FISTS IN THE POCKET directed by MARCO BELLOCCHIO (1965)
Italian with subtitles
Running time: 108 minutes
Oh, I like Fists in the Pocket. I love everything about it. The era, the look of it, the style, his sweater, the girl's HAIR, the crazy story, the dialogue, the title, all of it! Wonderful! I'd move INTO it if it weren't such a crazy scene (and also not possible). I will tell you it's movies like these that got me into Janus Films (and film, in general), so I'll try not to drool too much talking about it.
I like how imdb.com states succinctly, "Ale, a deeply disturbed young man subject to seizures, benignly decides to murder members of his dysfunctional family for altruistic reasons." I never was good at the elevator pitch (surprised?) but that's a fun jumping-off point.
Fists in the Pocket shows a family on the outside of society, in more ways than one. All the grown children (but one) suffer from a hereditary seizure disease — the translation on the Janus film says epilepsy — and take turns caring for each other between violent and dangerous fits. That's difficult enough. But the aging mother is blind and distant, and epilepsy is not the only illness troubling the kids: they're all crazy.
The brother/sister thing going on between Ale (in an explosive breakout performance by Lou Castel) and Giulia (the Vitti-esque Paola Pitagura) is as uncomfortable as you could hope for, and the boiling-point vibe of the film sets you perfectly on edge the whole time. In one oft-revisted setup, there is a picture clear as day of Marlon Brando just over Giulia's shoulder in the frame, and there's no mistaking the parallel we are meant to draw between Brando and Castel. Oh, you do, all right — you get it, and you're not disappointed.
When I watch this movie, I can't help thinking it would be hard to get made now, let alone in 1965. It is cray-double-cray! And it's ironic that Marco Bellocchio would have his first major film largely funded by his family (and filmed at their estate) when the movie is about breaking down classic family roles and values, mocking tradition and religion, breaking standard taboos about love, sex, duty, society, life. Its debut here in the U.S. was in 1968, and the timing was right on.
I have a goat named Lou and I am going to pretend I named him after Lou Castel.
The Belcourt’s got some showing off to do. Having recently installed two new 4K digital projectors, the theater is now able to screen the highly touted DCP restorations that have been criss-crossing the country.
As a result, this month the theater has programmed four high-profile digital restorations. It started last weekend with Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (which people are still arguing about on Twitter and discussing in CL's comments thread) and continues June 15-16 with a Scorsese favorite, Roberto Rossellini's romantic drama Journey to Italy with Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders. The Belcourt even managed to wrangle the newly spiffed-up version of Lawrence of Arabia, which trumps the summer competition.
For this weekend's selection, The Belcourt has chosen another Oscar-winning classic, John Huston’s The African Queen. Yes, the romantic voyage of Humphrey Bogart’s grizzled Charlie Allnut and Katharine Hepburn’s prim Rose Sayer will take center screen 12:45 p.m. Saturday on a full day for the repertory house: The Secret of NIMH at 10 a.m., followed by Frances Ha, The Sapphires, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, and at midnight This Is Spinal Tap — with Tim Burton’s Batman screening outside.
At Time Out Chicago, veteran Scene contributor Joshua Rothkopf applauded the film:
The 1951 classic, about a cantankerous boat captain (Bogart) and the stiff-backed missionary (Hepburn) who radicalizes him into political action, has never looked better. A full digital restoration results in golden hues and crisp edges. (Widescreen fanatics, be warned; the movie was shot in the squarish dimensions of older TV screens.) Yielding to Queen’s spell is tantamount to enjoying the charms of Casablanca, to which this is an equal.
Already have weekend plans? No worries. The movie that finally won Bogie an Oscar will have a second, final show next Thursday, June 13, at 5 p.m.
Last week, Generation VHS went back to the hardwood to witness the epic matchup between Air Jordan and the monsters of Moron Mountain in Space Jam, which, in my humble opinion, is the defining cult movie of our series.
It’s paramount to this retrospective that we establish the grandfather status of Space Jam over the other film in this series, because, quite frankly, it’s the standard of what a cult movie can be within the bounds of Gen VHS.
But let’s continue our look past that fateful summer of 1996 for a lesser-known title (to those outside the generation parameters, of course).
