A still from 'Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice'.
September 13, 2019
By Joshua Ray

When Will I Be Loved?

2019 / USA / 95 min. / Dir. by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman / Opened in select cities on Sept. 6, 2019; locally on Sept. 13, 2019

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s biodoc Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice is essentially audiovisual liner notes to a hypothetical greatest-hits package of one of the forgotten pop-rock idols – at least as this documentary supposes – of the 20th century. Ronstadt, the diminutive powder keg whose blues-rooted ballads and bangers became radio staples during her imperial phase of the mid- to late ’70s, hasn’t remained in the cultural consciousness the way that contemporaries as disparate as Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, or Dolly Parton have. However, her genre-melding brand of soft rock, spawning hits such as torch song “Blue Bayou” and country-infused “When Will I Be Loved,” laid the groundwork for modern crossover chanteuses like Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey, not to mention the multitude of popular female vocalists working in similar veins since Ronstadt’s last major chart impact in the late ’80s, right up to the present moment.

At least in the completely watchable yet immediately forgettable finished product of The Sound of My Voice, there’s lack of drama and conflict in Ronstadt’s career and personal life which makes her a curious subject for veteran documentarians Epstein and Friedman, who between them are responsible for two queer-doc canon entries, The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1984) and The Celluloid Closet (1995). Blame the omnipresent wave of nostalgia for baby-boomer-era music (and seemingly everything else) for this Wikipedia article writ large on the big screen: The past 12 months have seen the repugnant Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and the Elton John musical Rocketman, as well as docs like Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool and Laurel Canyon rumination Echo in the Canyon.

Milking that generation (and everyone else with their respective former cultural flames, to be fair) for every last possible nostalgia cash-in aside, there are plenty of reasons to prop Ronstadt and her music up as a documentary subject. She’s had a mini-resurgence in some music-critic corners – not to mention the one-off article from Stereogum exploring her chart-topper “You’re No Good” and Pitchfork’s recent revisit of that single’s album, Heart Like a Wheel, which contain much more historical and critical analysis of Ronstadt and her ethos than this feature-length film. Epstein and Friedman have instead stitched together a passionless tapestry of archival performances and contemporary talking-head interviews that simply navigates from one life event to another sans any truly interesting context or thesis.

What is mostly on display is a lot of ego, for better and worse, with Ronstadt – who is present in sparse narration and in the film’s manipulative prologue and epilogue – possibly controlling the narrative or the various other participants’ hyperbolic and empty musings about the subject or their generation’s greatness. Friedman and Epstein round up the usual ’70s rock suspects: Jackson Browne, Cameron Crowe, David Geffen, and Bonnie Raitt are present and their subsequent victory-lapping becomes a part of the text. On one hand, the humility of someone like Emmylou Harris provides one of the most genuine displays of affection for her friend and colleague here. On the other, there’s Don Henley, who awkwardly appears digitally de-aged like a dry run for this year’s forthcoming The Irishman or Gemini Man and only seems present here to recount Ronstadt’s uniting him with Glenn Frey before the two men formed the Eagles.

This sort of digging to find any substantive material isn’t wholly necessary; it’s just that the cultural and personal analysis that is present exists only in the margins, largely passed over for behind-the-scenes outlining of the past. Ronstadt’s status as a major female star among a sea of male rock-and-rollers nearly always lies just on the surface, but how her gender intersected with (or even dictated) her gung-ho work ethic is left on the table. An opportunity even presents itself to possibly elucidate some of these connections or deep character sketching when Ronstadt recounts how she immediately ditched the Stone Poneys, the band she and her brothers started in the mid-’60s, after her cavernous vocals helped shoot their single “Different Drum” to the top of the charts. That potentially uneasy dynamic is unexplored, and the incident becomes just another dot on the timeline of her career. Much later, a television interview goes awry when Ronstadt first states that she is apolitical, only to go on a liberal diatribe against United States policy after she’s questioned about performing in apartheid-era South Africa. It’s one of the film’s sole glimpses of Ronstadt the person negotiating with Ronstadt the public figure.

The Sound of My Voice is framed by present-day footage of the septuagenarian Ronstadt struggling with Parkinson’s disease, an affliction that inches her toward being unable to perform daily tasks, let alone sing with the verve she once had. Not turning their feature into a portraiture of a bodily vessel disallowing one to fulfill their passions is understandable – that’s an entirely different work than the celebratory hagiography here – but by centering the film’s epilogue around that as Ronstadt struggles to perform a Mexican traditional in her living room with family feels manipulative rather than exploratory. With The Sound of My Voice, Epstein and Freidman have at the very least succeeded in compiling a surface-level Linda Ronstadt playlist, but it’s one missing some necessary deep cuts.

Rating: C

Tags: Reviews Joshua Ray

A still from 'Strange But True'.
September 12, 2019
By Kayla McCulloch

What to Expect When You're Inexplicably Expecting

2019 / Canada / 96 min. / Dir. by Rowan Athale / Opened in select cities and premiered online on Sept. 6, 2019

It’s rarely a good sign when a film sits unreleased for nearly two years, only to be unceremoniously dumped in a handful of theaters and on video-on-demand platforms. Such is the case with Strange But True, Rowan Athale’s preposterous noir thriller adapted from John Searles’ 2004 novel of the same name. The mystery of the film’s failure is more perplexing than the yarn it attempts to tell: The supporting cast is stacked, composed of familiar faces like Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Blythe Danner, and Brian Cox. Add to this the fact that the two leads, Nick Robinson and Margaret Qualley, have garnered enough exposure with contemporary audiences, and the movie should have significant draw. The production values are flavorlessly digital. All these factors should have made Strange But True ripe for a streaming service like Netflix to snap up and rebrand as an exclusive — it has the makings of a moderate success story, but that’s not going to be the case here. Something about it just feels peculiar, and not in the way the filmmaker intended, either.

After opening with a superfluous flash-forward to the third act’s climax, Strange But True goes back two days prior to try and contextualize this introductory scene. Philip (Robinson) lays on the couch with a broken leg, while his mom Charlene (Ryan) brings him some soup. He’s quick to point out that the soup is his brother Ronnie’s (Connor Jessup) favorite, not his — right off the bat, this dialogue feels unconvincing. As if on cue, his brother’s former girlfriend Melissa (Qualley) shows up at the front door. She has some shocking news that she delivers via cassette tape: She’s pregnant with Ronnie’s baby, even though he’s been dead for five years. This outrageous (and mystifying) revelation sends both Charlene and Philip into separate investigative spirals. She seems convinced that Melissa did something to her son’s body postmortem, while he believes it’s more than likely someone else is the father. Neither plotline is all that  engrossing, but don’t worry — they change directions soon enough.

Unlike Philip and Charlene, Melissa isn’t all that concerned with the specifics of the conception — a psychic told her the baby is Ronnie’s, so she accepts it as truth. Instead of trying to work out the details, Melissa instead chooses to spend her days preparing for the baby and helping out at a local hardware store under the supervision of an older couple named Bill and Gail (Cox and Danner). It’s a jarring contrast: Charlene becoming consumed with paranoia, Melissa calmly painting a nursery. Ronnie snoops into Melissa’s personal life around town, while the mom-to-be dutifully keeps an eye on Bill’s store. (Surely these threads are a lot more interesting on the page, seeing as the novel was quite well received, but it’s awfully tedious onscreen.) As with any B-movie mystery, though, all this second-act investigation eventually starts gaining some traction and the story escalates to outlandish new heights in a flash, once again taking the story in yet another direction.

Both Robinson and Qualley have proven their worth as actors over the past year or two — Robinson’s performance in Love, Simon (2018) was praised for paving new ground for LGBTQ+ representation in studio rom-coms, and Qualley’s work in this year’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood helped earn Quentin Tarantino some of the best box-office numbers of his career. The two will undoubtedly continue to score big roles with high-profile directors, just as they’ve done for the past couple of years. However, Strange But True was filmed before its stars’ breakout success — completed back in 2017, the film sat unreleased until CBS Films finally figured out what to do with it this summer. As a result, Robinson and Qualley feel especially weak as the film’s co-leads. The pair have matured and developed as actors, and this blast from the past makes their missteps seem more surprising than it would have been back in 2017. The entire film rides on their awkward delivery of its harebrained dialogue, resulting in a work that feels more like a movie-within-a-movie than a legitimate feature in its own right.

Even if one disregards the shoddy acting from the film’s leads, Strange But True is not quite the neo-noir that it presents itself to be. A properly bleak, pulpy noir has a stoic lead with integrity, a murderous and sinister villain, and a femme fatale. Its style is stark with mise-en-scène that leaves a lasting impression, and its dialogue is sharp and witty with no room for nonsense. None of this is present in Strange But True. Comparing Robinson and Qualley to the great actors and actresses of film noir is pointless purely because of their inexperience as performers — it goes without saying that this duo does not evoke Bogie and Bacall. There’s nothing difficult or desolate about the plot, either. Screenwriter Eric Garcia walks the viewer through each twist and turn without the slightest hint of nuance or respect for filmgoers’ intelligence. As for style? There is none. The digital cinematography feels more bland than bold. It hardly matters, though: With a half-hour left, the film all but ditches any remnant of ambition for clichéd thriller elements. It seems even Garcia knew that his feature wasn’t working as a more stylish genre piece.

