Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Grand Illusion Cinema's "Summer of Celluloid": Jul 13 - Sept 6

Scarecrow Video's sister cinema, The Grand Illusion has seen a rise to prominence with the decimation of the independent Landmark chain and buyout or closing of other regional theaters. Writing for Seattle's arts weekly, Charles Mudede continues to assert the theater experience as a essential component of urban life, regardless of the leveling of the city's cinema-going opportunities. Framing the disappearance of much of the competition as an opening of the programming field, he proposes, "How Grand Illusion Became a Big Player in Seattle's Cinema Scene". In addition to the programming of an increasing array of genre film, American independent, and Asian and European arthouse directors, this small and long-running independent cinema has also preserved their ability to screen celluloid. Allowing for The Grand Illusion to team with their contemporary cinemahouse Northwest Film Forum for the annual presentation of the work of UCLA's Film & Television Archive, and their touring Festival of Preservation. As a repertory showcase, this festival of new prints on film has offered one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". Yet these opportunities, and the venues still able to screen film on celluloid are fast disappearing, accelerated by studio pressure and greater difficulty in maintaining hardware and acquisition of prints. All of which is detailed in LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling".

So rejoice at this uncommon opportunity and the savvy programming Dan Hudson has brought to the city's longest running independent theater, with The Grand Illusion Cinema's Summer of Celluloid series. Beginning the two month program with a Steve McQueen double bill, Norman Jewison's highly stylized class conflict thriller, "The Thomas Crown Affair" and Peter Yates action-filled San Francisco detective procedural "Bullitt", will deliver a double punch of late 60s cool. The following weekend sees the director who exploited the richness of celluloid like no other. A double bill of Stanley Kubrick with his classic 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's "The Shining", and one of the most sumptuously shot films of it's decade, the 18th century exploration of decaying aristocracy, as political satire and class comedy, "Barry Lyndon". Meeting during the production of the latter, Leon Vitali continued to work for the director behind the scenes, taking on a array of roles in the following decades: casting director, acting coach, location scouter, sound engineer, color corrector, promoter, and eventually restorer of Kubrick’s films. His personal account of a life dedicated to the director's vision can be witnessed throughout "Filmworker", running concurrently the week of the two features.

Shifting gears, the following week showcases two espionage and action thrillers from the decades of the 1980s and celluloid's last era, that of the late 1990s. Featuring the cinematography of the late, great Robby Müller, William Friedkin's "To Live and Die in L.A." frames a deadly game of cat and mouse between William Petersen and Willem Dafoe in a raw tale of corruption and revenge. Much in the way of Yate's "Bullit" exploiting it's San Francisco setting for all it's worth, Friedkin utilizes the harsh synthetic environs of Los Angeles to choreograph one of greatest chase scenes dedicated to film in the 1980s. A decade later, John Frankenheimer would prove that he still had true grit late in his career with the sharp pacing, brilliant editing and high stakes of "Ronin"'s post-Cold War espionage thriller. Taking it's cues from heist and crime cinema of the mid-century, Frankenheimer brilliantly updates the European style and setting of the genre, with a great cast starring Robert De Niro, Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathan Pryce, and Jean Reno. Also in the way of 1980s action movies, we have a less po-faced set of genre pieces in Peter Hyams military industrial complex setting with Sean Connery as the film's space mining detective in "Outland", and Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes getting sci-fi macho ridiculous in "Demolition Man". But neither of these begin to touch the unbridled and limitless invention and absurdity of Lau Kar-leung. Much like his "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin", 1983's Shaw Brothers production of "The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter" promises elaborate setups and acrobatic, physics, (and reason), defying martial arts action.

Belatedly championed, and with numerous opportunities in the spotlight this year, Left Bank director Agnes Varda has had a wonderful year. Her Academy Award nominated "Visages Villages" received attention from all the right places, she was seen on the red carpet at Cannes for the Cate Blanchett-organized events of this year's festival, and she donned the cover of this summer's Sight & Sound in their feature on, "The Irrepressible Agnès Varda". Contributing even a little more to the year of esteem, her restored "One Sings, The Other Doesn't", is having a domestic theatrical run, landing at The Grand Illusion for a week. Swinging back into 1990s genre film, and a universe away from the New Wave's Left Bank, the Summer of Celluloid concludes with James Cameron's second installment in the then-groundbreaking Terminator franchise, "T2: Judgement Day". Closing out the series, and a little more measured than the 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Renny Harlin's Samuel L. Jackson and Geena Davis-led urban thriller, "The Long Kiss Goodnight", watches as a satisfyingly slice of 1996 late-period-celluloid action noir.