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Old Movies to Watch Now

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

‘The Lubitsch touch’ on FilmStruck this week

Posted By on 09.12.18 at 06:00 AM

Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess
  • Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess
The great German, then American, director Ernst Lubitsch is currently featured as FilmStruck's "director of the week," and they have a generous selection of his films spanning most of his career. A master of deft and witty romantic comedies, his legendary "Lubitsch touch" began in the teens and graced a wider range of films than his celebrated comedy films.

The Oyster Princess
Lubitsch's first feature-length comedy (1919), about an American millionaire trying to acquire a noble title for his daughter by marrying her off to a Prussian prince, is an unalloyed delight—a perfect rejoinder to those critics who maintain that the director only found "the Lubitsch touch" after moving to Hollywood in the 1920s. The satire is sharp, and the visual settings are sumptuous and gracefully handled. With Ossi Owalda, Harry Liedtke, and Victor Janson. 60 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sumurun
One of a series of historical epics that the young German director Lubitsch concocted for star Pola Negri—a series that eventually landed Hollywood contracts for both. This 1920 film is an adaptation of Max Reinhardt's stage production Sumurun, with Negri as an ambitious dancing girl courted by a lascivious sheikh and the pathetic hunchback (played by Lubitsch himself) who is the leader of her troupe. 75 min.
Dave Kehr

The Merry Widow
The last and finest of Lubitsch's musicals (1934), based on the Franz Lehar operetta and retooled with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Maurice Chevalier, in his last good role, is the prince; Jeanette MacDonald, on the brink of her fateful meeting with Nelson Eddy, is the widow. MGM hired the Lubitsch-Chevalier-MacDonald team away from Paramount, and apparently went all-out on this production to show up the competition. Lubitsch brilliantly exploits Cedric Gibbons's opulent sets, but his genius is most evident in the film's final poignancy—a farewell to the genre he helped to create. Also known as The Lady Dances. 99 min. —Dave Kehr

The Shop Around the Corner
There are no art deco nightclubs, shimmering silk gowns, or slamming bedroom doors to be seen, but this 1940 film is one of Lubitsch's finest and most enduring works, a romantic comedy of dazzling range that takes place almost entirely within the four walls of a leather-goods store in prewar Budapest. James Stewart is the earnest, slightly awkward young manager; Margaret Sullavan is the new sales clerk who gets on his nerves—and neither realizes that they are partners in a passionate romance being carried out through the mails. Interwoven with subplots centered on the other members of the shop's little family, the romance proceeds through Lubitsch's brilliant deployment of point of view, allowing the audience to enter the perceptions of each individual character at exactly the right moment to develop maximum sympathy and suspense. With Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, and Felix Bressart. 97 min. —Dave Kehr

Heaven Can Wait
Lubitsch's only completed film in Technicolor (1943), the greatest of his late films, offers a rosy, meditative, and often very funny view of an irrepressible ladies' man (Don Ameche in his prime) presenting his life in retrospect to the devil (Laird Cregar). Like a good deal of Lubitsch from The Merry Widow on, it's about death as well as personal style, but rarely has the subject been treated with such affection for the human condition. Samson Raphaelson's script is very close to perfection, the sumptuous period sets are a delight, and the secondary cast—Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, and Spring Byington—is wonderful. In many respects, this is Lubitsch's testament, full of grace, wisdom, and romance. 112 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Crashing the boys’ club: independent women directors in the 60s and 70s

Posted By on 08.07.18 at 06:00 AM

Barbara Loden's Wanda
  • Barbara Loden's Wanda
The explosion of American independent filmmaking in the 1960s and '70s was largely an all-male affair (surprise), but a few talented women also got their hand in during this vital and changing period. The Chicago Film Society is showing one such effort, Juleen Compton's 1966 rarity The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean, which has been recently rediscovered and restored, on Wednesday, August 15. We've selected another five diverse titles below.

The Connection
I saw the Living Theater's legendary production of Jack Gelber's play (directed by Judith Malina) three times during its initial run in the early 60s, and no film adaptation half as long could claim its raw confrontational power. Echoing The Lower Depths and The Iceman Cometh, it's about junkies waiting for a fix (among them a performing jazz quartet with pianist-composer Freddie Redd and alto sax Jackie McLean), and spectators were even accosted in the lobby by one actor begging for money. Shirley Clarke's imaginative if dated 1961 film uses most of the splendid original cast (Warren Finnerty is especially good), confining the action to the play's single run-down flat. It's presented as a pseudodocumentary; the square neophyte director, eventually persuaded to shoot heroin himself, winds up focusing his camera on a cockroach. The film retains the same beatnik wit that the play effectively distilled, as well as a few scary shocks. With Carl Lee, Garry Goodrow, and Roscoe Lee Browne. 105 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Wanda
Perhaps the most depressing film ever made, this 1971 feature by director-actress Barbara Loden tells of a young, ignorant, emotionally deadened, and hopelessly dreary woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania whose life is a succession of dead ends. Doomed from the start to a life of ignorance and boredom, she's victimized by her surroundings, by men hardly less dreary than she, and by her sex. A brilliantly atmospheric film with a superb performance by Loden. 105 min. —Don Druker

The Velvet Vampire
Given the genre (horror) and the budget (extremely low), it may seem perverse to say that Stephanie Rothman's 1971 film is among the best women's films ever made, but so it is—a highly intelligent, deftly poetic reimagining of the vampire myth, with the theme of fatal sexuality transferred to a female character. The vampire is neither an aggressor nor a seductress, but an abstract figure of polymorphous sensuality: her "victims" choose her, and they range from a would-be rapist to a liberated (and wittily parodied) southern California couple. 80 min. —Dave Kehr

