Photo: TRAVIS EMERY HACKETT
Having parted with 55 bucks for the privilege, Trainspotting Live attendees can expect to be variously insulted, spat upon, shouted at, drizzled with the contents of a shit-smeared toilet, and forced into extreme proximity to both male asshole and uncut Scottish dong. You will, if you choose to insert yourself among the forty or so willing captives cloistered within the airless confines of Roy Arias Stages’ slender black box above Eighth Avenue, be menaced by a madman with a shiv and subjected to seizure-level strobes; in one especially harrowing passage, you’ll endure the sight and up-close shrieks of a pregnant woman battered with fists and choked with a belt. When the makers of this thing warn you that it’s an “immersive” interpretation, you’d better damn well take them at their word.
Colin Minihan’s ruthlessly gripping What Keeps You Alive details the exacting arrangements made by a sociopath to get the upper hand on her intended quarry, currently vacationing at a remote cabin. Minihan’s point-by-point revelations may spell out the villain’s plan, but they do nothing to alleviate the unbearable tension. The movie plays dirty and trusts that you think you know what might happen next. That’s when you realize there’s something behind you.
Nothing quite matches sitting alongside New York Harbor, regarding Lady Liberty in the distance; magnificent sunsets; and, closer by, on a platform stage, any of twenty-plus troupes, from New York City (Douglas Dunn + Dancers and more) and as far afield as Botswana, Canada, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, and Spain, including great practitioners of the percussive Kathak form from all over India. Closing night of this 37th edition of the festival is a VIP reception on August 18, featuring Macedonia’s Skopje Dance Theater, Botswana’s Mophato Dance Theatre, and festival hosts Battery Dance performing Jonathan Hollander’s Secrets of the Paving Stones. The $65 tickets get you a 6 p.m. curtain, an indoor location at Pace University’s Schimmel Center, and a post-show party; all the other shows are free.
If you’re not already fascinated by Amina Henry’s Hunter John and Jane — a love story with scary undertones — you’ll probably start paying close attention when the squirrel guts come out. That’s right: Henry’s play features the consumption of slimy, dark-red living matter, yanked from the interior of a pretty cute stuffed squirrel by the bow-and-arrow–wielding John of the title. This swerve from charming to unabashedly gory is representative of larger conflicting currents running through Henry’s sprawling new work, directed by Sash Bischoff and running at Jack through August 18.
A critical, financial, personal, and possibly even spiritual catastrophe that with each passing day feels more like a masterpiece, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie is one of the great lost films of the 1970s. Upon its much-delayed release in 1971, the mind-altering neo-Western nearly ended its director-star’s career, before seeming to vanish without a trace for decades. Or perhaps more accurately, it did end his career. Hopper just managed to resurrect himself years later, painfully and slowly, mainly through supporting appearances as drug-addled weirdos.
Photo: Joan Marcus
There’s a corpse onstage for the entirety of Marcus Gardley’s The House That Will Not Stand: an old white guy, suited up and laid out like a stuffed turkey on the dining-room table. He’s totally inert, yet his gravitational reach — and that of other white men we never see onstage — is all-encompassing, pulling like undertow on the fates of Gardley’s living characters, all women of color. House impresses on a number of levels: as a funny, sorrowful parable of nineteenth-century Creole New Orleans; an interrogation of complex racial histories; a tour de force of creative and verbose insults, delivered at breakneck speed. Lileana Blain-Cruz, with characteristic elegance and precision, directs an excellent cast in its New York premiere for New York Theatre Workshop.
During these troublous times, most of us surely can enjoy having a little magic in our lives — even the illusion of magic — so it is wonderful to witness the legerdemain generated by Derek DelGaudio during In & Of Itself. For all of the undeniable wonders that transpire over its seventy-five minutes, In & Of Itself remains a cunningly low-keyed event, glimmering with a nearly mystical quality. Expect no David Copperfield–type spectacle nor Penn & Teller–ish yuks here. Instead, DelGaudio, a boyish, round-faced fellow neatly dressed in a brown three-piece suit, incorporates half a dozen feats within some intriguing stories and discourse regarding identity, all of which he quietly delivers in a contemplative manner.
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed comes before us freighted with expectations. At last, one of the living American greats (writer of Taxi Driver, co-writer of Raging Bull, director of Hardcore and Affliction) has returned to dissect The Ways We’re Going Mad Today, in a preacher drama so dead serious — so rigorously hair-shirted — that you might guess ahead of time that it’s shot in the boxy, old-fashioned Academy ratio. That asceticism is thematic: Our preacher, Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), declares in voiceover in the first frames that he’s going to be keeping a journal, longhand, analog, for the next year of his life as the reverend of a 250-year-old wooden church with a congregation of about a dozen. He’s boxed in, you see, in a past he prefers to the world outside, and it’s only polite for viewers to meet him halfway by denying themselves the full use of our screens.
