Critic's Picks: A February To-Do List for Films Buffs in L.A.

The Leopard-1963-Still-Photofest-H 2019
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation/Photofest

SoCal cinephiles have a plethora of options in February, including a retrospective on Italian master Luchino Visconti, a tribute to Burt Reynolds, a quartet of New Hollywood road movies and more.


Running from Feb. 15-17, this year’s UCLA Festival of Preservation will take place over a single weekend at the Billy Wilder Theater with nearly two dozen programs of newly restored and preserved prints sourced from the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s vast collection. Beginning the morning of Feb. 15 with the 1933 Fox production My Lips Betray, featuring Lilian Harvey as a singer who catches the eye of a local patriarch, the series navigates nimbly between features and shorts, television films and international obscurities alike. Other tantalizing selections from early to midcentury Hollywood include the 1949 amnesiac noir The Crooked Way (Feb. 15); the 1940 anti-Nazi feature The Mortal Storm (Feb. 15), directed by Frank Borzage; the 1949 Richard Fleischer film Trapped (Feb. 15); and the 1947 gothic thriller The Red House (Feb. 16), directed by Delmer Daves and starring Edward G. Robinson. Looking further afield, there's a pair of rare Mexican features, the 1934 horror film El fantasma del convento (Feb. 15) and the 1946 romance Enamorada (Feb. 16); a program of rare kinescope recordings of early Los Angeles television broadcasts (Feb. 15); and, on Feb. 17, a trio of mostly unknown American independent features — the 1968 verite documentary Operation Bootstrap, which follows the community-based initiatives of the vital South L.A. non-profit; 1978's Gay USA, a compendium of footage captured at American gay pride parades; and 1991's The Hours and the Times, a low-budget fiction that imagines the apocryphal weekend that John Lennon and band manager Brian Epstein spent in Barcelona on the cusp of Beatlemania in 1963.


Beginning in February, a two-month retrospective of the great Italian director Luchino Visconti will come to town at the American Cinematheque’s Aero and Egyptian Theaters. Titled “Luchino Visconti: Cinematic Nobility,” the series covers the filmmaker’s startling evolution from neorealist upstart to grand melodramatist, between which he forged a legacy of nearly unrivaled sociopolitical insight. In addition to digital presentations of The Leopard (Feb. 7) and Death in Venice (Feb. 21), a number of titles are being presented on 35mm, including, at the Egyptian, 1973’s epic 19th-century drama Ludwig (Feb. 10), the 1951 Anna Magnani vehicle Bellissma (Feb. 27) and, finally, a Feb. 28 double bill that pairs the 1957 Dostoevsky adaptation White Nights, starring Marcello Mastroianni, with 1967’s little seen anthology film The Witches, in which a number of postwar Italian cinema’s most venerated filmmakers (including Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Franco Rossi) contribute short films that deal with the era’s cultural and political strife in fresh and often comical ways.


This month the New Beverly Cinema pays tribute to actor Burt Reynolds, who passed away last September at the age of 82. Kicking off on Reynolds’ birthday, Feb. 10, with a 35mm print of his 1959 screen debut Angel Baby, the series covers a wide swath of the actor’s career, from his early roles in exploitation films to his beloved work in the 1970s and his late career revival in the ‘90s. Evenings to highlight include a Feb. 12 bill of Sam Fuller’s 1969 independent production Shark! and 1973’s Shamus, featuring Reynolds in one of his most luridly macho roles as a private eye investigating a diamond robbery; a two-night double bill (Feb. 13 and 14) of what are arguably the actor’s most iconic roles, in John Boorman’s Deliverance and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights; two evenings (Feb. 15 and 16) featuring the 1973 drive-in favorite White Lightning alongside Robert Aldrich’s 1974 football prison classic The Longest Yard; and, finally, another two-night double bill (Feb. 20 and 21) that pairs Hal Needham’s alternately tender and tough stuntman drama Hooper, from 1978, with author Michael Crichton’s final directorial effort Physical Evidence, which stars Reynolds as a ex-cop fighting for his innocence against Teresa Russell’s upstart attorney.


Storied U.K. experimental film artist Malcolm Le Grice makes a rare trip to Los Angeles this month for a trio of shows co-presented by Los Angeles Filmforum. First, on Feb. 11, a program at downtown’s REDCAT theater will highlight Le Grice’s early work from the 1960s and ‘70s, with selections featuring some of his most notable musical collaborators, including Brian Eno. Moving forward a few decades, the Feb. 14 show at USC’s Cinematheque 108 will cover a good chunk of the filmmaker’s more recent work, with a 2005 film featuring Le Grice’s contemporary Peter Gidal being of particular note, while the final night, Feb. 17 at the Egyptian Theatre’s Spielberg cinema covers all that and more, with early 8mm films sharing a bill with double and triple projection pieces, as well as recent digital works. Taken together, the week represents the largest showcase of Le Grice’s work ever presented in Los Angeles.


Los Angeles Filmforum’s other February program of note is dedicated to American experimental filmmaker Martha Colburn, who’s been working in stop-motion and collage-based Super 8 and 16mm animation since the mid-‘90s. Curated by Filmforum board member and Academy film preservationist Mark Toscano, the program brings together a selection of Colburn’s early films, which often combine humorous found footage from obscure corners of the media landscape with in-camera animation effects, alongside some of her more recent efforts (including a brand-new film), which utilize similar techniques for more politically pointed commentary. Set to music by the likes Jad Fair, the Red Balloon, James Chance and Jason Willett, Colburn’s films offer a kaleidoscopic audio-visual tour through modern American history. 

ROAD MOVIES AT LACMA 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

This month’s Tuesday Matinee series at LACMA features a quartet of road movies produced during the New Hollywood surge of the late-‘60s and early-‘70s. Already underway following a Feb. 5 screening of the film that started it all, Easy Rider, this nearly all-35mm survey moves chronologically through the period: On Feb. 12, there’s Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces featuring Jack Nicholson in perhaps his greatest performance as a disenchanted oil rig worker who sets out with his girlfriend (played by the late Karen Black) to reunite with his dying father in the Pacific Northwest; on Feb. 19, Michelangelo Antonioni’s notorious existential desert epic Zabriskie Point; and, lastly, on Feb. 26, Richard C. Sarafian’s allegorical car chase classic Vanishing Point (screening on DCP), in which a Vietnam war veteran (Barry Newman) embarks on an amphetamine-fueled cross-country sprint that casts its controversial subject as a countercultural hero.