Animators, killers and liars galore appeared in theaters this week in New York. Miramax hosted the theatrical premiere of the new Lasse Hallstrom movie “The Hoax,” while down at IFC Center, feature, “Killer of Sheep,” about life in Watts, made a triumphant return to the screen. Iran once again took the spotlight in NYC, this time downtown at the “Stranger Than Fiction” series and attendees at a Bill Plympton event, also downtown, each received their own personal “Bill” drawing. And Fassbinder fans in the city and afar will surely make their way to MoMA next week for the U.S. debut of opus “Berlin Alexanderplatz“.
“The Hoax” is Out
Uptown, Miramax hosted a gala premiere for their newest collaboration with director Lasse Hallstroem (“The Cider House Rules“), “The Hoax”, starring Richard Gere, Alfred Molina and Marcia Gay Harden. The acting trio joined the celebration, along with Hallstroem and a slew of other supporting cast and visiting celebrities, including the up-and-coming Amber Tamblyn. The film, Hallstroem’s fifth with Miramax, tells the true story of Clifford Irving, a writer who pawned off a supposedly authorized autobiography of Howard Hughes to the general public during the ’70s to promote the publishing house where he worked, eventually making the cover of Time Magazine. But is the story itself for real? The real Clifford Irving has said it is “a hoax about a hoax,” via his website, though he does not dispute any of the major historical facts.
Sources close to the project say that Irving’s opinions have been rather fickle. “It really depends on the day,” commented screenwriter William Wheeler. “And what baffles me about it is that he read the final shooting script and signed off on it.” They do at least agree on one thing: Irving was on a small Mediterranean island during many of the events, while the film places him in suburban Westchester County, NY. Wheeler concedes, “As a screenwriter, I need actors to be able to interact with each other.” Everyone stretches the truth from time to time, but truthful or not, “The Hoax” is one hell of a story.
“Killer of Sheep” Grazes the Local Box office
Without a doubt, the biggest hotbed of activity for New York film this week was the IFC Center. Hosting two of the week’s biggest special events is just the tip of the iceberg–they also had a record-breaking opening with Charles Burnett‘s “Killer of Sheep”, the lost 1977 art house film about life in Watts that was later designated a “national treasure” by the Library of Congress, yet still never released theatrically because of music licensing issues. The film, made by Burnett while he was still a student, has been compared to Ozu, Kubrick, Altman and Cassavettes’ work and has consistently received some of the best New York film reviews in years, and finally brought to the big screen, partly through a donation from Steven Soderbergh.
Stranger Than Fiction Spotlights Iran
Despite the large lines for “Killer of Sheep”, the IFC Center managed to pack a separate crowd into the lobby on their way to week seven of the “Stranger Than Fiction” series. Hosted by Toronto International Film Festival documentary programmer, Thom Powers, the series brings a plethora of the festival year’s best documentaries to New York City. This week’s selection was “Iran: A Cinemagraphic Revolution.” Spanning the entire history of Iranian cinema, the film does not give enough attention to any specific moment in time, but instead creating a rather glossed and vapid survey of events, resulting in a generalized thematic thread.
“I had the privilege of premiering [the film] at the Toronto Film Festival and I knew very little about Iranian cinema,” said Powers when introducing the film. Unfortunately, “Iran” may not add much more to one’s knowlege, just a pleasant memory of film clips and perhaps an aroused interest. Despite this, the screening was well attended and followed by a Q & A from film critic and Iranian cinema expert Godfrey Cheshire.
Bill Plympton Gives it Away
The next night IFC Center hosted famous cult animator Bill Plympton, who showed a series of eye-popping shorts that epitomize his prolific and fascinating career. Included within the lineup were surprise premieres of new work and a great chat in which Plympton shared survival time tales for aspiring filmmakers and animators alike. He also provided the audience with a drawing demonstration, a fruitful exercise considering that every attendee received their own free Plympton drawing on the way out. Plympton will return to the IFC Center this weekend to introduce his latest feature film, “Hair High,” during IFC’s Waverley Midnights series. The film is a twisted, whimsical gothic about two teenagers during the ’50s who are murdered and return to a prom to take their revenge when a bizarre love triangle goes horribly awry.
Next week MoMA unveils their newly restored print of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s magnum opus “Berlin Alexanderplatz”. The 15 and-a-half hour experimental character study, which screened at the Berlinale in February, has been considered another great lost treasure, only previously playing theatrically in the US for short runs and on the small screen. It has been recently reconstructed and restored by the German Cultural Institute under the supervision of Fassbinder’s camerman Xavier Schwarzenberger and Juliane Lorenz, his editor. “We now own the print,” Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator for MoMA’s department of film proclaimed. “It is part of our permanent collection.” The film will be broken into four digestible installments to be screened twice each over the course of six days and then released on DVD later this year by Criterion.
Coming to Theaters This Week…
“The Hoax” (April 6), directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Distributor: Miramax Website
“Whole New Thing” (April 6), directed by Amnon Buchbinder. Distributor: Picture This! Entertainment. Official website
“The TV Set” (April 6), directed by Jake Kasdan. Distributor: ThinkFilm Website