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

Cannon Film Distributors/Photofest
Gena Rowlands (center) in John Cassavetes' 'Love Streams' (1984)

SoCal cinephiles with Cannes envy can feast on a buffet of classics this month, including works from Elaine May and Kenji Mizoguchi, as well as Cassavetes, Scorsese, Sembene and Iranian heavyweights.

A MONTH OF FEMALE FILMMAKERS AT THE NEW BEV | 7165 Beverly Blvd.

In a welcome change of pace, the New Beverly Cinema is devoting nearly the entirety of their May calendar to films directed by women. Selections range from the enshrined to the obscure, and likewise run the gamut from comedy to romance to drama to all points in between. Alongside a spotlight on pioneering Hollywood filmmaker Dorothy Arzner, highlights include a trio of two-night double bills, including, on May 8 and 9, the under-recognized Claudia Weill films Girlfriends and It’s My Turn; on May 15 and 16, Elaine May’s 1976 masterpiece Mikey & Nicky, with Peter Falk and John Cassavetes in the title roles, followed by Joan Micklin Silver’s 1977 journalism drama Between the Lines; and, on May 17 and 18, Martha Coolidge’s iconic '80s feature Valley Girl, featuring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman, and Sofia Coppola’s luminous debut The Virgin Suicides. The Wednesday matinees, meanwhile, are given over to female-scripted or authored musical-dramas from mid-century Hollywood and will include two Vincente Minnelli classics, Gigi (May 1) and The Band Wagon (May 22); George Cukor’s 1954 version of A Star Is Born (May 8); Jean Negulesco’s How to Marry a Millionaire (May 15); and last but certainly not least, Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (May 29).

CASSAVETES AND SCORSESE AT THE EGYPTIAN | 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Over nine evenings in May, the American Cinematheque will present a series of double features pairing films by two of America’s most revered directors, John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese, at the Egyptian Theatre. Longtime influences on one another, Cassavetes and Scorsese each started making forays into independent filmmaking just as the studio era of Hollywood was collapsing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Moving roughly chronologically, the series — presented largely on 35mm — begins on May 2 with Cassavetes and Scorsese’s respective debut features, Shadows and Who’s That Knocking at My Door, and proceeds to touch on a majority of their major works along the way. Each of the nine programs is wholeheartedly recommended, but for those who may think they’ve become immune to these directors’ talents, it would behoove you to make time for at least a few of the final evenings — such as May 23, which pairs the underrated After Hours with Gloria (and will feature actresses Rosanna Arquette and Julie Carmen in person), or the May 24 bill of Raging Bull and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, or the May 30 closing night program of Cassavetes’ final (and arguably greatest) film Love Streams and Scorsese’s curiously undervalued gangland epic Casino.

RESTORED IRANIAN CLASSICS AT THE BILLY WILDER | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

On May 11 at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum, the UCLA Film and Television Archive will present new restorations of two landmark works of 1960s Iranian cinema. Centered around the influential poet and artist Forough Farrokhzad, the program will include a new 35mm print of Farrokhzad’s 1962 short The House Is Black, an arresting documentary shot in a Tabriz leper colony and a work considered by many to be the greatest of all Iranian films, and the new digital restoration of Ebrahim Golestan’s 1964 feature Brick and Mirror. A singular work of pre-revolution Iranian filmmaking, Brick and Mirror follows a taxi driver who one night finds a baby in the back seat of his cab (Farrokhzad, in a brief cameo, plays the mother); over the course of the evening, the driver and his girlfriend consider what to do with the abandoned child. All but unknown in the West, Golestan’s film pioneered a number of narrative and technological practices (among other things, it was the first Iranian feature to utilize direct sound), and in the process influenced an entire generation of Iranian filmmakers, including Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami, each of whom built upon the pic’s temporal and allegorical storytelling conceits in unique ways. Along with these two works, Sussan Deyhim will also show her short Farrokhzad tribute Dawn of the Cold Season, followed by an onstage conversation between Deyhim and professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak.

LANG AND MELIES AT THE BOOTLEG THEATER | 2220 Beverly Blvd.

The new screening series Projections returns to the Bootleg Theater on May 12 with a program of vintage lunar-themed films. The evening, co-presented by Vidiots, will include two rare 16mm presentations: a hand-tinted color print of George Melies‘ iconic 1902 short A Trip to the Moon, followed by the original 1929 release version of Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon. Running a fleet 95 minutes (rather than the three hours seen in controversial restorations of the film), Lang’s trailblazing space opus frames the first lunar expedition as a high-stakes melodrama. Combining elements of science fiction, espionage thriller and romance, the pic marks a culmination of Lang’s work in the silent era (his next movie, M, would be his first in sound), and stands 90 years later as one of the most ambitions and startling visions of the cosmos ever conceived.

MIZOGUCHI AND SEMBENE AT ECHO PARK FILM CENTER | 1200 N. Alvarado St.

This month’s Kino Slang program at Echo Park Film Center brings together two little-seen films by revered filmmakers. The May 24 event will begin with a special 16mm presentation of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene’s 1970 short Tauw, which follows an unemployed young man attempting to make a life for himself and his girlfriend in rural Dakar, followed by a digital screening of Kenji Mizoguchi’s little seen feature My Love Is Burning, from 1949. Inspired by the life of feminist author Eiko Kageyame, My Love Is Burning charts the budding romance between Eiko and Omoi, two Liberal Party advocates whose love is challenged when they’re falsely imprisoned because of a factory fire. Made just a few years before Mizoguchi would be discovered in the West, the film embodies the Japanese director’s long-held preoccupation with women’s issues and points ahead to the epic sociopolitical parables he would make in the 1950s.

PASOLINI AND A 70MM MEMORIAL DAY CELEBRATION AT THE AERO | 1328 Montana Ave.

Two short celluloid-focused programs highlight this month’s calendar at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre. First, a quartet of films by Pier Paolo Pasolini will screen as part of two 35mm double features: On May 16, two of the Italian iconoclast’s most notorious films, Pigsty and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, will share a bill, followed on May 18 by his freewheeling interpretation of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and his scathing 1968 morality play Teorema. And later in the month, over Memorial Day weekend, five big-screen classics will screen on 70mm. Titles include Steven Spielberg's misbegotten Hook (May 23); two landmarks of '80s genre cinema by John Carpenter, The Thing and Starman (May 24); and a pair of holiday standbys, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (May 25) and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (May 26).