly view, some of these exemplary (in their odd way) movies. Lustig, I believe, sometimes travels the circuit to lecture and present films, and since you are known to organize things (but music fests, right?), maybe you could contact him and see if he'd be interested in coming to Blighty (that name suddenly popped into my aged brain: Isn't that what England was called in the "old days"?).

Lustig may have already done all this in the UK, and I am just out of the loop. But that would be one entertaining way of getting the films to your shores -- if they're not there already.
--Jim