Blog Archives

“Unforgiven,” 25th Anniversary Presentation, at Film Forum August 4-10

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood in Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN (19

Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven.”

August 3, 2017.  Director and actor Clint Eastwood’s 1992 quadruple Oscar winning movie (including Best Director and Best Picture), “Unforgiven,” will have a run at Film Forum, in a stunning 4K restoration, from August 4 – 10.  “Unforgiven is a dark, violent western that explodes the mythology and violent glamour of the old west. It is a story which movies in directions that are unpredictable and which defy expectations of the western genre.

“Unforgiven” is a fascinating meditation on the nature of violence, specifically the ideal of a “shoot ‘em up” versus the reality of actually killing someone.  The difference between the “good guys” and “bad guys” in this film all depends on whose side you’re on.  In this regard, “Unforgiven” is reminiscent of the Italian westerns, called “Spaghetti Westerns,” in which protagonists were not necessarily the “good guys,” a genre in which Eastwood made his bones as an actor. This influence is particularly felt in the film’s final credit, “For Sergio and Don” – Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.  Leone directed Eastwood in his Italian westerns – “A Fist Full of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966).  Siegel directed some of Eastwood’s movies state side, including the iconic “Dirty Harry” (1971), in which Eastwood plays a police inspector who lives by his own code. Read the rest of this entry

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“Ford to City: Drop Dead” New York in the 70s – at Film Forum (through 7/27/17)

taking of pelham

July 19, 2017.  “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” New York in the 70s is a movie series playing at Film Forum now through July 27. The 70s, considered to be the last golden age of American cinema, is filled with some of my favorite movies, many of which were shot in New York. The titles in this series include “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” and many others.

On the one hand, this is a series tailor made for me. On the other hand, since I already own many of these movies on DVD, why should I pay to see them in a movie theatre? Still, as a practical matter, how often do I actually watch the movies that I have on DVD? I think it’s an existential issue. In other words, having lots of movies on DVD means that I have the possibility of watching them, even if the reality is that I rarely watch them. This is the dilemma presented to the movie aficionado in the digital age, in which almost everything is available at his, or her, fingertips. Had home video and all its variations – VHS, laser disc, DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming – not been invented, then Film Forum’s series would be a “no brainer” for me. Of course I would go. So, saying I wont see a particular film when it plays in a theatre because I have it on a DVD that I almost never watch, means running the risk of not seeing the film at all! Read the rest of this entry

Film Forum, Jr.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Sunda

Film Forum, Jr. presented four restored Laurel and Hardy shorts on November 27, 2016.

November 30, 2016.  This past Sunday, with the holiday weekend allowing me a break from my normal Sunday college teaching obligations, I finally made my way to Film Forum, Jr. Film Forum, Jr. is a film series for kids and their families which plays every Sunday at 11:00 am at Film Forum. The idea is to introduce a new generation to films, not necessarily what might be termed “kids” films, but great movies that kids would like. The program has a reduced admission price of eight-dollars per ticket.

The idea behind Film Forum, Jr. is a very important one to me, as a teacher. While I use movies extensively in my college sociology classes, I also use films in my work as a substitute teacher in the public schools. I show movies to students as young as Pre-K and as old as fifth grade – my preferred teaching range. I find that kids can use their intuitive intelligence to understand and appreciate so called “grown-up” films. Read the rest of this entry

“A Thousand Cuts”at Film Forum

ghost-upstairs

Fred Astaire in “Me and the Ghost Upstairs” sequence which was cut from the movie “Second Chorus” (1940).

November 30, 2016.  On Sunday, November 27 Film Forum presented a program called “A Thousand Cuts,” based on the book “A Thousand Cuts: the bizarre underground world of collectors and dealers who saved the movies,” by authors Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph. The program consisted of rare film clips saved from oblivion by film collectors who found their footage in attics, closets, the trash and other out of the way places. When I use the term “film collectors” I am not simply referring to people who collect movies on DVD. “Film collectors” are a sub-culture whose members collect actual film.

The personalities featured in the featured clips included Alfred Hitchcock, Lena Horne, Ann Miller, the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo and others. The program was put together by co-author and collector Jeff Joseph, who presented the clips, spoke about them and took questions from the audience. Read the rest of this entry

Don’t Blink – Robert Frank (at Film Forum)

Robert Frank in DON’T BLINK – ROBERT FRANK, directed by Laura Israel. Photo by Lisa Rinzler. Courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

Robert Frank, still taking pictures at 91. Photo by Lisa Rinzler. Courtesy of Grasshopper Film.

July 10, 2016.  In this day and age in which people are constantly documenting themselves and putting their pictures, writings and videos out for the world to see, it is interesting to take a look back at the work of photographer Robert Frank. Frank is known for documenting the lives of ordinary Americans through his stills and filmmaking. The new documentary, “Don’t Blink – Robert Frank” opens at Film Forum on Wednesday, July 13.

The last time Film Forum showed a documentary about Frank was in 2009. The film was called “An American Journey,” by French filmmaker Philippe Seclier. The premise for that documentary is that Seclier retraced parts of the cross country car trip that Frank took across America, in the mid-1950s, during which Frank photographed people representing all levels of American society. The trip resulted in Frank’s iconic book of photographs “The Americans” (1959). My criticism of “An American Journey” was that it was missing a very obvious and crucial element – namely, Frank himself. Read the rest of this entry

“Blood Simple” (1984) at Film Forum

Frances McDormand in "Blood Simple," at Film Forum, July 1 - 14.

