Critic's Picks: A September To-Do List for Film Buffs in L.A.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp./Photofest
Meryl Streep and Cher in Mike Nichols' 'Silkwood.'

SoCal cinephiles can nurse their fall-fest envy with screenings of Antonioni and Hitchcock classics, French film noirs, a series of movies starring Cher and more.


For a long a time unseen and for even longer under-recognized, the films of French artist Germaine Dulac have recently begun a long-overdue process of reappraisal with exhibitions in France and New York. In September, Los Angeles cinephiles get their chance to discover the work of this pioneering theorist and influential figure of feminist film and theater when the UCLA Film and Television Archive hosts a four-night retrospective of Dulac’s wide-ranging catalog. Indeed, part of the reason Dulac’s work has never been broadly accounted for (other than the fact that she was a woman working in a male-dominated field) may be the sheer breadth of her output –– 30-odd films in all, and amongt them silent narratives, surrealist shorts and documentary features. All of these styles are present in the archive’s series, beginning with a Sept. 15 program of experimental shorts, toplined by the 1927 surrealist classic The Seashell and the Clergyman, written by the French multihyphenate Antonin Artaud, who was displeased with the results and ultimately kept the film from wider exposure. Meanwhile, Sept. 21 brings the medium-length works The Smiling Madame Beudet, a portrait of a frustrated housewife dreaming of a life less ordinary, and the Maxim Gorky adaptation The Folly of the Brave; followed on Sept. 22 by the buoyant feature La Princesse Mandane, a queer reimagining of the eponymous Pierre Benoit novel; and, finally, a Sept. 23 evening that pairs the 1936 socioeconomic documentary The Return of Life with five of Dulac’s “illustrated records,” proto music videos of a sort that find the filmmaker creating visual rhythms through editing, montage and early optical effects.


Often credited with ushering in modern cinema, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni has been the subject of no shortage of surveys and superlatives over the last half-century. Nowadays, however, what with so many of his films readily available on home video and streaming platforms, it’s rare to see 35mm theatrical presentations of even his most celebrated films, to say nothing of the more esoteric offerings. This month, the American Cinematheque will provide a chance to see a number of these movies on film as it hosts an 18-title Antonioni retrospective at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The series, running Sept. 13-22, includes shorts and features, double bills and single-film showcases. Already familiar with his key works? Fear not, as many of the double features pair one of the director’s most beloved films with one of the more adventurous titles from either end of his career, such as Blow-Up and Identification of a Woman (Sept.13), La Notte and Story of a Love Affair (Sept. 15, with the former presented digitally), Red Desert and Il Grido (Sept. 21) and The Passenger and Zabriskie Point (Sept. 22). But even the most seasoned Antonioni fan should take note of the Sept. 23 closing-night presentation of Chung Kuo – China, a rarely screened 1972 verite documentary Antonioni shot during China’s Cultural Revolution in multiple remote regions across the country. It’s unlike anything the director ever made, proving that the catalog of this most lionized of masters still has riches to uncover.


Over six nights in September, Czech New Wave affiliate Jiri Menzel is paid tribute by the UCLA Film and Television Archive with a welcome retrospective at the Billy Wilder Theater. Though not as widely known as contemporaries such as Vera Chytilova or Jan Nemec (to say nothing of celebrated expatriates Milos Forman and Ivan Passer), Menzel, whose career stretched over four decades, is one of Czech cinema’s most revered names. (That and much more is confirmed by the 480-minute documentary CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel, screening as part of the series.) Presenting a sizable cross section of Menzel’s body of work, the archive’s survey begins Sept. 14 with a double bill of the director’s best known film, the Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains, and the incendiary political satire Larks on a String, a 1969 feature suppressed by communist officials that wouldn’t see the light of day for over two decades. Other highlights include a Sept. 22 pairing of two of Menzel’s midcareer comedies, the 1989 high-society sendup The End of Old Times and his 1979 tribute to early Czech cinema, Those Wonderful Movie Cranks; a Sept. 28 double bill of the countryside farces My Sweet Little Village (screening in a restored 35mm print) and Secluded, Near Woods (showing on DCP); and a Sept. 29 closing-night program comprising the beautifully lensed pastoral Capricious Summer and the little-seen Bohumil Hrabal adaptation Cutting It Short.


