January Films: Guy Maddin, Wang Bing, 1960s Cinéma Verité, and more
Perhaps the most historically minded of North American filmmakers, Guy Maddin pays homage to (and addresses the enduring fascination of) Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo by recreating it, more or less, in The Green Fog, using footage taken from a hundred or so mainly Hollywood movies and TV shows, all of them shot on location in San Francisco. Commissioned by the San Francisco Film Festival, Maddin’s sixty-three-minute assemblage will be screening in conjunction with Hitchcock’s most fetishized film. IFC Center, opens January 5.
Devoted to the experimental and the innovative, “First Look” includes all manner of hybrid forms, including film-based performances and audio documentaries. The annual festival opens with Blake Williams’s 3-D PROTOTYPE, a sci-fi meditation on the 1900 Galveston Flood, and the world premiere of Ken Jacobs’s ravishing, digitally deranged, madly kinetic walk through his Lower Manhattan neighborhood, enigmatically titled Shelley Duvall Is Olive Oyl. Other programs include three recent films by James Benning, among them the hour-long measuring change, devoted to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, and Georgian filmmaker Alexandre Koberidze’s understated road movie Let the Summer Never Come Again, which uses low-res video to remarkably beautiful effect. Museum of the Moving Image, January 5-16.
One of the world’s leading documentarians, Wang Bing (maker of the magisterial nine-hour epic of industrial decay West of the Tracks) embeds himself among China’s internal migrants drawn from the countryside to Huzhou to work in the city’s copious garment factories. Bitter Money, made in 2016, is both universal and specific. Wang’s leisurely observational cinema individuates his marginalized subjects even as it develops a compelling if tacit critique of their economic oppression. Anthology Film Archives, January 12-18.
“To Save and Project,” MoMA’s more-or-less annual festival of newly restored films, this year programmed by Dave Kehr, has something for everyone: the silent, Douglas Fairbanks version of The Three Musketeers (on 35mm), Ida Lupino’s 1950 B-movie Outrage (a film about rape in which, thanks to the production code, the word is never used), William K. Howard’s 1932 Sherlock Holmes (starring Clive Brook), programs devoted to Cinerama and the work of the Canadian expeditionary filmmaker who called herself Aloha Wanderwell, and, showing in one marathon screening, R.W. Fassbinder’s eight-hour 1972 mini-series Eight Hours Are Not a Day. Museum of Modern Art, January 18-February 1.
“60s Verité” surveys the documentary practice that, enabled by light 16mm cameras and portable sound equipment, typified the 1960s. While Chronicle of a Summer (1961), by ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin, gave the mode its name, Robert Drew’s Primary (1960), a portrait of JFK on the campaign trail, is generally regarded as the seminal work in America—establishing a mode of personality-driven documentaries, notably Don’t Look Back (1967), which in turn paved the way for so-called rockumentaries like Gimme Shelter (1970). The show is given additional context by including many restorations of Rouch’s lesser known movies and a number of verité-influenced fiction films like Agnès Varda’s Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962) and Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969). Film Forum, January 19-February 6.