Wednesday, May 27, 2015


In the search for something different and elusive, fervent music lover followings and entire fan communities have been built up around forgotten music of the past, including Northern soul, English freakbeat, African funk, jazz behind the Iron Curtain, and South American psychedelia. One of the more intriguing and ultimately tragic music scenes to be rediscovered decades after its end is the Cambodian rock scene, brought to larger attention by essential releases like the "Cambodian Rocks" series (from both Parallel Worlds and Khmer Rocks, Inc.) and Sublime Frequencies' "Khmer Folk and Pop Music" compilations in the 1990s and early 2000s. Personally, I prefer the earlier compilations to later reissues, which often include newly-recorded mixes to disguise the poor quality of the surviving materials. Give me the pops and crackles and lo-fi quality. It all symbolizes the struggle these particular records had to get to our ears! Mixing provocative originals with unique covers of American pop songs, the smooth tones of Sinn Sisamouth, the emotional pleas of Ros Sereysothea, the garage punk of Yol Aularong, and the perky pipes of Pen Ran found audiences in the west for the first time. What makes their covers of western songs so unique is that they marry the rhythm and tune of the original with newly-written lyrics, sometimes referencing Cambodian culture and tradition, other times re-imagined as painfully romantic tales of heartbreak and woe, transforming a simple cover into something refreshingly different. Through these releases I, and others like me, fell in love with this special music; I developed a special affection for Ros Sereysothea, who I rank as one of music's greatest neglected vocal gems. She simply stuns me.

Director John Pirozzi spent nearly a decade completing Don't Think I've Forgotten, a documentary that I've been hotly anticipating since first hearing the fuzzy tones heard on "Cambodian Rocks" and coming up virtually empty when searching for information about who I was hearing. I don't envy his task of compiling the history of this obscure music movement; as detailed in the film, the imposing rule of the Khmer Rouge not only wiped out many of the recordings (which, thankfully, survive in some cases through rare 45's), but specifically targeted musicians and artists because of their public ties to perceived western decadence. Almost all of the singers and groups you hear in this documentary disappeared, never to be seen again; with the vast number of "disappeared" Cambodians during this turbulent period in the nation's history, it's impossible to trace the truth of what happened to them. It is evident they were killed, but how, by whom, and where will likely never be known. We hear survivors tell conflicting stories from different people who claim to know the fates of friends and loved ones Ros Sereysothea and Sinn Sisamouth, which must make the pain of not knowing even more devastating. Many of the surviving participants in the documentary are band musicians, including members of Cambodia's first rock band Baksey Cham Krong. While they could more easily deny their musical past in the interest of self-preservation, recognizable popular faces like those of Ros and Sinn could not be ignored by Pol Pot's regime. Perhaps the only female singer from the period to survive, Sieng Vanthy (who passed away in 2009) silently weeps as she tells of her lie about being a banana seller saving her life. She is also seen in insanely rare film footage performing in the 1960s with Yol Aularong and Pen Ran, neither of whom were as lucky...

But before we reach the inevitable tragic conclusion of the story, Pirozzi guides us through both a cultural and musical tour of Cambodia in the 1950s through the 1960s and early 1970s. Emerging from under French rule, Cambodia became a cultural hotbed under Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Sinahouk was such a supporter of the arts that he produced films featuring many of the nation's best musicians, and footage from these tantalizingly rare features is essential to the documentary's story. Western music influences such as the British Cliff Richard and the Shadows, French crooners Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan, and even American rockers like Santana merged into traditional Khmer music to form the Cambodian sound that is known and loved today by music aficionados. Singers like Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea appealed to multiple generations of music lovers at the time, while Ventures-esque guitar band Baksey Cham Krong and pop princess Pen Ran produced largely youth-oriented tunes to be played at go-go dance clubs. All the major names are heard and discussed, but extra exciting is seeing and hearing singers previously not covered in earlier surveys of Cambodian pop music, including Pou Vannary, whose cover of "You've Got a Friend" is just lovely, and the acid rock of Drakkar, music so heavy that it's jarring in comparison to their contemporaries. The development of the rock scene into nationalist anthems is also covered, as Sinahouk was ousted by a military coup and the nation fell into civil war chaos. Ros Sereysothea is seen in newsreel footage training with a parachute troop, while Sinn Sisamouth croons a tune encouraging listeners to not fear picking up a gun and killing. The history lesson becomes much vividly darker as the Khmer Rouge invades capital city Phnom Penh and evacuates its citizens to the country and the notorious "killing fields", leaving Phnom Penh a sprawling ghost town.

