Vintage MGM hokum (1935) with more assets than you can shake a swizzle stick at: Clark Gable (as a sea captain sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore), Rosalind Russell (for upscale romance), Jean Harlow (for downscale romance), C. Aubrey Smith (for colonialist nostalgia), Robert Benchley (for drunk jokes), plus character turns by Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone. Pirates and a hidden cache of British gold notwithstanding, the raucous action is more diversion than plot. Jules Furthman wrote the salty, snappy dialogue, and Tay Garnett, a specialist in studio-bound sea yarns, directed. 87 min. (JR)
An eight-part serial running about 12 and a half hours, this 1971 comedy drama is Jacques Rivette’s grandest experiment and most exciting adventure in filmmaking. Balzac’s History of the Thirteen, about a few Parisians who hope to control the city through their hidden interconnections, inspired its tale, dominated by two theater groups and two solitary individuals. Some of the major actors of the French New Wave participated (Juliet Berto, Francoise Fabian, Bernadette Lafont, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Michel Lonsdale, Bulle Ogier), creating their own characters and improvising their own dialogue, and Rivette juxtaposes their disparate acting styles; acting exercises dominate the first episodes (including one 45-minute take) until fiction gradually and conclusively overtakes the documentary aspect. What emerges is the definitive film about 60s counterculture: its global and conspiratorial fantasies, its euphoric collective utopias, and its descent into solitude, madness, and dissolution. Out 1 has always been the hardest of Rivette’s films to see, so this screening, spaced over two days with breaks for food and rest, is a major event. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Sat 5/26, 2:30 (episodes 1 and 2) and 7 PM (3 and 4), and Sun 5/27, 2:30 (5 and 6) and 6:45 PM (7 and 8), Gene Siskel Film Center.
Hal Hartley’s fall from fashion seems to correspond to his shift away from emulating 60s Godard and toward more ambitious contemporary satire (though his underrated The Girl From Monday managed to balance the two). Shot in New York, Berlin, Paris, and Istanbul, this sequel to Henry Fool (1997) is a cloak-and-dagger pastiche that sometimes asks to be taken halfway straight as it comments on American paranoia toward the Muslim world. The involved backstory and Hartley’s own generic music both prove burdensome; the main attraction is the cast’s amusing way of handling Hartley’s mannerist dialogue and conceits. With Parker Posey, James Urbaniak, Saffron Burrows, and Jeff Goldblum, occasionally hilarious as a CIA operative. 118 min. (JR)
Former Chicagoan Paul Chan curated this hour-long program of video documentaries about remarkable, patriotic Americans who’ve been persecuted for their political convictions, partly thanks to the Patriot Act. All the shorts are experimental in their pairing of sound and image yet plainspoken in their address, and their portraiture is partly concerned with the glory of particular ways of being alive. The first and best is Chan’s Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, the Law, and Poetry (2006), in which the human-rights lawyer reads poetry and reflects on her life, work, and prospects. The others are Jim Fetterley and Angie Waller’s Steve Kurtz Waiting (2006); Susan Youssef’s For the Least, about Catholic Workers who marched to Guantanamo, and Mary Billyou and Annelisse Fifi’s Mohamed Yousry: A Life Stands Still (2006), about an academic who worked as Stewart’s translator. (JR)
Made in 1935 and set 11 years later, Vasil Zhuravlev’s silent Soviet feature is a space opera about a privately financed and successfully launched rocket to the moon, with hero, heroine, and scientist on board. Furnished with charming constructivist sets and miniatures and quaint-looking intertitles that weren’t translated in the version I previewed (unlike the one to be screened), this exudes the slightly campy innocence one associates with SF movies made a decade earlier, though the science appears to be less silly than in Fritz Lang’s 1928 Woman in the Moon. (Here, at least, the cosmonauts wear space suits equipped with oxygen.) 70 min. (JR)