Anyone growing up in the ’90s has an affinity to children’s programming on Nickelodeon. It’s like saying the sky is blue, the grass is green and Star Kid is a terrible movie (and a title I will NOT be covering. Seriously, even at the age of 4, you expect me to take your movie seriously with a tagline that says “Kick some alien butt”? Sorry, Tim from Jurassic Park, I’m not lauding that one).
The first cut is self-inflicted. Going into a situation where we know we can be hurt. With eyes open and using what we perceive as awareness and context as a shield, we let the first barb draw blood to acclimate, to get a base reading of how things are, to show we can handle whatever comes our way. We insist that we know what we're getting ourselves into, designing elaborate defenses and if/thens for if things deviate from our plan.
The second cut is very gradual, and it is born of routine. Consistency. And feeling like we've broken a pattern. We feel special, because the routine has inured us to the valleys with its dependable peaks. Just by being ourselves, we feel good about ourselves — the cowboy individualist stays the course and saves the day; cue the fireworks and power ballad love theme.
The third cut is the realization that it was all for naught, and that you bought the same line as countless others. You weren't special. You didn't manage to shake things up in a fulfilling way. And now you're back where you started, but burnt out inside and completely bereft of the energy it takes to give a shit and try again.
Those three cuts form pretty much the structure of every Lifetime movie, complaint-rock "love" song, and season-long romantic arc on any established form of episodic TV. But damned if Steven Soderbergh didn't find a way to make it all feel like something you've never experienced before, in what may be his last feature film for a while. Behind the Candelabra (which repeats on HBOEast at 11:30 a.m. today and remains available on demand) is specifically the story of pianist/entertainer/international superstar Władziu Liberace (but call him Lee, darling — everybody who's anybody does) and the few years he spent tangled up in the life of Scott Thorson.
Thorson, an aspiring veterinarian and animal trainer (no, not in the Siffredi sense — get your minds out of the gutter), started out beautiful and decent. But he ended up another casualty of love — a used-up trophy spouse who couldn't even take some degree of satisfaction from any sort of legal recognition. If nothing else, Behind the Candelabra is a valuable social tool for recognizing that rich old men, whether gay or straight, have similar patterns of behavior when it comes to beautiful people and things.
EXT. UNION STATION HOTEL
Wide-eyed hopefuls clutching battered copies of William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade and Syd Field books wander into the lobby. Shadowy figures shield their iPhones in dark corners, retweeting John August. A BARKER ushers them into the banquet hall.
"Hey, all you aspiring screenwriters that live in the greater Middle Tennessee area! Looking for a little advice on how to write the next great American screenplay from some industry pros? Brush off the old notepad and head on down to the annual Nashville Screenwriters Conference, taking place at the Union Station Hotel this Friday, May 31 through Sunday, June 2!"
ASPIRING SCREENWRITER stops and gives him a look.
"Man, that's the clumsiest exposition I've heard since the last Twilight movie."
To say that we're psyched about the Belcourt screenings of Heaven's Gate this Saturday through Monday is beyond understatement. A big-screen viewing of Michael Cimino's mangled masterpiece has been near the top of our wish list for years — and if you only know the movie by reputation as a punchline to a zinger about Hollywood turkeys, we suggest you read Jason Shawhan's first-rate piece in this week's Scene:
Yanked after a catastrophic week in one theater in 1980, it was chopped by 79 minutes and given a brief, widely derided release several months later. A few admirers tried to save it from obscurity: Los Angeles' legendary early pay-cable Z Channel programmed the film's full version in 1982, keeping the word alive. But the channel's own tragic story (covered in Xan Cassavetes' entertaining documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession) clipped its rehabilitation in the bud.
And so it was until 2000, when MGM released Heaven's Gate as a letterboxed, proper-length DVD. Awareness began to build about writer-director Cimino's maimed masterwork, which shows the journey of a disillusioned sheriff — played by Kris Kristofferson, that one-man incarnation of the many quirks and possibilities of what it is to be an American — from idealistic graduate to stabilizing authority to social crusader to helpless cog. In this new light, the movie looked less like an epic failure than an epic about failure. ...
[T]he mad specificity that drove studio executives and production staff to the brink of insanity is all right there on the screen, and the new restoration does a tremendous job of finding the balance between multicolored splendor and the original, muted dusky color palette. Thanks to unparalleled cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Heaven's Gate is a film that breathes with life. If these weren't the faces of performers we know from their esteemed bodies of work — Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, Sam Waterston — this could be some astonishing window into the 1890s. Dust, smoke, snow, breath, blood: Heaven's Gate flows like no other film, which makes its digital-only restoration somewhat ironic and ultimately alchemical. It upholds the photochemical process it could never hope to exactly replicate.
