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Concluding an exploration of race in America begun with Black Roots, Woodcutters of the Deep South describes the inhuman working conditions of lumberjacks in Mississippi and Alabama, addressing how racial divisions have traditionally been used to pit poor Black and white workers against one another, and how for the first time Black and white workers in the South had begun to band together in solidarity against management, posing a new threat in unity.
Against the backdrop of a ruined postwar Berlin, another conflict is just heating up, as Dietrich’s cabaret singer with rumored Nazi ties vies with Jean Arthur’s Iowa congresswoman-on-a-fact-finding-mission for the affection of American officer John Lund, one of the finest of Wilder’s many world-weary cynics. Wilder’s penultimate collaboration with co-writer Charles Brackett is a black comic delight full of crackling, piquant dialogue, and Dietrich, in one of her finest films outside of the von Sternberg collaboration, has ample opportunity to put her knowing slow burn to scorching use.
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A passion project years in the making and a blunt, forceful expression of Rogosin’s humanitarian vision, Good Times, Wonderful Times intercuts scenes from a London cocktail party with footage of war atrocities and destruction collected in a dozen countries, in spite of the constant budgetary worries.
With Come Back, Africa, Rogosin took the docufiction style of On the Bowery—and his concern with society’s disadvantaged and disenfranchised, as evidenced in that film—to c. 1959 Johannesburg, depicting the hidden reality of apartheid by sidestepping the local government censors he’d convinced he was shooting a carefree musical.
One fine day, prim and proper Maria (Goodnight Mommy’s Susanne Wuest) decides to unceremoniously walk away from her boring job, her inept husband, and her obnoxious daughter. Moments after doing so, she’s invited to participate in a bizarre and—as it turns out—potentially very dangerous sweepstakes contest, the rules of which are seemingly unknown to even its organizers, competing with a collection of idiosyncratic characters for the chance to win true enlightenment... and one slightly used habanero-orange compact sport utility vehicle. Dark as night and deadpan hilarious, with every fresh escalation progressing according to a warped logic that makes perfect (non)sense.
DIRECTOR: STEWART BIRD, DEBORAH SHAFFER 1979 / 90min / DCP
Perhaps the most feared and debated group in the history of American labor, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were open to all workers, race, gender, or trade notwithstanding, their motto: “Solidarity! All for One and One for All!” Surviving “Wobblies,” as they were called, were in their eighties or older when they sat for the camera for Bird and Shaffer’s documentary testament, but their memories of the early years of the 20th century are remarkably vivid, and when combined with archival newsreel footage and photographs of strikes, work stoppages and performances of songs from the IWW’s Little Red Songbook, they create a stirring, rabble-rousing piece of living history.
An undersung, terrifically taut psychological thriller from cult genre specialist Hodges (Get Carter, Croupier), Black Rainbow stars Rosanna Arquette as a travelling psychic medium who, during one of the shows she puts on across the Bible Belt with her alcoholic father (Jason Robards Jr.), foresees the murder of a whistleblower in a North Carolina chemical plant, drawing the attention of skeptical local journalist Tom Hulce—and the still-at-large killer. A potent and prophetic tale of corporate skullduggery, environmental abuses, and religious mania, ripe for rediscovery.
Mulligan’s final film returns him to the American South, scene of some of his greatest dramatic triumphs (To Kill a Mockingbird, Baby the Rain Must Fall). The story, set in 1950s Louisiana, is a simple one: 14-year-old tomboy Dani (Reese Witherspoon, in her film debut) falls for her new neighbor, Court (Jason London), and because of this, faces a hard lesson in love and loss. Tracking the shifting currents of emotion are everything to Mulligan, with the contentious relationship between Dani and her older sister (Emily Warfield) given just as much weight here as the budding romance, and each moment of heartbreak, confusion, and reconciliation leant a rueful rustic lyricism through the eloquent work of veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis. An achingly sweet, profoundly human movie.