The horror-themed festival Beyond Fest returns to the Egyptian Theatre in late September, and with it comes an all-35mm salute to director David Cronenberg, which should provide ample levels of sadistic pleasure as we head toward Halloween. Opening the afternoon of Sept. 29 with a four-film marathon of the director's groundbreaking early films, including Shivers, Rabid, The Brood and Scanners, the series moves swiftly through Cronenberg's career, from those initial genre forays into his complex body-horror features of the 1980s and the deliciously perverse literary adaptations that have defined much of his recent work. Following the same evening of Sept. 29, Cronenberg and composer Howard Shore will be in person for a 30th anniversary screening of Dead Ringers, the 1988 classic featuring Jeremy Irons in an unforgettable dual performance as twin gynecologists. Concluding the retrospective's September dates (the series runs for three additional evenings in early October at both the Aero and Egyptian theaters), is a Sept. 29 double bill of The Fly, a haunting remake (starring Jeff Goldblum) of the 1958 sci-fi hit and the William S. Borroughs adaptation Naked Lunch, with Peter Weller and Judy Davis. Cronenberg and Shore will also be on hand for that screening.


This month, Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre features two notable items, “Alfred Hitchcock Favorites” and the annual film noir series “The French Had a Name for It.” The Hitchcock program inevitably covers a number of established titles, but offers the chance to see a few of the Master of Suspense’s less familiar films on 35mm, including anniversary screenings of 1948’s stylistic marvel Rope (Sept.15, on a double bill with Rear Window) and the 1938 British thriller The Lady Vanishes (Sept. 16, alongside Rebecca); 1956’s The Wrong Man, a rare New York-set conspiracy drama with Henry Fonda and Vera Miles (Sept. 29, with North by Northwest); and Hitch’s wonderful final film, Family Plot, featuring Bruce Dern and the recently departed Barbara Harris (Sept. 30, with Frenzy). Meanwhile, the fourth edition of “The French Had a Name for It” brings eight relatively unknown features (all screening digitally, it should be noted) from the darkest corners of noir history. Highlights include Luis Bunuel’s troubled 1959 feature Fever Rises at El Pao (Sept. 6, with Yves Allegret’s Such a Pretty Little Beach), a double bill of 1952’s Poison Ivy, starring genre mainstay Eddie Constantine, and The Strange Mr. Steve, featuring a pre-fame Jeanne Moreau; and a new restoration of Jacques Deray’s 1963 Parisian heist noir Symphony for a Massacre (Sept. 8, with Jean Delanny’s Maigret Sets a Trap).


Two very different but equally notable Westerns come to the Autry Museum of the American West this month. First up, on Sept. 8, is John Ford’s 1926 silent epic 3 Bad Men, which will screen on a 35mm print with live musical accompaniment by Cliff Retallick. Starring George O'Brien, Olive Borden and Lou Tellegen, Ford’s film, widely considered one of his best presound films, follows a trio of bandits who come to a moral crossroads when they discover a young woman whose father was murdered by a local gang. Following on Sept. 15 is Robert Redford’s 1988 directorial effort, The Milagro Beanfield War, likewise presented in 35mm. One of Redford’s most overlooked works (it was made between Ordinary People and A River Runs Through It, perhaps his two most widely acclaimed projects), the film holds it share of rewards, including choice roles for Ruben Blades and Sonia Braga (not to mention memorable appearances by John Heard and Christopher Walken), and a moving, socially attuned story charting the civic developments of a small New Mexico town threatened by outside political forces.

CHER AT LACMA | 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

While this column traditionally highlights the work of notable filmmakers, occasionally an actor-focused series comes around that warrants consideration. And sometimes that series focuses on Cher, as does this month’s Tuesday Matinee program at LACMA, leaving little choice but to take note. Following a few bit parts in the late '60s and a brief stint on television in the '70s, Cher moved fully into acting in the '80s, exhibiting a rare knack for choosing interesting projects. LACMA’s all-35mm series highlights four collaborations from Cher’s first full decade in Hollywood, beginning Sept. 4 with Mike Nichols’ labor-union drama Silkwood, which earned Cher her first of two Academy Award nominations, and from there moves to Peter Bogdanovich’s Rocky Dennis biopic Mask (Sept. 11); Peter Yate’s legal drama Suspect (Sept. 18); and, finally, perhaps the film she’s best known for, Norman Jewison’s romantic comedy Moonstruck (Sept. 25), featuring her Oscar-winning turn as a 30-something widow who falls for her new fiance’s younger brother, played by Nicolas Cage.