One of the defining elements to the Cambodian rock sound is the echo heard in practically all of the records from this period. The film offers a rare glimpse into the studio where many of these groups and singers recorded their work, revealing the design and structure of the single room where vocalists and musicians gathered around a single microphone. These echos in Cambodian rock music feature a ghostly glow about them, unintended at the time of recording, but hard to ignore when listening to these often astonishingly talented vocalists and musicians. Their songs simultaneously rock adventurous listeners while also becoming haunting specters of their earthly accomplishments. The music is bittersweet, but as the title suggests, how wonderful it is to be able to remember and love these artists in their sorrowful absence. See the film and, without hesitation, buy the soundtrack album, which collects together 20 of the best examples of the Cambodian rock sound with a photo-packed liner notes booklet. The four "Cambodian Rocks" are out of print and expensive, but in my opinion are worth every penny. Thankfully many of these songs are also available on YouTube for your listening pleasure.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My NYC theater experiences in 2014

Angelika Film Center (3)
June 2 - We Are the Best! (2013)
June 4 - The Immigrant (2013)
June 7 - Obvious Child (2014)

Anthology Film Archives (17)
March 27 - In the Flesh: Expose Me, Lovely (1976)
March 28 - In the Flesh: The Double Exposure of Holly (1976)
March 29 - In the Flesh: Sex Wish (1976)
March 30 - In the Flesh: Corruption (1983)
May 29 - Marcel Hanoun: Une Simple Histoire (1959)
May 29 - Marcel Hanoun: The Eighth Day (1960)
June 13 - In the Flesh: Misbehavin' (1978)
June 14 - In the Flesh: Roommates (1981)
June 15 - In the Flesh: Blonde Ambition (1980)
Aug. 4 - Klaus Kinski: Venus in Furs (1970)
Aug. 10 - Klaus Kinski: Salt in the Wound (1969)
Aug. 10 - Klaus Kinski: Buddy, Buddy (1981)
Aug. 10 - Klaus Kinski: Venom (1981)
Aug. 10 - Klaus Kinski: My Best Fiend (1999)
Aug. 29 - In the Flesh: The Budding of Brie (1980)
Aug. 29 - In the Flesh: Titillation (1982)
Aug. 29 - In the Flesh: Joy (1977) 

Film Forum (12)
March 26 - The Missing Picture (2013)
March 27 - The Complete Hitchock: Frenzy (1972)
March 30 - Tout Truffaut: Jules and Jim (1962) 
May 7 - Ida (2013)
May 7 - Othello (1952)
May 8 - Film Forum Jr.: The Red Shoes (1948)
May 8 - The More the Merrier (1943)
July 4 - A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Sep. 3 - The Conformist (1970)
Sep. 3 - That Man from Rio (1964)
Sep. 5 - Fedora (1978) 
Sep. 16 - Rome Open City (1946)

Film Society of Lincoln Center - Francesca Beale Theater (5)
Aug. 11 - This is Softcore: Therese and Isabelle (1968)
Aug. 12 - This is Softcore: The Image (1975)
Aug. 13 - This is Softcore: The Lickerish Quartet (1970)
Aug. 13 - This is Softcore: Little Mother (1971)
Aug. 13 - This is Softcore: Score (1973)

Film Society of Lincoln Center - Howard Gilman Theater (3)
Aug. 22 - Freaky Fridays: The Brood (1979)
Sep. 16 - Film Comment Double Feature: Semi-Tough (1977) & The Longest Yard (1974)

Film Society of Lincoln Center - Walter Reade Theater (14)
Aug. 22 - Strange Lands: Kin-dza-dza! (1986)
Aug. 22 - Strange Lands: Days of Eclipse (1988)
Aug. 23 - Strange Lands: Freak Orlando (1981)
Aug. 23 - Strange Lands: In the Dust of the Stars (1976)
Aug. 23 - Strange Lands: Eolomea (1972)
Aug. 27 - Strange Lands: Morel's Invention (1974)
Aug. 27 - Strange Lands: The 10th Victim (1965)
Sep. 5 - John Waters: Female Trouble (1974)
Sep. 6 - John Waters: Serial Mom (1992)
Sep. 6 - John Waters: Polyester (1981)
Sep. 6 - John Waters: Night Games (1966)
Sep. 7 - John Waters: Hairspray (1988)
Sep. 7 - John Waters: Desperate Living (1977)
Sep. 7 - John Waters: Killer Joe (2011)

IFC Center (8)
May 31 - Lucky Them (2013)
June 6 - Ping Pong Summer (2013)
July 7 - The Clock (1945)
July 10 - Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
July 10 - The Set-Up (1949)
July 11 - Boyhood (2014)
Aug. 11 - Queer/Art/Film: The Queen (1968)
Sep. 17 - The Trip to Italy (2014)

