Won’t someone think of the corporations? It used to be that that humble mom-and-pop operations like Time Warner and Sony didn’t have to worry about competition for their cookie-cutter blockbusters during the summer in Lexington. But now, these poor, defenseless media conglomerates are being endangered by locally-sponsored film series that are spreading like kudzu, with admission prices that are less than half of a multiplex ticket and films that are many, many times greater in quality than your average corporate movie product. So go ahead and see one of these following “good” movies if you must. But please – take some time to go see GREEN LANTERN or CAPTAIN AMERICA. Your contribution could make the difference between a movie executive riding in a stretch Hummer or (gasp!) a regular limo.
– The Summer Classics Film Festival is back at the Kentucky Theatre, screening films at 1:30 and 7:15 every Wednesday for $4 a ticket. As usual, there isn’t a bad film on the schedule, but a few standouts are absolute must-sees for serious film fans. On June 22nd, the theater will play a satire from one of cinema’s great counter-culturists. Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, a film about army surgeons deployed during the Korean War, thumbs its nose at everything from military bureaucracy to the conflict that raged in Vietnam during the film’s production. As they patch up gory war wounds, Altman’s doctors stay sane by inflicting frat house pranks all along their chain of command, whether it’s broadcasting a superior’s sexual exploits over the PA system or rigging a football game with a ringer – the film shows that one of the best weapons against the absurd horrors of war is pure anarchic glee.
Years ahead of its time, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller SHADOW OF A DOUBT (7/20) was one of the first films to explore the corruption lurking beneath the ideal surfaces of small-town Americana. DOUBT centers on a suburban family shaken up by a visit from an uncle who may or may not be a serial killer, and Hitchcock composes every shot with meticulous care to constantly keep his audience on edge. Future masterpieces like David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET and David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE would refine and expand on Hitchcock’s theme here, but this original still has a creepy power all its own.
If DOUBT shattered the myth of the perfect American family, Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH (8/24) cracked the noble myths of the Wild West wide open. Peckinpah’s story, about old-fashioned outlaws going for one last score in Mexico, spit in the face of the traditional bloodless western, staging its violence with a bloody brutality that remains shocking today. BUNCH sought to portray the west as it truly was – cruel, savage, and unforgiving – and ended up serving as a sort of elegy for a genre whose glory days were over. Westerns and cinematic violence would never be the same again.
Modern audiences will be able to guess where ROSEMARY’S BABY (8/31) is going pretty quickly – the film focuses on a pregnant woman who begins to suspect that the origin of her baby might have a supernatural element to it – but the impressive thing is how chilling the film is anyway. Roman Polanski’s directorial fine tuning ensures that the film is an intense paranoia-generating machine, but the movie is also a smart feminist metaphor about the ways that women can be ignored and made powerless by a biased society, made especially potent by incredible performances from Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her role as, shall we say, a particularly unpleasant neighbor.
– Those looking for great movie experiences of a less hallowed sort should check out the free monthly Cult Film Series at Al’s Bar on Limestone. The selections for the next few months haven’t been announced, but the programming ranges from brilliant, wild B-movie classics that are best appreciated with a bracing shot of liquor to the kind of so-bad-they’re-good idiot masterpieces that are best appreciated with more than a few bracing shots of liquor (you may notice a theme here).
– Film series will also be stretching out to the suburbs this year – the MoonDance Amphitheater in the middle of Beaumont Centre Circle will be screening films every Thursday at sunset (gates open at 7 PM). The series is stocked with plenty of standard crowd-pleasers – TOP GUN (6/30), TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE (7/21), Pink Floyd’s THE WALL (8/18) – but there’s also a nice variety of eclectic selections as well. On July 14th is MONSTERS, a micro-budget marvel of filmmaking ingenuity from British director Gareth Edwards, who also wrote the film and created its special effects on a laptop. Despite what the generic title might suggest, MONSTERS isn’t your average creature feature – the film is an on-the-road indie romance that just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic, alien-infested Mexico. MONSTERS has some ham-handed social commentary to dispense about immigration, but it also creates a mesmerizing atmosphere of wonder and dread as a young couple treks towards safety through the remnants of civilization and the lairs of alien offspring.
The series also features Ron Fricke’s BARAKA (8/11), a dazzling cinematic poem that manages to be a breathtaking experience without relying on plot, dialogue, or voiceover. Like its famous predecessor KOYAANISQATSI, BARAKA is a cinematic collage that collects footage of everything from the intricate dances of aborigines to the mechanized mass production of computer parts. This abstract film seeks to explore the delicate balance between nature and technology, and the highs and lows of all human existence – it’s difficult to describe, but it’s the kind of spellbinding melding of sound and image that is impossible to forget.