Hester Street
Joan Micklin Silver's ingratiating little movie (1975) begins with some big ideas about immigrant culture, but these are soon and happily shucked in favor of a modestly effective domestic melodrama. In the New York of the 1890s, Jake (Steven Keats), a Jewish immigrant with five years in America, dreads the arrival of his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane), from the old country. Jake is a "Yankee" now, resenting Gitl's naivete and superstition. Photographed in a self-consciously quaint black and white, Hester Street is compromised by preciousness and oversimplification, but it makes a pleasant and efficient entertainment. 90 min. —Dave Kehr

Harlan County, USA
Barbara Kopple's 1977 documentary on a Kentucky coal miners' strike is muddled on the issues, but it earned its Oscar as a dramatic, involving story, full of tough and appealing characters. Kopple's fiercely partisan stance upsets the classic balance of cinema verite documentary, but who could fail to take sides in this timeless labor-management confrontation and still claim to have a heart? 103 min. —Dave Kehr

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Urgh! A Music War and other punk and postpunk new wave cinema

Posted By on 07.10.18 at 06:00 AM

David Byrne in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense
  • David Byrne in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense
The concert movie Urgh! A Music War (1982), which Chicago Film Society will screen on Monday at Music Box, is an invaluable document of late punk, post-punk, and new wave music, with live performances by XTC, Devo, Gang of Four, Oingo Boingo, Magazine, Gary Numan, Klaus Nomi, the Cramps, the Fleshtones, the Go-Go's, the Dead Kennedys, the Police, and more. Here are five additional films that showcase the 80s' gritty, original, sometimes experimental, and always vibrant new sounds.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five classic films by Latin American women

Posted By on 04.17.18 at 11:42 AM

María Luisa Bemberg's Camila
  • María Luisa Bemberg's Camila
For certain film lovers, April is all about Lucrecia Martel. The Argentine director's first feature in almost a decade, Zama, continues at the Gene Siskel Film Center for another few days, and her acclaimed "Salta Trilogy" begins on Friday with The Headless Woman. We celebrate the return of one of contemporary cinema's great filmmakers by taking a look back at five other women directors who made a mark on Latin American cinema: Margot Benacerraf (Venezuela), Sara Gómez (Cuba), María Luisa Bemberg (Argentina), Suzana Amaral (Brazil), and Maria Novaro (Mexico).

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Friday, October 30, 2015

The 1930s chiller White Zombie is an experimental-horror masterpiece

Posted By on 10.30.15 at 02:30 PM

Bela Lugosi in White Zombie
  • Bela Lugosi in White Zombie

The first time I ever saw Victor Halperin's 1932 film White Zombie (which will be screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center twice this week in a 35-millimeter restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive) it was part of an unintentional and incongruous double feature. I had snuck into a University of Chicago classroom screening of Max Ophuls's venerated Lola Montes (1955) and then sprinted across campus to see White Zombie at Doc Films immediately afterwards. I proclaimed White Zombie—a horror cheapie with Bela Lugosi as a unibrowed necromancer in a thinly researched rendition of Haiti—to be the superior film to anyone who would listen. I thought the Ophuls film had a messy, self-conscious narrative structure and moments of unabashed melodrama, while White Zombie was pure cinema, its images of terror (clasped hands, glowing eyes) rendered with a graphic simplicity that approaches cuneiform pictographs. I wouldn't instinctively feel the need to make such a comparison today—but I wouldn't disagree with my original verdict either.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Did you read about Godzilla, Robby Mook, and 'shitphones'?

Posted By on 04.09.15 at 11:30 AM

Welcome to Tokyo!
  • Welcome to Tokyo!
Reader staffers share stories that fascinate, alarm, amuse, or inspire us.

Hey, did you read:

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Five movies you should watch tonight instead of the Oscars

Posted By on 02.22.15 at 10:00 AM

Its Such a Beautiful Day
  • It's Such a Beautiful Day
Hey, did you know the Academy Awards are tonight? Of course you did, because this year, the noxious noncontroversies generated by the annual awards show are particularly noxious and particularly noncontroversial, save for the Academy's legitimately egregious and transparently racist dismissal of the biopic Selma—though I'm sure you've read one too many think pieces on that subject, so I'll spare you the soapboxing. Meanwhile, the far less significant squabbling surrounding American Sniper's nebulous politics and The Lego Movie's supposed snub in the Best Animated Feature category cloud the fact that most of the films nominated tonight really aren't very good. But then again, the Oscars aren't about upholding a tradition as much as they're about Hollywood self-aggrandizement, which is actually pretty fascinating, but it certainly isn't the stuff of cinema.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Sunset Boulevard, Andrei Rublev, and other Reader-recommended movies to watch online this week

Posted By on 02.13.15 at 07:00 AM

Sunset Boulevard
  • Sunset Boulevard
Each Friday, we recommend seven Old Movies to Watch Now, all of which come recommended by one of our critics and can currently be screened online. Read the review, watch the movie, feel accomplished.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The 39 Steps, and other Reader-recommended movies to watch online this week

Posted By on 02.06.15 at 07:00 AM

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Each Friday, we recommend seven Old Movies to Watch Now, all of which come recommended by one of our critics and can currently be screened online. Read the review, watch the movie, feel accomplished.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

WALL-E, An Affair to Remember, and other Reader-recommended movies to watch online this week

Posted By on 01.30.15 at 07:00 AM

WALL-E
  • WALL-E

Each Friday, we recommend seven Old Movies to Watch Now, all of which come recommended by one of our critics and can currently be screened online. Read the review, watch the movie, feel accomplished.

Continue reading »

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