Museum of Modern Art (6)
May 21 - An Auteurist History of Film: McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
May 21 - An Auteurist History of Film Reprise, Part 2: Two Daughters (1961)
May 21 - An Auteurist History of Film Reprise, Part 2: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
May 29 - An Auteurist History of Film: The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972)
May 29 - An Auteurist History of Film, Part 2: Point of Order (1964)
Sep. 4 - Hat Check Girl (1932)

Museum of the Moving Image (7)
May 9 - Mizoguchi: Utamaro and His Five Women (1946)
May 10 - Mizoguchi: Hometown (1930)
May 10 - Mizoguchi: White Threads of the Waterfall (1933)
May 10 - Mizoguchi: Musashi Miyamoto (1944)
May 24 - Mizoguchi: The Famous Sword Bijomaru (1945)
May 24 - Mizoguchi: Portrait of Madame Yuki (1950)
May 24 - Mizoguchi: Osaka Elegy (1936)

Nitehawk Cinema (6)
March 29 - The Apple (1980)
June 12 - The Deuce: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
July 10 - The Deuce: S.O.S. Screw on the Screen (1975)
Aug. 4 - Martin (1976)
Aug. 7 - The Deuce: Hangup (Superdude) (1974)
Sep. 5 - Flesh for Frankenstein (1974)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


1902. The golden days of the "old west" are dead (if, in fact, they ever existed). The Industrial Revolution is well underway. In the mountains of Washington state is a shantytown centered around a filthy saloon/hotel, where the snow and mud never seems to end. This is where the title characters meet, opportunistic John McCabe and seasoned professional whore Constance Miller, surrounded by bearded men who haven't seen in a bath in months and a trio of hookers with little experience and even less sex appeal. This is a western? A mere two years after Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (both 1969), it's not surprising that Warner Brothers not only balked when distinctive director Robert Altman delivered his final cut, but had no idea how to market this genre-defying oddity. Naturally it did poor business. The years have been kind, however, to McCabe & Mrs. Miller. As in many Altman films, the overlapping dialogue and lack of discernible storyline  take some getting used to at first, but patience will be rewarded with a film virtually like no other.

Altman gives us the barest of storylines: McCabe comes into the filthy mountain town, establishing himself as a fabled gunfighter and a skilled card shark before setting up a piss-poor excuse for a whorehouse. After riding the girls into town (juxtaposed with a cross being erected at the top of the newly built church), the women set up shop in outdoor tents; one goes nuts and tries to stab a john to death. Enter Mrs. Miller, a British import with vast experience in the cathouse game, who partners with McCabe to build a bigger, better house of pleasure for the town's men. This all threatens to fall apart when a mining company makes an offer to buy McCabe's share of the town, an offer he refuses at his peril, as the company is known for hiring professional gunmen to plug a bullet into anyone they can't reason with. This synopsis makes McCabe sound far more intricately plotted than it really is. The dialogue is tough and memorable, the characters complex and sharply drawn, but story is secondary to mood and atmosphere, captured splendidly in the film's isolated Canadian wilderness locations. Imagine Altman's M*A*S*H* in the early 20th-century in the dying west, minus the gallows humor, and you have a pretty fair idea of what to expect from this film. Altman cast one of Hollywood's most handsome leading men, Warren Beatty, in a role that is perhaps his best work, and Julie Christie gives a mesmerizing performance that shows off quite a bit of range, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. The cast includes a number of Altman favorite regulars, including Shelley Duvall, Michael Murphy, Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, John Schuck, Corey Fischer, Hugh Millais (perfection as the smarmy killer), and Bert Remsen.

Judging by the number of walk-outs during the film at today's screening, it might be safe to say that this unusual Altman film is still a polarizing work and not the established masterpiece we film folk rightly believe it to be. It is barely a western, even in superficial terms, taking place in a locale several hundred miles north of the usual genre locations; the climax of the film takes place amidst swirling snow. Our protagonist is not much of a hero, or an anti-hero for that matter, and his heroine transforms from strong-willed business partner to uneasy drug addict. Both of them are at their lowest points by the finale. But that's what makes McCabe so interesting. Besides the gob-smacking visual style courtesy of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, its deconstruction of western mythos makes it perhaps the most original revisionist western of the 1970s. There are nods to genre film classics that may be easy to overlook amidst all the grime and discomfort. As in The Gunfighter, among others, McCabe is presented as a man with a past he's trying to leave behind. This past turns out to be pure folklore. As in High Noon, no one helps McCabe duke it out with the assassins sent to take him out, but to be fair, they're a little occupied trying to put out a fire that threatens to destroy the town church. The town forges on without him, making his survival by the end credits vastly unimportant. Business will continue as usual without him, leaving him behind in the wake of "progress". The film's most gut-wrenching scene actually recalls a pretty consistent western trope, wherein a naive young man is tricked into pulling out his gun, then shot in cold blood for sport. That is the best of many scenes that will stick with you once the credits roll.

