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Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America

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Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America
Ivo van Hove on Directing Scenes from a Marriage and Angels in America

Theater director Ivo van Hove has made a habit of breaching borders. Born in Belgium, he currently runs the internationally renowned Toneelgroep Amsterdam in the Netherlands and also brings his work to New York with welcome regularity. More significantly, van Hove makes an art of erasing the barrier not only between actor and audience, but also between one scene and another.

During the presidential 2012 election, his epochal production Roman Tragedies, which played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, ran for nearly six hours without any breaks. Van Hove edited Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Anthony and Cleopatra to focus both the text and the theatrical experience on the relationship between politicians and the public. Audiences were encouraged to come and go where and when they pleased—even up onto the stage. The production became an exhilarating and indelible exercise in democracy, mounted by one of the reigning auteurs in global theater.

Papusza at BAM’s Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema

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<em>Papusza</em> at BAM’s Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema
<em>Papusza</em> at BAM’s Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema

Europe’s Romani people, commonly referred to as Gypsies, have been marginalized for so long that it’s rare for their stories to be included in mainstream cinema. It’s refreshing, then, to see Polish filmmakers Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze take on a Polish Romani group as their subject in Papusza, which portrays the life of poet Bronislawa Wajs, known as the eponymous Papusza, or Doll (Jowita Budnik). And though there’s little literal reading of poetry, the luxurious black-and-white cinematography of rich forests and sprawling fields comes across as the visual embodiment of the lyricism in Wajs’s work. The bioepic’s refined, languid look adds to the sense that the Romani, cast against austere snow-clad landscape, are the Earth’s eternal wanderers, its ultimate outcasts.

The film’s action begins as a young poet, Jerzy (Antoni Pawlicki), based on the real-life poet and translator Jerzy Ficowski, arrives at a Gypsy encampment. Jerzy is hiding from communist authorities and will spend some time in the community, enough to grasp its language and customs to eventually write about them, and to gleam Wajs’s literary talent. But as Wajs draws on his encouragement, and gains recognition in the country’s literary circles, her estrangement with the suspicious Romani deepens. Cast out as a traitor, she’s eventually driven to deny her talent.

A Pryor Engagement: BAM Celebrates Richard Pryor

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A Pryor Engagement: BAM Celebrates Richard Pryor
A Pryor Engagement: BAM Celebrates Richard Pryor

The genius of Richard Pryor can be summed up by the last lines in Live on the Sunset Strip: Pryor tells a joke that made the rounds while he was hospitalized for his infamous fire accident. “I heard what you motherfuckers were saying about me,” he chastises. Striking a match and moving it around, he then asks “What’s this?” The answer: “Richard Pryor runnin’ down the street.” Here was a man making jokes about being burned over most of his body, and doing so while the wounds were still healing. Pryor’s stand-up was method acting applied to jokes: He brought his success and his failure to the table, mocking and deconstructing each to make us laugh and teach us a lesson. The regular Joe with the fearless, black mouth would, with reckless abandon, call bullshit on both you and himself. His tact filter was perpetually in the shop, never available when necessary, and that made Pryor a scary proposition. This persona seeped out of the corners of even the harshest onscreen restraints; Rich would always be “Rich,” the way Jack Nicholson would always be “Jack.” This is probably why, with rare exception, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with Richard Pryor. You can see 18 examples of what they did do at BAM’s “A Pryor Engagement” retrospective.

Post-Punk Auteur: Olivier Assayas

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Post-Punk Auteur: Olivier Assayas
Post-Punk Auteur: Olivier Assayas

A tour group passes behind a kitchen furniture setup. The guide says, “And here we have two dining room chairs and a table.” They walk 180 degrees around the wooden chairs, tables, and cabinets, emerging in front of them. A drawer looms. We’re in a museum, we can tell—the D’Orsay, no less—because of the platform the stuff is placed on, and because other objects sit in a glass case opposite them. The group’s members stare at the goods, only half-listening to their guide; a young man’s cellphone goes off, and he walks away, telling his date, “Almost over. We’ve done the whole place.” He’ll be happy to see whatever movie she likes, he says, and then runs after the group, moving on to the next exhibit. The furniture sits, self-sufficient, antique, forgotten, until—only gradually—its original owners walk up and stare at it. We can’t see the couple’s faces, so we don’t know what they’re thinking. The man sighs, finally. “Strange seeing it here.”

The scene glides in toward the end of Olivier Assayas’s 2008 film Summer Hours. I sat watching the film at Lincoln Plaza during its New York run in the summer of 2009, out with someone on what I hoped was a date. Up to that point I had thought that this film about a trio of siblings’ decision over what to do with their dead mother’s heirlooms was pretty good, even remarkable at points (great lighting in the country scenes), but this moment left me irretrievably shaken. Beautiful as it was, it also reminded me of my own past—the trip to the Musee D’Orsay that I had taken a few years before that, the girl I had gone with, the old life I’d lived.

