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

Plein soleil -Purple Moon - Alain Delon - Photofest - H 2019
Times Film/Photofest

A classic lesbian drama, French noirs starring Alain Delon and Jean Gabin and a series of matinees devoted to Katharine Hepburn are among the plentiful vintage and classic options for SoCal film buffs this month.

OLIVIA AT THE LAEMMLE ROYAL | 11523 Santa Monica Blvd.

Already underway and screening daily through Sept. 5 at the Laemmle Royal is a new digital restoration of Jacqueline Audry’s trailblazing 1951 feature Olivia, one of the first films, French or otherwise, to deal with female homosexuality. Set in a 19th-century Parisian finishing school for girls, the film depicts the struggle between two head mistresses (Edwige Feuillere and Simone Simon) for the affection of their students, and how one girl’s (Marie-Claire Olivia) romantic urges stir jealousy in the house. Audry, one of the key female filmmakers of post-World War II France, stages this feverish chamber drama (based on a novel by the English writer Dorothy Bussy) with a delicate yet incisive touch, allowing the story’s implicit sensuality to simmer ominously without boiling over into undue hysterics. Lesbian dramas would soon become more explicit, but few have matched Olivia’s unique combination of elegance and eroticism.


The fifth edition of the American Cinematheque’s French film noir series “The French Had a Name For It” runs from Sept. 5-8 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. This year’s program, covering the years 1946-1969, focuses on the tail end of the classic noir period, and turns up many titles that aren’t often considered alongside early examples of the genre. Each of the series’ three 35mm screenings take place on Sept. 7, beginning with an afternoon presentation of René Clément’s Purple Noon, a darkly seductive adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley starring the great Alain Delon, and continuing with an evening double bill of Any Number Can Win and The Sicilian Clan, two crime films by director Henri Verneuil that also star Delon alongside perhaps French film noir’s most iconic figure, Jean Gabin. For those in the mood for something a little lighter, there are are also four Tuesday matinees devoted to actress Katharine Hepburn, including The Philadelphia Story (Sept. 3, 35mm), Adam’s Rib (Sept. 10, 35mm), Holiday (Sept. 17, 4k digital), and Alice Adams (Sept. 24, 35mm).

GREED AT THE AUTRY | 4700 Western Heritage Way

On Sept. 21, the Autry Museum of the American West will present a special 35mm screening of the surviving version of Eric Von Stroheim’s landmark 1924 film Greed. Originally eight hours long, the film — an epic tale of lust, infidelity and murder set against the backdrop of early 20th-century San Francisco — was notoriously taken from Von Stroheim’s hands and cut down by MGM to a more manageable length. While this uncut version is one of the great what-ifs in film history, what survives is considered by many to be among the most innovative of all silent films. The Autry will project the pic at its original speed of 24 frames per second, with live musical accompaniment by Cliff Retallick.


On Sept. 15 at the Bootleg Theater, Vidiots, Projections LA and Film at LACMA team up for a rare 16mm screening of Ann Hui’s 1990 film Song of Exile. In this semi-autobiographical feature, the veteran Hong Kong New Wave director recounts her early life through the character of Hueyin (Maggie Cheung), a 26-year-old student who returns to Hong Kong for her sister’s wedding after studying in London. When she arrives, tensions arise between her and her Japanese mother, whose quiet resentment over her life in China has fostered ill will between the two since Hueyin’s childhood. Told largely in flashback, Song of Exile is one of Hui’s most intricate and culturally perceptive films, and one not often seen theatrically. (It is currently unavailable on any home video or streaming platform.) Preceding the feature will be an archival print of The Chinese Typewriter, a 1978 short by Daniel Barnett assembled from over 3,000 rephotographed images shot by the artist over the course of five years in a half-dozen Chinese cities.


One of the most enticing aspects of the City of Lights, City of Angels festival (COLCOA) is their annual sidebar selection of classic French films. This year’s program consists of three titles: Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7, Jacques Becker’s Touchez Pas Au Grisbi and Jean Renoir’s Toni — all presented free of charge. Of particular interest is Renoir’s influential but little-seen 1935 feature, screening Sept. 25 at the DGA in a new digital restoration fresh from its premiere at Cannes. Centered on the romantic entanglements of a group of migrant workers in the South of France, Toni is one of the earliest examples of Renoir’s use of non-professional actors and on-location shooting — and as such a key precursor to Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. Never before released on any U.S. home video or streaming platform, the film, perhaps the most emotionally and politically acute of Renoir’s early sound productions, is due to be recognized.


While Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood continues to monopolize the evening screening slots at the New Beverly, one must look to their weekly matinee schedule for a classic film fix. This month, Wednesday afternoons are given over to a quartet of midcentury film noirs, at least three of which don’t often screen on 35mm. Things begin on Sept. 4 with the most recognizable title, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Tay Garnett’s classic tale of murderous romance starring Lana Turner and John Garfield. From there they dig a little deeper: Sept. 11 brings Curtis Bernhardt’s Possessed, featuring Joan Crawford as a psychologically unstable woman recalling her obsessive relationship with an ex-lover, followed on Sept. 18 by Richard Fleischer’s cross-country train thriller The Narrow Margin and, on Sept. 25, by Robert Siodmak’s Criss-Cross, with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo as ex-spouses who become entangled in a heist plot. Also of note are this month’s Monday matinees, which include Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (Sept. 9), Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Sept. 16), David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (Sept. 23) and John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A. (Sept. 30).