Adding another love-it or hate-it element to the film is the score by Leonard Cohen, made up of acoustic folk songs with lyrics that sound improvised on the spot, with a kind of rambling weariness that fits in perfectly with the rundown atmosphere of the film. While watching the film, I was reminded of the unusual scrubbed-clean musical western Paint Your Wagon from two years previous. There are obvious similarities in characterizations and narrative elements, but McCabe is without doubt much more interested in brutal realism over genre escapism.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is showing twice more this week, Thursday and Friday at 1:30 in MoMA's Theater 3. See it!

Friday, May 9, 2014

OTHELLO (1952)

Orson Welles may be the only classic Hollywood auteur who has a following for what he almost accomplished. The man was seemingly incapable of delivering a complete masterpiece, full of false starts and moments of genius in films unfortunately damaged by his massive ego. Even Citizen Kane is not the perfect film as many claim, though it is certainly his best. Witness Othello, a film that took three years to complete yet still feels rushed in many spots. Welles' connections to Shakespeare went back to his youthful theatrical days, when he was mounting an all-black production of "Macbeth" (where Welles, as an understudy, first performed in blackface, as he does here) and a fascist Italy variation of "Julius Caesar". There are moments of that rebellious Welles to be found in this troubled production, even if you sometimes blink and miss them. The most noteworthy must be his re-imagining of the Cassio assassination attempt, now set in a bathhouse due to a costuming snafu leaving the production without the proper attire for the sequence. Welles, in a moment of creative innovation, clad his actors in towels and carried on with the shoot. Time is money. The entire production history was recounted in star Michael MacLiammoir's book "Put Money in Thy Purse". If it's anything like his performance of Iago, it must be sinfully good, campy reading.

Whatever misgivings there are about this film, it remains the best screen version of Shakespeare's tale of treachery and marital jealousy, which ultimately says more about the other lackluster approaches to the material. Its ragged production history shows, especially in bewildering editing choices that would make Doris Wishman blush in embarrassment and unfortunate post-dubbing that will look familiar to fans of low-budget Italian exploitation films. But emerging triumphant through the production errors are the sterling performances of Welles as Othello, bold and bombastic as the role should be played; MacLiammoir, slimy and reptilian, holding a little dog as a Bond villain would stroke his cat; Robert Coote, the perfect simpleton Roderigo. The right actors reciting Shakespeare's prose makes all the difference in the appreciation of the work. Where the film soars and everything works is the final act, including the bedroom scene between Othello and Desdemona. The suspense is palpable, the lighting moody, the editing taut. It makes one wonder why Welles never attempted to make a pure horror film. This surely is the mood and scene delivery Shakespeare dreamed of when the bard envisioned the original play. The wonderful Fay Compton, familiar from so many Hollywood film character roles, is given her chance to shine in the final act as Desdemona's maid, Emilia.

Welles' Othello is a fascinating mess, with flaws aplenty that actually contribute to its charm and appeal. The dubbing, often teased by critics, gives the whole affair a distinctive otherworldly ambiance, and some of the awkward editing beneficially amps up the pacing. Especially worth noting, the cinematography is a startling thing of beauty, capturing the gorgeous sets and scenery in a lavish and cost-effective way. Any other shortcomings are very easy to overlook when they're presented in such pretty wrapping paper. And I have to give Welles all the credit in the world for doing what often feels impossible in movieland: making something cinematic and captivating out of traditionally stage-bound Shakespeare plays. Very few films are able to pull this off. Welles' Othello certainly does. The film is currently touring the US in a new restored version courtesy of Carlotta Films. You should go out of your way to experience what all the fuss is about. I imagine you will be pleasantly surprised. See it.

IDA (2013)

Playing at Film Forum is a little film from Poland called IDA, which is doing the nigh impossible. Through quiet, thoughtful observations of two women from a family destroyed by the Holocaust, it approaches the historical tragedy from a very different perspective, disquieting because of what it doesn't show or say but what is often left unspoken. Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski chooses his words carefully,  or abandons them altogether, as he follows the mismatched pair through small villages and cold forests on a quest for the truth behind a painful family secret.