Love on the Run: Cary Grant @ BAM

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Love on the Run: Cary Grant @ BAM
Love on the Run: Cary Grant @ BAM

“Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”

—Cary Grant, née Archie Leach

Viewership is by nature bisexual. It compels us to take on the perspectives of men desiring women, of women desiring men, of lesbians and gay men desiring each other, and of the omnipresent (a-)sexual outside observer. Art doesn’t hold a mirror up to nature; it creates its own nature, and allows us to enter other people. Yet pun aside, bisexuality isn’t only a form of lust. It’s also a lifestyle. One can be bi in one’s tastes for avant-garde and for commercial art, for health food and for junk food, for football and for ballet. It suggests an ability to turn two differing states of mind into one—openness—and then to occupy the space between them as well.

Soccermania: Football Comes to BAM

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Soccermania: Football Comes to BAM
Soccermania: Football Comes to BAM

If baseball is America’s pastime, then soccer is the world’s. Audiences can be both viscerally and pleasurably reminded of this at Soccer Fever!, BAM’s weeklong festival of soccer films beginning Wednesday. The series runs just before the start of the World Cup in South Africa June 11 (an event discussed in the documentary Fahrenheit 2010, screening Friday). The Cup’s coinciding with both the Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA Finals gives one the opportunity to reflect on soccer’s uniqueness: tight matches that can literally be decided with one kick, stars moving more limberly and ballet-like than in perhaps any other team sport, and (a key grabber) no stoppages in play.

Among the series’s films I’ve seen, the best captures the sense of what it’s like to be fans of the “beautiful game.” France, Here We Come! follows a group of Austrian fans as they root for an underdog at the 1998 Cup. Earthshaking by no means but phenomenally sweet, the movie is best at sketching mini-portraitures of football fans—like the giddy blind musician who describes games more vividly than most seeing people can, or the old man who narrates shots and shot-blocks to his dead father while watering the flowers at Papa’s grave. Yet the film’s also generous enough to include other nation’s fans, as scenes of Austrian bars swap out with Italian cafes and Cameroonian rooms crammed full of hopefuls bellowing for buts.

“Because I’m Alive”: Minnelli’s A Matter of Time

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“Because I’m Alive”: Minnelli’s <em>A Matter of Time</em>
“Because I’m Alive”: Minnelli’s <em>A Matter of Time</em>

Vincente Minnelli disowned his last movie, A Matter of Time (1976), when it was taken away from him by its producers, American International Pictures, and after its initial release it pretty much disappeared from view. Tonight, BAM is showing this nearly lost film as part of Elliott Stein

Jean Renoir, the Boss: A Portrait of Jean Renoir by BAM

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Jean Renoir, the Boss: A Portrait of Jean Renoir by BAM
Jean Renoir, the Boss: A Portrait of Jean Renoir by BAM

[Author’s Note: BAM’s Jean Renoir series begins today. For a complete series schedule, click here.]

“If I had to keep just one film to give future generations the idea of what the art of cinema was in the twentieth century, I would choose The Little Theater [of Jean Renoir], because all of Renoir is contained in it, and because Renoir contains all of cinema.”

So wrote Éric Rohmer in 1979, two months after Renoir’s death. He was referring to the director’s last, least narrative film, a series of sketches made nine years earlier. The Little Theater will not be showing in BAM’s 22-film Renoir retrospective starting today, but Rohmer’s words are applicable to every one of the films that are. Whether his films were French or American, silent or sound, from the 1920s through 1970 Jean Renoir made cinema his little theater.

By no means is this a bad thing. I feel comfortable calling Renoir a theatrical director for the same reason I feel comfortable calling him a humanist—his focus in his movies is always on people. The way people walk, the camera following gently, is central to him, whether Erich von Stroheim’s stiff dignity-grabbing in Grand Illusion or Michel Simon’s shambling, hunched sort of walk-ballet in La Chienne, Zachary Scott’s skinny alertness in The Southerner or Renoir himself, a pudgeball bounding forward in a bear suit in The Rules of the Game.

That’s Montgomery Clift, Honey!: Wild River

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That’s Montgomery Clift, Honey!: Wild River
That’s Montgomery Clift, Honey!: Wild River

If 1960’s Wild River is director Elia Kazan’s most successful film, it’s because this is the most successful example of how Kazan liked to contrast actors. The wrestling matches are the most exciting parts of his movies: Carroll Baker paddling her husband’s neck flab in Baby Doll, or James Dean throwing his brother at their mother in East of Eden, or Brando shoving the door in to get to Eva Marie Saint, say far more about characters’ relationships than the film’s overwritten scripts do. The best moments in Kazan’s films are inevitably full two-shots, bespeaking his theatrical training. Unlike the work of the great film stylists, we watch Kazan not for the shots but for the struggles in them. The acting style he favored doesn’t work in abstraction—the actors need something concrete to push against.

In River, he gets two performers that are as concrete as they come. Montgomery Clift plays a 1930s Tennessee Valley Authority rep who comes to a small town to buy out a family’s home so the TVA can build a dam. The family lives on an island that he has to row to, and as he’s pulling away after a visit, one of the group’s young women (Lee Remick) leaps onto his raft. He stares at her, amazed, and she explains hurriedly: She barely ever leaves, and she’s lonely.