Strange But True’s biggest mystery is this: What went wrong here? Plot holes, shaky performances, and inexplicable twists abound, but it somehow remains hazy where exactly Athale’s sophomore feature goes off the rails. Once the previously teased climax comes back into play, the only sense of satisfaction comes from the realization that the feature must be nearing its end. Even so, the film drags on for another 10 or 15 minutes, now in full-on thriller mode. As a final insult, characters that once seemed amiable and level-headed have been completely transformed into their opposites with slim to little rationale. Perhaps these plot turns worked when Strange But True was a novel, but there seems to be too much that’s been lost in translation from page to screen for the whole thing to function properly. Ultimately, Athale’s film is indeed strange but also tiresome.

Rating: C-

Strange But True is now available to rent from major online platforms.

Tags: Reviews Kayla McCulloch

A still from 'It Chapter Two'.
September 12, 2019
By Andrew Wyatt

Making His Entrance Again with His Usual Flair

2019 / USA, Canada / 169 min. / Dir. by Andy Muschietti / Opened in wide release on Sept. 6, 2019

It would be folly to assert that Stephen King’s colossal 1986 horror novel It is effectively unfilmable, given that such absolutist declarations rarely endure. Director Michael Winterbottom, after all, found a way to translate the 18th-century satirical novel Tristram Shandy – a work that is almost puckishly hostile to adaptation – into cinematic form in 2006, which would seem to be the definitive demonstration that the “unfilmable” label is always provisional. Still, by the time the credits rolled on the first chapter of director Andy Muschietti’s two-feature It adaptation in 2017, it was evident that the filmmaker’s approach was so dramatically dissimilar from King’s novel that it might as well have been a different species of monster altogether.

This isn’t to say that Muschietti’s first It feature – retroactively titled It Chapter One – is a failure. The film winningly blends a tender coming-of-age tale to the nervous funhouse-horror energy of early Tim Burton and Sam Raimi. This is thanks in large part to a uniformly charming young cast, skin-crawling cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, and an impish-yet-inhuman turn from Bill Skarsgård as the eldritch shapeshifter Pennywise the Dancing Clown. (If there was a singular surprise when It premiered in 2017, it was Skarsgård’s instantly indelible incarnation of Pennywise, which managed to be quite distinct from Tim Curry’s much-beloved performance as the grease-painted fiend in Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 ABC mini-series.)

However, for every endearing character beat, grotesquely bonkers scare, and neo-Rockwellian flourish (wholesome or perverse), It Chapter One failed to convey the psychological and historical depth of King’s book, as well as its galvanic mingling of warmth, melancholy, and elemental terror. It remains the author’s most monumental work, the closest King has ever come to successfully synthesizing American gothic-horror traditions, his flair for pop-lit showmanship, and the striking ambition and intricacy of a Great American Novel. The book’s enduring power stems chiefly from its slippery structure, the way that past and present mingle to enfold the seven adults from Derry, Maine, who once banded together as kids to confront Pennywise – and are obliged to return 27 years later to finish him off.

Much like Wallace’s mini-series, Muschietti’s theatrical features bifurcate the story into a “childhood half” and an “adult half,” a choice that is at once entirely reasonable and woefully misguided. Dividing up the plot in this way has the effect of undermining one of the novel’s crucial themes – the way that unresolved trauma can obliterate time and devolve even the strongest individuals into mere cowering children. The most immediately appealing aspect of It Chapter Two, then, is that the film at least has the good sense to sprinkle numerous flashbacks into its otherwise indefensible three-hour running time. This allows the viewer to spend more time with the delightful preteen iteration of the self-proclaimed “Loser’s Club”: “Stuttering” Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), and Eddie Kasprak (Jack Dylan Grazer). These flashback sequences flesh out the events of summer 1989 that were breezed over in the first film – especially the late-summer weeks between the fight that briefly fractured and scattered the Losers and the group's eventual subterranean showdown with Pennywise.

The conventional wisdom about It – regardless of medium – is that the Losers are much less interesting as adults than they are as children. This claim is somewhat misleading when it comes to King’s original novel, in which the middle-aged Losers’ stunted emotional development and self-pitying haplessness is sort of the whole point. (The book is, among many things, a fittingly self-absorbed indictment of Boomers’ unwillingness to confront the rotten American evils they thought their generation had blithely overcome.) Muschietti’s new film, however, doesn’t do much to counteract the perception that the Losers are more engaging as middle-schoolers, despite generally spot-on casting when it comes to the adult actors – a couple of whom deliver ridiculously entertaining performances.

Former homeschooled farm boy Mike (Isiah Mustafa) is the only Loser who has remained in Derry, settling into the role of the eccentric librarian who keeps a weather eye on the local headlines (and an ear on the police scanner) for any sign of Pennywise’s resurgence. When the details of an apparent homophobic murder arouse Mike’s suspicions, he makes the phone calls that he had hoped would never be necessary, summoning the remaining Losers back to Derry: Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Bill (James McAvoy), Richie (Bill Hader), Ben (Jay Ryan), Eddie (James Ransone), and Stanley (Andy Bean). The six prodigals have all built superficially successful lives for themselves, but they’ve also blocked out their childhood memories of Derry – and of Pennywise.

Both the Losers’ easy, foul-mouthed camaraderie and their recollections of the town’s bogeyman begin to resurface when the group assembles for a reunion dinner at a strip-mall Chinese restaurant. However, the returning members are confounded by Mike’s urgent, fearful insistence that they must once again confront Pennywise – particularly when he starts ranting about a Native American ritual that can (maybe) vanquish the entity. No one really doubts the truth of Mike’s words, at least not after the fortune cookies on their table start vomiting forth shrieking vermin and boiling ooze. However, the notion of splitting up the group to wander the town, coax forth additional memories, and uncover personalized artifacts for the ritual – as Mike suggests they do – seems like an extraordinarily Bad Idea. Yet split up they must, thanks to some vague plot bootstrapping involving Beverley’s prophetic dreams, which have predicted the Losers’ deaths prior to Pennywise’s next cicada-like resurgence. There’s also the matter of the other Derry children threatened by the clown’s current killing spree, but no one other than the guilt-wracked Bill – who still blames himself for little brother Georgie’s gruesome death at Pennywise’s hands – seems all that concerned about them.

If nothing else, Muschietti achieves a baseline consistency between the two It features when it comes to the story’s overall tone and the arsenal of kitschy shocks he employs. It Chapter Two hews to a similar formula as Chapter One, striking the same zany Halloween-store vibe that is reliant on jump-scares, gross-out gags, and over-the-top, cartoonish violence. Except that Chapter Two serves up its childhood nightmares over 34 extra minutes of much lumpier, more herky-jerky storytelling. It doesn’t help that the “enchanted summer” sparkle that made its predecessor such a sunny, heady pleasure has been replaced by the prickly disillusionment of early middle age. That shift has always been baked into the story of It, of course, but the somewhat unexpected comedy-horror vibe that Muschietti brought to Chapter One feels like a bit of an awkward fit now that the Losers are dealing with spouses, careers, and the specter of mortality.

It’s not a coincidence that Chapter Two’s standout performances – other than Skarsgård, who continues his strangely upsetting “Lovecraftian abomination meets Little Lord Fauntleroy” take on Pennywise – are from Hader and Ransome. Reproducing the affectionately cantankerous bond between Wolfhard’s Richie and Grazer’s Eddie with uncanny precision, the adult actors marvelously portray how easily old friends slip into comfortably familiar patterns, even after decades of separation. Hader and returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman – the latter taking solo duties this outing – add a surprisingly effective, non-canonical dose of pathos to Richie’s arc by not-so-subtly implying his closeted gay identity and latent romantic love for Eddie. However, Hader and Ransome make a strong impression primarily because they seem to be on Muschietti’s wavelength, responding to every ludicrous haunted-carnival scare with deadpan wisecracks and anxious irritation, respectively. In comparison, normally reliable dramatic stalwarts like McAvoy and Chastain seem to have wandered in from a completely different film, so earnest are their attempts to slather the proceedings with affecting angst and deadly serious dread. (McAvoy’s dodgy New England accent doesn’t help in this respect.)

Even if all the members of the main cast had been on the same page, however, it’s hard to imagine a film as narratively messy as It Chapter Two being a total success. For better or worse, the film often resembles a succession of freaky haunted-house encounters where the Losers run headlong into their still-lingering childhood terrors (including a few that the audience is just now learning about). There are a few detours that unfold entirely outside the viewpoint of the Losers, such as an admittedly horrifying run-in between a little girl and Pennywise beneath the high-school football bleachers. Dauberman at least had the good sense to ruthlessly pare down the footprint of the novel’s secondary characters such as Bill’s actress wife and Beverly’s abusive husband. However, that still leaves seven Losers to juggle, plus their returning childhood bully, Henry Bowers (Teach Grant), who has recently stabbed and slashed his way out of a mental hospital with a helping hand from Pennywise.

In truth, Henry doesn’t end up being much of a long-term threat, so enamored is Muschietti with the mythical resonance of the film’s very episodic plot. Each of the Losers gets their own little set piece when they split up to retrieve their totems, and then again when they are shunted into private ordeals during their final, hellish confrontation with Pennywise. There’s a sense of rushed, dutiful, and often uninspired box-checking that saps these purportedly phantasmagorical sequences of their potency. While It Chapter Two can be frustratingly lumbering and long-winded, it also paradoxically feels like the sort of project that might have benefitted from a more lavish, complex, and contemplative treatment. (One can envision a much more successful adaptation as an 8- to 10-part mini-series, perhaps helmed by renowned King aficionado Mike Flanagan.)