“This isn’t a film about descending into madness, it’s a film about a woman struggling to fit into a predetermined role in society that gives her little if any room to thrive, try as she might. Gena Rowlands nails it, playing against ‘going crazy,’ she fights tooth and nail for acceptance, which begins to swallow and consume her. Her performance is so very personal to me—having had multiple experiences of watching someone whose mind is beginning to change while they’re actively aware of it, all the while desperately fighting it, without much success. It’s the raspberry trademark she gives Mabel that gets me every time.”—Lauren Williams
DIRECTOR: CAMILLE BILLOPS, JAMES HATCH, RASHAYLA MARIE BROWN 1982, 2021 / 51min / DCP
“For Mother’s Day, Alfreda’s Cinema screens two short works that carefully and compassionately expose the pain shared by mothers and daughters. “In my mother’s house there is still God,” says Beneatha Younger after absorbing the force of her mother’s backhanded blow, words from Lorraine Hansberry which reverberate through dysfunctional families. What’s seen to a mother as disobedience can also be a daughter’s heartfelt response, coming to terms with maternal pressure and the scars it leaves. Rashayla Marie Brown and Camille Billops are two filmmakers who use satire to explore the unspoken or miscommunicated exchanges between Black mothers and their adult daughters that often can wound both parties. We love our mothers but where do we draw the line when we can no longer shoulder the brunt of their will? “—Melissa Lyde, curator.
Reality is Not Good Enough (22min, 2021)
Beyond parody, Reality is Not Good Enough is a sincere investigation of the filmmaker’s mother and her failed attempt to become a reality TV star, as well as Brown’s attempt to redeem her experience as a film director.
Suzanne, Suzanne (30min, 1982)
Together with James Hatch, Billops weaves oral history and fictional re-stagings to create candid portraits of her family. In their first collaboration, Hatch and Billops comfort Billops’s niece Suzanne as she recounts harrowing experiences of abuse and heroin addiction.
Followed by an in-person discussion with the director, Rashayla Marie Brown (RMB), this program celebrates the life of film curator Michelle Materre.
“In celebration of International Workers’ Day, Maintenance Work considers the labor required to uphold the idyllic settings associated with notions of paradise. From Joiri Minaya’s Labadee to Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada’s Site of Sites, the films gathered here revel in the mundane, slyly swapping the fantasies of the West for the perspectives of those who are often kept consciously out of view.”—Dessane Lopez Cassell
Screening followed by a Q&A with Joiri Minaya
“With sly humor and acerbic wit, Labadee hones in on the gulf of power and privilege that exists between cruise guests, employees, and locals. Invoking the writings of Christopher Columbus as she pans over crystalline waters, Minaya invites audiences to contemplate the connections between colonialism and extractive tourism as they play out in Labadee beach in Haiti, a ‘secluded piece of fake paradise, tailored to the fantasies of those who can afford it.’”—Dessane Lopez Cassell
Site of Sites
“With melodic precision, Site of Sites captures the absurdity of the tropical fantasies peddled to tourists. Here, machinery roars as workers toil to build an artificial beach, while other employees contemplate the finer things that remain endlessly out of reach. Equally incisive and humorous, Site of Sites highlights a Caribbean mundane normally swept out of view.”—Dessane Lopez Cassell
Preparing to shoot a film about witchcraft, actresses Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, linger backstage swapping stories about past productions gone awry, sorcery, and burnings at the stake. Ego trips and technical problems lead to psychotic outbreaks on the set of Lux Aeterna’s film within a film, titled God’s Work, as the shoot gradually plunges into chaos—a descent which Noé tracks while employing split-screen effects, stroboscopic psychedelic imagery, and eye-melting neon courtesy of cinematographer Benoît Debie. A madcap comedy, an indictment of the compromises of commercial moviemaking, and an intertitle-laced meditation on filmmaking practice that explodes into a brilliant bonfire of pure, pulsating cinema.
