This week, New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center presented its Latinbeat series, showcasing a selection of contemporary Latin American cinema as well as a sidebar of four much-loved recent Mexican breakthroughs. The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), meanwhile, saluted the under-appreciated films of the Yugoslvian New Wave with its shocking depiction of individuality, sex and general freedom that characterized the period. And Film Forum gave a tribute to two modern-day legends, Carmen De Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder.
We got the beat
The opening night of the Latinbeat 2007 series provided the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center an opportunity to show off its recent renovation on Friday night, with a screening of Patricia Riggen‘s Mexican-American family immigration drama “La Misma Luna.” The film kicked off the annual 11-day series highlighting 23 contemporary films from Mexico and South and Central America, an area that is often under-represented with theatrical distribution. This trend is changing, however, in part due to widespread media attention given to the friendship between Mexican Oscar nominees Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Guillermo Del Toro–attention which has not gone unrecognized by Latinbeats’ organizers.
“We put together the ‘Four Breakthroughs from Mexico’s New Cinema’ sidebar in response to this explosion of interest,” says curator Marcela Goglio, “as Mexico’s cinematic renaissance isn’t anything as recent as it seems from our perspective here in the States.” Included in the sidebar are Inarritu’s horrific breakthrough, “Amores Perros” as well as Fernando Eimbcke‘s sublime bored adolescent flick “Duck Season,” Carlos Reygadas‘ “Japon,” and Marisa Sistach‘s “Violet Perfume.”
“All over Latin America,” says Goglio, “there are different cinemas that have been emerging. Argentina, in particular, has developed a new film language in the past 15 years or so, and young filmmakers continue to produce really exciting, groundbreaking works there.” This year, however, the Brazilian films constitute the bulk of the program–the only narrative addition from Argentina is Santiago Loza‘s “Four Barefoot Women,” the story of four different women bonding in the summer heat of Buenos Aires.
Director Tania Cypriano was present at the screening of her personal documentary “My Grandmother Has a Videocamera,” an assembly she made from 25 years of tapes made by her grandmother, who immigrated from Brazil to California, and back again, and back and forth again, etc., tapes which explained the particular difficulties of modern immigrants, who have enough access to their home countries to make it difficult to settle in their new ones. “This was a Brazilian story and in the Portuguese language,” said Cypriano, “but I truly believe it’s universal, that any immigrant can understand it, especially when our countries are so nearby… Immigration today is different than it was, and it’s important to understand it.” Latinbeat continues at Lincoln Center until September 18.
Head over heals
Film Forum hosted a special evening with married dancers/ directors/ designers/ actors Carmen De Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder, showing the new documentary portrait “Carmen and Geoffrey” and following it with an interview of the couple by New York Times dance critic and Holder biographer/compiler Jennifer Dunning, interspersed with clips from their individually amazing careers.
“I thought I knew who Geoffrey and Carmen were,” said Film Forum curator Bruce Goldstein before the show, “but until I saw the film, I hadn’t realized how tremendously talented and creative they are, or what major figures they are in American culture.” The film details how Holder arrived from Trinidad with a few cords of fabric and a dance ensemble, from which he drew enough notice to be cast in Truman Capote‘s Broadway musical “House of Flowers” alongside the already noted classically-trained ballerina De Lavallade, who had arrived from New Orleans by way of several Hollywood movies. He immediately proposed to her and within a month they were married. The two pursued separate careers–she danced opposite Alvin Ailey and became a professor at Yale, and he was cast as the villainous Baron Samedie in the James Bond film “Live and Let Die” before winning a Tony award for directing ‘The Wiz” and reaching real recognition by explaining the difference between cola nuts and un-cola nuts on 7-Up commercials.
In person, the two make an absurdly ideal couple–her graceful, serene elegance playing off his mercurial, oversized (Holder is 6’6″) zeal. After the screening, Holder dished extremely forthright dirt on his former co-stars (he detested Rex Harrison, whom he called “nasty to everyone” and “constipated”, while he adored Josephine Baker and Marlene Dietrich, whom he claimed sewed up a costume of his while he was onstage in “House of Flowers”).
De Lavallade was more philosophical about her life, saying “Coming up in the ’50s was very exciting…the theater was rich, the concerts were rich, the operas were rich…that was the best time, I think for the arts.”
Our lips are sealed
On Wednesday night, the Brooklyn Academy of Music kicked off its 11-day series “The Yugoslavian Black Wave,” a celebration of the former Communist country’s decade-long run of cinematic masterpieces which were more critical, cerebral, and deliberately individualistic than any cinema produced in a communist country at that time, until a 1973 crackdown stamped the cinema out of existence.
“The Black Wave,” says Slovenian critic Jurij Meden, who will be on hand to discuss many of the films, “never really was an organized movement (the very term ‘Black Wave’ was coined subsequently by the government as a term of abuse) but rather a very colorful mass of very different individuals.”
The centerpiece of the festival is a week-long run of a new print of Dusan Makavejev‘s notorious 1971 sex-as-revolution tract “W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism.” The film is an outrageous blend of documentary, agitprop and freak-out, centering both around the life and work of sexual pioneer Wilhelm Reich and around the cartoonish affair of a free-love advocating Yugoslavian woman with a Soviet party-line espousing figure-skater (named after Lenin). “We thought this would be a perfect film for the series,” said Jake Perlin, “as it’s such an example of the cinema of liberation: both politically and aesthetically.” Full of time-capsule 1960s moments, unsimulated sex, and an anarchic sense of New Wave cynicism, it’s an extraordinary film for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it was an unprecedented co-production of the United States and an Eastern Block country; in the U.S., Reich is called a communist for his radical sexual theories while his spiritual brethren in Yugoslavia are accused of being anti-revolutionary for precisely the same reason.