Goings On: Riefenstahl and More

J. Hoberman will be at Light Industry in New York tomorrow evening to introduce a program of films he’s calling Against Riefenstahl: Charles A. Ridley’s The Lambeth Walk (1940), Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak’s Why We Fight: The Nazis Strike (1942), and “a 45-minute study version” of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935) created by MoMA in 1940/41. Hoberman notes that, in his memoir My Last Sigh, Luis Buñuel wrote that “when Charlie Chaplin saw the abridged Triumph of the Will at a 1943 Hollywood screening he ‘laughed, once so hard he actually fell off his chair.’ . . . Writing in the Village Voice in November 1974, Jonas Mekas gave his personal ‘final statement’ on Riefenstahl’s films: ‘If you are an idealist, you see idealism in her films; if you are a classicist, you’ll see in her films an ode to classicism, if you are a nazi, you’ll see in her films Nazism.’ And if you’re a comedian?”

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s recently posted “Can Films Be Fascist?,” a piece that appeared in a 1994 issue of the Chicago Reader when Ray Müller’s documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993) had come to town:

Toward the end of the film, when Muller asks her to define a fascist aesthetic and she replies that she doesn’t even know what the term means, she clearly has the audience on her side. And—notwithstanding all of Susan Sontag’s alluring arguments in the essay “Fascinating Fascism,” one of the better Riefenstahl hatchet jobs—it’s easy to understand her response. As Brian Winston put it on the BBC program [Looking at “Triumph of the Will”], “I don’t think you can make a moral judgment about Riefenstahl’s work on the basis that it embodies fascist aesthetics, because I don’t think there’s any such thing. I think she stands in the mainstream of Western aesthetics, and I think that Western aesthetics can be, on occasion, fascist. That’s the problem with the whole phenomenon of fascism—that we want somehow to treat it as a virus. It isn’t; it’s part of us. It’s the dark side of the European tradition, and she represents that dark side perfectly.”
[. . .]
In the fourth episode of Godard’s video series Histoire(s) du cinema . . . , Godard remarks, “[Director F. W.] Murnau and [cinematographer] Karl Freund invented Nuremberg lighting when Hitler still couldn’t afford a beer in a Munich cafe.” It’s one more blow against the received notion that Riefenstahl is somehow accountable for Nazi iconography. It’s worth adding that perhaps the most memorable uses of “Nuremberg lighting” in the United States during the same period were in Orson Welles’s antifascist stage version of Julius Caesar; he later adopted the same lighting schemes in his first feature. But if we’re talking about “pure” rather than applied aesthetics, the will to power that impresses us in Triumph of the Will and Olympia also impresses in Citizen Kane.

More Goings On

New York. “There’s a reason why a repertory film event like the Quad Cinema’s Comin’ at Ya! 35mm 3-D is so rare: Showing vintage 3-D films is a costly labor of love.” For the Village Voice,Simon Abrams talks with programmer Harry Guerro about what it takes to project a vintage 3-D 35 mm print. Richard Fleischer’s Amityville 3-D (1983) is “dumb with a capital (3)D,” writes Stephanie Monohan at Screen Slate, “but it takes full advantage of what many consider nothing but a cheap gimmick to elicit some genuinely fun spook-house jump scares.” The series runs through Thursday.

The BAMcinématek series Black Skin, White Masks: Cinema Inspired by Frantz Fanon runs from Wednesday through October 26.

“A character actor and exploitation auteur who cut his teeth directing for Roger Corman, Paul Bartel (1938-2000) had a sense of satire that combined the campiness of John Waters with the class consciousness of Peter Watkins,” writes Ben Kenigsberg in the New York Times.The Films of Paul Bartel are screening through Thursday at Anthology Film Archives.

“Kino Lorber has just restored Jean Delannoy's 1958 adaptation of Georges Simenon's Maigret Sets a Trap, one of the notoriously prolific Belgian crime writer's novels starring the eponymous bon-vivant police inspector, played here by a mid-comeback Jean Gabin,” writes Cosmo Bjorkenheim at Screen Slate. “The mystery is not particularly chewy, and the movie's attraction lies less in narrative ingenuity than in its geographical specificity.” It screens this weekend at the Metrograph.

Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) screens tonight and Friday as part of the Metrograph’s Written By Stephen King series, running through November 1. At Screen Slate, Ryan Kane notes that “De Palma perhaps said it best in this interview that the film ‘has a very adolescent reality and it’s very true to it.’”

On Thursday, Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall will serve as a movie theater for a single day for the first Grand Central Cinema event, hosted in partnership with Rooftop Films and the Museum of the Moving Image.

Ongoing through October 26: Philippe Garrel: Part 1 at the Metrograph.

Los Angeles. The UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Taiwan Academy present What Time Is It There? Taiwanese Film Biennial from Friday through November 19.