A woman (played by Evelyn Keyes) travels to Honolulu in search of a husband who may not have died in the attack on Pearl Harbor, as she’d been told. The man she finds (Wendell Corey, characteristically ramrod-handsome yet haunted by the world’s ugly truths) is a small-time operator scraping by on a handful of treacherous underworld connections. Before long, his bad business becomes hers. John H. Auer’s typically atypical genre entry (1954) builds its noir framework in an exotic location, resulting in a movie that feels as much like early-days Imamura as the iconic work of stateside leaders such as Joseph H. Lewis and Jules Dassin. There’s seedy lean-to architecture aplenty, and stray cats scrambling from tumbling garbage cans, right up against the inescapable beauty of the yawning Pacific. One would be remiss, too, not to mention the grand dame Elsa Lanchester in an offhand role as a Honolulu cab driver, peaked cap and all.
—Jaime N. Christley
Andy Mitton’s pastoral yarn The Witch in the Window introduces a spectral presence sitting in the second floor of a Vermont fixer-upper; it’s only a matter of time before she’ll be reckoned with. Mitton has…well, maybe not fun, but he certainly milks the scenario for all the hysterics it’s capable of producing, without breaking his focus. The doting father (Alex Draper) and precocious son (Charlie Tacker) who aim to flip the house must do something about their ghastly tenant, but it’s an open question which party is in control of the situation. The movie is frightening and shockingly emotional, given how doggedly rational Mitton’s script is about the rules of this haunting. Knowing what’s happening doesn’t necessarily mean feeling any safer.
Photo: COURTESY OF THE MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK / SK FILM ARCHIVE, LLC
Between 1945 (when he was only seventeen!) and 1950, Stanley Kubrick was first a contributor to, then an apprentice at, and finally staff photographer for Look magazine, a scrappier variant of Life. Kubrick’s first photo for them was of a dejected newspaper vendor surrounded by headlines about FDR’s death; it was staged, the subject asked to look more depressed than he was. Presented in linear order, the exhibit “Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs” — on display through October at the Museum of the City of New York — tracks Kubrick from mere technical precociousness to the development of a distinct Weegee-inflected, noir-oriented style that led directly to Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss, and The Killing, and whose increasingly obvious compositional principles and eccentricities informed everything to come after.
Johnny Kevorkian’s Await Further Instructions looks like it’s going to be a Christmas movie, but almost immediately a laudable ugliness emerges. A dysfunctional family beset by ideological differences — many of the members harbor racist feelings and can’t stomach young Nick (Sam Gittins) dating and introducing to them an Indian woman (Neerja Naik) — find their troubles amplified after their house is suddenly quarantined and locked down. They can’t leave, and any attempts to pry the strange bars off the doors and windows result in severed appendages. Those instructions of the title do come, and they get increasingly grim, testing the family’s mettle and slowly guiding them toward their worst instincts and prejudices.
Photo: courtesy of J.C. Feyer
In J.C. Feyer’s The Trace We Leave Behind, a doctor in Rio (Rafael Cardoso) treats a girl who soon vanishes (or was she only a figment of his imagination?). Searching for her means stalking the halls of a condemned hospital and discovering clues regarding a major conspiracy launched against the poorest patients. Naturally, no one believes João, or wants to help him: There’s too much hideous truth to be found where he’s going. A disturbing coda involving organ transplants works as well as (or better than) any of the film’s myriad jump scares; knowing what pieces of the least fortunate were used to fertilize the ground off of which the rest live is more chilling than a movie ghost popping up out of thin air.
A time capsule of a time capsule, the 1982 documentary compilation film The Atomic Café feels suddenly, enragingly relevant again. There was a time — during the 1990s particularly — when Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty’s montage of newsreels, training films, and commercials from the early years of the arms race seemed like both a cinematic and spiritual fragment of the past. The cloud of nuclear fear had lifted, or so we thought, with the end of the Cold War. But now the possibility of Armageddon is back in the news, in a more unpredictable fashion than ever before. And so here is The Atomic Café, beautifully restored and playing at the newly renovated Film Forum, back to remind us how fucked we truly are, and perhaps have always been.
Issa López’s poetic Tigers Are Not Afraid concerns the untold scores of “disappeared” during Mexico’s war on drugs, who emerge here in the form of plastic-coated corpses with accusing fingers extended at guilty survivors. A gang of children (shades of Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone) roam the streets unaccompanied thanks to the murder of their parents by the cartels, looking to stay alive long enough to achieve justice.
