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

2001: A Space Odyssey Still 1 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

2001: A Space Odyssey

Between Charlie Chaplin matinees, a new “unrestored” 70mm version of '2001: A Space Odyssey' and a rarely shown George Stevens gem, Los Angeles kicks off its summer classic and vintage offerings in style.

CHARLIE CHAPLIN AT LACMA | 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

Throughout June at LACMA, the museum’s Tuesday Matinee series will be devoted to Charlie Chaplin, the great comic of the silent and early Hollywood era whose increasingly ambitious and critically minded filmmaking slowly turned a beloved cinematic icon into a political pariah. This transformation can be charted across the four films (all showing on 35mm) in the museum’s series, which covers a good chunk of Chaplin’s first two decades of feature film work, before he fled the United States for Europe (where he would go on to make some of his greatest films). Chaplin’s most indelible creation, the Little Tramp, is the featured attraction of the series’ first three entries, The Kid (June 5), City Lights (June 12) and Modern Times (June 19); together, these films touch on many themes — capitalism, industrialization, alcoholism — that Chaplin would return to over the course of his career in less overtly comedic settings. The first evidence of Chaplin’s radicalized outlook can be seen in The Great Dictator (June 26), a searing satire in which the actor-writer-director takes on the dual role of a Jewish barber and the German authoritarian who persecutes him. With its withering critique of fascism, anti-Semitism and Nazi Germany, the film was prophetic in more ways than one; it would be the last of Chaplin’s films to gain a critical or commercial foothold in the U.S. Within a decade, he’d be banned from returning to the country where he’d made his name. 

JIRI TRNKA AT THE AERO | 1328 Montana Ave.

Comeback Co.'s touring retrospective, “The Puppet Master: The Films of Jiri Trnka,” comes to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica over the first weekend of June, offering a generous selection of the beloved Czech animator’s most memorable and influential films. Comprising digital restorations and 35mm prints, the series kicks off June 1 with a double bill of the groundbreaking early '50s puppet films Bayaya and Old Czech Legends, followed June 2 by two of Trnka’s lesser known shorts (Merry Circus and The Animals and the Brigands) and a 35mm presentation of perhaps his best known work, a 1959 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finally, June 3, a quartet of Trnka’s late films, made not long before his death in 1969, will close out the series; these shorts — which include Passion, Cybernetic Grandma, Archangel Gabriel and Mistress Goose and The Hand — combine the director’s flair for the surreal and grotesque with uniquely political, of-the-moment subject matter, hinting at the passions fueling this great artist’s life and work up until the very end.

PERSONAL PROBLEMS AT THE BILLY WILDER | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

The rapturously received restoration of Bill Gunn’s 1980 feature Personal Problems makes its way to town this month when the UCLA Film and Television Archive hosts the film’s Los Angeles premiere June 8 at the Billy Wilder Theater. Gunn, best known for directing the feverish vampire classic Ganja & Hess, collaborated with the writer Ishmael Reed on what would become his final film. A furious and formally bold spin on the soap opera genre (the film, comprising two parts and running nearly three hours in length, was originally intended for public television), Personal Problems playfully lampoons the medium while speaking to the realities and hardships of African-American life in the late '70s. With a Fassbinderian flair for color and a neorealist’s eye for composition (the film was shot on low-grade video, and it looks it), Gunn spins a potent ensemble drama from his modest domestic milieu, offering a snapshot of Reagan-era America that’s both troubling and transcendent.     

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, UNRESTORED, AT THE AERO | 1328 Montana Ave.

After its unveiling at the Cannes Film Festival last month, a new “unrestored” 70mm version of Stanley Kubrick’s immortal 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to the Aero for a week of screenings this month in celebration of the classic’s 50th anniversary. Most reading this column are likely well-versed in the lore surrounding Kubrick’s masterpiece, and have likewise probably seized on the many opportunities to see the film in its various celluloid and digital incarnations over the years. What makes this version, screening daily June 13 to 19 and overseen by celluloid enthusiast Christopher Nolan, unique is its wholly authentic presentation. What this amounts to, in the words of Warner Bros., is “a true photochemical film [re-creation] ... [with] no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits.” If it’s been a while since you’ve revisited 2001 — and most especially if you never had the chance to see the film during its original release in 1968 — this appears to be a most valuable opportunity to do so. Note: If you can manage to get tickets, the same 70mm version will screen June 11 at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, with an introduction by Nolan himself.

ALICE ADAMS AT THE SAMUEL GOLDWYN | 8949 Wilshire Blvd.

Speaking of the Samuel Goldwyn: One week prior to the 2001 screening, June 4, the Academy will host a lecture at the theater on Hollywood great George Stevens, followed by a 35mm screening of the director’s rarely projected 1935 romance Alice Adams. Starring Fred MacMurray and Katharine Hepburn, the film, based on a novel by Booth Tarkington (the author of "The Magnificent Ambersons," later made into a classic film of its own by Orson Welles), follows the impoverished title character (played by Hepburn in only her third feature film) in her attempt to wed a wealthy businessman (MacMurray) despite the class division that stipulates that these two characters need not mingle, let alone marry. Stevens, one of early Hollywood’s foremost practitioners, would go on to great success in the 1950s with Shane, Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank; this early triumph, one of three films Stevens would release in 1935 alone, expertly displays his growing command of form and his productive way with actors.