“A cross between myth and documentary… Shaffer is able to construct a documentary that is extraordinary—one that is unabashedly partisan and still, at the very same time, one that is informative. Very much like the Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds… we see that the enemy is little more than a lot of people who look like us, with the same sorts of fears and ambitions, but with a commitment that is undeniable and unshakable.”—The Hollywood Reporter
Karina, Pearl, and Anthony are three New York teenagers in a radical poetry workshop called Power Writing that has a profound effect on their lives. Putting pen to paper, they’re able to imagine a future where fathers aren’t in jail, mothers are supportive, and college isn’t only a possibility for kids who come from money. The kids’ struggle to change their lives through verse is tracked by a filmmaking team comprised of Shaffer and three co-directors, in a film that celebrates the value of great teachers, of poetry, and of the empowerment of being able to write your own life story.
DIRECTOR: RENE LICHTMAN, PETER GESSNER, STEWART BIRD 1970 / 55min / DCP
Hot off the factory floor, Finally Got the News takes viewers inside the operations of Detroit’s League of Revolutionary Black Workers as they leaflet, picket, and independently organize to provide a viable alternative to the larger, often unresponsive UAW. A journey through the history of Black labor’s exploitation in America, screening with Taking Back Detroit, which records two card-carrying socialists, City Council member Ken Cockrel and Recorders Court Judge Justin Ravitz, during their rise to citywide office-holding power.
Bruce Lee was dead at the age of 32 when Enter the Dragon—a co-production between Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest and Warner Bros. intended to be his big break-out with American audiences—was released, but it wasn’t the morbid allure of tragedy that made him the biggest international Asian star the planet had ever seen. Lee was the total package: dashing, charming, tough as nails, and a whirlwind force when he sprang into action. All is on full display in Clouse’s sleek martial arts/espionage thriller, capped by a Lady from Shanghai-inspired hall-of-mirrors showdown with Shih Kien’s claw-handed criminal warlord. Blink and you’ll miss none other than a pre-fame Jackie Chan getting his neck snapped by the Great One.
A fairy-tale construction at once grim and florid that proceeds with the non-logic of a particularly pitiless nightmare, Argento’s best-known film finds Jessica Harper’s American ballet dancer newly arrived at an exclusive academy in Germany where she discovers a dark past and occult forces at work in the present. With some of Argento’s most perversely ingenious set pieces, a glowing stained-glass palette, a plum part for former Fritz Lang muse Joan Bennett, and a spine-tingling theme chant by Goblin that will haunt you to the grave.
Working in pre-Code times, von Sternberg’s adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel of the same name was permitted certain freedoms that George Stevens’s 1951 film from the same source, A Place in the Sun, didn’t enjoy, among these a candor when discussing abortion as a solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Telling the story of a triangle between social-climber factory worker Phillips Holmes, his co-worker Sylvia Sidney, and socialite Frances Dee, von Sternberg eschews Dreiser’s sociology, instead turning the film into a study of what he would call “the sexual hypocrisy of the [petty-bourgeois] social class.”
Hard-case NYPD detective Kirk Douglas is on the trail of a disreputable doctor performing illegal abortions, and his investigation takes him close to the edge—and to his own front door, as he’s forced to confront painful facts of his wife’s past. Wyler, working his deep-focus magic with cinematographer Lee Garmes, turned the precinct house-set source play by Sidney Kingsley into something dynamically cinematic. No less of an accomplishment, he also managed to find a way around the Production Code Administration’s usual ban on depictions of cop-killing and mentions of abortion, creating a vice-tight noir touching on aspects of life that Hollywood preferred to avoid.
DIRECTOR: CARL THEODOR DREYER 1943 / 110min / 35mm
Dreyer, who years earlier had put lead actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti to the torch in his The Passion of Joan of Arc, returned to the subject of intolerance and inquisition in this majestically grim tale of paranoiac accusations of witchcraft and unchecked religious persecution, set in the 17th century yet unmistakably commenting on the contemporary situation in Nazi-occupied Denmark. A stunning testament to the truth of Dreyer’s belief that “tension grows out of calm,” it’s at once an austere, haunting domestic drama, a crucible of souls struggling for transcendence, and an incisive, indicting psychological study of mass hysteria.