These flaws aside, there are still plenty of elemental horror-movie pleasures to be found in Chapter Two, even with cinematography duties now falling to Checco Varese, who doesn’t have Chung’s flair for grime and gloom. Nothing in the new film quite matches the demonic Grimm Brothers majesty of Pennywise’s lair in Chapter One, with its floating child corpses and looming tower of lost toys. However, Chapter Two does have its share of raw nightmare fuel, including a howling she-demon, a malevolent Paul Bunyan statue (yes, really), and a couple of truly appalling, no-holds-barred child murders. There’s also some undeniably striking imagery late in the film that ranges from the poetic dream logic of a shared hallucination to the extravagant grotesquery of Pennywise’s final, inhuman form. Ultimately, viewers who are simply looking to soak up the same ghastly scream-park shocks that made Chapter One the highest-grossing horror film of all time will probably find It Chapter Two largely satisfying, if needlessly rambling. (Not to mention short on the original’s bittersweet Bildungsroman ache.) For stalwart fans of King’s novel, the definitive film adaptation of the Loser’s Club saga remains (for now) an elusive thing, perhaps never to be liberated from the printed page.

Rating: C+

Tags: Reviews Andrew Wyatt

A still from 'Honeyland'.
September 5, 2019
By Kayla McCulloch

Fight of the Honeybees

2019 / Republic of Macedonia / 90 min. / Dir. by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov / Opened in select cities on July 26, 2019; locally on Aug. 30, 2019

The reach of the American Dream extends far beyond the boundaries of these 50 states. With the rise of e-commerce and a growing desire for ethically sourced global goods, America’s economic potential can affect even the planet’s smallest, most remote communities. As a result, the financial strategies used by American business owners find their way into such areas. Hatidze Muratova, the subject of Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s debut documentary, Honeyland, might not be selling her honey directly to U.S. consumers, but as the last female beehunter in Europe, it’s more than likely that her carefully cultivated supply makes its way into homes hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away from the single-room residence she shares with her elderly mother. She might not ever see the U.S., but the cutthroat nature of capitalism infiltrates her tiny village as if it were situated in the Rockies rather than the Šar Mountains of Macedonia.

Isolated from the outside world — or so it would initially appear — Hatidze’s daily routine is timeless. She walks up through the mountains to her secluded beehive, then checks in other hives located throughout her evidently abandoned settlement. It’s a graceful and harmonious system: Hatidze moving with precision and skill and the bees allowing her to work within their hives — she doesn’t hurt them, and they don’t hurt her. When the day’s work is done, she returns to care for her ill mother, who is bed-ridden and 85. Humorously, this mother-daughter relationship is more capricious than the one between Hatidze and her bees. It’s a life without modern technology, except for a glitchy radio with an antenna that picks up more static than airwaves and the occasional train ride she takes into town to sell jars of honey. However, it’s an existence with which Hatidze is perfectly comfortable — especially considering she has no real competition. Then the new neighbors arrive.

One fateful morning, a family with an indeterminate number of children arrives in a ramshackle pickup truck with a gutted RV in tow. The young ones run rampant while the mother and father do their best to turn their new house into a home. Through the single window above her mother’s bed, Hatidze watches with uncertainty. It’s a merited response. By day, the family herds cattle and goats; by night, their infant cries until dawn breaks. They have a routine, but it’s one that seems unlikely to coexist in harmony with hers. The neighbors are friendly together, swimming in the river and playing outside in the summer sun, but the tension that lies underneath these everyday distractions is escalating slowly but surely. It all boils over when Hussein, the patriarch, sees how much money Hatidze makes from her jars of honey and decides that he’d also like to take up beekeeping. All Hatidze can do is impart some of her wisdom and hope that he heeds her advice to keep their bees separate to avoid attacks and to make sure to leave half the honey in the hive to avoid colony collapse.

Honeyland’s greatest strength is the amount of time and attention it devotes to its main subject. Witnessing the expertise with which Hatidze cares for her bees is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s apparent that what’s transpiring onscreen is a sort of lost art form. In an era where everything is industrialized, streamlined, and digitized for maximum output and efficiency, it’s hard not to appreciate the personalized craft she puts into what she does (even if it takes up most of her waking hours). Everything is done by hand or on foot, and the well-being of the bees is always her top priority. That’s what’s so frustrating to her about Hussein and his family (and, as a result, frustrating to the viewer). His main concern — while noble in its own right— is his household, which means that the needs of the livestock and bees come second to a livable salary. He’s fine with cutting corners if it means a bigger payday for him and his kin. With only two people to care for, Hatidze is perfectly fine wearing the same clothes and eating very small meals if it means that her income can go right back into beekeeping. For Hussein, that money needs to be spent on feeding his children and paying for new clothes and supplies for school — it’s just not practical for him to save money (or put in the work) the way Hatidze does.

Learning that Kotevska and Stefanov spent upward of three years with their subjects makes the mind reel. The film is edited in such a way that the story seems to unfold over the course of a single bee season, starting when the weather is mild and ending during the dead of winter. It’s understandable why the filmmakers might have done this, even if it may or may not be manipulative — it establishes another potent analogy, this time for Hatidze specifically. Although the arrival of Hussein and his family unquestionably has an impact on her life, some other life-altering event would have occurred regardless of whether or not a rival beekeeper appeared next door. There’s a reason the notion of life moving through phases much like seasons has persisted in the arts for so long. Hatidze enjoyed good times and bad times before the events of Honeyland, and she surely will continue to experience both the positive and the negative going forward.

Kotevska and Stefanov’s documentary never resorts to talking heads or intertitles to help contextualize what’s going on — the camera is a fly (or bee) on the wall, allowing the interactions between the two beekeepers to speak for themselves. By taking this naturalistic approach, the co-directors craft a pithy analogy for the 21st century’s global economy. Hussein is McDonald’s, while Hatidze is a mom-and-pop diner. There’s a fundamental difference in the way the two operate, and the drama that transpires from this variance is the driving force of the piece. As a result, it’s hard not to get caught up in the tragedy of it all. (It’s absolutely a tragedy, by the way — suffering, distress, and destruction invade the lives of these two families with such force that it almost seems unreal.) Honeyland deserves praise for capturing something so bitter transpiring over something so sweet.

Rating: B+

Tags: Reviews Kayla McCulloch

A still from 'Tone-Deaf'.
September 3, 2019
By Andrew Wyatt

Recent Video-on-Demand Offerings in Horror and Horror-Related Cinema

The cream of contemporary feature-length cinema isn’t always found in theaters. These days, smaller and more niche films often implement a same-day launch, simultaneously premiering in a select-city theatrical run and on video-on-demand (VOD) services. Moreover, streaming services are now offering original films of their own. Given the dire and disposable state of the horror genre at the multiplex, these release strategies are particularly suited to reaching a wider, more appreciative audience for cinematic chills. For horror fans in a mid- to small-sized movie market such as St. Louis, online streaming and digital rental/purchase are increasingly vital means of accessing noteworthy features. What follows is a brief assessment of the major new horror (and horror-adjacent) films that have premiered on VOD within the past month.

Jacob’s Ladder

2019 / USA / 89 min. / Dir. by David M. Rosenthal / Premiered online on Aug. 23, 2019

There is no film so sacrosanct that the very notion of remaking it is somehow inherently blasphemous, but it’s hard to envision a Jacob’s Ladder “re-imagining” as anything less than extremely ill advised. Adrian Lyne’s 1990 masterwork has three things going for it – a mind-screwy twist ending, ground-breaking visuals, and a distinctive Boomer paranoia – that can’t be replicated in 2019. Still, it feels like director David M. Rosenthal and a trio of screenwriters barely even tried to turn the story of haunted veteran Jacob Singer (a woefully underserved Michael Ealy) into something fresh, incisive, or even nominally interesting. Replacing the original film’s intimate, nightmarish psychological horror with limp, insincere moralizing about veterans’ services and mental illness, the remake resembles the blandest of Lifetime Originals dressed up with cut-rate J-horror flourishes. There’s nothing overtly bungling about the film – Rosenthal’s direction is drab but competent – but the copious visual references to Lyne’s original only serve to remind the viewer of the immeasurably superior film they could be watching. Rating: D+ [Now available to rent or purchase from numerous online platforms.]


2019 / USA / 87 min. / Dir. by Richard Bates Jr. / Premiered online on Aug. 23, 2019

While writer-director Richard Bates Jr.’s Tone-Deaf doesn’t ever rise to the level of “good,” it at least manages to be gruesomely diverting and agreeably bizarre in shorts bursts. Some of this is due to Bates’ loopier choices, such as the surreal, music-video nightmares that plague Harvey (Robert Partrick), a widowed innkeeper whose lifetime of get-off-my-lawn resentment is about to erupt into a homicidal rage. Some of it is also attributable to how gamely Patrick and his co-star Amanda Crew – here portraying visiting LA hipster Olive, who is recently single, unemployed, and eager to get away from the city – bounce off each other in a series of awkward, testy exchanges. Tone-Deaf is ultimately undone, however, by its determination to use Harvey and Olive as proxies in a facile, idiotic Boomer-vs.-Millennial culture clash, a conceit that smacks of trollish disingenuousness. By the third time Patrick directly addresses the camera to rant about these entitled Kids Today and their avocado toast, the shtick has gone from trite to insulting. Rating: C- [Now available to rent or purchase from numerous online platforms.]

