Ken Cinema Mixes It Up For A Week Of Classics
Action, sci-fi, romance, and foreign films fill the bill at Landmark this week
Landmark's Ken Cinema is serving up another week of classics and that is always cause for celebration.
Although you can find a lot of films streaming to satisfy your cinematic desires, there is nothing that compares with seeing a film on a big screen with an audience. Fewer and fewer venues take the time to show old movies, so I appreciate that Landmark continues to let the Ken Cinema run these Film Classics Weeks. But from the ones I have attended maybe the reason is that people love them.
This coming week's selections make me especially happy for its diversity and for a couple titles that usually don't make the repertory rounds because they are neither cult favorites nor major mainstream successes. Here's the rundown of the eight films starting Feb. 2.
Friday: "Barbarella" (1968), directed by Roger Vadim
Before Jane Fonda became known as Hanoi Jane and long before she made a reputation for her workout tapes, she starred as the title character in "Barbarella," based on the naughty comic strip by Jean-Claude Forest. The film was directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim and the outspoken activist actress got to play completely against type as a space sex kitten who wants to make love, not war. The film is a glorious pastiche of kitsch and camp. Barbarella is a 41st-century astronaut who sets out to find and stop the evil scientist Durand Durand, whose new weapon of mass destruction, Positronic Ray, threatens to bring evil and war back into the galaxy. Fonda has never looked more fetching and the future has never looked more delightfully ridiculous. And male eye candy is also on display in the shape of John Phillip Law's well-chiseled body. The film is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Saturday: "Harold and Maude" (1971), directed by Hal Ashby
Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort make perhaps the greatest screen odd couple of all time in Hal Ashby's offbeat romance. Cort plays a young man obsessed with killing himself (but only in an attempt to get his mother's attention) and Gordon is a vivacious septuagenarian who likes to hang out at funerals. The film boasts a beautiful soundtrack by Cat Stevens (before he became Yusuf Islam) and is full of 1960s inspired anti-establishment, free-spirited love of life. This cult classic often plays the midnight circuit but it's nice to see it play outside of that and to be more widely appreciated for its great performances and genuinely sweet-natured charm.
Saturday Midnight: "The Warriors" (1979), directed by Walter Hill
Walter Hill is a criminally underrated director who brought a real energy and flair to violence in his film. "The Warriors" is a gang film stripped down to its bare essentials and then to stylistic extremes. The taunt, "Warriors come out and play" is one of the most quotable lines in the film. It's a simple tale: the Coney Island gang The Warriors are stuck in turf far from home and have to make the dangerous trek back past cops and rival gang members. Simple and elegant in design, brutal and stunning in execution. And so good at midnight with a crowd.
Sunday: "Rebel Without A Cause" (1955), directed by Nicholas Ray
Do you really need to be told why this is an important film and worth seeing? I hope not but just in case, it boasts an iconic performance by James Dean — he defined "teenager" in the 1950s — and exceptionally fine work by director Nicholas Ray. Dean often — and understandably — steals the show but Ray's work as director is not to be overlooked. He creates a teen melodrama but also taps into real social issues of the time. He also employs clever filmmaking techniques to convey Dean's point of view. Added attractions are Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper. And you can see what Tommy Wiseua stole from the film for "The Room."
Monday: "The Hidden Fortress" (1958), directed by Akira Kurosawa
Having "The Hidden Fortress" screen on the heels of "The Last Jedi" coming out is appropriate. This is one of the films that George Lucas cites as the inspiration for "Star Wars." But, with or without the "Star Wars" connection, this Kurosawa film is brilliant and a delight. Toshiro Mifune, whose partnership with Kurosawa produced the finest films of both their careers, is riveting to watch. His energy and humor may be a little over the top but that is who he is, he's larger than life and he fills the screen with his charisma. The film masterfully mixes action, drama, and comedy — with an emphasis on some physical humor — to tell the story of a defeated general (Mifune) that must guard a fleeing princess during the Japanese feudal wars of the 16th century. This is an epic comedy best appreciated on the big screen with the laughter of fellow viewers filling the cinema. The film is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Tuesday: "Paris, Texas" (1984), directed by Wim Wenders
This is a film of heartbreaking beauty and sadness. Harry Dean Stanton gives the performance of his long career as a man who has been missing for four years and returns to society to reconnect with his family. Directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard, the film plays out in a lot of silences as it looks to broken people trying to find ways to make them whole. The film also has a spare but rich score by Ry Cooder that captures the sense of loneliness with an American West flavor. The film is about not just dysfunctional people but also a troubled America. Wenders and cinematographer Robby Müller bring outsiders' eyes to this very American tale and that is complemented by the very American voices of Shepard and Stanton. This film comes at you in powerful emotions and the simplicity of its story belies its rich themes. The title, "Paris, Texas," signals that sense of contrast with Paris inspiring thoughts of love, France, city of lights and Texas bringing us back down to a grittier reality.
Wednesday: "The Crime of Monsieur Lange" (1936), directed by Jean Renoir
Screening in a new digital restoration, "The Crime of Monsieur Lange" is a perfect example of director Jean Renoir's elegant craftsmanship. The film marks Renoir's entry into the French Popular Front, an alliance of left-wing movements including the French Communist Party. Being the artist that he is, Renoir manages to deftly blend propaganda with comedy and drama.
Thursday: "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946), directed by William Powell and Emeric Pressburger
I had the privilege of seeing the 4K restoration of "A Matter of Life and Death" (aka "Stairway to Heaven") at the TCM Film Festival. It is not one of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's best-known films but it is a spectacularly told fantasy romance that involves a trip to heaven to argue for a man's life. I am not a fan of romance films but this one is fueled by such genuine passions and originality that it is impossible not to fall in love with it. David Niven is at his charming best as an RAF pilot who tries to cheat death. Surprisingly, the real world is in gorgeous Technicolor (the film stock of which was hard to find at the end of the war) while heaven is depicted in black and white.
There is something for every taste with this week of classics and I also urge you to expand your cinematic horizons by not just seeing the films you may already know and love but to sample films you have never seen and to see them first on a big screen with an audience. Film is best as a community experience.