Summer Movies: A Mad Western, a Cinerama Classic, an Ultimate Underground Film, and a Week of Radical Godard
Begun in the late 1950s and completed in 2004, nearly seven hours long, Star Spangled to Death, Ken Jacobs’s ultimate underground movie, annotates a lyrical junkyard allegory with chunks of mainly 1930s Hollywood movies. This found material allows Jacobs to brood on human programming, military triumphalism, and, most insistently, American racism. In the end, the movie turns mournfully self-reflexive, with intimations of aesthetic utopia amid the rubble of history. At Metrograph, July 4.
Jean-Luc Godard commented on his return to commercial filmmaking with The Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company (1986), a chaotic self-reflexive comedy starring Jean-Pierre Léaud as a neurotic director attempting to adapt a pulpy thriller by James Hadley Chase (which was the assignment Godard received from French TV). The movie, which was itself remade after a fashion by Olivier Assayas in 1996 as Irma Vep, never had an American theatrical run. It’s been restored for the occasion. At Anthology Film Archives, July 13–19.
More Godard: The six politically radical films he made with Jean-Pierre Gorin between 1968 and 1971 in the UK, the US, and Italy under the rubric “Dziga Vertov Group” were for decades hard to find and also perhaps hard to watch. They have been unearthed and are showing, five of them in 2K restorations, along with the 1970 documentary Godard in America and Ici et ailleurs (1976), fashioned by Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville from an unfinished documentary on the Front for the Liberation of Palestine. At Metrograph, July 18–25.
Writing in Artforum nearly a half century ago, Annette Michelson hailed Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as the equivalent of Michael Snow’s Wavelength, “a film which takes for its very subject, theme and dynamics — both narrative and formal — movement itself.” However well Kubrick’s most audacious movie may work on a large TV monitor, it is difficult to recapture the quality of the spectacle that, projected in 70mm on a Cinerama screen two stories tall, rendered the moon landing fifteen months later anticlimactic. The opportunity has returned. At the Museum of the Moving Image, July 26–Aug 5.
The Last Movie, the cinematic outrage that incinerated Dennis Hopper’s career in 1971, concerns the ill-fated production of an American western in Peru—which is to say itself. Hopper’s follow-up to Easy Rider pushed the notion of “uncommercial” to the far side of the moon. Although The Last Movie achieved a notoriety unsurpassed until Heaven’s Gate (1980), Hopper’s sin was worse than wasting money. Showing in a new 4K restoration, The Last Movie is an act of visionary aggression that desecrates Hollywood’s universal church. At Metrograph, August 3–9.