Tags: VOD Roundups Andrew Wyatt

A still from 'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice'.
August 29, 2019
By Andrew Wyatt

Revisiting the Cinematic Landmarks of 1969

Golden Anniversaries: Films of 1969, a series of six films celebrating their 50th anniversary, runs for three consecutive weekends, Aug. 31-Sept. 15, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library. Throughout 2019, Cinema St. Louis has featured 50th-anniversary films, with major works from 1969 screening during the Robert Classic French Film Festival and QFest St. Louis. Several more 1969 films will appear during the Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, which runs Nov. 7-17.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice will screen at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 1 at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library auditorium. Joshua Ray, film critic for the Lens, will introduce the film and moderate a post-film Q&A.

'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice': What the World Needs Now

By Joshua Ray

1969 / USA / 105 min. / Dir. by Paul Mazursky / Premiered Sept. 18, 1969 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Just how did Paul Mazursky’s sexually liberated comedy Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice – which Pauline Kael curiously praised as “a slick, whorey movie” after its premiere at the 1969 New York Film Festival – find itself as the sixth-highest-grossing film of that year, positioned between two harbingers of the death of the Hollywood studio system, the wildly expensive and woefully traditional musicals Hello, Dolly! And Paint Your Wagon? The omnipresent marketing image of the two titular married couples (played by Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould, and Dyan Cannon), nestled together in bed with only sheets separating potential viewers from their naked bodies, certainly helped. “Consider the possibilities,” the tagline proposed, suggesting the great wife-swap orgy of the century. However, that winking notion preceded what is largely a bait-and-switch proposition. With nudity and, if not prurient sexual explicitness, at least sexually frank conversations on display, Mazursky’s directorial debut isn’t exactly a tease, but who would have expected an acutely observed and socially aware satire of manners as forgiving and loving to its subjects as it is critical of their lives of privilege?

The previous year, Mazursky and his writing and producing partner, Larry Tucker, had a similar stab at dissecting the confluence of the white bourgeoisie and the counterculture with I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! The longtime writing partners’ first film script initially began as Mazursky’s directorial debut, but lead Peter Sellers and Columbia Studios were reticent about handing over an ostensible star vehicle to a newbie filmmaker, so veteran television director Hy Averback took the helm. Sellers is a proto-Ted here, a nebbishy lawyer who tunes in and drops out in what quickly descends into a surface-level survey of SoCal hippie antics – the broadest of era-specific comedies that bears little fruit for a viewer of today.

Mazursky wasn’t necessarily displeased with the result and subsequently stated that it simply wasn’t the vision he would have mounted, explaining, “They just weren’t real hippies.” The incredibly more nuanced Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, with its comedy springing from detailed human behavior within the hip new scene, feels like a corrective to his previous satire. The former actor, comedian, and general showbiz Renaissance man – see his 1976 semi-autobiographical feature, Next Stop, Greenwich Village, for an excellent approximation of his formative years in the business – was in his late 30s and married with children as the counterculture began to take prominence in the mainstream American consciousness. Born squarely between the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, however, meant that Mazursky could be a distanced participant in the breakdown between the two that helped spur the Sexual Revolution; the short-term fall in cultural conservatism; and the rise in self-awareness, self-care, and women’s liberation. This perfect storm resulted in the birth of the Swinging ’60s and Mazursky and Tucker’s creation of the poster children for it.

At least these are the poster children of a certain kind of 1969 person – not dissimilar to Mazursky himself – white and affluent folks in their late 20s to mid-30s who maybe saw The Graduate two years before and thought Ben Braddock a brat only to turn around and have their own existential, cultural, and political crises. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is utterly representative of this era, especially when it comes to Mazrusky’s sendups of the signposts of the time: the palatial Beverly Hills home of Bob and Carol is complete with a white-shag-carpeted sunken living room stuffed with gaudily excessive fixtures; the Whisky a Go Go-like underground club for LA’s elite features a flower-power fashion rave-up; and the foursome’s own duds are appropriately immodest in their overtly trendy design.

The two couples’ sexual awakenings may also be tied exclusively to the culture of 1969, stemming from Bob and Carol’s weekend trip to a new-age wellness retreat – called “The Institute” here but inspired by Mazursky’s trip to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif. – where they participate in a new Gestalt-practice group-therapy session. However, the negotiations they make to seek honest human connections beyond the high status they maintain within their social stratification are timeless. It’s ground Mazursky returned to with two other zeitgeist-tappers that helped define their decades: 1979’s second-wave feminist manifesto An Unmarried Woman, and 1986’s Reagan-era capitalist screwball farce Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

For better or worse, the milieu Mazursky works in is seriously white and, with the loose trilogy of his greatest hits of Bob and the two previously mentioned films, seriously white nouveau riche. No one is asking for the Jewish, Brooklyn-born LA transplant to tell people of color’s stories – his venture into that territory within his next film, Alex in Wonderland (1970), is one of its major flaws – but that the sole speaking role for such a character is given to Bob and Carol’s Latinx servant is alarming. That exact stratification and segregation of lower-class people who don’t resemble the leading quartet could be read as entirely the point, because what’s so striking about this silky souffle is its chef’s recipe mixing the sweet with the salty.

The first 20 minutes make for an excellent example of this careful balance. Set to Quincy Jones’ jazzy update of Handel’s “Messiah,” the opening titles are laid over a montage of the retreat dwellers sunbathing nude and practicing Tai Chi, with one particularly odd duck reading the business section in a hot tub. A tableau of a trio of bare-chested women immediately suggests something far more ribald than what follows, as Bob and Carol are immediately plunked down into a day-and-night session of Gestalt therapy with a large group of strangers – anything but the softcore fun that preceded it. As a documentarian attending for the purpose of observation, Bob is initially resistant to the emotionally open vibes. He even chuckles at a female participant’s admission that her purpose there is to figure out how to have an orgasm. Carol, however, becomes eager to explore quickly, eventually taking the opportunity to confront Bob about their lack of communication and roiling resentments. Their session ends in the film’s first (non-)orgy, except here it’s one of teary embraces.

Laughing at the plight of these privileged few and their ability to take part in such an activity, let alone pay for it, is welcomed by Mazursky, but he’s consistently keen to marry genuine tenderness with his acidity. It’s the crux of the bulk of modern comedy: Should I be laughing, cringing, crying, or all of the above? Credit for the humane farce should likely be paid to his experience in Lee Strasberg’s Method acting classes and other schools of performance and his unfulfilled career as a stand-up, plumbing the depths of his own experience to fully realize dramatic storytelling. Take, for instance, the protracted exchange between Ted and Alice after they’re made aware of their best friends’ extramarital dalliances – Bob’s “purely physical” encounter with a stranger and Carol’s whole-hearted acceptance of it into an open marriage. Twelve full minutes of runtime show a pre-sleep bedroom quarrel between the twitchy husband who can’t decide if he needs sex or a late-night jog and the frustrated woman who, while fighting off her own husband’s sexual coercion, is spiraling out because of her married friends’ newfound sexual openness. If it weren’t for the copious amount of the shots fixated on the female body, clothed and otherwise, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice might join An Unmarried Woman in the small pantheon of acceptable feminist work made by a male cishet director, since the women here are truly the complex beating hearts of this affair. Rohmerian (or at the very least Bergmanesque, since Rohmer was not yet a valued American import until My Night at Maud’s U.S. release in the following year) at its core, this discursively funny second-act cringefest is trademark Mazursky: wittily executed, contradictory to an unsuspecting filmgoer’s expectations, and sharply observed to the point of nauseating recognition.

And so the answer to the question of how Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice became a phenomenon and shorthand for smashing traditional monogamous boundaries is multifold but, in essence, always comes back to its compassion for the human experience. Mazursky freed both Culp, who just finished his run staring on television’s I Spy (1965-68), and Wood, the Hollywood child actor who continued to rise in rank beyond pubescence only to hit a rut shortly before this, from performative constrictions dictated by their studio-influenced backgrounds. Mazursky empowered the new kids on the block, Broadway performers Gould and Cannon, to synthesize their own naiveté with what he and Tucker had written on the page – largely found through their own improvisation. (These four, along with veteran cinematography Charles Lang, would receive Oscar nominations for their respective work here.)

In 1969, the masses began to ask their mainstream art to better reflect their increasingly turbulent existence, and the confluence of the failing Hollywood system and the rise in international film’s influence on makers and viewers allowed for that. Mazursky clearly belongs within this second group, “ripping off” Fellini’s (1963) in Alex in Wonderland (which also features an extended cameo by the Italian master) and with the carnivalesque ending here set to Jackie DeShannon’s version of “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” Further evidence is Mazursky’s future direct remakes of Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) with Willie and Phil (1980) and Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932) with Down and Out. Even after blue-balling his audience with its infamous anti-climax, Paul Mazursky’s Euro-inflected debut was exactly the filmmaking American audiences were salivating after – the kind woefully missing from today’s popular cinematic landscape. What the world needs now is a new Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Consider the possibilities.