The Mummy (1932) screens tomorrow at LACMA. “Apart from the genuinely spooky opening sequence (‘He went for a little walk!’), Karl Freund’s direction emphasizes the romantic aspects of its undead protagonist,” writes Nathaniel Bell. “Boris Karloff’s sensitive portrayal, augmented considerably by Jack Pierce’s brilliant makeup design, is at once intimidating and delicate, his devotion to his princess proving stronger than death itself.”

Gwynedd Stuart on that same page in the LA Weekly: “The ninth installment of Echo Park Film Center’s ongoing film series Race and Space in Los Angeles centers on the [1992] riots via a program of grassroots films produced by Michael Zinzun, a co-founder of Coalition Against Police Abuse. Yusef Omowale and Michele Welsing of the Southern California Library curated the films, and they'll be present for a discussion about challenging race and oppression.”

REDCAT presents a program of films by Janie Geiser tonight. And then, on Wednesday: “Ellen Cantor (1961–2013) worked on her most ambitious project, Pinochet Porn, for the last five years of her life.”

“I’m going to be hyperbolic,” warns Kim Morgan. “There’s a scene about sixteen minutes into Dennis Hopper’s revolutionary counterculture classic and endlessly discussed Easy Rider [1969] that, to me, on a certain day, seemed so beautiful that I feel like it was among one of the loveliest moments in any movie I’d ever seen.” Tonight at the New Beverly; more from Garret Mathany.

On four consecutive Fridays, starting with this one, the Norton Simon Museum presents its series Meeting Death: Conversations with Mortality: William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (1943), and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957).

Chicago. Tonight, Doc Films presents a 35 mm print of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970). “The look of the film perfectly complements its theme, which is the seductive power of fascism,” writes Ben Sachs for the Reader.The Conformist sucks you in with beautiful style, then makes you recoil at having been seduced—one's relationship to the film is meant to mirror Italy's relationship to the Mussolini era.”

Austin. “Ever been to a film festival, seen a short film, and cursed that you'll probably never see it again?” asks Richard Whittaker. “That's why Dan Schoenbrun has created The Eyeslicer, a new platform for low-budget, lo-fi mini-movies that he hopes will give these gems life beyond the festival circuit. The new online show compiles ten hour-long episodes, each built around a theme, with shorts by dozens of rising filmmakers bound together with linking material created by the producers.” And tomorrow, “Schoenbrun will screen two episodes from the first season at AFS Cinema.”

Also in the Chronicle,Josh Kupecki offers a guide to October horror in the city.

Cambridge. On Friday, the Brattle presents Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) and Larry Cherkasov suggests that, while it’s “not a slasher . . . , its techniques create an effect that shares the genre’s self-awareness and playfulness in its use of camera as character.”

Tonight and tomorrow, the Harvard Film Archive presents Rick Prelinger's Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles, and then on Friday, Rajko Grlic’s The Constitution (2016).

Toronto. Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita - Queen of Mars (1924) screens tomorrow as part of the TIFF Cinematheque series The Heart of the World: Masterpieces of Soviet Silent Cinema. For the TIFF Review, Todd Brown presents “A Brief History of Soviet Sci-fi.”

London. With the BFI Thriller season on through December, Stephen Puddicombe offers an annotated list of ten “great dangerous journey films.”

“Wim Wenders reckons he took more than 12,000 Polaroids between 1973 and 1983, when his career as a filmmaker really took off, but only 3,500 remain,” writes Sean O’Hagan for the Guardian. “‘The thing is,’ he says, ‘you gave them away. You had the person in front of you, whose picture you had just taken, and it was like they had more right to it. The Polaroids helped with making the movies, but they were not an aim in themselves. They were disposable.’ Four decades on, the Photographers’ Gallery in London is about to host an extensive exhibition of Wenders’s early Polaroids called Instant Stories.” The New Yorker’s Richard Brody: “Wenders had the insight and the sensibility to recognize that his own immediate daily perceptions were instantly historical moments on the wing; he experienced the present as the past, and thereby rendered it poetic, eerie, and melancholy.” The exhibition opens Friday and will be on view through February 11.

Cambridge. The Cambridge Film Festival, opening Thursday and running through October 26, “is one of the best regular film festivals in the country for silents, and this year, the program of early film is full of surprises, and wonderful music,” writes Pamela Hutchinson, previewing the highlights at Silent London.

Paris. The retrospective L'URSS des cinéastes (The USSR of Cineastes) opens Thursday at the Cinémathèque française and runs through December 27.

Lisbon. “Vera Chytilová, the Czech New Wave filmmaker who passed away last year, insisted that her cinema was not feminist,” writes Ela Bittencourt for Hyperallergic. “Yet her bold films, most of which are only now getting more international attention—currently thanks to a comprehensive retrospective at Doclisboa, in Portugal—make her one of the most incisive and formally innovative critics of gender inequality among Europe’s New Wave filmmakers.” The festival opens Thursday and runs through October 29.

Brussels.L’Âge d’Or Festival 2017 opens Thursday and runs through October 24.

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