Shot in stark black and white, IDA perfectly captures the bleak hopelessness of Communist Eastern Europe as it existed for decades and in some cases still endures if you go off the beaten path in former Soviet satellite nations. The atmosphere is still permeated with the aura of tragic recovery that this film vividly captures so well. The sky is perpetually overcast, the landscapes barren and forboding. The cities are largely empty, reminders of the previous generations extinguished decades previously. Photographed primarily in motionless single shots, the film at times resembles a series of aged snapshots of a time long past. The unpaved roads, the jazz band (the genre became very popular in Soviet Europe), the suspicious citizens, it's all so eerily accurate. And what of these women? The title character, Ida (or Anna, her adoptive name), is discovering the truth of her identity after being raised and nurtured into a life of nunnery in a convent. In the first scene, she learns she is in fact not an orphan and has one surviving relative, an aunt named Wanda. The mother superior insists that Anna visit Wanda and stay with her as long as she needs before taking her final vows. Their first encounter is awkward, almost confrontational. Wanda reveals that Anna is in fact named Ida, and she is Jewish, the sole descendant of a family exterminated during the war. Wanda has become a Soviet judge, sentencing enemies of the state to death, but seeing her niece, who is a dead ringer for her deceased mother, brings back vivid memories of her lost family and an important crime whose culprits she has never brought to justice.

First-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska is appropriately angelic and curious for the role, and makes a large impression with those deep searching eyes, but it is the cast's other Agata, Agata Kulesza, who runs away with the film as Wanda. Her character is sardonic, bitter, driven by anger and self-hatred, and absolutely captivating throughout all of her moods. Kulesza has won two Best Actress awards on the festival circuit and in a more just world she would be in the running for an Oscar. It's one of the most moving performances you'll see this year.

I'm positive that the ending of the film will divide viewers down the middle. Personally I hope to see the film again soon to catch the nuances and moments I may have missed, and to re-evaluate how I feel about the paths of Wanda and Ida by the rolling of the credits. The fact that you will keep thinking about this film days later is a testament to its very effective dramatic power. There is a narrative moment involving a stained glass window that left me breathless. Cutting through many other releases of grander scope and scale, IDA has quickly vaulted to the front of my list of favorite films of the year. See it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My NYC theater experiences in 2013

Presenting a report on my New York City theatrical experiences in the calendar year of 2013.

Top 10 Repertory Experiences of 2013:

Note: I am not counting the "In the Flesh" series because of personal involvement. Otherwise it would have obviously been #1 :D

10. Mods Go to the Movies: Scopitones! (Anthology Film Archives)
9. Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Jason and the Argonauts w/ The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Thing from Another World w/ It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Strait-Jacket w/ Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Things to Come w/ Just Imagine, Alien, Aliens, Curse of the Demon w/ Cat People (Film Forum)
8. Allan Dwan: While Paris Sleeps, One Mile from Heaven, Trail of the Vigilantes, Woman They Almost Lynched (Museum of Modern Art)
7. Sidewalk Stories (Film Forum)
6. Wild at Heart (BAM Cinematek)
5. That's Sexploitation!: A Smell of Honey a Swallow of Brine, Double Agent 73, The Pickup (Anthology Film Archives)
4. Yasujiro Ozu: An Inn in Tokyo, The Only Son, The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family, What Did the Lady Forget?, The Munekata Sisters, A Hen in the Wind (Film Forum)
3. Antoine and Antoinette (Film Forum)
2. The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Mudhoney, Vixen!, Supervixens, Motor Psycho, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill, Blacksnake (Anthology Film Archives)
1.  20th Century Fox Classics: 3 Women, Valley of the Dolls, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (Walter Reade)

Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives once again tie for me as the best repertory theaters of 2013.

Movies by Theater:

Those marked in red were bad experiences due to patrons, print issues, or the movie itself.
Those marked in gold were among the best/most memorable experiences I had in 2013.

AMC Loews 7 (2)
May 14 - Mud (2012)
Aug 2 - The Conjuring (2013)

Angelika Film Center (13)
March 18 - No (2012)
March 19 - Ginger and Rosa (2012)
March 19 - Koch (2012)
May 8 - What Maisie Knew (2012)
May 8 - Renoir (2012)
May 10 - Stories We Tell (2012)

May 29 - We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (2013)
June 19 - 20 Feet from Stardom (2013)
June 27 - Before Midnight (2013)
June 29 - The Attack (2012)
July 24 - Only God Forgives (2013)
Aug. 1 - Blue Jasmine (2013)
Sept. 26 - Enough Said (2013) 

