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

Photofest
Joan Crawford in 'The Bride Wore Red' (1937)

Los Angeles movie lovers can cure the dump-month blues by checking out a Michael Curtiz classic, a screening series devoted to the only female director working in the 1930s in the U.S. and a variety of experimental films.

MICHAEL CURTIZ AT THE BILLY WILDER | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

Beginning Friday and running through mid-March, the UCLA Film and Television Archive will be surveying the career of Hollywood journeyman Michael Curtiz. Primarily recognized today as the man behind Hollywood’s most beloved espionage romance, Casablanca, Curtiz in fact directed north of 150 films over a half-century in the movie business. Commencing with a star-studded double bill of Casablanca and Kid Galahad, the latter starring Curtiz’s Casablanca lead Humphrey Bogart alongside Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson, the series zig-zags across the director’s entire filmography. January highlights include a double bill of pre-Code rarities, Female and The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (Saturday), a pair of the director’s early silent films, The Last Dawn and A Million Bid (Jan. 12), and a triple feature of Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Kennel Murder Case that explores Curtiz’s little-remarked-upon run of thrillers (Jan. 13). Curtiz would go on to make many accomplished films, a number of which show up later in this series, and these first forays into genre anticipate a career that cannot be confined to a single style or subject.

DOROTHY ARZNER AT LACMA | 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

This month LACMA’s Tuesday Matinee series is dedicated to Dorothy Arzner, one of the few female directors to carve out a sizable career during the era of the Hollywood studio system. Born in San Francisco in 1897, Arzner began working in the movie business in 1919 as a stenographer before graduating to script writer and, later, editor. Her first film as a director followed in 1927, and she worked consistently through the early-‘40s, oftentimes highlighting women and promoting female-driven films. Already underway, LACMA’s monthlong series, presented on a combination of 16mm and 35mm prints, returns next on Tuesday with Christopher Strong, an aviation adventure picture starring Katharine Hepburn, and continues week by week with the Rosalind Russell vehicle Craig’s Wife (Jan. 16), the devious Joan Crawford romance The Bride Wore Red (Jan. 23) and, finally, the burlesque-era love triangle Dance Girl Dance (Jan. 30), with Maureen O’Hara, Louis Hayward and Lucille Ball.

ORG AT THE DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT | 251 S. Main St.

Late last year, at the age of 92, legendary Argentinian filmmaker Fernando Birri passed away following a year in which his name was newly reborn. On Jan. 16, following its unveiling at the Berlin International Film Festival last February, Los Angeles Filmforum, in collaboration with Acropolis Cinema, will present the new digital restoration of Birri’s infamous 1979 experimental feature ORG at the Downtown Independent cinema. (The usual disclosure applies here: I run Acropolis Cinema and helped organize this screening.) Constructed over a period of 10 years and reportedly comprised of over 26,000 cuts and 700 audio tracks (from nearly a half-million meters of film), ORG’s reputation precedes its finer points as a movie. This three-hour montage film, inspired by a Thomas Mann short story, is a dizzying interrogation of radical politics and oppression and a personal reflection on Birri’s exile in Italy. Partially funded by Marco Girotti, better known as spaghetti Western star Terence Hill, ORG has few cinematic contemporaries, past or present.

SUPER 8 EXPERIMENTS AND LUIS OSPINA RARITIES AT THE BILLY WILDER | 10899 Wilshire Blvd.

January marks the conclusion of Los Angeles Filmforum’s five-month series "Ism Ism Ism: Experimental Cinema in Latin America," its contribution to the city-wide "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA" initiative –– and the series is going out with a bang. Along with ORG, the month’s other major highlights are being presented over one final weekend at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater. First, on Jan. 19, a program of rare Super 8 films from Argentina will screen with curator and filmmaker Pablo Marin in person. The small-gauge Super 8 format was a favorite among Latin American artists of the 1960s and ‘70s who took advantage of its cheaper cost and more modest technical needs, resulting in an entire era of bold and industrious films that have rarely been screened in America. Following on Jan. 20 and 21, Filmforum will welcome filmmaker Louis Ospina for three programs featuring his own films alongside others from this groundbreaking era of experimental filmmaking, before closing with a solo show dedicated to Narcisa Hirsch, a German emigre who made many of her best films while living in Argentina. Notable titles across the four programs include a restoration of Ospina’s thesis film Act of Faith, as well as his feature-length collaboration with Carlos Mayolo, The Vampires of Poverty; Daniel Santiago’s Duelo; and Nicolas Guillen Landrian’s Coffea Arabiga, a propagandistic parody of Cuba’s green-belt agricultural project. Along with Ospina and Marin, filmmaker Poli Marichal will be on hand with the series curators at the Jan. 21 program to sign copies of the accompanying Ism Ism Ism book.