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

Photofest
Ingrid Bergman in George Cukor's 'Gaslight' (1944)

Classic and repertory offerings include a pair of Jackie Chan gems, favorites from Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock and dramas starring Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman and other Oscar-winning women.

BENSHI PERFORMERS AND FAY WRAY CLASSICS AT THE BILLY WILDER | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

Highlighting the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s March calendar are two very different but equally tantalizing programs. Over the first weekend of the month, from March 1-3, the Archive will welcome three of Japan’s most acclaimed contemporary benshi performers and a small musical ensemble to provide live narration and accompaniment for a series of silent films from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Popular in Japan throughout the silent era, benshi enriched the cinematic experience through a highly unique fusion of narration and dramatic performance, becoming integral components of many early Japanese short and feature-length films. Performances at the Billy Wilder theater will accompany classics from both Japan and America, and will include an evening of films by Ito Daisuke (March 1), a rare presentation of Yasujiro Ozu’s 1933 genre film Dragnet Girl (March 2) and a pair of closing programs headlined by Rupert Julian’s Silence (March 3) and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (March 3). Filling out much of the remaining calendar is a series of films by actress Fay Wray and screenwriter Robert Riskin, a early Hollywood power couple that lent their talents to a number of American screen classics. Wray, of course, found early success with the original King Kong (March 8), while Riskin’s collaborations with Frank Capra are amongst the most beloved of Hollywood’s golden era. Amongst the highlights of five creatively paired double bills are Capra’s Meet John Doe (March 9) and American Madness (March 30), and the little-seen Wray vehicles Viva Villa! (March 16) and The Wedding March (March 30), directed by Howard Hawks and Erich von Stroheim, respectively.

POLICE STORY AT THE NUART | 11272 Santa Monica Blvd.

Opening March 8 at Santa Monica's Nuart cinema (and beginning the following Friday, March 15, at Laemmle's Glendale, Playhouse, and NoHo cinemas) are brand-new digital restorations of Jackie Chan’s first two Police Story films. Originally released in 1985, Police Story stars Chan (who also co-wrote and directed the film) as Inspector “Kevin” Chan Ka-Kui, a Hong Kong police officer trying to take down a local crime boss. When an undercover sting goes wrong, Kevin is forced to resort to other less traditional methods to bring the gang to justice. Comprised of near wall-to-wall action set pieces, Police Story is the film that first brought Chan’s explosive stunt work and comedic charm (not to mention the indelible presence of co-star Maggie Cheung) to international audiences. Police Story 2 followed three years later, continuing Kevin’s saga as he’s forced back into the line of fire. Police Story and its sequel would prove so popular that it would eventually spawn an entire series (six films in all), and in the process kick-start Chan’s blockbuster run of Hollywood action films in the ‘90s.

BABYLON AT LAEMMLE GLENDALE | 207 N. Maryland Ave.

Also opening at the Laemmle Glendale on March 15 is a digital restoration of Franco Rosso’s notorious 1980 feature Babylon, a furious dispatch from the streets of Thatcher-era London that was banned Stateside for its raw depiction of race relations in the UK. Set in the dancehall scene of the early ‘80s, Babylon follows a young black working class DJ (Aswad frontman Brinsley Forde) as he struggles to find musical success amidst a city of festering xenophobia, police violence, and disingenuous corporate suitors. Famously held from the New York Film Festival because of its smoldering depiction of unchecked racial tension and seen only sporadically since (this restoration marks the film’s official U.S. theatrical release), Babylon stands as a vivid time capsule of London’s then-burgeoning sound system culture and a call to arms for the disenfranchised during times of a strife.

EDWARD OWENS AND BABETTE MANGOLTE AT LOS ANGELES FILMFORUM | 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

This month Los Angeles Filmforum are bringing films by two woefully under-recognized artists to L.A. screens. First, on March 3, a program of rarities by Edward Owens will be presented at the Spielberg Theater at the Egyptian. Owens, a queer black artist who relocated to New York from Chicago at the behest of filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos, pioneered a montage-based form of portrait cinema centered on friends, family, and black American life, foregrounding the physical presence and proximity of its performers. Only recently brought back into circulation, Owens’ films are ripe for rediscovery. And later in the month, Filmforum will welcome artist and filmmaker Babette Mangolte to town for two shows dedicated to her little seen directorial work. Known primarily for her groundbreaking camera work for the late Chantal Akerman, Mangolte in fact made a number of films from the 1970s into the present day. On March 14 at MoCA, Mangolte’s 1982 landscape film The Sky on Location will screen on a rare 16mm print, followed the next night, March 15, at Echo Park Film Center by four of her recent films, largely centered on subjects from the dance and visual arts world. Mangolte will be in person for both screenings.

HITCHCOCK, TRUFFAUT AND JONES AT THE AERO | 1328 Montana Ave.

In anticipation of the release of his first dramatic feature Diane, critic and New York Film Festival director Kent Jones will come to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for a program inspired by his previous film Hitchcock/Truffaut, a documentary about the two directors’ famed 1962 interview. Opening March 1 and running through the middle of the month, the series zig-zags across the decades, pairing films from each director over seven double features. You can’t really go wrong, but of particular note are an opening night bill of Shoot the Piano Player (which directly references Hitchcock) and Rope, both screening on 35mm, a March 3 pairing of The 39 Steps with Truffaut’s obscure 1983 film Confidentially Yours (the latter screening on 35mm) and a March 9 program featuring 35mm prints of Rear Window and Mississippi Mermaid. And if you missed it when it was released, Hitchcock/Truffaut is closing the series on March 18 alongside a new digital restoration of Hitchcock’s 1942 mystery Saboteur.

OSCAR-WINNING WOMEN AT THE NEW BEVERLY | 7165 Beverly Blvd.

Dedicated to mid-century Hollywood, the New Beverly’s Wednesday matinee series routinely features a noteworthy selection of classics on 35mm. This month’s titles, dedicated to films featuring Oscar-winning female performances, include George Cukor’s 1944 mystery-thriller Gaslight (March 6), featuring a roll call of legendary actors (Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury etc.) alongside star Ingrid Bergman; Michael Curtiz’s iconic 1945 melodrama Mildred Pierce (March 13), starring Joan Crawford in one of her most indelible roles; Nunnally Johnson’s fantastically strange 1957 feature The Three Faces of Eve (March 20), featuring Joanne Woodward as a housewife with multiple personalities; and, finally, on March 27, Mike Nichols‘ 1966 classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton playing two of cinema’s most self-destructive spouses. Of the New Bev’s regular evening programming this month, one item to note is a two-night run (March 20 and 21) of John Ford’s 1948 film Fort Apache and Robert Aldrich’s 1972 feature Ulzana’s Raid, two tremendous Westerns from a pair of the era’s undisputed masters.