Honoring Europe’s Rich Film Legacy
The UCLA Film Archive 13 years ago presented a series of classic Swedish films that illustrated the talent of major pioneer director Mauritz Stiller. He was known primarily as the discoverer of Greta Garbo, whom Stiller accompanied to Hollywood; in contrast to her spectacular success, he met failure. Now the archive offers a more comprehensive view of the director with “The Golden Age of Mauritz Stiller,” which opens Saturday at 7 p.m. in Melnitz Hall’s James Bridges Theater with the 1916 comedy “Love and Journalism,” which will be followed by the better-known 40-minute film “The Wings.”
A scholarly dispute continues over whether this subtle and sophisticated 1916 film invokes the legend of Ganymede or Icarus. The first interpretation would imply a gay theme--and Stiller was gay--the second, a straight one. It is not hard to see homosexual implications in this recently rediscovered film.
Based on a novel by Herman Bang, it is a love triangle involving a famed elderly artist (Egil Eide), his young model, Eugene Mikael (Lars Hanson) and a frivolous aristocrat (Lili Bech), who captivates Mikael, much to the anguish of the artist. It will be followed by the 1917 comedy “Thomas Graal’s Best Film,” starring actor-director Victor Sjostrom of Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries.”
“Sir Arne’s Treasure” (Sunday at 7 p.m.) is Stiller’s masterpiece, a stirring and visually splendid 1919 epic tale of death, revenge and ill-fated love set in the 16th century and based on a story by Selma Lagerlof. The luminous Mary Johnson plays a young woman tormented by a love for the man (Richard Lund) who has slain her family and stolen its treasure. The film possesses a psychological complexity unusual for its time, and has some spectacularly stark sequences set on a frozen sea. It is remarkable that Stiller, a man so at home in drawing rooms and boudoirs, would also have such a strong feeling for nature. This is followed by “Johan” (1921).
On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., “Gunnar Hede’s Saga” is another much-praised Lagerlof adaptation. It will be followed by “The Song of the Scarlet Flower” (1919), based on a popular--and very Victorian--tale about the redemption of a farmer’s son (Lars Hanson) cast out when he’s caught in a compromising situation with a housemaid in spite of the fact that nothing actually had happened. It has a remarkable sequence in which Hanson balances on a log as it proceeds down a river to treacherous rapids. In theme and in this sequence, this film anticipates D.W. Griffith’s “Way Down East,” made the following year. (310) 206-FILM.
A “50th Anniversary Tribute to Cahiers du Cinema,” arguably the most influential film journal, which gave birth to France’s New Wave, commences Friday at 7:30 p.m. at LACMA with “Breathless,” which is as fresh as it was when it was first released in 1959. Jean-Luc Godard’s restless, shoot-from-the hip style hasn’t become dated one iota, but because we’re more familiar with it, it’s easier now to appreciate the extraordinary talent of Belmondo and Jean Seberg, who seem to be living their roles.
Belmondo, whose crook has a terrific sense of style, is enormously attractive to women and knows it. Belmondo and Seberg emerged as screen icons in this landmark film, whose place in the history of world cinema is secure.
It will be followed by Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1962 “Le Doulos” (“The Fingerman”), starring Belmondo. In its opening sequence we watch a man approach a handsome but shabby 19th century townhouse in the deserted outskirts of Paris. A train rushes nearby; there is weak light from ancient street fixtures. The man enters the building and proceeds to the attic, where a fence is disassembling some jewelry in front of an oval window.
Very shortly, the visitor (Serge Reggiani) guns down the fence, steals his loot and buries it by one of the lampposts. Melville accomplishes all of this with such economy and easy bravura that the effect is exhilarating. Once Melville swiftly moves past the robbery, he plunges us into a dizzyingly intricate thicket of betrayals. “The Golden Coach” (1952), Saturday at 7:30 p.m., is one of Jean Renoir’s most exquisite films, an adaptation of the Prosper Merimee play filmed in Italy and starring Anna Magnani in one of her finest performances. Magnani is Camilla, or La Perichole, the tempestuous star of a hardy commedia dell’arte troupe that has endured a five-month sea voyage to Peru in the early 18th century in hope of bettering its fortunes in the New World.