Bava had been in the Italian film industry for twenty years, working as a cinematographer, effects man, and whatever else he could do, before he got his shot at the director’s chair, and his early films are like dam-bursts of creative energy and cinematic wizardry. Black Sunday, his official directorial debut, is one of the most baroquely beautiful black-and-white films you’ll ever see, a story of witches, fiendish torture, and revenge from beyond the grave, which established Bava as a horror maestro, and star Barbara Steele as the Scream Queen du jour.
Fronting a robust ensemble cast that includes Mueller, painter Alice Neel, and O.G. underground superstar Taylor Mead, Gary Indiana takes center stage in this little-seen screen adaptation of his original teleplay—directed by collaborator Auder, with whom he co-wrote 1979’s Seduction of Patrick—playing a posh young queer kid new to New York who moves into his sister’s apartment and almost immediately gets sucked into the discordant social life of his new building. “A snarky retort on the Off-Broadway hit at the time, A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, Faggots is a hilarious platform for the pithy and scene-stealing cast.”—Dirty Looks
Having already exploited and exhausted every avenue of flagrant repulsiveness at a rather young age, Waters found a way to be still more objectionable by producing a full-blooded Sirkian melodrama. In her last appearance for Waters, Cookie cameos briefly as the victim of the Baltimore Foot Stomper, while the ever sublime Divine stars as Francine Fishpaw, a big-boned housewife who’s subjected to relentless humiliations by everyone in her family and social circle, believes for a brief moment she’s found redemption by way of a budding romance with arthouse drive-in impresario Tab Hunter, then finds herself facing still-deeper substrata of degradation. All of this, by the way, is very funny.
Before his tragic death at age 25, Reeves produced a historical horror that ranks among the best of British horror. As the English Civil War rages, Vincent Price’s psychotic inquisitor Matthew Hopkins terrorizes the countryside on a serial killing spree carried out under the pretext of doing God’s work. Price, usually asked to play things plummy and camp, is genuinely disturbing as the embodiment of Puritan hypocrisy and cruelty, and the film’s evocation of evil on the loose in the lush, idyllic English countryside leaves a mark on the mind like a burning brand.
Traveling circus freak sideshow Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions put on a sicko stage act—including an attraction who goes by the name “Puke Eater”—who also have a habit of kidnapping their audiences and sticking them up at gunpoint, or worse, in Waters’ shoestring budget second feature and his first full talkie. A star vehicle for Waters’ drag queen muse Divine featuring a cast of all of your favorite Baltimore Dreamlanders—including Cookie Mueller as Divine’s daughter—a cameo by the Infant of Prague, and a giant crustacean named Lobstora who gets up to some simply awful business. An early and surly work of bawdy blasphemy in bleary black and white, little-seen for decades, and difficult to unsee once it’s befouled your eyes.
Chow Yun-fat first made the jump to Hollywood with 1998’s The Replacement Killers, and had become a bona fide international star by the time he was teamed up with Seann William Scott on Bulletproof Monk, a wackadoo wuxia set largely in the modern-day US and produced by Chow’s old pal John Woo, in which our man plays a seemingly ageless Tibetan monk who finds an unlikely successor in the person of American Pie’s Stifler. Hong Kong-style fight choreography meets American VFX, bodies go flying in flocks, and a great deal of dumb fun is had by all.
Part horror film, part murder mystery, part pagan musical, Hardy’s cult film—once nearly a lost classic of UK genre cinema—follows Edward Woodward’s upright, uptight police inspector as the persnickety Puritan sets down on the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a local girl. On the ground, he discovers that he’s stumbled into a hotbed of pre-Christian Celtic worship, presided over by elegantly sinister local gentry man Christopher Lee, and that the “innocent victim” in this community where druidic sacrifice is still practiced isn’t who he thinks it is…
Inspired in part by the 1915 sensational trial of suffragette and birth control activist Margaret Sanger, this five-reeler co-directed by Smalley and Weber—the latter the pre-eminent female director in America when it was released—puts the abortion issue at center stage with the story of an crusading District Attorney (Tyrone Power Sr.) trying to nail a doctor for obscenity for distributing birth control literature, unaware that his own wife has been a regular with the local illegal abortionist. While hardly unambiguously pro-choice in the modern sense, Where are My Children? offers a scathing assault on male hypocrisy that found a ready audience—it was Universal’s biggest moneymaker of 1916!
