Children of the 1970s, do you remember flipping channels (or rather, turning knobs) late at night, only to stumble upon the image of a nightgown-clad brunette brushing her hair with her back to the camera? "Roses are red," she coos in a sing-song voice, "violets are bluuee" ... and she spins to reveal her shrieking skull! That trauma may have subsided, but the movie it advertised, Dario Argento's Suspiria, is a lot harder to shake. The start of the director's "Three Mothers" trilogy, Argento's flamboyant 1977 shocker remains one of the key works of Italian horror cinema, a runway show of splatter that snares an American ballet student ('70s starlet Jessica Harper) in a German coven of British and Italian witches.
The common rap against Argento is that his movies are pictorially stunning but dramatically stupefying, and it's true that you'll be asked to forgive a lot of lousy dubbed dialogue and stilted acting. But style is Argento's substance, and if you succumb to the fairy-tale logic of his plotting (convincingly laid out by Maitland McDonough's book Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds), the voluptuously art-directed movie has the effect of someone else's nightmare jacked directly into your neurons. "The only thing more terrifying than the first 12 minutes of this film are the last 80," the trailer warned, but that 12-minute opening — a schizoid scherzo that moves with sleepwalk relentlessness from an airport arrival to an ornate double slaughter — is a feat of cinematic brio. It's also so hair-raising that a few years ago a friend's cell phone went off with the Suspiria theme as his ringtone, and a roomful of Toronto movie geeks flinched as one.
The movie hasn't been shown in a Nashville theater since the century turned, and even then the print looked like it had been run through a cheese grater. But it screens at midnight this Friday and Saturday as part of The Belcourt's ongoing "Weekend Classics" series, in a rare print of the uncut European version secured from the U.K. Other repertory films on The Belcourt's fall calendar include Jack Nicholson's breakthrough to leading-man roles in 1970's Five Easy Pieces (also this weekend, Sept. 17-19); one of the most-requested titles in Belcourt history, the Kurt Russell-John Carpenter kung-fu fantasy Big Trouble in Little China (midnight Oct. 1-2); and a brief retrospective devoted to the late Dennis Hopper, including his infamous 1971 career-killer The Last Movie (Oct. 15-17). Seen in the refurbished theater as intended — projected on a big screen — these repertory titles give truth to the hoary adage: Everything old is new again. JIM RIDLEY
• The Films of Jacques Tati (Sept. 23-Oct. 7, Belcourt)
We feel confident in making this statement: You will never, ever get another chance to see the entire cinematic oeuvre of French comic master Tati in Nashville on the big screen. That's exactly what The Belcourt offers with this two-week salute to the creator of that wry observer (and occasional accelerant) of human foibles, M. Hulot. Of special note: his 1967 wonder Playtime (Oct. 1-2), for which the director-star hedged his fortune to build a carnivalesque version of Paris moderne.
• International Black Film Festival of Nashville (Sept. 26-Oct. 2, various)
The IBFFN's Opry Mills festival site may have been knocked out of commission by May's flood, but the growing festival found an alternative that may prove even better, with screenings on the Vanderbilt campus and events at the nearby Loews Vanderbilt Plaza hotel and Lipscomb University. Actor-choreographer-director Debbie Allen serves as honorary co-chair.
• Doctober (Oct. 1-27, Belcourt)
The Belcourt kicks off its 10-film month of documentaries with The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector and concludes with the loving exploitation-film doc American Grindhouse. In between are studies of men at war (Restrepo, Oct. 6-10), salutes to French suspense filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the one-of-a-kind Holocaust portrait A Film Unfinished (Oct. 22-28), and the self-explanatory Smile Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story (Oct. 11-13).
• Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story (Oct. 20, Lipscomb University)
Lipscomb's fine HumanDocs Film Series focuses on nonfiction films on a variety of social-justice issues, but none seems more urgent than Dan Birman's powerful portrait of Cyntoia Brown, the Nashville teenager who got a life sentence for murder at age 16 — a case that opens troubling questions about the inequities of sentencing and the handling of juvenile cases.
• Night of Experimental Film with P. Adams Sitney (Oct. 30, Sarratt Cinema)
Sitney, co-founder of New York's Anthology Film Archives, author of the seminal avant-garde text Visionary Cinema and a leading figure in the vanguard of underground film, hosts an evening of classic avant-garde shorts. Not to be missed.
• Nashville Jewish Film Festival (Nov. 3-11, Belcourt)
The fest has always had great appeal as a warm social outing, but it made a major boost in quality and ambition last year, setting a high bar for this year's festivities. Expect a mix of foreign films, indie comedies and dramas, documentaries, and visiting guests — along with the hearty noshes patrons have come to love.
• It's a Wonderful Life (Christmas week, Belcourt)
A holiday tradition that some teenage patrons have attended every year since childhood, Nashville's yearly pilgrimage to Bedford Falls gets more crowded and jubilant with each Christmas. And yes, you go right ahead and sing along with "Auld Lang Syne."
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