Anthology Film Archives (28)
May 14 - Overdue: Delmer Daves: The Red House (1947)
May 14 - Overdue: Delmer Daves: Cowboy (1958)
May 16 - Overdue: Delmer Daves: The Last Wagon (1956) 
June 6 - Unessential Cinema: Really Bad Prints 
July 11 - Unessential Cinema: United Artists Theaters Training Videos
Aug. 3 - Mods Go to the Movies: Scopitones! 
Aug. 3 - Mods Go to the Movies: Having a Wild Weekend (1965)
Aug. 5 - Mods Go to the Movies: Just for Fun (1963) 
Aug. 16 - The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Mudhoney (1965)
Aug. 17 - The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Vixen (1968)
Aug. 17 - The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Aug. 17 - The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Supervixens (1975) 
Aug. 18 - The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Motor Psycho (1965)
Aug. 18 - The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill (1965) 
Aug. 21 - That's Sexploitation!: That's Sexploitation! (2013)
Aug. 21 - That's Sexploitation!: A Smell of Honey, a Swallow of Brine (1967)
Aug. 22 - The Glandscape Artist - Russ Meyer: Blacksnake! (1973)
Aug. 27 - That's Sexploitation!: Street Corner (1948)
Aug. 27 - That's Sexploitation!: Olga's House of Shame (1964)
Aug. 28 - That's Sexploitation!: Let Me Die a Woman (1978)
Aug. 28 - That's Sexploitation!: Double Agent 73 (1974)
Aug. 29 - That's Sexploitation!: Hot-Blooded Woman (1965)
Aug. 29 - That's Sexploitation!: The Pickup (1969)
Nov. 12 - The Gilgo Beach Murders (2013)
Dec. 5 - In the Flesh: High Rise (1973)
Dec. 6 - In the Flesh: Through the Looking Glass (1976)
Dec. 7 - In the Flesh: Take Off (1978)
Dec. 8 - In the Flesh: Wanda Whips Wall Street (1981)

BAM Cinematek (1)
May 11 - Booed at Cannes: Wild at Heart (1990)

Chelsea Clearview (2)
Aug. 8 - Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) w/ Hedda Lettuce
Aug. 9 - The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Cinema Village (4) 
Aug. 3 - Fill the Void (2012)
Aug. 12 - The Hunt (2012)
Aug. 14 - The Machine Which Makes Things Disappear (2012)
Aug. 27 - Blackfish (2013)

City Cinemas Village East (4)
May 12 - The Sapphires (2012)
May 12 - The Painting (2011) 
July 30 - Fruitvale Station (2013) 
Aug. 31 - We're the Millers (2013)

Film Forum (51)
March 18 - M (1931)
May 7 - Voyage to Italy (1954)
May 9 - Post Tenebras Lux (2012)
June 10 - Yasujiro Ozu: The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)
June 13 - Yasujiro Ozu: An Inn in Tokyo (1935) & The Only Son (1936)
June 20 - Yasujiro Ozu: The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941) & What Did the Lady Forget? (1937) 
June 24 - Yasujiro Ozu: The Munekata Sisters (1950)
June 27 - Yasujiro Ozu: A Hen in the Wind (1948)
Aug. 9 - Intolerance (1916)
Aug. 9 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Aug. 13 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Jason and the Argonauts (1963) & The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Aug. 14 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Kronos (1957) & Invaders from Mars (1953)
Aug. 15 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: The Thing from Another World (1951) & It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958)
Aug. 16 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Mothra (1962) & Gojira (1954)
Aug. 18 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: The Mad Magician (1954) in 3-D! w/ Spooks (1953)
Aug. 18 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: The Tingler (1958) & Homicidal (1961)
Aug. 20 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) & First Men in the Moon (1964)
Aug. 21 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: It Conquered the World (1956) & I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Aug. 22 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Strait Jacket (1964) & What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Aug. 27 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) & Mysterious Island (1961)
Aug. 28 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Things to Come (1936) & Just Imagine (1930)
Aug. 31 - Alien (1979)
Aug. 31 - Son of Summer Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: The Howling (1981)
Sep. 1 - Son of Summer, Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Quatermass and the Pit (1968) & Village of the Damned (1960)
Sep. 3 - Aliens (1986)
Sep. 3 - Son of Summer, Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) & It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
Sep. 5 - Son of Summer, Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror: Curse of the Demon (1957) & Cat People (1942)
Sep. 6 - Contempt (1963)
Sept. 27 - Antoine and Antoinette (1947)
Nov. 12 - The Freshman (1925)
Nov. 12 - Sidewalk Stories (1989)
Dec. 4 - Sandra (1965)
Dec. 4 - Mauvais Sang (1986)
Dec. 6 - Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman (1931)
Dec. 7 - Stanwyck: Double Indemnity (1944)

IFC Center (21)
March 20 - 56 Up (2012)
May 7 - The Source Family (2012)
May 9 - Room 237 (2012)
May 11 - From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
May 14 - Portrait of Jason (1967)
May 18 - Frances Ha (2012) x5