Natalie Wood’s final Oscar nomination came for her performance as Angie Rossini, a Macy’s clerk who finds herself pregnant following a one-time tumble with irresponsible out-of-the-job musician Steve McQueen, who doesn’t even remember their tryst. Director Mulligan, fresh off his much-lauded To Kill a Mockingbird, shifts setting and style radically here, shooting on-location in New York City and with extensive use of handheld camera, giving a prolonged sequence that details Angie’s journey to the offices of a back-alley abortionist a stifling intensity. A sensitive, deeply human portrayal of two strangers forced into an uneasy intimacy through having to make a life-altering decision.
DIRECTOR: BENJAMIN CHRISTENSEN 1922/1968 / 78min / 35mm
Mad Dane Christensen, who appears in his film as both a physician and the Prince of Darkness himself, stirred up this heady brew of an “expose” on the hidden history of the occult from medieval to early modern times, told via a series of vignettes which employ re-enactments, animations, and ingenious early special effects to produce a bevy of Boschian imagery of grave-robbings, rabid nuns, and Satan-worshipping Sabbaths, combining to make a work that’s part mock-documentary, part proto-psychedelia circa 1922. Re-emerged as a late-‘60s campus counterculture classic with a William S. Burroughs narrative, the film screens here in its untampered and no-less-unhinged original silent version.
Having directed one of the undisputed all-timers of the ’90s wuxia revival with his 1993 The Bride with White Hair, Yu—years ago a graduate of Ohio University’s film program—headed back to the States, to be handed the keys to the foundering Child’s Play franchise, which he promptly rejuvenated with Grand Guignol humor, cinematic brio, and a whole lotta butthead nü metal on the soundtrack. Chucky and gal pal Jennifer Tilly hit the road together as a bizarro Bonnie and Clyde, leaving a trail of carnage and belly laughs in their wake. Pedal to the metal and tongue firmly in cheek, this is one wild ride.
“He has his father’s eyes…” Satanists are on the loose in Central Park West in Polanski’s slow-burn thriller, which slips almost imperceptibly from the quotidian into the profane, and gives new meaning to the phrase “pregnancy scare.” Young marrieds Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes make friendly with their elder neighbors Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer, but when Farrow’s harried and abandoned Rosemary grows isolated and paranoiac while expecting her first child, she begins to wonder why everyone is so very eager for her to take her daily dosage of tannis root.
By his own confession Waters never liked punk music half as much as its dumpster diving aesthetic and sneering, spitting attitude. Both these things are very much on display in his bad taste blowout, which follows fugitive housewife Peggy Gravel (Liz Renay) and maid Grizelda (Jean Hill) as they light out on the lam and arrive in the wasteyard shantytown of Mortville, a community of social outcasts ruled with an iron fist by the despotic Queen Carlotta (Edith Massey). A masterclass in punk sartorialism, concluding with an eruption of anarchic anger that represents the spirit of anti-authoritarianism at its finest. Cookie plays a character named “Flipper,” so named for reasons that are potentially offensive, but of course you wouldn’t be watching Desperate Living if you easily took offense.
DIRECTOR: RASHAAD ERNESTO GREEN 2019 / 86min / DCP
A steamy summertime romance between 17-year-old aspiring poet Ayanna (Zora Howard), preparing to head off to college, and a twentysomething music producer (Joshua Boone), leads to consequences that neither is prepared for in Green’s sophomore feature, shot on location in Harlem in sumptuous, rough-edged 16mm. Adept in portraying both the dizzying highs of young love and physical passion as well as the crashing comedown of real-world responsibility, with a sharp screenplay by Green and Boone, and performances that never strike a false note.