Seriously, folks, you don't want to miss this. More details here. Now where's that new cut of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America ... ?
Don Bluth may not be as familiar a name as Studio Ghibli's Hayao Miyazaki or Ralph Bakshi, but his place in the history of cel animation is just as secure. The animation giant began his days at Disney, working on such classics as The Rescuers, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood and The Sword and the Stone.
Fed up with the way the Mouse House was being run, Bluth led an exodus of Disney veterans and started Don Bluth Productions. The maverick animator is the subject of The Belcourt’s latest Saturday-morning retrospective for kids, which kicks off 10 a.m. this Saturday.
First up is 1976's Pete’s Dragon, an at-the-time groundbreaking test run for the live-action/animation interaction Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would nail little more than a decade later. My grandmother never put it in the Disney VHS rotation when I was a kid, but Elliot the dragon always stuck out during the few times I screened the movie — it was a unique treat to see an animated character so prevalent in a live-action movie. Despite my limited exposure to Elliot and friends, the film weaves a sweet “boy and his invisible dragon” narrative, and who can forget Helen Reddy’s Oscar-nominated tune “Candle in the Water?”
Apart from its live-action/cartoon angle, Pete’s Dragon doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way, shape or form. But it’s a special enough feat to lead off the Bluth retrospective.
Shot over four years — and using Peter Jackson’s mother’s kitchen as the main prop factory — Bad Taste features creative chainsaw art, a brain tourniquet, exploding sheep and gushers of gore. It’s showing this weekend at the Cult Fiction Underground at Logue’s Black Raven Emporium, Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. No outside refreshments from Crumb's Crunchy Delights will be allowed in theatre.
The last time we saw rising star Greta Gerwig in these parts, she was standing in the Green Hills lobby after a Nashville Film Festival screening of her 2008 breakout film Hannah Takes the Stairs. (I'd offer details of our conversation, but frankly all I remember is being somewhat flustered talking to someone I'd just seen naked.) Not long after that, her career took off and she started getting major roles in movies by Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach (as well as the romantic lead in the remake of Arthur).
Her latest, Frances Ha, which she co-wrote with director Baumbach, is both a star vehicle and a love letter to Allen's black-and-white Manhattan as well as the past half-century of French cinema, from Godard to Leos Carax. Thanks to the magic of Skype, she'll host a Q&A after the 7:30 p.m. opening-night screening Friday at The Belcourt. Watch tomorrow's Scene for Steve Erickson's review.
[Join Ettes leader Coco Hames as she moves through the Janus Films Essential Art House DVD box set one film at a time.]
FIRES ON THE PLAIN directed by KON ICHIKAWA (1959)
Running time: 104 minutes
Remember when I told you some of these films define their genre so intensely they come off almost as cliche? Fires on the Plain is one of 'em. 1959 Japanese arthouse war film? A broken soldier's solitary decent into physical and psychological annihilation? Picturing it? Good. You've got it! What makes this film definitive is that it seems to have influenced most every war drama that came after it. But you've gotta take a deep breath and pull out your patience before you watch it, because this film is RELENTLESS.
There's a menacing early horror vibe to Fires on the Plain, in the creepy way our soldier hero Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) mime-walks around the desolate Phillippine front of 1945. All the big adjectives come to mind when you watch him drag himself through the film: agonizing, staggering, desperate, harrowing, unendurable. ... As they should: This is a portrait of war, its futility, and the degrading and dehumanizing horrors that are part of that daily life. And director Kon Ichikawa shows us every single instance of that life's brutality. Every. Single. One. Gross.
I am not keen on war movies in general because I am too sensitive and get really upset, so it was tough to even put this film on, let alone trudge through it with these guys. But really, I was being a baby: Fires on the Plain is pretty roundly awesome. You do want to pull your hair out at points because our lead character is sick to begin with (tuberculosis, but not sick enough to merit staying in the hospital, which is why he has to go about meandering in the first place ...). And so it's difficult to watch because he can't walk well or speak well or even eat. Then all of his teeth rot out, so he can't even join in the eventual cannibalism ...
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