June 4 - Performance (1970)
June 8 - Dirty Wars (2013)
June 21 - Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
July 12 - Crystal Fairy (2013)
Aug. 11 - The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Aug. 11 - Zipper: Coney Island's Last Ride (2012) 
Aug. 16 - The Swarm (1978)
Aug. 20 - This is Martin Bonner (2012) 
Aug. 30 - Passion (2012)
Aug. 31 - Our Nixon (2013)
Sept. 27 - The Wicker Man: The Final Cut (1973)

Landmark Sunshine (7)

May 16 - In the House (2012)
May 16 - Sightseers (2012)
June 6 - Shadow Dancer (2012)
July 11 - I'm So Excited (2013)
Aug. 29 - Short Term 12 (2013)
Aug. 29 - The Spectacular Now (2013)
Aug. 30 - In a World... (2013)

Lincoln Center (Walter Reade) (3)
Aug. 10 - Fasten Your Seatbelts (Part 2): 20th Century Fox: 3 Women (1977)
Aug. 10 - Fasten Your Seatbelts (Part 2): 20th Century Fox: Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Aug. 15 - Fasten Your Seatbelts (Part 2): 20th Century Fox: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Museum of Modern Art (22)
May 10 - An Auteurist History of Film: The Cry (1957)
May 15 - An Auteurist History of Film: Les Cousins (1959)
May 15 - Chinese Realities/Documentary Visions: Old Dog (2011)
May 20 - Celeste Bartos: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

June 6 - An Auteurist History of Film: The 400 Blows (1959)
June 8 - Allan Dwan: Man to Man (1930)
June 8 - Allan Dwan: The Half-Breed (1916) & A Modern Musketeer (1917)
June 9 - Allan Dwan: Chances (1931)
June 9 - Allan Dwan: The Mother of the Ranch (1911) & David Harum (1915)
June 12 - Allan Dwan: One Mile from Heaven (1937)
June 12 - Allan Dwan: Zaza (1923) 
June 15 - Allan Dwan: While Paris Sleeps (1932)
June 21 - Allan Dwan: Trail of the Vigilantes (1940)
June 22 - Allan Dwan: Wicked (1931) & 15 Maiden Lane (1936)
June 23 - Allan Dwan: Rendezvous with Annie (1946)
June 24 - Allan Dwan: Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
June 27 - Allan Dwan: Friendly Enemies (1942)
June 29 - Allan Dwan: The Restless Breed (1957)
Aug. 1 - An Auteurist History of Film: A Woman is a Woman (1961)

Museum of the Moving Image (1)
Sep. 1 - Fun City: Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Nitehawk Cinema (1)
Dec. 7 - Black Christmas (1973)

Quad Cinema (1)
June 10 - Evocateur: The Morton Downey, Jr. Movie (2012) 

"In the Flesh" - my first curated series

It happened. An opportunity presented itself and I grabbed it. Anthology Film Archives, home of some of the edgiest film programming in New York City, gave this untested programmer the chance to put together a festival of adult films. Working together with Steven Morowitz at Distribpix, home of the four films screened from 35mm prints, and Joe Rubin of Vinegar Syndrome, we all put on a show from Thursday through Sunday, giving away prizes for answers to trivia questions, including trailer reels before every film, and conducting Q&A's with special guests involved with the productions. It was simultaneously thrilling, nerve-wracking, and fascinating.

The first film, on Thursday night, was 1972's High Rise, the only adult film from the late Danny Steinmann. Steinmann passed away in late 2012, but the most enduring aspect of the film is its original score by prolific composer Jack Urbont. Remembering I had spoken with him about the film a few years ago with positive results, I invited him to join us as our special guest. He hadn't actually listened to the score in some time, so watching the whole film (which sometimes works as a series of music videos for his varied and intricately produced score) proved to be quite the experience for him. Jack sat down with me for a Q&A and detailed his incredible career, from Broadway to commercial jingles (Bumblebee Tuna) to soap opera themes ("General Hospital"), which helped drive home the fact that the film's soundtrack benefited from a professional composer with a strong musical background and an ear for catchy hooks. The stellar 16-minute version of the theme song, playing over a lengthy "aw-gee" sequence, even made him ask himself how he actually wrote and recorded it all. Most moving was his revelation that the violin solo during an artistic lesbian scene was performed by his father.

