Hey there, disenfranchised moviegoer: Looking for strong characters, exotic locales and unfamiliar stories loaded with twists and turns you won't see coming a mile away? They'll be available all October — just not in megaplexes, and not in fiction film.
After a successful inaugural run last year, The Belcourt's "Doctober" month of first-run documentaries looks like a tradition in the making. This year's staggering 14-film lineup covers a range of subjects that shames the fare at the cinemalls, from the demons of chess' tormented grand master (Liz Garbus' Bobby Fischer Against the World, Oct. 11-12) to the backstory behind the infamous viral audio recordings of two feuding San Francisco alcoholics (Shut Up, Little Man! — An Audio Misadventure, Oct. 21-22).
In between, you'll find explorations of dead-tree media blues (Andrew Rossi's Page One: Inside The New York Times, which kicks off the series Oct. 7-9), the plague years of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco (David Weissman and Bill Weber's We Were Here, Oct. 14-16), and the resurgence of alternative transportation (Chris Paine's Revenge of the Electric Car, which closes the series Oct. 28-Nov. 3). In fact, the series' breadth is so sprawling that it may help to see the movies in thematically organized pairs.
Fascinated by the rise of the counterculture? Start with one of the most discussed docs of the moment, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Oct. 7-10), which juxtaposes Swedish news footage of Black Panthers Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael with their vastly different media treatment at home; then hitch a ride with the Merry Pranksters on their barnstorming acid-test travels in Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood's Magic Trip (Oct. 15-17). Need a little mood-setting music? Follow actor-director John Turturro on a tour of the sounds of old Napoli in Passione (Oct. 17-20), then wallow in the romantic tunes of The Swell Season (Oct. 18-19). Compare portraits of two equally driven but vastly different artists: superstar Spanish molecular-gastronomy chef Ferran Adria (El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, Oct. 16-18) and German painter/sculptor Anselm Kiefer (Sophie Fiennes' Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, (Oct. 19-20).
If you can only see one, advance word says not to miss Hell and Back Again (Oct. 23-24), although you'll get another chance next spring thanks to the ITVS Community Cinema program. (See Steven Hale's overview on p. 76.) Directed by warfront photographer Danfung Dennis, the film cuts between Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris' tense tour of duty in the Afghan War and his homefront recovery from a shattered hip — the latter, in many ways, proving a more harrowing test of his will to live. And life, in all its minute variations and facets, is what this series has to offer. For the complete list and more information, see belcourt.org.
Sept. 15-Nov. 2: Vanderbilt's excellent International Lens series — weekly free screenings of foreign and independent films, often with faculty (and sometimes the filmmakers) on hand to set the context — chugs along this semester with a number of local premieres. This week's offerings include the blockbuster Hong Kong martial-arts epic Ip Man 2 (Sept. 15), with Donnie Yen returning as the Wing Chun master, and Alexei Popogrebsky's acclaimed psychological drama How I Ended This Summer (Sept. 21), a two-hander about the growing chill between two Russian meteorologists at a remote Arctic outpost. Watch also for the Nashville premieres of Bruno Dumont's religious-extremism study Hadewijch (Oct. 4), the late Claude Chabrol's valedictory mystery Inspector Bellamy (Oct. 20) and Mamoru Hosoda's wig-flipping anime Summer Wars (Nov. 2), as well as a screening of the Cyntoia Brown documentary Me Facing Life (Sept. 24) and a special show of the Bollywood extravaganza Veer Zaara (Oct. 26) featuring an Indian meal at intermission.
Oct. 1: Space Truckers? (Pause for emphasis.) SPACE TRUCKERS? Yes, not only is the Nashville Public Library offering a free projected-DVD showing of this 1996 sci-fi comedy — in which the late Dennis Hopper says "negatory" to cosmic roadblocks and puts the space hammer down on his interstellar 18-wheeler — the library has recorded a podcast interview and introduction with director Stuart Gordon (of Re-Animator fame). You can 10-4 that on 10-1 — ahem, Saturday, Oct. 1. Coming soon: Award-winning horror host Dr. Gangrene giving a check-up to Joe Dante's cult movie The 'Burbs (Oct. 22), and Brian De Palma's delirious Vertigo riff Obsession (Nov. 19), with a podcast and intro from De Palma's former producer George Litto (Blow Out).
Oct. 9: Tickets are already disappearing for The Belcourt's screening of Dziga Vertov's 1929 kino-eye wonder Man With a Movie Camera, with the amazing Alloy Orchestra returning to perform its famous original score live. Those who saw Alloy perform its score to Fritz Lang's restored Metropolis here two years ago are still talking about it: Imagine Lang's dazzling futuristic visuals given a rocket boost of energy and electricity by live musicians. If anything, Man With a Movie Camera should be even better: It's a city symphony rendered in a joyous shoot-the-works bombardment of film tricks — jump cuts, backward footage, mirrored images, even stop-motion animation — and Alloy's score could outrace a runaway train.
Oct. 14: It's followed by one of the film events of the year, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's rediscovered 1973 science-fiction epic World on a Wire (Oct. 14-16), said to anticipate Blade Runner and The Matrix in its dystopian concerns. It's news here for another reason: Nashville graphic designer Sam Smith did the gorgeous movie poster for its national tour.
Oct. 31: A masked guest bids your presence this Halloween night: Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera, as the 1925 silent classic receives live accompaniment by organist Tom Trenney on the Schermerhorn Symphony Center's grand console. Discount seats under the chandelier.
November: A former student of Frank Lloyd Wright and a charismatic provocateur who resembled a white-haired, eye-patched sorcerer in later years, Nicholas Ray was a cult hero to subsequent generations of filmmakers, particularly in Europe. More important than the myth, though, is the work, which the Belcourt honors in a retrospective inspired by the 100th anniversary of Ray's birth.
The superb retro offers a compelling overview of a career that challenged and subverted '50s ideals of rugged masculinity and success, most notably in canonical titles such as Rebel Without a Cause, the gender-flipping Joan Crawford psycho-Western Johnny Guitar and his 1956 marvel Bigger Than Life, in which cortisone treatments turn schoolteacher James Mason into a snarling demagogue as monstrous as the giant insects in the decade's atom-age shockers. They're supplemented with seldom-screened auteurist favorites such as the splashy melodrama Party Girl and the startlingly bleak 1957 war drama Bitter Victory.
The last of these inspired the young critic Jean-Luc Godard's famous line-in-the-sand pronouncement: "Le cinema, c'est Nicholas Ray." Here's hoping The Belcourt gets the new restoration of Ray's experimental 1976 feature We Can't Go Home Again, which made a splash recently at the Venice Film Festival.
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