Master At Work In `Titicut Follies'
It's not much of a week for first-run fare, but the Seattle Art Museum is busy with several events - including the sixth International Festival of Films by Women Directors - and a number of noteworthy revivals, one restoration and one long-banned movie are turning up in other locations.
The banned film is Frederick Wiseman's "The Titicut Follies," a documentary about the Massachusetts state prison hospital for the criminally insane. It plays at 7 and 9 p.m. tomorrow at Occupied Seattle, 2323 Second Ave.
Although it was shown here briefly in the late 1960s, the state of Massachusetts quickly placed an injunction on the film, restricting showings to legislators, lawyers and other professionals for more than two decades. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, although Justice John Harlan dissented, claiming that it was "a scathing indictment of the inhumane conditions that prevailed." The injunction was only recently overturned.
Since "Titicut" was filmed a quarter of a century ago, Wiseman has become a legend among documentary filmmakers for such PBS classics as "Basic Training," "Near Death," "Welfare" and last month's "Aspen." But this was the film that established his spare non-fiction style, dispensing with narration and facile connections between events.
Occupied Seattle is the new location for Belltown Film Festival screenings. It's across the street from Belltown's old location, the Rendezvous Restaurant. Tickets are $5 at the door.
Istvan Szabo is best-known as the Hungarian writer-director of the recent Glenn Close opera comedy, "Meeting Venus," and for winning a 1982 Academy Award for "Mephisto," the first film in a trilogy of 1980s political dramas starring Klaus Maria Brandauer ("Colonel Redl" and "Hanussen" are the other installments).
But Szabo's personal favorite is his semi-autobiographical second film, "Father," a 1966 post-war drama that returns at 8 p.m. tomorrow at 911 Media Arts Center, 117 Yale Ave. N. Szabo's own father died shortly after World War II ended, and in the film his alter ego (Andras Balint) spends several years coming to terms with the heroic wartime myth of his father.
Luminously photographed in black-and-white by Sandor Sara, the movie makes warm, playful use of Mahler's First Symphony to tell this story. It's at its most lyrical in the Truffaut-like 1940s episodes, and at its most moving in the mid-1950s scenes between the teenaged boy and his Jewish girlfriend, who feels guilty and ashamed ("I'm always trying to prove something") about having survived the Holocaust in which her relatives perished.
"Father" will be introduced and discussed by David Paul, a Seattle writer who has received a Seattle Arts Commission award for critical writing. His new study of Szabo's work will be published by Indiana University Press. Tickets for the film/discussion are $3 for 911 members, $5 for others.
Tonight's 7:30 p.m. museum program is by Doris Chase, although it's not part of the Festival of Films by Women Directors. It's made up of two half-hour television dramas Chase directed for Swiss TV and England's Channel 4. Joan Plowright and the late Geraldine Page are the stars.
Chase also provided the touching script for the Page installment, which was shot in 1985, around the time Page was collecting her Oscar for "The Trip to Bountiful." She plays a woman who dines alone in "Table For One," and she holds the screen effortlessly. In "Sophie," written by Julia Kearsley, Plowright does an equally fine job as a newly independent woman who has taken up tarot-card-reading and does verbal battle with her son (Stephen Dillon).
Chase will introduce the program and take questions. She will do the same next week when she presents "Dear Papa," starring Anne Jackson and Roberta Wallach, and "A Dancer," with Luise Rainer. Tickets are $3 for members of the Pacific Northwest Arts Council, $4 for museum members and $5 for others.
"Yeelen" ("Brightness"), a film from Mali that plays at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the museum's Lecture Hall, is the most acclaimed entry in the four-part series, "Through African Eyes." Directed by Souleymane Cise, it's set in the 13th century, based on Bambara folk myths and concerns a young man's magical contest with his jealous father. Single tickets are on a space-available basis.
The Neptune is weighing in with a couple of 35mm revivals this week: Kinji Fukasuka's "Black Lizard" (1968) plays tonight and tomorrow, and the recently restored version of Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 adventure classic, "The Wages of Fear," Wednesday through next Saturday.
Filmed just a few years before Yukio Mishima committed ritual suicide, "Black Lizard" is based on a Mishima play and even features the writer in a small but attention-getting role, as a knife-wielding creature who is preserved for eternity in the act of murder.
It's a tongue-in-cheek epic, photographed in sumptuous color and CinemaScope, about a Gale Sondergaard-like lady (played by female impersonator Akihiro Maruyama) who is obsessed with preserving human beauty. She turns people into living dolls in a museum designed to fulfill "the little dream I have."
Previously shown in the United States only in a truncated, 105-minute version, "The Wages of Fear" has been restored to something close to its original 2 1/2 hour length (some sources list 156 minutes, some 140; the version that will play here runs for 148). A box-office smash and winner of many festival awards, including the Grand Prize at Cannes, the movie was trimmed even before its first art-house run in New York in 1955.
A riveting existential thriller by the director of "Diabolique," it stars the young Yves Montand as one of four truck drivers who risk their lives transporting nitroglycerine over treacherous South American roads. Eliminated from the American version were a suicidal key character, many illustrations of the impoverished state of the country, suggestions of exploitation by a U.S. oil company, and a hint of homosexuality.
"The shots deleted from `Wages of Fear' form an animated fresco of the many prejudices and taboos that still haunt our cinema," wrote Edouard L. de Laurot in a 1955 issue of Film Culture magazine.
In the late 1970s, William Friedkin remade the movie as "Sorcerer," a spectacular and exciting $22 million Roy Scheider vehicle that has become something of a cult film in its own right. It was also one of the most costly flops of its day.
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