Tags: Golden Anniversaries Joshua Ray

A still from 'Jawline'.
August 29, 2019
By Kayla McCulloch

To Live and Die in L.A.

2019 / USA / 99 min. / Dir. by Liza Mandelup / Premiered online on Aug. 23, 2019

Austyn Tester radiates positivity. The 16-year-old’s earnest optimism and unwavering confidence helped him secure more than 20,000 followers on the popular live-streaming website YouNow. Jawline, director Liza Mandelup’s first documentary feature, pulls back the curtain to reveal the truth about Tester’s life (and the lives of other social-media influencers just like him): It’s an incredibly bleak way to try and make a living. Behind Tester’s smiling face, hidden underneath his messages of self-love and motivation, there’s a cataclysmic amount of sadness. His plethora of online fans — the majority of whom are tween girls — would be devastated if they knew just how unsure and inadequate he feels offline. Tester aspires to be as successful as those in the upper echelons of the digital world. Little does he know, the young men he idolizes are managed by someone who is just as lonely as he is.

Jawline opens with Austyn standing against a brick wall in Kingsport, Tenn. A friend snaps pictures of him as he poses for the camera. None of the photos fit his high standards, so the two walk on to the next location. While others are out competing in sports, doing homework, or playing video games, Austyn is trying to build a brand. After school lets out, any free time he has is dedicated entirely to boosting numbers, getting likes, and earning clicks. Once the webcam starts rolling, Tester waxes poetic at a desk in a corner of the shabby home that he shares with his mom and brother, spending hours live-streaming while they work to stay afloat. He clearly takes it seriously — there’s an entire room devoted to making these videos, the walls lined with pictures and posters sent by fans from around the country. Still, it’s hard for him to carry on with this day-to-day when the fruits of his labor are trickling in much slower than those of his heroes, a group of similarly aged influencers dubbed 99GoonSquad.

Based in Los Angeles, these teenage boys live under the supervision of their manager — a man not much older than them named Michael Weist. Austyn idolizes the lifestyle portrayed in their videos and often lifts their generic positive sentiments directly for his own personal streams —  pouting off lines like “You all look so beautiful today, don’t let anybody tell you different” and “Never give up on your dreams, no matter what happens in life” — in hopes of being just like them someday. Mandelup cuts back and forth between Tester’s struggles to climb the ladder of success and Weist’s overzealous leadership style to great effect. The latter’s madhouse of rowdy young “stars” is the ultimate goal for the former, so he leaps at the very first contract that comes his way. Watching Tester attempt to parse through the legal jargon of a contract while expressing reservations about getting bamboozled is gutting — the simple fact that he’s not a household name suggests exactly what his fate will be in the end.

Mandelup refuses to judge her subjects. Her film is purely observational, the camera existing as nothing more than a fly on the wall — there’s no need for commentary or condemnation when the actions of Austyn and Michael speak for themselves. Tester’s story is what the American Dream has evolved into for Generation Z. With YouTube taking precedence over television and film (especially for those born after 2000), becoming Internet Famous is everything. Forget movie stars, forget boy bands, forget reality TV — the most beloved figures to a majority of the nation’s youth are vloggers and live-streamers. The sheer amount of access that Mandelup was given by both of her main subjects is revelatory. By filming Austyn and Michael at their most vulnerable, their most insecure, and their most uncertain, she has uncovered what is ironically the digital age’s most sought-after route to success. Fandom and followers go hand-in-hand with soul-crushing solitude and desperation, with Tester and Weist serving as bookends on either end of a very narrow career spectrum. Viral fame is 2019’s teenage dream, and it’s never been grasped quite like this before.

At a certain point, Jawline becomes so bizarre that it’s almost alienating — it’s sometimes hard to grasp the sheer absurdity of what’s transpiring onscreen, especially if one is unfamiliar with the social-media realm. With both Austyn and Michael’s futures looking vague, Mandelup resorts to some questionable flourishes to fill the time between their respective storylines. It’s easy to discern what she’s going for with these fictionalized elements, but they’re ultimately a distraction from the far more fascinating footage she’s gathered. If Mandelup needed filler to pad her documentary, perhaps it would have been worthwhile to spend some time including some more context for those who might be unfamiliar with Musical.ly (now known as TikTok), YouNow, PomsCon, DigiTour, and VidCon — all of which are integral to the pair’s narratives.

For what it’s worth, Austyn comes across as much more genuine in comparison to Michael and his gaggle of teen tastemakers. While Tester and his friends swim in a river, Weist and his clientele drop thousands of dollars shopping on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Austyn holds a meet-and-greet in the food court of a dying mall for a handful of girls, while the 99GoonSquad sells out convention centers filled with thousands of sobbing pre-teens having full-on panic attacks at the sight of them. This lifestyle is considered the preeminent achievement for a small-town boy with West Coast dreams, but it’s nothing more than a cash cow for talent managers like Michael. He compares his job to the California gold rush of the 1800s, showing no regard for the well-being of his human commodities once they’re no longer “hot.” Tester wants to leave home more than anything else, but Jawline proves that the surreality of being a Z-list Internet celebrity is in no way superior to humble life in the real world (no matter how mundane one’s day-to-day is). One is real and permanent. The other isn’t — it’s always fleeting, always changing, always searching for your replacement.

Rating: B-

Jawline is now available to stream from Hulu.

Tags: Reviews Kayla McCulloch

A still from 'Easy Rider'.
August 27, 2019
By Andrew Wyatt

Revisiting the Cinematic Landmarks of 1969

Golden Anniversaries: Films of 1969, a series of six films celebrating their 50th anniversary, runs for three consecutive weekends, Aug. 31-Sept. 15, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library. Throughout 2019, Cinema St. Louis has featured 50th-anniversary films, with major works from 1969 screening during the Robert Classic French Film Festival and QFest St. Louis. Several more 1969 films will appear during the Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, which runs Nov. 7-17.

Easy Rider will screen at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 8 at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library auditorium. Diane Carson, film critic for KDHX 88.1 FM and professor emerita of film at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, will introduce the film and moderate a post-film Q&A.

Easy Rider: Lookin' for Adventure

By Diane Carson

1969 / USA / 95 min. / Dir. by Dennis Hopper / Opened in select U.S. cities on July 14, 1969

Bear with me here as I recount a few facts about and plaudits for Easy Rider. A monumental landmark, Easy Rider has been the subject of hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of analysis. The film received a belated sequel in 2012 (Easy Rider: The Ride Back, with none of the original actors or crew), and two documentaries have been devoted to its production history (Born to Be Wild [1995] and Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage [1999]). In addition, Easy Rider was given a deluxe Criterion Collection release, which includes audio commentaries by Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Paul Lewis, the film’s production manager.

If numbers matter (and they do to Hollywood), the entire production cost less than $400,000 and grossed at least $60 million, according to the Worldwide Boxoffice website. The production costs listed prove a bit deceptive because Fonda reportedly charged significant travel costs with his own credit cards, and music licensing soared to a cool million dollars in postproduction. Given the impact of the music in driving the film and commenting on the social milieu, the investment certainly paid high dividends.

Easy Rider’s premiere at the 1969 Cannes International Film Festival earned it the First Film Award; Jack Nicholson received a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination; and Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern shared an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid won). In 1998, Easy Rider joined the “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” works on the U.S. National Film Registry. The American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100 Movies” places it at No. 88 of all-time best American films.

I cite these statistics and acknowledgements because I’ve often heard the film dismissed as “that cool counterculture movie, nothing more” (“counterculture” used so often to define Easy Rider that it may as well be part of its name). But this film is so much more in film history, both for its cinematic style and for its ability not just to express but to channel a milieu, a dissatisfaction — remember “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” —  and a profound longing to escape. Everything!

Because I was there, permit me to take you back to what this film meant to those of us who lived its longing, who yearned desperately for sanity, change, happiness, peace. You’ll have your own experience of this film now; I was there then, and this film mattered in ways few films do.

For all the information available about Easy Rider — the builders of the motorcycles, the heated arguments over the screenplay (who wrote what and when), the production conflicts and crises, the yin and yang of the meditative Billy (an amazing Peter Fonda) and the volatile Wyatt (a frenetic Dennis Hopper), the improvised insults of the locals, and the other incredible minutiae — to me what distinguishes and elevates the film is the visceral experience of it.

On the release of Easy Rider, I was in graduate school in the University of Kansas’ English Department. Word spread quickly about the appeal of this unprecedented, thrillingly unique film. It hadn't yet appeared in Lawrence, Kan., so my roommate and I made a pilgrimage to Kansas City, my friend's home city. It was all we expected and more, a late-1960s confrontation with staid cultural values and restrictive dictates. The soundtrack accelerated and defined the momentum, especially Steppenwolf's “Born to Be Wild” propelling the early, exhilarating escape to the open road. It and selections from the Band, the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, and others replaced mind-numbing tedium with mind-expanding fantasies induced by the music.

Steppenwolf’s incantation — “Head out on the highway/Lookin’ for adventure” — catapulted motorcycle riders and film viewers into a rarefied register of unfettered, illusory escape. We felt one with the spirit, and to hell with the thesis paper, the Middle English course, and the TA responsibilities — especially all those essays needing grading. We were free — at least for two hours.