Guitarist Bill Frisell, the cowlick on the towhead of jazzy Americana, begins a five-night residency devoted to duets with drummers. It’s a smart move: His floating, twanging, looping, and harmonically allusive style provides the perfect background for percussive pageantry. Frisell begins Tuesday alongside Gerald Cleaver, a drummer rooted in Detroit’s hard-bop heritage who can go just about anywhere. Kenny Wollesen, Frisell’s exquisitely laid-back drummer in a longtime trio with bassist Tony Scherr, joins him Wednesday for a set that may include some of Wollesen’s own percussion inventions. Expect fireworks August 23, when Andrew Cyrille brings his pioneering outside handiwork to the table. Johnathan Blake, who’s played with everyone from Robert Glasper and Oliver Lake to rapper Q-Tip and singer Monday Michiru, and man-machine Mark Guiliana, who played on Bowie’s Blackstar, fill out this ingenious week of strings and things that go bump in the night.
Photo: John Akomfrah, "Vertigo Sea" / SMOKING DOGS FILMS
Since the early 1980s, the Ghanaian-born, British artist John Akomfrah has been making films and video collages that examine the violent legacy of colonialism. For many viewers, his breakthrough came in the 2015 Venice Biennale, where he presented Vertigo Sea, an unsettling three-channel video that portrayed the oceans as sites of true savagery. In one extended section, there is horrific documentary footage of whalers destroying an animal with harpoons. This summer’s “John Akomfrah: Signs of Empire” will be his first U.S. survey. Akomfrah is an artist of real power. Compared to the various exhibitions from other artists hitting New York in the coming months, Akomfrah’s show has the most potential to overwhelm.
On paper, this 1950 western melodrama is strictly routine: The designs of a callous gold digger (Vera Ralston) threaten the friendship of two pals, gambling-house kingpin Gregg Delaney (John Carroll) and rich boy John Hale (William Ching). Opening obliquely with back-alley skullduggery in progress, Surrender moves with deck-shuffling pace that scarcely lets up for more than a minute or so at a time, under the guiding hand of director Allan Dwan, squarely in his wheelhouse with a James Edward Grant story. It’s not, strictly speaking, a comedy, but it’s timed like one, it thinks like one, and beneath its familiar surface there runs a rich vein of cheek. Dwan’s customary methods for hurrying the business along don’t always entail solving problems or mending split seams, but the deluge of his personality against the material produces miraculous effects. Everything seems to break Dwan’s way — as with his best films, the most exciting passages in Surrender transform narrative sawdust into a sea of galvanized, ornate bric-a-brac, dancing on the head of a pin.
—Jaime N. Christley
Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos, like a black-metal Sunset Boulevard, opens with the death of producer and musician — and our narrator — Øystein Aarseth, a/k/a Euronymous (Rory Culkin). The film rewinds to the start of his flirtation with the raucous lifestyle and characters who wound up killing him in the most horrible way.
“In all chaos there is a cosmos. In all disorder a secret order.” Experimental theater director Evangeline (Molly Parker) says this to her troubled teenage star Madeline (Helena Howard) early on in Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, and it’s a sentiment the movie both takes to heart and persistently questions. Decker’s film, the best thing I saw at Sundance earlier this year, is built around tension and chaos. Its unruly scenes emerge out of disorder, out of chants and shrieks and fractured images, and always threaten to fade back into abstraction.
This 1973 adaptation of Sam Greenlee’s novel (co-scripted by the author) is a martini-dry political fable, in which the first-ever black CIA agent abruptly quits and uses his acquired knowledge to plan and build a large-scale, anti-authoritarian insurrection. Crisply directed by TV veteran Ivan Dixon, and edited by Michael Kahn, who would go on to be Spielberg’s cutter of forty years, The Spook Who Sat by the Door is a superb example of having one’s cake and eating it, as it indulges the perspectives of the outsider and the insider as one. Blissfully divested of the kind of equivocation that kneecaps some of our contemporary discourse, the movie bears the thrills usually associated with banned art, making no bones about advocating for direct action. If it’s a fantasy, it’s in the same family as The Red Shoes, which still inspires people to strap on ballet slippers.
—Jaime N. Christley
Photo: LAURIE SPARHAM/FOCUS FEATURES
Set in the 1950s, Phantom Thread follows the life of British fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a man intensely devoted to his work. He draws and patterns, a small army of seamstresses actually creates the dresses, and his disciplinarian sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) keeps things moving and drama-free. Then into Reynolds’s life comes Alma (Vicky Krieps), who serves him at a café while he’s driving to his country cottage, and he’s immediately smitten. Phantom Thread unfolds so quietly that the questions it’s asking about the nature of desire and attraction, and its delicately confrontational back and forth between Alma and Reynolds, may not register immediately. The film has the air of a chamber drama, an intimate and deliberate affair where emotions are played out in hushed whispers and subtle glances.