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

Memories of Murder 2003 Still 1- Photofest -h 2019
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November options for SoCal cinephiles include a weekend of movies by 'Parasite' director Bong Joon-ho, screenings of films by Ozu and Renoir and a retrospective devoted to 'American Factory' helmer Julia Reichert.


On Friday at the Linwood Dunn Theater, the Academy Film Archive will present the long-overdue Los Angeles premiere of Horace B. Jenkins’ little-seen 1982 feature Cane River in a new 35mm restoration. Shot in Natchitoches Parish, a free community of color in Louisiana, the film was the only feature completed by Jenkins, an Emmy Award-winning documentarian, before his untimely death later that same year. Centered on two groups, a privileged community of light-skinned Creoles and their dark-skinned, discriminated-against counterparts, the pic stars Richard Romain and Tommye Myrick as a young couple attempting to navigate a forbidden romance. Following a few scant screenings in 1982, Cane River lay dormant for decades before the original negative surfaced unexpectedly in 2013, prompting a full-scale restoration. Joining such recent rediscoveries as Kathleen Collins’ Losing Ground and Bill Gunn’s Personal Problems, it sheds further light on an era of African-American cinema that has remained woefully out of view.

BONG JOON-HO AT THE AERO | 1328 Montana Ave.

With Parasite setting foreign-language box office records across the U.S., it’s the perfect time for those unfamiliar with director Bong Joon-ho’s prior work to get acquainted with his unique brand of barbed satire and incisive social commentary. Following two late-October screenings at the Egyptian, the American Cinematheque will be welcoming Bong to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for a weekend of screenings pairing one of the South Korean helmer’s first films with one of his more recent international co-productions. On Friday, Bong’s first film, 2000’s Barking Dogs Never Bite, a scintillating and darkly humorous portrait of urban discontent, will share a bill with 2013’s star-studded dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, featuring Chris Evans, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer in the story of a bullet train fleeing environmental catastrophe, followed on Saturday by a double feature of 2003’s masterful serial killer drama Memories of Murder and 2017’s Okja, in which a genetically modified “super pig” is taken from its 10-year-old owner by a multinational corporation to be paraded and exploited for monetary gain. Starring Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja, for all its unwieldy ambition, further confirmed the universality of Bong’s cinema, setting the stage for American audiences' open-armed embrace of his singular worldview.


On Sunday at the Billy Wilder Theater, Los Angeles Filmforum and the UCLA Film and Television Archive will team to honor the late Jonas Mekas, who died in January at the age of 96. Often referred to as the “godfather of the American avant-garde,” Mekas emigrated with his brother Adolfas from Lithuania to New York in 1949, at which time he quickly took up film criticism, first for Film Culture magazine (a publication he co-founded with Adolfas) and soon after for the Village Voice, where he began launching polemics at mainstream cinema and spotlighting experimental and underground filmmakers in his seminal “Movie Journal” column. This eventually led to the founding of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative in 1962, which granted him and dozens of other artists the resources and support to produce films completely outside the strictures of the industry. (The Film-Makers’ Co-op, which later evolved into Anthology Film Archives, is still in operation today.) Highlighted by a pair of Mekas’ early diary films, 1969’s Walden (Reel 1) and 1972’s Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania, each screening on 16mm, the Billy Wilder program also extends to contemporary times with the 2003 video Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a pair of recent shorts by Ken Jacobs, Jonas Mekas in Kodachrome Days and Sebastian and Jonas Leaving the Party, that pay ample tribute to his dearly departed comrade.


On Nov. 15, the American Cinematheque will launch “Nitrate Nights,” a new program at the Egyptian Theatre showcasing rare nitrate prints from the collection of New York’s George Eastman Museum. Running over three evenings, the series begins with the rarest title of the bunch: Gone to Earth, a 1950 Technicolor production by the great British duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Starring Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus, an orphaned country girl with an interest in mysticism, the film (based on a novel of the same name by Mary Webb) dramatizes Hazel’s conflicted balance of worldly and spiritual desires, as well as the romantic rift between the minister she plans to marry and the local aristocrat who hopes to win her heart. A pair of 1940s films by Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound and Rebecca, come next, on Nov. 16, followed on Nov. 17 by a closing night presentation of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley, a 1948 film noir starring Tyrone Power as a sinister carnival barker who uses his mind-reading act to scam wealthy patrons. 