Stylistically, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs devised exactly the technical presentation that complemented and enhanced the film’s appeal. Shot over 12 weeks on the road, the film was described by Kovacs as minimalist filmmaking. In New Wave King: The Cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs, ASC (2002), edited by Ray Zone, Kovacs says: “We had the motorcycles in one truck and all the camera and lighting gear in another. There was no room for a dolly. My camera car was a Chevy convertible with a plywood platform. The film looks spontaneous, but don’t let that fool you. We rehearsed and staged every scene, and I lit to establish the mood and setting.” He inserted flash-forwards, jump cuts, choppy transitions, several frames from one scene alternating with frames from the succeeding scene — all in the service of the psychedelic trip. And we left thrilled, stunned, and overwhelmed by the shocking ending, painfully yearning for us not “to blow it.”

On the occasion of the film’s 50-year anniversary, with memories flooding back over me with a surprising immediacy, the question is whether Easy Rider can possibly hold up. Have we succumbed to our comfortable lives 50 years on? Has Easy Rider’s appeal considerably dimmed? Has life taken its toll on rebellious inclinations and dreams of independence or is there still that kernel of resistance and recall? Can the spirit of the time be revived and enjoyed as vicariously as we once did or is it now so foreign, so unusual, that its appeal has become anachronistic, all but elusive for contemporary viewers. The good news is that it does maintain its appeal. It still casts a spell. With energy and heart, it continues to project a doomed world of idyllic dreams that crash against reality.

I must also add that not long after Easy Rider opened, Steppenwolf toured, capitalizing on the band’s increased fame. The band came to KU, and I attended the concert with a friend who helped organize it. I met lead singer John Kay, who turned out to be less exciting than his music, a bit impressed with his own success. Perhaps he was exhausted with the schedule or the repetitive demands for the invigorating music. Even so, he couldn't dampen our enthusiasm. I never fail to get an electric jolt when I hear "head out on the highway" or to feel a bit like Gatsby, my past regrettably receding.

Tags: Golden Anniversaries

A still from 'Midnight Cowboy'.
August 27, 2019
By Andrew Wyatt

Revisiting the Cinematic Landmarks of 1969

Golden Anniversaries: Films of 1969, a series of six films celebrating their 50th anniversary, runs for three consecutive weekends, Aug. 31-Sept. 15, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library. Throughout 2019, Cinema St. Louis has featured 50th-anniversary films, with major works from 1969 screening during the Robert Classic French Film Festival and QFest St. Louis. Several more 1969 films will appear during the Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, which runs Nov. 7-17.

Midnight Cowboy will screen at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 31 at the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library auditorium. Andrew Wyatt, editor and film critic for The Lens, will introduce the film and moderate a post-film Q&A.

'Midnight Cowboy': You're the Only One

By Andrew Wyatt

1969 / USA / 113 min. / Dir. by John Schlesinger / Premiered May 25, 1969 in New York City, N.Y.

In the spring of 1969, the American moviegoing public’s conception of New York City – or, perhaps more accurately, that of the white middle-class American moviegoing public – was informed to a substantial degree by a fading Technicolor illusion. The New York film that had dominated the pop-cultural consciousness early in the decade, 1961’s West Side Story, was an eye-popping Broadway adaptation, hardly the stuff of gritty urban realism. In the following years, mainstream cinematic depictions of the city were thereafter dominated by musicals, romances, comedies, and the odd musical romantic comedy. Many of these were also adapted from the stage: Two for the Seesaw (1962), Critic’s Choice (1963), Sunday in New York (1963), How to Murder Your Wife (1965), A Thousand Clowns (1965), Any Wednesday (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), Funny Girl, and The Odd Couple. The latter two features, both premiering in 1968 and making an impressive splash at the box office, were the first New York films that finally gave Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ hit musical a run for its money. (Along with Rosemary’s Baby, that left-field outlier in so many ways.)

To discern a more authentic, less savory vision of New York – one lurking beneath the studio dazzle, crowd-pleasing hijinks, and Neil Simon wisecracks – one would have had to look, unsurprisingly, to the B-pictures that were sneaking their way into theaters in the mid- to late ’60s. The New York-set neo-noirs and thrillers of this period unearthed a grimier side of the city: Sidney Lumet’s shockingly cynical character study The Pawnbroker (1964); Larry Peerce’s raw-nerved subway thriller The Incident (1967); Gordon Douglas’ hard-edged police drama The Detective (1968); the brutally violent Coogan’s Bluff (1968), the first collaboration between director Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood; and Shirley Clark’s overlooked but groundbreaking proto-blaxploitation street drama The Cool World (1963). Even Wait Until Dark (1967) – a smash hit with a real movie star in the person of Audrey Hepburn – suggested a disquieting urban anxiety: The violence of the drug underworld smuggling its way into the lives of Manhattan’s artistic and professional class.

All this is to say that the quote-unquote Real New York was always there, waiting for its moment. That moment came with the arrival of Midnight Cowboy – director John Schlesinger’s radical, scuzzy, psychedelic masterwork – in May of 1969. Even with the benefit of hindsight, the film’s commercial success remains remarkable. This is, after all, a seedy, downbeat drama about the dysfunctional friendship between a guileless male prostitute and a slimy conman, shot on location in New York for a modest $3 million. If there was a better sign that a confounding rift had opened in mainstream American culture, it was surely that this film, of all films – whose plot features both gay oral sex in a Times Square theater and a Warhol-inspired druggie bacchanalia – managed to become the No. 2 box-office hit of the year, solidly trouncing that other New York film of 1969, the throwback Gilded Age musical Hello, Dolly! Moreover, Midnight Cowboy wasn’t merely a populist hit: It won three Oscars, including Best Picture, making it the only X- or NC-17-rated feature ever to do so.

British filmmaker Schlesinger was blessed with an outsider’s viewpoint when he came to New York City to shoot Waldo Salt’s adaptation of the 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihy. In just four years, the London-born director had made three well-regarded small-scale dramas for the U.K. B-picture studio Anglo-Amalgamated, before being tapped by MGM to helm a 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. There is little sign in Schlesinger’s early filmography of the rough-edged yet hallucinatory sensibility he brought to Midnight Cowboy. Chalk it up to his eagerness as a thrice-othered stranger in a strange land – British, Jewish, and gay – to breathe in the sticky garbage-water miasma of New York City and savor its nowhere-else-on-earth funk, not unlike his film’s gormless pretty-boy protagonist, Joe Buck.

For Joe – a small-town Texan Army vet working in a greasy spoon – New York is his Big Rock Candy Mountain, a dazzling Babylon where a good-looking stud like himself never has to do any real work. Wealthy, older women will pay him handsomely for his sexual prowess, or so he believes and cheerfully tells anyone who will listen. Needless to say, Joe’s plans go awry from the moment he steps off his bus at the Port Authority, his ambitions for a life of ease undone by his own country-boy naivete and the predatory callousness of Gotham street life. That cruel setting is more than a mere backdrop in Midnight Cowboy. Foremost among the reasons for the film’s historical significance is its status as a trailblazing feature in what might be termed the “New York Shitty” movement. From roughly 1969 to 1976, a succession of bleak street sagas, low-rent thrillers, grubby satires, and blaxploitation flicks put the ugliest side of New York on display for all the world to see: The Landlord (1970), The French Connection (1970), Little Murders (1971), Shaft (1971), Across 110th Street (1972), Super Fly (1972), Mean Streets (1973), Serpico (1973), Death Wish (1974), The Gambler (1974), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Taxi Driver (1976), which was arguably the apotheosis of this cinematic current.

However, when Midnight Cowboy first pulled back the curtain on this nastier New York City – the pimps and hustlers, the rats and garbage, the drug dens and porn theaters – it was undoubtedly startling for the mainstream Middle American viewer. They might have suspected in their more reactionary moments that the Big Apple was a cesspool of misery and wantonness, but they had never had it thrust into their faces in such a blunt manner. This made Schlesinger’s feature revolutionary, but what makes the film truly novel, even 50 years later, is the way that it blends this sleazy verisimilitude with a hallucinatory sensibility that is very much of its moment. While 1968 was arguably the first apex of the psychedelic film – with the likes of Barbarella, Head, Psych-Out, Yellow Submarine, and the year’s unlikely box-office smash, 2001: A Space Odyssey – 1969 gave the sub-genre two of its most essential entries, first in Midnight Cowboy and then in Easy Rider, released just two months later.

Compared to the surreal works that would follow in the next decade from filmmakers like Ken Russell, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and David Lynch, Schlesinger’s feature feels relatively earthbound. What’s critical is how the director employs the film’s trippier elements. They appear most obviously during a chic, drug-fueled party at an artist’s loft, but perhaps most essentially in the film’s flashbacks and dream sequences, which give Midnight Cowboy a subjective, inward-facing quality that is rare in the otherwise ruthlessly grounded New York Shitty canon. Schlesinger uses quick flurries of shots to convey details from Joe’s unhappy past, turning lurid backstory into a recurring nightmare of post-traumatic anxiety and hellish images. Formative events that are spelled out in graphic detail in the original novel are only barely hinted at here or excised completely an effort to denude Joe’s story of its more explicit queerness. Fortunately, Schlesinger’s directorial hand is so self-assured, the film’s more surreal sequences feel less like self-censoring obfuscation than intimate psychological realism, an effort to capture the ineffable sensation of memory and fantasy.