Frances McDormand in “Blood Simple,” at Film Forum, July 1 – 14.

June 27, 2016.  From July 1 – 14 Film Forum will present a 4K restoration of the Coen Brothers’ tremendous 1984 debut film, “Blood Simple.” (“4K” is a high definition video format that is the current standard for film restoration. Simply put, it’s a really great copy of the movie, just as good, if not better, than when the film was released on actual film).

Often, when I attend Coen Brothers’ movies (brother Joel directs, brother Ethan produces, both write the screenplays), I feel as if there is a joke that everyone in the audience is in on…except for me. Fellow audience members seem to laugh at things which I just don’t get, or, if I do get them, I don’t find them to be funny. Maybe I’m just not “hip” enough (or maybe my fellow audience members are just acting “hip” since they are at a Coen Brothers’ movie and feel the need to act like a “hip, indy” type of audience). That having been said, maybe there is hope for me after all, because I really like “Blood Simple.” In fact, I will go so far as to say that “Blood Simple” is the Coen Brothers’ best film (“Big Lebowski” fans may start sending me their “hate” emails now). Read the rest of this entry

My Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Penny Lane

Photo credit: Albert Sanchez.

Photo credit: Albert Sanchez. Courtesy of Cartuna.

June 20, 2016.  Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane’s new film “NUTS!” will have its U.S. Theatrical Premiere at Film Forum starting on Wednesday, June 22. J.R. Brinkley, the subject of “NUTS!” was a Kansas doctor who came to fame, in the 1920s and 1930s, for his claim that he had cured impotence by surgically implanting goat testicles into impotent men. Brinkley also became a media figure through newspapers and as well as the new medium of radio.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Lane about “NUTS!” Our conversation mainly concerned the nature of “truth” (both in the life of her subject, J.R. Brinkley, as well as in her documentary) and the role of media in interpreting that which we see as fact. Read the rest of this entry

NUTS!

John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Chris

John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Christie. Courtesy of Cartuna.

June 19, 2016. A wealthy man with no political experience running for office? A charlatan who defrauds his clients? A stolen election? No, this is not a story about current events, or even recent history. It is the story of J.R. Brinkley, who came to prominence in the America of the 1920s and 1930s, as told by documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon” 2013), in her new film, “NUTS!”

“NUTS!” is a funny, dramatic, engaging, intelligent and “off the wall” film which takes the documentary form in new and interesting directions. For me, as a college sociology teacher of mass media and popular culture, I found “NUTS!” to be a fascinating tale of a media personality. Read the rest of this entry

Spartacus – restored in 4K at Film Forum, November 4 – 12, 2015

Stanley Kubrick’s SPARTACUS (1960). Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest. Playing November 4-12.

Stanley Kubrick’s SPARTACUS (1960). Courtesy Film Forum via Photofest. Playing November 4-12 at Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St.

November 4, 2015. From November 4 – 12 Film Forum will present a new, 4K restoration of director Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 masterpiece, “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas. “Spartacus” is an all out big budget Hollywood “sword and sandals” epic that more than holds up. Its battle scenes are nothing short of spectacular and its political maneuvering just as relevant as ever.

It boasts a magnificent cast, the likes of which we will never see again. In addition to Douglas the cast includes Lawrence Olivier, Charles Laughton (incapable of giving an even remotely bad performance), Peter Ustinov (who won an Oscar for his role in “Spartacus”), Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons and John Gavin.

I remember seeing the 1991 70mm restoration of “Spartacus” at the Ziegfeld theater. I actually snuck into its premiere and was so struck by this 197 minute long Hollywood epic about a slave revolt in ancient Rome, that I returned a week later to see the film again. Prior to this I had attempted to watch “Spartacus” on a VHS cassette and found it unwatchable. Therefore the 1991 restoration was, for me, a revelation and I have been a fan ever since. The 1991 restoration, done prior to the strides that we now have in digital technology was done photochemically by film restorer Robert Harris, who also restored “Lawrence of Arabia,” among other films. Read the rest of this entry

Berltracchi: The Art of Forgery

Wolfgang Beltracchi, subject of Arne Birkenstock’s documentary BELTRACCHI: THE ART OF FORGERY.  ©Fruitmarket/Wolfgang Ennenbach. Courtesy of KimStim.

Wolfgang Beltracchi, subject of Arne Birkenstock’s documentary BELTRACCHI: THE ART OF FORGERY. ©Fruitmarket/Wolfgang Ennenbach. Courtesy of KimStim.

August 19, 2015.  As a teacher of sociology and media I found myself intrigued by the new documentary “Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery,” now playing at Film Forum. It is a documentary which takes its place among some very good documentaries about art, specifically the perception of art, value of art and the business of art. My list includes “The Art of the Steal” (2009), “Art and Craft” (2014), “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (2010) and “Herb & Dorothy” (2008). I use all of these films in my classes to make points about art and the role played by the media to present art in different ways.

Beltrachhi” concerns Wolfgang Beltracchi, a very successful German art forger who was finally found out after about 40 years. He escapades included fooling museum curators, art experts, art dealers, the auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s, not to mention movie star Steve Martin, who bought a painting. Read the rest of this entry