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

YouTube/Danios12345
Ernst Lubitsch's 'To Be or Not to Be' (1942)

The Los Angeles film scene in July is rich with options other than multiplex fare — including an Ernst Lubitsch retrospective, masterpieces from Agnes Varda and Edward Yang and notable new LGBT films at Outfest.

ERNST LUBITSCH AT THE BILLY WILDER | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

In conjunction with the publication of film historian Joseph McBride’s new book How Did Lubitsch Do It?, the UCLA Film and Television Archive is mounting a two-month retrospective of the great German-American filmmaker at the Billy Wilder Theater. Beginning July 6 with the 1926 marital comedy So This Is Paris, the series (presented almost entirely on 35mm) moves from the silent era through Hollywood’s golden age, following Lubitsch as he worked his way between multiple studios, including Warner Bros., Paramount and MGM. Curious about the famed “Lubitsch touch”? Look no further than the July 7 double bill of the subversive 1939 comedy Ninotchka, starring Greta Garbo in one of her final roles, and the classic 1940 romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner, featuring Margaret Sullivan and James Stewart as a pair of sales clerks who reluctantly fall for one another. (McBride, along with Lubitch’s daughter Nicola, will be on hand opening weekend.) Later in the month, a July 21 double bill of the 1942 wartime comedy To Be or Not to Be and the little-seen 1932 pre-code musical One Hour With You highlights Lubitsch’s sly stylistic range, which he honed for years in Germany before immigrating to the U.S. Two of those early efforts can be seen on a July 29 triple bill that pairs the 1919 silents The Oyster Princess and I Don’t Want to Be a Man with the 1924 period drama Forbidden Paradise. It’s been eight years since Los Angeles hosted a Lubitsch retrospective, making this a most welcome reintroduction to one of cinema’s most revered storytellers. 

DIRTY LOOKS ON LOCATION | Various venues

Expanding its annual On Location series, the bi-coastal arts nonprofit Dirty Looks will unfold in July an ambitious 31-day series of screenings, performances and exhibitions at a variety of venues across Los Angeles. For film fans, there’s a number of exciting programs to note, including the series opening “A Most Unusual Film Festival” (July 1 at the Hayworth Theatre), a 50th anniversary celebration of Los Angeles’ first homosexual film festival; screening on 16mm will be two groundbreaking films from 1965 — Andy Warhol’s infamous My Hustler, shot over one particularly memorable Labor Day weekend on Fire Island, and Jose Rodriguez-Soltero’s Jerovi, a queer reimagining of the Narcissus myth. Other highlights include a 4K restoration of Barbara Peeters’ 1970 suburban sex drama The Dark Side of Tomorrow (July 11 at the Egyptian Theatre); a digitally presented program of medium-length films by Fred Halsted, including the classic LA Plays Itself (July 14 at Eagle LA); an essential 16mm program dedicated to the great Maya Deren (July 22 at Coaxial); a special digital screening of Shinya Tsukamoto’s cyberpunk classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man, with a new live synth score by Lauren Bousfield and Naomi Mitchell (July 26 at Akbar); and, finally, a 35mm midnight presentation of Gregg Araki’s darkly comic teen drama Nowhere (July 27 at the Vista), featuring a who’s-who of cult celebrities and fringe icons.

CANYON CINEMA AT THE BILLY WILDER | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

This year, the iconic Bay Area cinema and arts organization Canyon Cinema marks its 50th anniversary and to celebrate, Los Angeles Filmforum and the UCLA Film and Television have teamed up for a two-night (July 13 and 14) series of highlights at the Billy Wilder Theater, culled from the collective’s vast archive of experimental film prints. Spread across four programs, this all-16mm showcase — curated from a larger touring retrospective — brings together a half-century of noncommercial moving image work by a variety of artists both recognizable and less heralded. On Friday, July 13, a selection of recent films by veterans such as Saul Levine and Charlotte Pryce will screen alongside classic works by Betzy Bromberg, Scott Stark and the late landscape artist Peter Hutton, as well as new restorations of films by Curt McDowell and Richard Myers and vintage works by a few of Canyon’s most productive female filmmakers, including Sara Kathryn Arledge, Abigail Child and Barbara Hammer. Saturday, meanwhile, pairs an opening program of found footage, animated and essay films by the lesser-known likes of Michael Wallin, Will Hindle, JoAnn Elam and Cauleen Smith, with a concluding selection of experimental classics by Pat O’Neill, Gunvor Nelson and Dominic Angerame, in addition to a pair of works by Canyon Cinema’s founders, the legendary Bruce Baillie and Chick Strand.

YI YI AT LACMA | 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

Originally released Stateside in October 2000, Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, which will screen at LACMA on July 26 with an original 35mm print, marked a watershed moment in international cinema. Often considered the spiritual end of the Taiwanese New Wave — a movement brought to prominence in the 1990s through an astonishing run of features by Yang and his contemporaries Hou Hsiao-hsien, Ang Lee and Tsai Ming-liang — Yang’s final film, released six years before his untimely passing in 2007, consolidated many of the stylistic and thematic traits that he had spent the previous two decades refining. With its elegantly sprawling narrative (the pic clocks in at nearly three hours in length, not a moment of it superfluous) and unassumingly profound insights into everyday domesticity, this seemingly modest tale of a middle-class Taiwanese family has casually proven itself one of contemporary cinema’s most inexhaustible achievements.

AGNES VARDA AT THE DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT | 251 S. Main St.

On July 24, the Los Angeles screening series La Collectionneuse will team up with Acropolis Cinema (a series I help organize) for a special presentation of Agnes Varda’s 1977 film One Sings, the Other Doesn’t at the Downtown Independent theater. Newly restored by Janus Films, One Sings — previously one of the French icon’s most difficult-to-see movies — follows two female friends, a folk singer (Valerie Mairesse) and a women’s rights activist (Therese Liotard), over the span of a decade as their lives intersect following a series of martial and maternal struggles. Set at the height of the Women’s Movement in France, Varda’s playful yet pointed pic — part musical, part sociopolitical portrait — is an ode to female solidarity and perseverance that can’t help but feel newly topical in today’s contentious cultural climate.

BUDDIES AT OUTFEST | 7655 Sunset Blvd.

On Saturday, July 21, at the Harmony Gold Theater, Outfest — running throughout the month and featuring a number of notable new LGBTQ-related films — will be hosting the Los Angeles premiere of the new digital restoration of Buddies, a 1985 feature directed by Arthur J. Bressan Jr. Considered the first American film to deal openly with the AIDS crisis, the independently produced and distributed Buddies follows a gay man in New York City who befriends a hospice patient dying of AIDS. Released years before the media would properly account for the many misconceptions regarding the AIDS virus, Buddies takes a sympathetic but no less harrowing look at a pandemic that destroyed a generation, playing in hindsight as both a time capsule and a celebration of resilience in the face of tragedy. Less than two years later, Bressan, who not only directed but also wrote and edited the film, would die of complications related to AIDS.