Ironically, it’s Joe’s wormy, dyspeptic hanger-on and eventual flatmate, Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo – played by Dustin Hoffman with maximal whiny, sweaty wretchedness – who has the more flamboyant daydreams. His Utopia, it turns out, lies on the sunny beaches of Miami, where he envisions that he and Joe will live like yacht-club kings on the checkbooks of grateful, horny dowagers. Even if one knows nothing of Midnight Cowboy's twists and turns, the sheer absurdity of Ratso’s candy-colored reveries is enough to foreshadow that he and Joe are almost certainly not headed for a happy ending in the Sunshine State. They do, however, get closer than one might expect, and the forlorn, bittersweet character of the film’s final scenes resonates in a manner that underlines the feature’s sneakiest strength: Its poignant depiction of an unlikely, contentious, and yet weirdly tender friendship forged on the margins of society. More than the grime and the weirdos, more than “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “I’m walkin’ here!,” this is what echoes through the decades. Joe might be a sexually confused, dimwitted bumpkin, and Ratso might be a peevish, revolting little swindler, but they’re also both profoundly lonely souls, and they’ve latched onto each other for reasons that they probably don’t understand themselves.

Sniffier critics will always attempt to puzzle out the specific nature of Joe and Ratso’s relationship, to read between the lines of the film’s tremendous performances and at-times enigmatic imagery. Is there stifled sexual attraction or even romantic love at play, from either man or both? Schlesinger, ever the cunning dramatist, seems to have apprehended that such questions might matter to curious filmgoers who are scandalized or titillated by the film’s queerness, but they ultimately don’t matter to people like Joe and Ratso, who live smack in the middle of a city but somehow also on its outermost edges. Whether in the gooey heat of summer or the bone-cracking cold of winter, New York is a hell of a lonely place. When you find another like-minded survivor who will share what they have with you – a place to sleep, a stolen coat, a can of soup, or their last cigarette – who cares what name you put to it?

Tags: Golden Anniversaries Andrew Wyatt

A still from 'The Wild Bunch'.
August 27, 2019
By Andrew Wyatt

Revisiting the Cinematic Landmarks of 1969

On Aug. 31, Cinema St. Louis officially inaugurates a new annual program, Golden Anniversaries, with a free screening of Midnight Cowboy at the St. Louis Public Library. The goal of Golden Anniversaries is to spotlight essential films on their 50th anniversaries, and this edition features works from 1969. Screenings of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, The Learning Tree, Easy Rider, The Wild Bunch, and Women in Love will follow Midnight Cowboy and take place over three consecutive weekends. All of the screenings will feature accompanying introductions and discussions by critics and academics. The series will be highlighted by the Sept. 14 screening of The Wild Bunch, which will feature W.K. Stratton, author of a new (and definitive) study of the film, The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film.

Cinema St. Louis introduced Golden Anniversaries with a selection of films from 1968 at last year’s Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF). This year, we’ve expanded our offerings by including films from 1969 in two of our other annual events: The Milky Way and My Night at Maud’s at the Robert Classic French Film Festival and Funeral Parade of Roses at QFest St. Louis.  Moving forward, Cinema St. Louis will continue to thread 50-year-old films through our programming each year — and we’ll feature a few additional 1969 films at this year’s SLIFF —  but Golden Anniversaries also becomes an annual stand-alone event. If funding allows, we hope to expand Golden Anniversaries’ scope further in future years.

The period that Golden Anniversaires will cover over the next decade is among the most fertile in cinema history. From the late 1960s through 1980, Hollywood experienced a radical transformation, with studios giving filmmakers unprecedented freedom to produce challenging works that subverted or expanded traditional genre expectations, featured innovative narrative structures and open endings, and engaged provocatively with the often tumultuous era in which they were made.

Selections from what became known as the Hollywood Renaissance will form the core of Golden Anniversaries, but equally exciting, influential movies were being made outside the U.S., and the program will also include a sampling of international films (such as this year’s Women in Love). In addition, future editions of Golden Anniversaries will feature representative works of American-independent cinema and documentary film.

Film screenings and the accompanying discussions are Golden Anniversaries’ raison d’être, but as a supplement, The Lens will offer critical and personal essays on several of the featured films. Cliff Froehlich, Cinema St. Louis’ executive director, introduces the series with a contextualizing article on the Hollywood films of 1967-’80 (adapted and updated from his 1998 review of Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which was first published in The Riverfront Times). The Lens will also post pieces by the presenters of three of the program’s films: Andrew Wyatt on Midnight Cowboy, Diane Carson on Easy Rider, and Joshua Ray on Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

Persistence of Vision

The Hollywood cinema of 50 years ago continues to provide remarkable viewing

By Cliff Froehlich

Peter Biskind begins Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (1998), his compulsively readable but deeply flawed book on Hollywood in the ’70s, with an earthquake. The February 1971 quake was a real event, of course, but Biskind uses it as a facile metaphor to demarcate the split between Old and New Hollywood, a physical approximation of the seismic sociocultural forces that were then altering the movie industry’s landscape. The changes that occurred in American films in the late ’60s and early ’70s, however, resulted not from a single, dramatic event but, in appropriately Californian fashion, from a series of figurative disasters akin to the state’s endlessly multiplying quakes and aftershocks, drought-fed wildfires, torrential rains, and engulfing mud slides.

The Los Angeles Dream Factory that was assembled in the ’20s and ’30s, and that arguably reached its peak productivity — along with the rest of American industry — during and immediately following World War II, was already rusting and breaking down in the ’50s. A Supreme Court antitrust ruling, made in 1948, compelled the studios to divest themselves of their theater holdings, thus dismantling the vertical monopoly they tenaciously held over film production, distribution, and exhibition for three decades. Just as devastating — at least in the short term, until the eventual rise of mall cinemas and multiscreen houses — the postwar suburban migration dispersed the filmgoing population to formerly undeveloped areas, making trips to movie theaters, still largely located in urban centers, a significant time investment. And why drive downtown for entertainment when it’s delivered direct to the living room via a newfangled device called the TV?

Compounding Hollywood’s problems in the ’50s and early ’60s, as the studio moguls, executives, producers and directors aged, their tastes became ossified and seemed increasingly out of step with an audience that was growing ever younger as Mom and Dad plopped on the couch and lent the kids the car for a night at the movies. Especially as the Eisenhower era’s straight laces were cut by sex, drugs, and rock & roll during the Kennedy and Johnson years, the youth audience embraced less the bloated productions of big-studio Hollywood (The Sound of Music, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) than the looser, low-budget, marginally hipper exploitation fare offered at the drive-ins (Roger Corman’s biker and women-in-prison movies, Hammer horror films, gorefests such as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Hershell Gordon Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs).

Battered by these and other blows, the studios’ walls finally tumbled in 1967, with the one-two punch of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Freed of the industry’s self-censoring Production Code, which collapsed with the studio system itself, these films — with their sexual frankness, all-stops-pulled violence, European formal influences, and ambiguous or flat-out-unhappy endings — were among the first to reflect accurately the tumult and escalating unease of the times. Bonnie and Clyde’s nihilistic tagline “They’re young, they’re in love, and they kill people” aptly captured the smart, black-comic cynicism and hard, uncompromising edge of not only Penn’s movie but also those that followed during the next heady decade.

The movies increasingly mirrored both the new freedoms of the day and the cynicism, disaffection and paranoia created by the morass of the Vietnam War; the MLK and RFK assassinations; race riots, black militancy, and white flight; and, finally, Watergate. Films approached those subjects both obliquely (the Vietnam allegories of The Wild Bunch and Little Big Man) and directly (All the President’s Men), and occasionally even explored the youth culture of drugs, free love, and protest, with varying degrees of success (such imperfect but important films as Easy Rider and The Panic in Needle Park on the positive side, and such painfully dated curios as The Strawberry Statement and The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart on the negative). Shaking loose of genre restraints along with inhibitions concerning sex and violence, movies such as Five Easy Pieces — one of the period’s high watermarks — told uncategorizable stories that shifted abruptly between comedy and intense drama, resolutely avoiding traditional heroes, melodramatic catharsis, or tidy resolutions. And when genres were used, they were generally bent and subverted (Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye or McCabe & Mrs. Miller) or grandly elevated (Francis Ford Coppola’s two Godfather epics), thus reinvigorating tired formulas.

The cinema of the ’70s also elevated the director to the status of auteur: No longer regarded as just a highly skilled hired hand executing orders, the director was now seen as the primary creative force in making movies. With the factory system closed, studio style, in-house editing, and staff-producer control were replaced by a much less rigidly hierarchical approach that acknowledged, however reluctantly and all too briefly, the director’s central role in the filmmaking process. (Not that directors were allowed absolute power, as a look at the compromised oeuvre of Sam Peckinpah sadly demonstrates.) Important actors (Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jeff Bridges, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty) helped define the time, and key writers (Robert Towne, Paul Schrader) also shaped the decade, but the director was clearly the ascendant star. Further proving the point, Towne, Schrader, Nicholson, and Beatty — the latter a savvy creative producer as well — recognizing the director’s ultimate authority, moved behind the camera themselves.

