A bunch of slugs

The City (opening at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens as well as the Quad) is heroically somber and unfashionably social-realist. Riker alternates tragic, ennobling compositions with recurring shots of his bereft, discarded protagonists-living in abandoned cars, scavenging old bricks for pennies-as they are dwarfed by an unfeeling environment. However loaded, these images can be heartbreaking in their eloquence. Still, Riker doesn't completely trust their power. His mini-narratives-each predicated on an instance of innocence betrayed-invariably call attention to their own contrivances, even as the obtrusive dirge of Tony Adzinikolov's score pushes them to the verge of neorealist bathos.

Despite (and ultimately because of) its heavy-handedness, The City is an old-fashioned monument to immigrant courage, and as such, it succeeds in making the invisible evident. The sweatshop where much of the final episode is set is a location more horrific than any of the various rubble-strewn lots. Riker links his four stories with scenes in a Queens photo studio where immigrants come for ID pictures or portraits to send home. Nothing in The City is more haunting than the rapt close-ups of these stoical faces.

North By Northwest, installed at Film Forum for a two-week run, is Alfred Hitchcock's ultimate wrong-man comedy. An empty Brooks Brothers suit (played with splendid insouciance by Cary Grant) is pushed further into the void when he inadvertently assumes the identity of a nonexistent secret agent. Thus cast in a role he cannot understand, the Grant character is a superb textual effect whose fantastic misadventures include the most bravura piece of editing in the Hitchcock oeuvre-the nearly silent rendezvous with himself in the horrifying vacuum of a midwestern cornfield.

Released late-summer 1959, this saga of a stranger in a strange land was still playing when Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to tour the U.S. (His trip included several of the movie's locations.) Hitch was right on time-and anticipated James Bond by several years-in treating the Cold War as a form of Pop Art. Indeed, more matter-of-factly outrageous than the makers of Fight Club, Hitchcock drafted our sacred Mount Rushmore as the stage upon which his hero might resolve his Oedipal scenario.


Fight ClubA Twentieth Century Fox release. Directed by David Fincher. Now playing. The CityA Zeitgeist release. Directed by David Riker. Opens October 22. North By NorthwestA Warner Bros. Classics release. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. At Film Forum through November 2.

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