Monday, April 30, 2007

Mazursky, Marvin, and more this month

I'm something of a lapsed member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I pay my annual dues, mostly to check out the competition at Film Comment magazine, its publication, and to get a jump on the New York Film Festival in fall. But I haven't been to a repertory screening at the Walter Reade Theater since December. It's not the commute; it's easier to get to Lincoln Center from Brooklyn than it was from the Upper East Side, which involved two buses, an annoying subway ride, a long walk, or a combination of all three. But as life changes, so, too, does moviegoing patterns, and when I have the time I'm more inclined to see what's going on at BAMcinematek or Film Forum than I am at FSLC, whose programs I used to copy-edit when I worked at Stagebill (has it really been five years since that sank without trace in the East River?).

I've noticed, though, that the organization has made its program more user-friendly of late, and that May offers a number of appealing cinephile options. I've often thought that Brooklyn-born filmmaker Paul Mazursky was overdue for a retrospective on his home turf, and thanks to the Film Society he's finally got one, from May 4-10. The five-time Oscar nominee, who started as an actor (appearing in Stanley Kubrick's first feature, Fear and Desire, in 1953), is probably as well-known today for his occasional appearances on The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm than for any of his writing and directing credits, which is rather surprising, given how popular (and how very good) films like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) and An Unmarried Woman (1978), the unacknowledged template for Sex and the City, were. My movie watching group watched his Bob & Carol followup, Alex in Wonderland, a few years back; it's marred by its Fellini side (including a cameo by the director), just as his later Willie and Phil (1980) leans too heavily on Truffaut for inspiration. Yet it's still an appealing mix of trenchant satire and a keenly observed appreciation of life's foibles, and beautifully acted. It's not in the Lincoln Center lineup, but three other looks at CA, Bob & Carol, Blume in Love, and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, which he wrote, are; the former remains as funny and freshly performed as it did 40 years ago, and Toklas has one of Peter Sellers' unsung (but still fascinating) "normal" performances, as an uptight Jewish lawyer unstrung by hippie life. All I know of Blume is that it is controversial, and unlikable, but the humanism that suffuses his best pictures does not always follow the straight and narrow.

The New York stories selected--Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Woman, Moscow on the Hudson, the cross-country Harry and Tonto (best cat movie ever), and the transcontinental Tempest, with its warm pairing of marrieds John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, are also on the bill. The last is a pretty flaky free adaptation of Shakespeare, but they are all Mazursky being Mazursky, which is all for the best. And then there is the sublime Enemies: A Love Story (1989), with Mazursky being Isaac Bashevis Singer, and doing exceedingly well by his source and himself. His latest, a Ukraine-set personal documentary called Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy, will also be presented, and there are numerous opportunities scheduled to chat with the filmmaker (an excellent DVD raconteur) himself.

John Boorman is expected to be on hand to present his fine 1998 documentary on Lee Marvin on May 11. It kicks off two weeks of Marvin films (May 11-24), including his two Boorman-directed features, the quintessential neo-noir Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific, which in its quirky way reflects the actor's World War II experiences. This retrospective gives the full measure of his career, from brutish supporting parts in The Big Heat and Bad Day at Black Rock to his surprise Oscar parodying them in Cat Ballou, and a string of leads, some well-chosen (Emperor of the North Pole) and some, well, not (the musical flop Paint Your Wagon, which has not improved with age, and the curious, sensationalistic Prime Cut, too wayward for cult infamy). He was not an ideal Hickey for The Iceman Cometh, but it is still a full-bore Lee Marvin performance, strongly supported by Frederic March and Robert Ryan, on their way out with last hurrahs. 1974's The Spikes Gang, directed by the late Richard Fleischer, is a surprisingly downbeat revisionist Western that really hooked me when it turned up on Showtime recently; maybe someone at Lincoln Center also saw it, and thought, wisely, to book it, along with some TV rarities from that facet of his resume. "The last of the great wintry heroes," wrote David Thomson, and it is hard to disagree.

All this, plus some a quartet from director John Schlesinger's transatlantic career and six screenings of a new print of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon around Memorial Day weekend. Time to bulk up my Metrocard.

No comments: