As today’s boxfull of emails and screaming TV commercials exhort, if Santa didn’t pick up your signals, now get yourself what your heart desires. More buy-buy-buy babel but you could gift yourself Boxing Day at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, watching one or more films directed by the great and influential Douglas Sirk.
“Battle Hymn,” (1957), spectacularly shot, as are all of Sirk’s films, is an investigation of “the troubling ethical considerations of warfare” and stars Rock Hudson. (2:00 pm).
“The Tarnished Angels” (1957), aka “Pylon” proves that Sirk was as much as master of black and white as of Technicolor. Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone play a duo of fearless/reckless stunt flyers. Rock Hudson is a complicated journalist (and drinker) fascinated by their lives. (4:30 pm.)
Sirk’s final Hollywood film–and perhaps his greatest–“Imitation of Life” (1959), rare in so many ways, is likely unique in that it both deals with issues of class, race/racial identity and a woman’s right to self-determination in post-WWII America, and has credits for “jewels by” and “gowns by” (all glitteringly gorgeous as worn by perfect, platinum-blonde Lana Turner). Also starring lovely Juanita Moore, the film mixes artifice and deep emotion. Mahalia Jackson’s bravura performance enhances the devastating climax. (6:30 pm.)
Filled with Sirk’s signature shots employing mirrors, “Written on the Wind” (1956), adds Lauren Bacall to a cast of Sirk’s favorites: Hudson, Stack and Malone (who won an Oscar for her performance). Two spoiled siblings from a wealthy Texas oil family (Stack and Malone) flamboyantly act out, drawing Hudson and Bacall into their world of neuroses. (9:00 pm.)
“Imitations of Life: The Films of Douglas Sirk” at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade and Francesca Beale Theaters, runs through Wednesday, January 6.
This has been a rough year of wars, terrorism and refugees, domestic gun violence, the climate crisis and an American buffoon, spewing stupidity and hate, wearing an imitation unidentifiable dead animal on his head.
But of course there were still cinematic gifts, reflecting our times and as a place of refuge. Here in no particular order are my favorites: “Phoenix” (Christian Petzold); “Carol” (Todd Haynes); “Tangerine” (Sean Baker); “Timbuktu” (Abderrahmane Sissako); “Son of Saul” (László Nemes); “45 Years” (Andrew Haigh); “Seymour: An Introduction” (Ethan Hawke); “Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy); “The Tribe” (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky); “In Jackson Heights” (Frederick Wiseman) and “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” (Roy Andersson).
And a joint retrospective, part of the 53rd New York Film Festival, “Luminous Intimacy: The Cinema of Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler.” And two re-releases: “Kes” (Ken Loach) and “The Apu Trilogy” (Satyajit Ray). And the best motion picture event, “Too Much Johnson,” Orson Welles’s first professional film (long thought lost, the raw footage was found in Italy in August 2013), presented with the theatrical component performed by the Film Forum Players.
Obviously I didn’t see every film released in 2015 but I suspect these three serious omissions might have been on my list: “Horse Money” (Pedro Costa), “The Duke of Burgundy” (Peter Strickland), and “Inside Out” (Peter Docter, Ronnie del Carmen). And I’m sure that I would have responded differently to “Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller) if I’d seen it on a big screen, rather than on demand on an oldish TV.