In celebration of Julia Reichert’s new co-directed feature American Factory, the UCLA Film and Television Archive is devoting an entire month to the veteran documentarian’s frequently overlooked oeuvre, which deals broadly with issues of labor, economics and social justice in the U.S. Beginning Friday at the Billy Wilder Theater with a screening of American Factory, this all-digital series features a selection of work from across Reichert’s half-century career. Of particular note is Saturday's screening of Seeing Red: Stories of American Communism, a 1983 archival feature co-directed by Reichert and her longtime collaborator Jim Klein that tells of a number of ordinary Americans who were persecuted for their Communist ties during the Red Scare of the 1950s. There's also a Nov. 10 double bill of 1971’s feminist landmark Growing Up Female (also co-directed by Klein) and its spiritual sequel 9to5: The Story of a Movement, a brand-new feature made by Reichert in tandem with her American Factory collaborator Steve Bognar, that traces the origins of the women’s labor movement to 1970s Boston. And to close out the series, a pair of other early Reichert films, 1974’s Methadone: An American Way of Dealing and 1976’s Union Maids, will share a program with 2009’s The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, an Oscar-nominated featurette documenting the final days of the General Motors assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio — the very same plant featured 10 years later in American Factory, now reopened and owned by a Chinese billionaire.


On Nov. 8 at Echo Park Film Center, the Kino Slang screening series will present another expertly curated double bill of rare titles by revered filmmakers with a special program pairing Yazujiro Ozu’s 1932 silent film Woman of Tokyo with Jean Renoir’s early sound feature from 1932, Night at the Crossroads. In Ozu’s medium-length drama, a young female bartender and her brother struggle to survive in Great Depression-era Tokyo; in order to pay her brother’s tuition, the woman starts prostituting herself, a decision that holds dire consequences for the siblings. No stranger to tragic tales himself, Renoir looked to Georges Simenon’s eponymous novel for inspiration for Night at the Crossroads, the first film to employ the author’s indelible Inspector Maigret. Set in rural Bouffémont, the pic follows Maigret (here played by the director’s brother, Pierre Renoir) as he investigates the murder of a Jewish diamond dealer, a mystery that will lead to a series of double-crosses, red herrings and moral conundrums. Not often seen in the decades since, Night at the Crossroads was first championed by a young generation of European critics and filmmakers, including Raymond Durgnat, Jean-Marie Straub and Jean-Luc Godard — the latter of whom will kick off Kino Slang’s screening with a short excerpt from his landmark essay film Histoire(s) du cinema.


On Nov. 24 at the Bootleg Theater, Vidiots and the Projections screening series will spotlight two classic documentaries, both on 16mm: Louis Malle’s 1985 feature God’s Country and Lee Grant’s 1981 medium-length film The Willmar 8. Centered on the eight female employees of Citizens National Bank in Willmar, Minnesota, who, in the late 1970s, made national headlines as they publicly fought for women’s rights, Grant’s 50-minute featurette follows the group’s protests against discrimination and unequal pay in the workplace. Around this same time, just 64 miles northwest of Willmar in Glencoe, Minnesota, French filmmaker Louis Malle was documenting a prosperous farming community for public television. Unable to finish the project at the time, Malle returned to Glencoe six years later, at the height of the Reagan administration, to catch up with the locals he had filmed a half decade prior. What he found was a community now facing the overproduction of the countryside and the economic decline of the American heartland. With tenderness and a clear-eyed view of a fraught political moment, Malle elucidates the plight of a working class people whose struggles remain key to our country’s future to this very day.