New Yorkers dealing with the post-Holiday duldrums have an unusually good selection of films in theaters to help them through, and several rep houses this week are showing films best appreciated on the big screen. Downtown Manhattan's IFC Center presents a previously unscreened five-hour version of one of the best films of all time, Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander," while Film Forum salutes versatile Hollywood director Otto Preminger. The Museum of the Moving Image, meanwhile, celebrates Paul Thomas Anderson's current success "There Will Be Blood" with a retrospective of his previous four films.
IFC Center shows off the Full Bergman
On Wednesday night, the IFC Center began its two-week run of the original, uncut version of Ingmar Bergman's 1983 epic "Fanny and Alexander." Arguably the great Swede's crowning achievement, "Fanny and Alexander" is the heavily autobiographical story of two children who are taken from their sprawling theatrical family after their father's death, to be raised in the austere confines of the cruel bishop their mother marries. Bergman released the film theatrically in a three-hour cut, and on Swedish television as a five-plus hour miniseries, a cut which has never had a theatrical release before now.
"This is the world premiere theatrical engagement for the full version of 'Fanny and Alexander,'" explained IFC Center's John Vanco. "While Bergman was making it, he said it was to be his final film, and believed it was the culmination of his work as a filmmaker...we felt it was only right that it should be seen in what Bergman felt was its fullest, most complete form...except there weren't any prints. All the original negative materials for the 312-minute version had been lost." Lacking negative materials, Criterion and Janus worked to create the beautifully restored hi-def version currently screening at IFC.
Bergman fans familiar with the theatrical version may not be surprised to learn that with two hours of extra footage, it's an entirely different film, one whose ambition lies primarily with Shakespeare. Spread out over the classical five acts and complete with full scenes from "Hamlet" and "Twelfth Night" (complete with its own takes on the Ghost and the final speech by the Fool), the miniseries is suffused throughout with a dark, forbidding mysticism. IFC is showing the film in two parts (with a strangely anticlimactic mid-section break), and the film's latter section is so hypnotic and spellbinding that it might be advisable to tackle it in a different sitting from its joyous opening.
Film Forum Salutes Preminger
On Wednesday night, Film Forum began its 16-day salute to prolific Hollywood master Otto Preminger with a screening of his dreamy noir "Laura," the story of a detective obsessed with a beautiful murder victim that won Preminger his first Oscar nomination (he never did win, though he was nominated two more times). The series, highlighting Preminger's versatility in filmmaking, coincides with the release of Brooklyn College professor Foster Hirsch's biography "Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King."
"When we were choosing the movies, we wanted to run the gamut as much as possible," explained Hirsch, who advised Film Forum on the programming. "Preminger made so many types of films, historical epics, noirs, melodramas, comedies, musicals, Westerns, war pictures, a whole selection of women's films from the 1940s...I thought it was important to balance the well-known films with the lesser well-known."
While Preminger is justly celebrated for his excellent film noirs (included in the series are "Angel Face," "Fallen Angel," and the terrific "Bunny Lake is Missing," introduced by actor Keir Dullea), the director's signature style is found throughout all of his work. "Preminger had complete control, more control over his films than anybody had ever had before, and you can tell that a historical epic like 'Exodus' was made by the same filmmaker who made a noir like 'Bunny Lake,'" says Hirsch. "The camera movement, the minimal editing, the composition for the wide-screen, I can't think of another director whose entire career has as few close-ups as Preminger -- it was there throughout all of his films."
While Hirsch is fond of all of the films being screened in the retrospective, he has a particularly affection for the 1949 comedy "The Fan," an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan" co-scripted by Dorothy Parker. Explains Hirsch, "Nobody knows it, very few people have seen it, it doesn't have any reputation at all, it's just an excellent film... He had a particular feeling for the foibles of the very wealthy."
"This is all work that needs to be seen on the big screen," says Hirsch. "There's such a focus on group shots, long shots that it really needs the wide screen." The series continues through January 17th.
There will be Paul Thomas Anderson at Museum of the Moving Image
A more recent (and less prolific) director will have a shorter tribute this weekend, as the Museum of the Moving Image follows up its early screening of wunderkind-of-the-moment Paul Thomas Anderson's monumental "There Will Be Blood" with a retrospective of his four previous films, "Hard Eight," "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia" and "Punch-Drunk Love."
"Anderson is the strongest talent to emerge from Hollywood in the past 10 years," said MoMI curator David Schwartz. "He has an incredible following. When we screened 'There Will be Blood' in December, it sold out almost instantly, the fastest any screening we've had has ever sold. There was already tremendous interest in his films, and now there's even more."
There's been much debate already as to whether his current film marks a departure from his past in anything more than quality, whether Anderson was able to shake off the past allegations of imitation and fanboy-catering, and stake out his own stylistic territory. "When you watch his earlier works, you can tell he's a top director and very talented," says Schwartz. "But I don't know if anything prepared us for 'Blood.' It's so much more ambitious."
The retrospective was in part born from a sudden renovation-related hole in the programming at MoMI. "The theater at the museum is going to be closing down as we start a major expansion projects," explained Schwartz. "We were going to be starting in January, but we postponed until March. We had an extra two months of programming, and figured this is a great director whose career you could celebrate in a weekend."
The $60 million expansion, which is projected to be complete in 2010, will include two theaters, new galleries, and an education complex with classrooms. The Paul Thomas Anderson retrospective will run January 5-6.