Second in the series was Through the Looking Glass (1976), a psychological horror masterpiece from Jonas Middleton, who only made three adult films. This, his last, is his best. Middleton has given few interviews over the years and to my knowledge had never appeared in public with his film, so approaching him was a rather difficult idea to get my head around. I managed to find an e-mail address for him and Steve Morowitz worked out all the arrangements for him to attend the screening, his first time greeting the film's audience in-person and answering the many questions posed about his work. This screening proved to be the one with the largest audience, most likely due to the film's crossover appeal to horror fans. Middleton hadn't seen the film in quite some time, and he told me after the screening that it had deeply disturbed him. My Q&A with him delved deeper into his motivations in making the film, revealing personal philosophies regarding religion and female sexuality, the films and directors that inspired him, and memories of the film's stars, including the luminous Catherine Burgess, brooding Jamie Gillis, and promising child actress Laura Nicholson. Middleton's preference is for the soft version of the film, and I can say without even seeing it that I'd probably agree. The feature works because of its disturbing narrative and visual flourishes, the performances of the cast and the swirling score, and the sex has always been a distraction for me.

The late Armand Weston's Take Off (1978) is, frankly, a film I was concerned about regarding audience reaction. Its length is sometimes seen as a frustrating thing; 103 minutes is epic for an adult film. To my delighted surprise, it had the best laugh responses of all the comedies in the series. The audience also included a number of familiar old-time movie fans from the repertory scene in NYC that stayed through the whole film, laughed along with the jokes and gags, and stayed for the Q&A with the film's still photographer, Larry Revene. Larry was someone I approached from the get-go to be a part of the series, and I think we both had a tremendous time on both nights he appeared. His Q&A revealed some famous names and faces in the film, a cameo by renowned sexploitation distributor Sam Lake, set stories of Armand Weston and Daria Price, memories of Wade Nichols and Leslie Bovee, and was enlivened by the surprise cameos of cast and crew members rising from their seats to say hi! We were also blessed with the presence of illustrious adult film legend Carter Stevens in the audience.

Closing night featured a screening of Wanda Whips Wall Street (1981), Larry's wonderful comedy about corporate espionage, female-style. The film's star, Veronica Hart, surprised us all by flying in from the west coast to join Larry for a Q&A that turned into a merry remembrance of Chuck Vincent before morphing into a dramatic monologue by actor Scott Baker, reading from Larry's marvelous memoirs. In addition to our special guests, we had a number of adult film writers and performers in the audience as well, cheering on Larry and reuniting under one roof after, in some cases, a long time apart. Reactions to the event were overwhelmingly positive, a good time had by all, and I couldn't be happier! Seeing so many familiar faces immediately got me thinking how we could involve them in future series, what films they were in, if prints were available, etc. It felt to many like a class reunion, and illustrated very well the family atmosphere that developed around both cast and crew within the golden age industry.

Other than a hiccup with the Take Off print (repeating two scenes after a reel change), all the prints were surprisingly good considering the track record of adult film prints being projected into oblivion over the years. Fading, debris, skips, and grease marks were to be expected, and did not detract from the experience of seeing the films on 35mm.

Something I decided to do to make the screenings a little more special for the guests and the people involved with production was send professional invitations to all surviving cast and crew in the tri-state area that I could find, which could be turned in at the box office for free admission for two. Having access to the Distribpix archive helped, and I had accumulated contact info for others over the years. Steve Morowitz helped me design them and I got them all printed out and mailed in slick envelopes. Some came back in the mail, and I received a few RSVP's from people who were either excited to attend or couldn't attend because any publicity surrounding their appearances would result in termination from their jobs. It's still that kind of a world we live in, folks, where appearing in or working on an X-rated film decades ago will be held against you. Because the invites were intended to make it easier for cast and crew to attend discreetly, I won't reveal who did attend, and the series has a permanent policy about surprise guest audience members: what happens at "In the Flesh" stays at "In the Flesh". I will say that it was great to see so many people who hadn't seen each other in 30 or more years reconnecting after the screenings. Many of them hadn't ever seen their finished work on-screen, let alone an appreciative audience reaction. That was a very touching experience, to see these talented people before the screening and then hear how much they enjoyed themselves after, especially because of my concern about their possible outrage. The series is all about reviving these films and appreciating the people who made them, and including as many people involved with the productions as possible made it even more of a celebration. For those who were invited and didn't attend, perhaps positive word of mouth about the series may convince them to reconsider in the future?

So many people to thank for the series being such a success! The guests (Jack Urbont, Jonas Middleton, Larry Revene, Veronica Hart), the audience (so many people attended all four nights), the venue (Anthology Film Archives), the sponsors (Steve Morowitz at Distribpix, Joe Rubin at Vinegar Syndrome). My friends for turning out in support, the staff of Anthology for accommodating us, the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and other news/media outlets that helped promote the screenings, the cast and crew members who joined the celebration of their work and the golden age in general. Our next installment will be four "porn noir's" in March. Here's hoping it's just as much fun as this was!