June Films: Agnes Varda, ‘Monterey Pop,’ Paul Verhoeven, and Monkeys

“Varda in California”: Agnes Varda came to Los Angeles fifty years ago with her husband, Jacques Demy. While he struggled with Model Shop, she pursued her own, more modest projects documenting the Black Panthers and a long-lost cousin living on a Sausalito houseboat, and directing Lions Love (… and Lies), a meditation on Hollywood stardom (and Andy Warhol), starring the Factory’s reigning chatterbox Viva and the two creators of Hair.

Varda returned to Los Angeles a decade later for an unrealized project and stayed long enough to make Mur Murs, an evocative documentary of murals painted in East Los Angeles and elsewhere in the city, and its semi-fictional spinoff, Documenteur, evoking her frustration at being unable to realize the movie she came to LA to shoot. All five of her films, plus Model Shop, are showing in various combinations at the BAMcinématek, May 31-June 13.

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The first true rock-doc and arguably the best, D.A. Pennebaker’s 1968 Monterey Pop preserved a number of remarkable performances by a stellar roster of British and Bay Area bands (namely the Animals, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, and the Who). Even greater breakthrough revelations were supplied by soul singer Otis Redding and, setting his guitar on fire (literally) in the course of performing “Wild Thing,” Jimi Hendrix. Opening (in a new restoration) at the IFC Center, June 14.                 

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There is a sense in which Paul Verhoeven is a contemporary equivalent to Fritz Lang. The Dutch director is the supremely cynical and adroit maker of politically charged genre films—and he’s also something of a sly social satirist. A inspired pairing, RoboCop (1987) and Starship Troopers (1997), both showing in 35mm, are science fiction films with the quality of editorial cartoons, respectively lampooning law-and-order rhetoric and fascist fantasies. New Beverly (Los Angeles), June 16-17.

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 Another sort of social satire, Il Boom stars the great comic actor Alberto Sordi as a hapless striver. A 1963 Vittorio De Sica production never before released in the US, the movie was written by the leading theorist of Italian neo-realism, Cesare Zavattini; it advances a shockingly brutal metaphor for the Sordi character’s need to maintain his wife’s luxurious lifestyle, as well as the demands of capitalism itself. While hardly The Bicycle Thief, also directed by De Sica from a Zavattini script, Il Boom is an unusually barbed example of the commedia all’italiana. It also affords the pleasure of seeing Sordi dance the twist. Film Forum, June 16-27.

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“Simian Vérité”: this cleverly curated show matches outré art features (Nagisa Oshima’s 1986 Max, Mon Amour, Marco Ferreri’s 1978 Bye Bye Monkey) with genre films (Robert Florey’s 1932 Murders in the Rue Morgue, Ishirō Honda’s 1967 King Kong Escapes) and documentaries (Frederick Wiseman’s 1974 Primate, Barbet Schroeder’s 1978 Koko: A Talking Gorilla). There are also comedies (Howard Hawks’s 1952 Monkey Business, the 1978 Clint Eastwood vehicle Every Which Way But Loose), a mode that, in a sense, covers everything. Anthology Film Archives, June 16-27.

Category: Film