The chaotic state of the studios not only opened up room for the film-school generation — unabashed movie enthusiasts such as Martin Scorsese who were equally in love with and influenced by the cinemas of classic Hollywood and Europe — but also expanded the freedoms of the remaining older directors (Robert Aldrich, John Huston, Don Siegel, Billy Wilder) and an underappreciated middle group of filmmakers who began in theater (Bob Fosse), comedy (Woody Allen, Elaine May, Mike Nichols), television (Robert Altman, Mel Brooks, William Friedkin, Sidney Lumet, Peckinpah, Arthur Penn), magazines (Robert Benton), and even criticism (Peter Bogdanovich).

Eventually, of course, this creative window closed — shut by the directors’ own excesses (the unfairly maligned Heaven’s Gate, to cite the usual example) and the popular successes of Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, who in The Godfather, Star Wars and Jaws provided executives with a trio of big-box-office models that enabled the eventual reassertion of the studios’ power.

But during the period from 1967-’80, when the fresh breezes were blowing into Hollywood, a remarkable body of work was created. Diane Jacobs, in a 1977 book on major contemporary directors and their works, boldly proclaimed a “Hollywood Renaissance.” Looking back from a distance of 50 years, having suffered through the increasingly banal and spiritless Hollywood films of the subsequent decades, her celebration of the ’70s seems all the more sound.

For those looking for more information on the period, Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls proves an easily digestible if nutrition-deficient introduction. (The book was also adapted into an entertaining but similarly superficial documentary in 2003.) Given the astonishing richness of Hollywood from 1967-’80, a survey of the time almost necessitates a means of narrowing its focus, and Biskind understandably limits the scope of his work by focusing on a relatively small group of a dozen-or-so key filmmakers. But the book unfortunately concerns itself more with commercial than aesthetic considerations, and the apparent governing impulse behind which filmmakers receive extended attention was their ability to generate gossip or money. We learn much about the sex lives, drug use, and other hedonistic indulgences of the filmmakers, and their selfish bad behavior both on and off set provides countless amusing and/or appalling anecdotes. Biskind does provide legitimate insight into the ways such hugely profitable films as The Godfather, Jaws, and Star Wars altered the industry and created the blockbuster mentality that so dominates contemporary Hollywood — a sort of reverse alchemy by which the filmic gold of the ’70s was transformed into the leaden superproductions that followed, arguably reaching its apotheosis in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What we don’t get is a clear sense of why — other than the size of their grosses — these filmmakers are important: Their movies, the only reason we should care about their lives, are treated as almost incidental. Business dominates the book; art, when it’s discussed at all, is the submissive and unequal partner.

For more insightful approaches to ’70s film, I’d suggest such studies as Jacobs’ Hollywood Renaissance, James Monaco’s American Film Now (1979), and Michael Pye and Lynda Myles’ The Movie Brats (1979) — all produced during or at the end of the period — and especially Robert Phillip Kolker’s A Cinema of Loneliness (first published in 1980 and available in four considerably different editions) and Robin Wood’s Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (1986, with its 2003 revised edition including new material and adding “… and Beyond” to its title), both of which provide more critically ambitious views. Another essential text on the period is Mark Harris’ exemplary Pictures at a Revolution (2008), which uses the five 1967 films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar — Bonnie and Clyde, Dr. Doolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night — as compelling case studies in the difference between the Old and New Hollywoods. Harris continued the project with a terrific series of essays, “Cinema ’67 Revisited,” on the Film Comment website. Charles Taylor’s immensely entertaining and insightful Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-in Near You There (2017) explores what the subtitle terms “The Shadow Cinema of the American 1970s” — less celebrated but compelling films such as Floyd Mutrux’s Aloha, Bobby and Rose and Robert Culp’s Hickey & Boggs. There are also plentiful biographies and critical studies of the essential directors, and even some celebratory documentaries (e.g., Milius in 2013 and De Palma in 2015).

The best means of learning about the major films of the period, of course, is to watch them at Golden Anniversaries or seek them out on Blu-ray or streaming services. To make sampling those films a bit easier, I’ve provided a guide to select works by key filmmakers. Although I cheated a bit by including a few independents and a handful of films by English or European directors with American stars, the list — which is emphatically not exhaustive — offers irrefutable evidence of Hollywood’s range and vitality during that remarkable time. Add to those titles the great documentary work of Barbara Kopple, Frederick Wiseman, Albert and David Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker, Emile De Antonio, Haskell Wexler and Peter Davis, and is it any wonder that those of us who cut our filmgoing teeth in the ’70s find most contemporary American work — Hollywood or independent — scarcely worth chewing?

Direction Finder: Works by Key Filmmakers of the 1970s

  • Robert Aldrich: Hustle, Ulzana’s Raid
  • Woody Allen: Annie Hall, Bananas, Interiors, Love and Death, Manhattan, Sleeper, Stardust Memories
  • Robert Altman: Brewster McCloud, California Split, Images, The Long Goodbye, M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, Thieves Like Us, Three Women, A Wedding
  • Michelangelo Antonioni: The Passenger, Zabriskie Point
  • Alan Arkin: Little Murders
  • Hal Ashby: Being There, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo
  • Ralph Bakshi: Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic
  • John Badham: Saturday Night Fever
  • Robert Benton: Bad Company, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Late Show
  • Bernardo Bertolucci: Last Tango in Paris, 1900
  • Peter Bogdanovich: The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, What’s Up, Doc?
  • John Boorman: Deliverance, Point Blank
  • James Bridges: The Paper Chase; September 30, 1955
  • Mel Brooks: Blazing Saddles, The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Young Frankenstein
  • John Cassavetes: Faces, Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, A Woman Under the Influence
  • Michael Cimino: The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
  • Francis Ford Coppola: Apocalypse Now; The Conversation; The Godfather; The Godfather, Part II; The Rain People
  • Jonathan Demme: Citizens Band, Melvin and Howard
  • Brian De Palma: Carrie; The Fury; Greetings; Hi, Mom!; Obsession; The Phantom of the Paradise; Sisters
  • Clint Eastwood: High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Play Misty for Me
  • Milos Forman: Hair, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Taking Off
  • Bob Fosse: All That Jazz, Cabaret, Lenny
  • William Friedkin: The Exorcist, The French Connection, Sorcerer
  • Ulu Grosbard: Straight Time
  • John Hancock: Bang the Drum Slowly
  • Monte Hellman: Cockfighter, Ride the Whirlwind, The Shooting, Two Lane Blacktop
  • Walter Hill: The Driver, Hard Times, The Long Riders, The Warriors
  • Alfred Hitchcock: Family Plot, Frenzy
  • Dennis Hopper: Easy Rider, The Last Movie
  • John Huston: Fat City, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Man Who Would Be King
  • Lamont Johnson: The Last American Hero
  • Philip Kaufman: The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid; Invasion of the Body Snatchers; The Wanderers; The White Dawn
  • Stanley Kubrick: Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Richard Lester: The Four Musketeers, Petulia, Robin and Marian, The Three Musketeers
  • George Lucas: American Graffiti, Star Wars, THX 1138
  • Sidney Lumet: Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Serpico
  • Terrence Malick: Badlands, Days of Heaven
  • Elaine May: The Heartbreak Kid, Mikey and Nicky, A New Leaf
  • Paul Mazursky: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice; Blume in Love; Harry and Tonto; Next Stop, Greenwich Village; An Unmarried Woman
  • John Milius: Big Wednesday, The Wind and the Lion
  • Mike Nichols: Carnal Knowledge, The Graduate
  • Alan Pakula: All the President’s Men, Klute, The Parallax View
  • Gordon Parks: The Learning Tree, Shaft
  • Sam Peckinpah: The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Getaway, Junior Bonner, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Straw Dogs, The Wild Bunch
  • Arthur Penn: Alice’s Restaurant, Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, The Missouri Breaks, Night Moves
  • Frank Perry: Diary of a Mad Housewife, Rancho Deluxe
  • Roman Polanski: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby
  • Sydney Pollack: Jeremiah Johnson; They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?; Three Days of the Condor
  • Bob Rafelson: Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, Stay Hungry
  • Karel Reisz: The Gambler, Who’ll Stop the Rain?
  • William Richert: The American Success Company, Winter Kills
  • Michael Ritchie: The Bad News Bears, The Candidate, Downhill Racer, Semi-Tough, Smile
  • Martin Ritt: Conrack, Sounder
  • Nicolas Roeg: Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Performance, Walkabout
  • Alan Rudolph: Remember My Name, Welcome to LA
  • Richard Rush: The Stunt Man
  • Jerry Schatzberg: The Panic in Needle Park, Scarecrow
  • John Schlesinger: The Day of the Locust; Midnight Cowboy; Sunday, Bloody Sunday
  • Paul Schrader: American Gigolo, Blue Collar, Hardcore
  • Martin Scorsese: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; “American Boy”; “Italianamerican”; The Last Waltz; Mean Streets; New York, New York; Raging Bull; Taxi Driver; Who’s That Knocking at My Door?
  • Don Siegel: The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, The Shootist
  • Joan Micklin Silver: Between the Lines, Hester Street
  • Steven Spielberg: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Duel, Jaws, 1941, The Sugarland Express
  • James Toback: Fingers
  • Melvin Van Peebles: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
  • Claudia Weill: Girlfriends
  • Haskell Wexler: Medium Cool
  • Billy Wilder: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
  • Robert Zemeckis: I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars
  • Howard Zieff: Hearts of the West
Tags: Golden Anniversaries