FILM 2021

Sitting in the Dark Again at Film Forum

We watch him watch them while no one watches us, pervs in the shadows like we’ve always been, even before Hitchcock noticed

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And as simple as that, movie theaters open again, and we can go back to Film Forum. Officially reopening April 2, the beloved bijou’s repertory docket starts the month with an old-school standard: Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954), running April 2 to 8 in a long-overdue 4K restoration. Insert here the exhausted frame-up about how his-is-the-film-we-need-after-a-pandemic-year — but it’s not, c’mon, it’s Fellini, the self-proclaimed art-film maestro for people who didn’t like art-film maestros, in his career’s post-Neo-Realist phase (only his third feature), and therefore set in a blasted postwar landscape in which grandiose showmanship, never not in the mix, takes a backseat to metaphoric mythmaking.

Giulietta Masina is the guileless waif bought by a traveling circus strongman (Anthony Quinn), whose neolithic personality and general toxic manliness predictably destroys everyone around him; Richard Basehart is the semi-wise acrobat who offers an alternative way of seeing life, and is doomed for it. Meanwhile, “the road” to nowhere awaits all itinerants: If the brute symbols snowballing at you felt profound mid-century, today they’d at least have the nitrate lambency of a shared memory, of that moment when Eisenhower-era Americans rolled the dice on one of those European “films,” maybe for the first time, and felt the intoxicating burn of self-knowing art.

Premiering just a few weeks before Fellini’s worldwide hit won top prize at the Venice Film Festival, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), playing April 9 to 15, is the more universally familiar confection by now, and one that absolutely pays off re-viewings, in a theater, like a loose slot machine.

You could argue that no other Hitchcock film demands a large screen and a black-box auditorium quite as fiercely: That vast apartment-building set, with its too-huge windows framing each voyeuristic scenario-object as its own discreet movie, needs the dimensions. And you need the darkness, so you can be complicit with James Stewart’s enormous plastered-leg hard-on, as we watch him watch them while no one watches us, pervs in the shadows like we’ve always been, even before Hitchcock noticed. It might be the most extravagantly engineered indictment of the medium’s built-in scopophilia ever devised. And yeah, just like us at our windows in lockdown, woopty-woop.

Film Forum is next showcasing the darkest chocolate among postwar Ealing comedies, the nine-Alec-Guinnesses farce Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), running April 16 to 22, a reliable crowd-pleaser about “muhduh” so doggedly toast-dry and underplayed you could be forgiven for chuckling only on the inside. Dennis Price plays the epicene hero, deciding to kill off nine members of the aristocratic clan of which he is a straggling member — famously, they’re all Guinness, from snotty upstart to crusty old cleric to (in drag) pugnacious suffragette. But Guinness is the straight man, and so’s Price; it’s the tastefully bloodthirsty narrative, and the drippingly cool irony of the King’s English narration, that’s the comic engine. The suave half-liddedness never twitches, even considering the homicidal methods (poison, bombs, drowning, shooting out a hot air balloon), the collateral dead, and liberal sprinklings of the Brit-nursery-rhyme n-word. (Which, like much of the references to extramarital sex and unpunished vice were excised from American prints.) All told, a chill bit of tea.   ❖

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