Earthy yet eloquent, Camilla is a breath of fresh air in the staid, indolent court of the Viceroy (Duncan Lamont), one of her three suitors and a man intent on oppressing the natives at all costs, even bankruptcy. However, just when “The Golden Coach” seems little more than a light romantic comedy and a feast for the eyes with its period settings and costumes in ravishing color, its perspectives broaden and it achieves the impact of the classic Renoirs, “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game.”
Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” which celebrates the perils and joys of filmmaking as “The Golden Coach” does for the world of theater, follows, with star Jacqueline Bisset scheduled to appear. (323) 857-6010.
The Laemmle Theaters’ outstanding Documentary Days 2002 series’ final selection is Doug Wolens’ comprehensive and provocative “Butterfly,” which takes its title from the forest name of then 21-year-old Julia Hill, who climbed 180 feet to a 6-foot-by-8-foot platform constructed in a 1,000-year-old redwood tree in a Humboldt County forest. She went up Dec. 10, 1997, and didn’t climb down for two years. Her idea was to protest the reckless and sometimes illegal logging practices of Pacific Lumber Co., which in 1985 was subject to a hostile takeover by Texas corporate raider Charles Hurwitz.
By preparing to risk her life to save a single ancient tree, Hill succeeded in calling attention to the evils of clear-cut lumbering, which lays waste to huge stretches of forest wilderness, destabilizing steep hillsides, destroying watershed and causing floods. Another reckless practice is the use of herbicides to kill off hardwood deemed inferior, thus polluting drinking water supplies and killing salmon.
The point of Hill and her key support group, Earth First, is not to stop logging, but to end current “cut-and-run” tactics of Pacific Lumber and return it and other companies to the more responsible, environment-friendly policies of the past. Hill worked from a spiritual basis, but her personal approach did allow her sometimes critical supporters to get the environmental message out. Hill emerges as a lovely, radiant, articulate young woman.
What is dismaying is that opponents see her and her supporters only as hippie-like, New Age kooks who are costing loggers their jobs--and, alas, Hill and the Earth Firsters do carry on at times in ways that reinforce this negative image. But their enemies either cannot or will not see the urgent larger picture these dedicated young people are striving to get across. Also dismaying is the ineffectual policies of the California Department of Forestry in curbing men such as Hurwitz, who upon taking over Pacific Lumber announced that “he who has the gold, rules.”
“Butterfly” is an engaging consciousness-raiser and proof that an individual can make a difference. “Butterfly” screens at 11 a.m. May 4-5 at the Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741; May 11-12 at the Playhouse 7, Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and May 25-27 at the Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 673-8351.
“The Attic Expeditions,” which began Friday and Saturday midnight screenings at the Sunset 5 in West Hollywood last weekend, is an amusing and ambitious supernatural horror picture in which a young man, Trevor (Andras Jones), kills his bride in self-defense when she attempts to make him the victim of a sacrificial ritual as doubtlessly outlined in an ancient text of black magic in her possession.
Confined to an institution for the criminally insane, Trevor faces fresh horrors from its head doctor (Jeffrey Combs), who seemingly believes that humanity could be cured of all mental ills if black magic and science were one. The doctor believes he’s on the brink of a breakthrough--but needs to get his hands on that text.
Much of the film takes place in a halfway house, a turn-of-the-last-century Georgian Revival mansion decorated in Mondrian-inspired color schemes and designs and in retro ‘50s and ‘60s decor. Here’s where Trevor ends up--and where he begins his expeditions into the mysteries of its attic.
Director Jeremy Kasten and writer Rogan Russell Marshall are consistently imaginative and audacious, willing to challenge as well as entertain their audience. Along with a capable cast, they’ve received a terrific assist from production designer Laura Roberts and her team and from cinematographers Michael Negrin and Greg Littlewood, whose use of light and sensitivity to Roberts’ vibrant color scheme create the film’s crucial sense of transporting the viewer into a nightmare world. “The Attic Expeditions” is a low-budget gem. (323) 848-3500.
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