February Films: Nico Papatakis, Ingmar Bergman, African-American Superheroes, and more
The golden anniversary of 1968 is off to a provocative start with the Brazilian filmmaker João Moreira Salles’s personal documentary In the Intense Now. Drawing heavily on amateur footage of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (as seen by European tourists), the Prague Spring (and its aftermath) and mainly the French Mai ’68 (and its aftermath), the movie is at once melancholy, inspiring, and evocative. At Film Forum, January 31–February 13.
MoMA continues mining obscure veins of American film history with “Martin Scorsese Presents Republic Rediscovered: New Restorations from Paramount Pictures”—a program of digitally restored genre films from the 1940s and 1950s produced by the largest of Hollywood B-movie studios. In addition to providing a home for directors like Alan Dwan and Frank Borzage (who cut their teeth in silent movies), and vehicles for the owner Herbert Yates’s wife Vera Hruba Ralston, Republic was known for its westerns, film noirs, and the orange-blue palette of their exclusive Truecolor process. At the Museum of Modern Art, February 1–15.
“Bergman 100,” a multi-venue, world-wide commemoration of Ingmar Bergman’s centennial, begins on February 1 at the Berkeley Art Museum-Pacific Film Archive with screenings of two first-rate Bergman movies, Persona (1966) and Shame (1968), both attuned to the cultural upheavals of their era and introduced by their star Liv Ullmann. A 47-film Bergman retrospective starts a week later in New York with DCP restorations of his arthouse blockbuster The Seventh Seal (1957) and Alf Sjöberg’s lurid melodrama Frenzy (1944), also known as Torment, for which Bergman wrote the screenplay. (Missing unfortunately is Bergman’s so-called secret film, the 1950 anti-Communist thriller This Can’t Happen Here.) At Film Forum, February 7–March 15.
Beginning with Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), “Fight the Power: Black Superheroes on Film” offers the full range of African-American fantasy avengers. The blaxploitation icons of the 1970s (and their parodic successors) are matched with the fin-de-siècle comic book characters Blade and Catwoman, as well as with African films, animated features, and outliers like Kathryn Bigelow’s 1996 Strange Days (Angela Bassett as a muscular future cop) and Jim Jarmusch’s 2000 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Forest Whitaker as a warrior hitman). There are also two notable, largely forgotten instances of Hollywood revisionism: Ivan Dixon’s political thriller The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973) and Sidney Poitier’s western Buck and the Preacher (1972), in which Poitier teams up with his long-time associates Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee. At BAMcinématek, February 2–18.
“Five Films by Nico Papatakis” gives overdue recognition to the maverick French-Ethiopian-Greek producer and filmmaker Nico Papatakis, an associate of John Cassavetes and Jean Genet, best known for transposing the premise of Genet’s The Maids to an allegorical Algeria in his 1963 Les Abysses. Other films include the incendiary Gloria Mundi (1976), in which Papatakis’s wife Olga Karlatos plays an Arab terrorist, and his last film Walking a Tightrope (1992), with Michel Piccoli playing a character modeled on Genet. At the Film Society of Lincoln Center, February 23–February 27.