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The Beaches of Agnès

December Films: Jonas Mekas, Agnès Varda, and MoMA’s Documentaries

Drawing on its own collection, MoMA’s “Public Imaginations: A Survey of Documentary Form” is an exemplary survey of innovative nonfiction films. Landmark movies like the 1960 cinéma vérité Primary and the 1964 TV footage compilation Point of Order! alternate with documentaries by acknowledged masters Frederick Wiseman (Aspen) and Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line), as well as more experimental work by Trinh T. Minh-ha (Surname Viet, Given Name Nam), Marlon Riggs (Color Adjustment), and Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (Leviathan). There is also a program dedicated to the largely unknown but influential French filmmaker, Nicole Vedrès. Museum of Modern Art, December 12–30.

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As much horror film as thriller, tossed off by British director J. Lee Thompson between the martial epics The Guns of Navarone and Taras BulbaCape Fear (1962) pits Gregory Peck’s upstanding Georgia prosecutor against Robert Mitchum’s vengeful ex-con. Undeniably disturbing, Thompson’s movie derived much of its frisson from Cady’s assault on the good-good culture of the fifties, personified by Peck’s wife and daughter. Set in the South and released at the height of the struggle for desegregation, Cape Fear is a fascinating displacement: The rapist is white and, as something of a jailhouse lawyer, provocatively conversant with his “civil rights.” In its nightmarish way, Cape Fear managed to suggest both what terrified the white South and the terror the white South itself inspired. Film Forum, December 18–24.

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The last weekend of the third installment of “Jonas Mekas Tribute Screenings: Portraits of Place” pairs cinema’s supreme diarist’s 1965 visit to Timothy Leary’s LSD sanctuary, captured in[?] the twelve-minute Report from Millbrook, with My Mars Bar Movie (2011), a feature-length tribute to the East Village’s dive conveniently located across Second Avenue from Anthology Film Archives. Also screening: Mekas’s largely joyful return to his birthplace, Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1971). Anthology Film Archives, December 21.

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Ushering in a new decade, “Varda: A Retrospective” is a comprehensive survey of the great and greatly admired French filmmaker Agnès Varda, who died earlier this year. Anticipating and post-scripting the nouvelle vague, Varda’s oeuvre encompasses features, documentaries, and personal essays—all profoundly idiosyncratic. Film at Lincoln Center, December 20–January 6.

Category: Film