February 8th 2013. Pick Of The Day.

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A HUGE spike in retro film screening activity is due to be greeted this day by Blizzard Nemo, which is not, contrary to popular rumour, the name of my twink meth dealer. No, we
are indeed about to see an epic conflux of classic cinema and tempestuous snowfall. So the slog to attend these screenings may be a bit tougher this day, but nonetheless worth
while.

Things get started at Film Forum as they kick off their ode to the year 1933, a pivotal moment in Hollywood that saw the studios finally getting the hang of this whole sound cinema fad while simultaneously causing and reacting to the newly minted Motion Picture Production Code. A lotta testing of the moral boundaries sit alongside efforts which found ways to make moving pictures MOVE again, having been held mostly stationary by hidden microphones for a few years. Today the FF offers a pair of satires from director Roy Del Ruth; the Edward G. Robinson starring THE LITTLE GIANT and the Warren William vehicle EMPLOYEE'S ENTRANCE. The former sees the once Little Caesar essaying a thinly veiled sendup of that prior persona, and Warren William just acts like Warren William, this time employing his version of dapper as the dictatorial head of a bustling department store. Hilarity ensues.

Over at MOMA Jacques Becker's CASQUE D'OR screens the last of its three day run as part of their Auteurist History of Film series. This tale of love and crime during the Belle Epoque stars the luminous Simone Signoret as the woman of ill repute who comes between the rival leaders of a vicious underworld mob. Again, minds out of the gutters, Stockers, there wasn't a single dirty notion in that last sentence.

Anthology Film Archives dedicates a screening of Bernardo Bertolucci's debut feature to the man who founded the New York Film Festival, one Amos Vogel. The landmark work of film criticism written by the latter provides this fest with it's title, Film as a Subversive Art, and today screens BEFORE THE REVOLUTION, Bertolucci's poetic examination of the romantic young bourgeois lifestyle in the days leading up to its end. 23 years later THE LAST EMPEROR would win the bulk of the Academy's gold for many of the same themes. See where the man began.

Museum of the Moving Image screens one of the seminal indies from the era of Black empowerment, KILLER OF SHEEP, the debut feature from African American auteur Charles Burnett. I normally never would highlight the ethnicity of or level of melanin in an artist when hawking his work, but in this case the era, the setting and the history of the country from founding to filming are pivotal elements alongside those factors not merely in story told but the impetus behind its telling. Burnett was and is a remarkable filmmaker who never quite got his due, but this flick is routinely referenced as one of the defining works of its era and most influential to the indie movement of the 80's. Highly recommended, but not my Pick.

Leos Carax wasn't always just this year's lunatic darling of film. Once upon a once he directed some pretty nutty outre cinema as part of a decade of world film searching for a collective voice. Or maybe not. Depends on what mood I'm in when you ask. Anyway one of the Frogteur's early efforts examines two lost characters living on and around the Pont Neuf as it undergoes reconstruction and France prepares for its Bicentennial. One's a hopless drunk and the other is a painter slowly losing her sight. Tres Francais. LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE screens tonight at the French Institute. Je Ne Pick Pas Moi Aujourd'hui. Zhut Alors.

The Rubin Museum digs into their new three month series Illusions Revealed tonight with a screening of Ingmar Bergman's THE MAGICIAN. Max Von Sydow plays guess what? Price of a drink in the museum's lounge gifts you a ticket to the screening. You could ask for better, but what would the Dalai Lama say...?

The Nitehawk Cinema has devoted a sporadic monthly midnight screening to the works of Brian De Palma as part of a long term retrospective to the man's career. One day I'll discover why. Tonight the masochistically inclined amongst ye may nestle into a seat and order brew and tater tots for an unspooling of the Fauxteur's BLOW OUT, which actually as I remember was one of his better flicks. Then again I said the same thing about SISTERS and re-watched that recently. Tres mauvais, mon frere, tres mauvais.

But mebbe ya get lucky and I'm wrong. The De Palma screens at midnight, as does the equally batshit Donald Cammell's 70's sci-fi/horror sex classic DEMON SEED, in which the world's smartest computer attempts to impregnate Julie Christie. Steve Jobs' last geat unrealized dream.

Finally the Landmark Sunshine Cinema has scheduled a screening of that flick we never get tired of watching or quoting, Francis Ford Coppola's THE GODFATHER. Yeah, you've seen it a million times, but ever on the big screen Mister Wiseguy? Here's your chance.

All worthy as usual, but not my Pick. Today I reserve such hallowed status for a seminal 70's ensemble comedy, that in some ways is just as important a comment as Charles Burnett's to the racial divide that existed since the earliest days of the medium, and did a lot in its own way to help break it down. It was directed by a budding filmmaker whose career never quite reached its potential, scripted by perhaps the only director of the modern Hollywood era WORSE than Brian De Palma, and headed by an all-star cast of known entities and up-and-comers who would help define and refine the zeitgeist. None, though, were perhaps more important than the man whose screening this film is dedicated to, and who warrants a three week retrospective in Brooklyn's most sanctified screening space.

Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor had a fuckovah long name. Most royalty does. Born the son of a prostitute he was raised in his grandmother's brothel and saw his fair share of hell growing up, so the nurturing of an enormous sense of humor was of tantamount import from a young age. After a troubled stint in the Army he moved to NYC to test his mettle as a nightclub comic. His rise was slow but constant, and he soon evolved from a more highbrow Bill Cosby-inspired act to taboo busting provocateur in the Lenny Bruce mold. If art does have the ability to tear down divides then Pryor found his greatest success and legacy in the 70's, testing the social fabric of the times with the use of outrageous comedy and real social commentary. He remains one of our most treasured cultural icons.

But what exactly to do with him onscreen? Many filmmakers grappled with the transposition of his comic gifts to the big screen, and some to their credit simply employed his dramatic skills, and to great effect. One director who was able to mine the unadulterated funny from the club comic was a guy named Michael Schultz, who had already proven his considerable talent with the 60's set inner-city coming of age classic COOLEY HIGH (and who would one day go on to direct the 80's hip-hop time capsule KRUSH GROOVE). His next project was originally conceived as a musical, an episodic documenting of a day in the life of an urban meeting ground, an industry second only to barbershops as social mecca in some quarters. To fill out his cast he snagged not only Pryor, but The Pointer Sisters as Greek chorus Gospel Singers to his money hungry evangelist, as well as fellow taboo breaker George Carlin, Franklyn Ajaye, Bill Duke, Antonio Fargas, Garret Morris, Lorraine Garry, Jack Kehoe, Melanie Mayron and Tim Thompson. Oh, yeah, and some nobody named Danny De Vito. Good luck to that guy!

The resulting film is no masterpiece, but remains an important cinematic document of the times, preserving in celluloid amber a whole gene pool of screen talent and spawning several indelible hit songs from that era including the title track. Plus it's funny. Really funny. REALLY fucking funny, and it deserves to be rediscovered. So kudos to BAM for diggin' throught the crates for this one, and for celebrating the cinematic output of Richard Pryor.

CAR WASH screens today at BAM at 4:30pm and 9:30pm as part of their A Pryor Engagement series. That's right. He still bad.

 

Oh yeah, the film's screenwriter was the wholly awful Joel Schumacher. Please somebody stop him before he films again?!?!?!?

 

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-Joe Walsh