The Sundance sensation of 2014, Obvious Child provided a breakout serio-comic lead role to Saturday Night Live’s Jenny Slate, playing a recently dumped, slovenly stand-up comic who finds herself pregnant after a boozy rebound one-night stand with stranger Jake Lacy, with whom she’ll now have to face a difficult decision. Raunchy, romantic, and at all times deeply humane, addressing a hot-button topic with emotional clarity and a refreshing absence of hand-wringing. “Both funny and serious without trying too hard to be either, and by trying above all to be honest.”—The New York Times
A young woman, Christine (Sandy McLeod), lands a job as a cashier at a downtown porno theater, and soon finds herself inexorably drawn towards what’s happening on the screen—as well as other troubling fantasies. Writes director Gordon: “Hitchcock has used the cool blonde before, always as the object of the male gaze and fantasy. But in this case the traditional male role is reversed; Christine becomes obsessed with watching and following a male client. She is the sleuth in a thriller whose terrain is the language of desire.” One of the great independent films of the 1980s, featuring a who’s who of the New York vanguard, including Nan Goldin, Luis Guzmán, Spalding Gray and, of course, Cookie, appearing as a magnificently tousled barfly. Shot with grubby flair by Tom DiCillo, with an aptly sleazy-sultry theme from John Lurie, and a screenplay courtesy of writer Kathy Acker.
Maggie Cheung in the role she was literally born to play: Maggie Cheung. The Hong Kong actress is imported to star in a remake of Louis Feuillade’s 1915 serial Les Vampires directed by a New Wave has-been (Jean-Pierre Léaud), but then finds herself submerged in a strange world of flirtatious lesbians, bourgeois ex-radicals, Luc Besson admirers, and all-night raves, all the while becoming oddly in thrall to her form-fitting S/M catsuit, which lures her out onto the rooftops of Paris. A meditation on global cinema at a moment of transition, a comedy about filmmaking and cultural crosstalk, and a movie so alive to the textures of contemporaneity that it hasn’t aged a day in 26 years.
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.
Two seminal cinematic ceremonies from the occult high priest of the American avant-garde; two overwhelming, orgiastic sprees of pure sensation, with more unforgettable images in any given minute than many filmmakers pack into an entire career. Anger’s Aleister Crowley-inspired psychedelic masquerade bacchanal Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, a kaleidoscopic fever dream featuring high-ranking Thelemite Marjorie Cameron, opens the gates of perception; Invocation of My Demon Brother, a midnight mass with a Moog score supplied by Mick Jagger, marches right through. Gaze into the magick lantern, and walk away with your DNA re-scrambled.
Of course there’s the pulsing pop soundtrack and Patrick Swayze at his most pinup perfect, but don’t forget that this crowd-pleaser has the very serious subject of abortion at its center. On summer vacation in the Catskills, “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) swoons over sexy dance instructor Johnny Castle (Swayze), and starts filling in for his pregnant stage partner (Cynthia Rhodes), whose appointment for an abortion happens to coincide with the date of a crucial dance contest. Released more than a decade after Roe v. Wade but set in the early ‘60s, and a landmark for its depiction of abortion as a necessary right not up for debate.
Metrograph and DIS present The Short List, a collection of short films and TV episodes from the 2021 Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement in Geneva, curated by DIS and Andrea Bellini, which imagine worlds that differ from the one we live in today.
Byron & Shelley: Illuminati Detectives (Leah Hennessey & Emily Allan, 35 minutes)
Romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley are imagined as sex-crazed, drug-addled undercover agents of a secret society.
Everything But The World (DIS, 37 minutes)
A TV pilot for a multi-genre docu-sci-fi series, which departs from the premise of a nature show by turning the camera onto nature’s least natural invention: us.
Penumbra (Hannah Black, Juliana Huxtable & And Or Forever, 33 minutes)
An animal, representing all animals, on trial for crimes including “being disgusting,” in a dream-like confrontation between being and the law.