The film series returns June 26 with Scorsese’s “After Hours,” the long-awaited Madison premiere for Claire Denis’ “High Life,” an extended run of “Poverty Row” films of the 1930s, and the fury of Mad Max. (Image: “Stranger Than Paradise.”)
“What a lovely day!” It has seemed like an especially slow crawl towards seasonably appropriate weather this year, but summer is finally approaching in Madison. As behemoth blockbusters and franchises persistently roll out into general theater chains over the next few months, the programmers at UW Cinematheque have a singular, eclectic movie season in store for local cinephiles and 4070 Vilas Hall faithful. All 20 screenings from Wednesday, June 26, through Friday, August 2, are free and open to the public.
The lineup is brimming with many repertory picks from the widely known and obscure alike, commencing with a 35mm print of Martin Scorsese’s venturesome black comedy After Hours (1985) and the local premiere of one of the most acclaimed films of this year, Claire Denis’ high-minded, sci-fi-imbued mystery, High Life, starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche. Also on the docket is a 40-year anniversary retrospective of George Miller’s Mad Max saga, which gathers Miller’s feature debut from 1979, the fan favorite Road Warrior sequel from 1981, and Director of Programming Jim Healy’s pick for most “underrated and visionary” of the bunch, “flavored with lots of humor,” Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Things conclude with a bang on Thursday, August 1, with a rare 3D presentation of the spectacular post-apocalyptic action vehicle and 2016 Best Picture nominee, Fury Road. Collectively, they may serve to tide us over until further word on proper follow-up, The Wasteland, is hopefully unearthed from limbo.
The calendar’s deepest and most extensive series is “Down and Dirty in Gower Gulch”; these six restored and preserved Poverty Row pictures largely shot near Gower Street in 1930s Los Angeles screen every Wednesday from July 3 through 31. As some of the earliest examples of American independent cinema, they were effectively made outside the standard studio system by Monogram, Reliance, Republic, and others, now seeing preservation and restoration efforts by UCLA Film and Television archives. While their budgets were perhaps diminutive compared to the likes of 20th Century Fox or Universal at the time, smaller crews were afforded a newfound levels of freedom to not only experiment with form but pointedly address controversial themes. Such is the case for the extreme personality of Lowell Sherman’s False Faces (1932) on July 17, about a quack surgeon and sociopathic social climber in Chicago, portrayed with aplomb by the director himself. Every feature film in the series is also preceded by a short from pioneering animators like Max Fleischer and Ub Iwerks as well as a time capsule Metrotone newsreel from William Randolph Hearst’s parent company.
Other scattered gems include Claire Denis’ lesser-known enigmatic French-language thriller, The Intruder (2004), on Friday, June 28, a suitable companion with her latest feature, High Life, screening the prior evening. Starring Michel Subor as hermetic Jura Mountains-dwelling ex-mercenary Louis, The Intruder [L’intrus]’s narrative finds him trekking to Tahiti to seek a heart transplant. Denis’ faithful cinematographer Agnès Godard lends her wondrous eye to scale the film’s vistas as well as hone in on chilling interpersonal moments.
Additionally, American and Finnish brothers in aesthetic approach, Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki, have films featuring in July, beginning with Jarmusch’s wry, American b/w indie road comedy, Stranger Than Paradise, (1984), on 35mm, starring The Lounge Lizards’ John Lurie as the ultimate card-shark slacker (before Linklater’s, even), who goes on a road trip with his younger, hipper Hungarian cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) and gullible friend Eddie (Richard Edson). Kaurismäki’s Drifting Clouds (1996) examines the lives of a working-class couple (Kati Outinen and Kari Väänänen), who lose their jobs as a waitress and tram driver, respectively, and must reconcile with not only this new reality but with each other. Finally, on Friday, July 19, Cinematheque presents a new DCP of King Hu’s wuxia The Fate Of Lee Khan (1973). This evolving battle royale riffs on Hu’s previous epic Dragon Inn (1967) and may also serve as a perfect partner to the thrills of last summer’s Cinematheque screening of Come Drink With Me (1966), yet another example of the director’s forward-thinking ideologies in casting dexterous and agile women in principal roles.