By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
September 26–October 2Brooklyn filmmaker Matt Wolf's feature debut isn't just "A Portrait of Arthur Russell," but a vibrant and affecting resurrection of the New York cellist, vocalist, and avant-disco composer—an eccentric pioneer of the '70s and '80s downtown fringe who inspired today's dance-punk scene and deserved canonization long before he died of AIDS in 1992. Aided by Russell's fragile music and live video recordings—plus commentary from his parents, longtime partner Tom Lee, and collaborators like Philip Glass and former Modern Lover Ernie Brooks—the film admirably tries, unlike most rock-doc hagiographies, to understand its subject within the context of his peers. IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, 212-924-7771.
Haiti Comes to Harlem
September 29–October 5Summertime saw the opening of Central Harlem's cozy new Maysles Cinema, a nonprofit theater founded by vérité legend Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens) to foster socially progressive principles. Marking the anniversary of the first coup d'état (in September 1991) against three-time former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, filmmaker KK Kean curates a week of evening screenings—including two of her own works, Haiti: Killing the Dream and Rezistans—that explore various facets of the country's history, society, and politics. Highlights include Gillo Pontecorvo's fiery Burn! (1969), starring Marlon Brando as a mercenary soldier and professional insurrectonist; Raoul Peck's underrated 1993 drama, The Man by the Shore; and last year's damning plantation doc, The Price of Sugar. Maysles Cinema, 343 Lenox Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, 212-582-6050.
October 3–21Given that Schroeder produced such seminal nouvelle vague films as Céline and Julie Go Boating and Claire's Knee before dabbling in Hollywood studio gigs, there's no question that the French filmmaker and sometime actor's eclectic career would be ripe for a collective cult resurrection. Get high on his heroin-trippy debut, More; get loaded on his Bukowski bender, Barfly; and get crazy on the accordion for his disturbingly funny "self-portrait," Général Idi Amin Dada. At least a dozen titles are confirmed, and the series launches with a week-long run of Paris vu par . . . , a 1965 Schroeder-produced omnibus with segments by Chabrol, Rohmer, and Godard. BAM, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100.
October 10–30After his exquisite The Earrings of Madame de . . ., Max Ophüls's swan song and only work in color bombed when it premiered to Parisian audiences in 1955 and was brutally re-edited by the producers into a more conventional chronological timeline. Working closely with filmmaker Marcel Ophüls (Max's son), the Cinémathèque Française has meticulously restored the soundtrack and each frame to return the stunning CinemaScope film—which tells the story of a 19th-century courtesan's life—to Ophüls's original vision. It's no masterpiece, but the roving camerawork, sets, and costumes are all magnificent. Screen seductress Martine Carol plays the title role, the infamous lover of composer Franz Liszt and Bavarian king Louis I, first seen slumming in the circus for Peter Ustinov's seedy ringmaster. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, 212-727-8110.
October 17–23A key figure in post–World War II European cinema, the incisively allegorical Polish filmmaker and honorary Oscar winner has certainly earned this half-century retrospective. Best known for his antiwar trilogy, which includes 1957's Warsaw Uprising chronicle Kanal and 1958's V-E Day drama Ashes and Diamonds, Wajda is still a tireless force in exploring Polish cultural identity—last year's Katyn, about the Soviet massacre of Poland's intellectual elite, will be screening, as will his 1981 Palme d'Or winner Man of Iron. In conjunction with the program, Anthology Film Archives will be showing Wajda's theatrical adaptations for Polish TV from October 24 to 28. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, West 65th Street and Broadway, 212-496-3809.
Synecdoche, New York
October 24The directorial debut by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman unfortunately reveals that his ingenuity isn't as a visual artist—his deeply despairing, post-meta opus might've been better balanced by the eccentric splendors of a Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry. Still, ambitions this tricky shouldn't be dismissed. Deteriorating in every way imaginable, a frazzled theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman, heading a superb, female-centric ensemble) spends years staging a living replica of NYC within a warehouse on an impossible one-to-one scale, his professional and romantic labors forcing him to confront mortal decay, love's evanescence, and the anxieties of both creation and creationism. Sony Pictures Classics, in limited release.
November 7–16Speaking of creating, if the Swiss-born artist had stopped after his 1958 photography book The Americans and never gone into film and video, he'd still be a visionary today. Passionately comprehensive at 20-plus works, the "Mapping a Journey" series hits most every landmark: Frank's self-mocking 1959 debut, Pull My Daisy (written and narrated by Jack Kerouac); his doc-fiction hybrid, Me and My Brother; the rambling road movie Candy Mountain (with Tom Waits, Joe Strummer, and Dr. John); and on through 2004. No sign yet of that underground holy grail Cocksucker Blues, however, which by Rolling Stones–sanctioned court order may only be shown once a year and with Frank in attendance. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, 212-505-5181.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!