By STEVE DOLLAR
William Lustig Presents: A Tribute to the Warner Archive
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave., (212) 505-5181
Through Nov. 27
Founder of the cult DVD distributor Blue Underground, director of the vintage New York City psycho thriller "Maniac" (and many more), and an expansive historian of the grindhouse era, William Lustig is one of American cinemas unsung heroes. OK, he gets some credit. In October, the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival (the Cannes of genre film) awarded Mr. Lustig one of its highest honors: La Màquina del Temps, which, translated from the Catalan, means "Time Machine," and comes with a scale model replica of the device used in the 1960 film adapted from the H.G. Wells novel.
As a curator, Mr. Lustig does indeed transport like-minded moviegoers to another era. He takes them back to the days when grimy Times Square theaters and rural drive-ins favored a zestier form of entertainment than most of what clogs modern multiplexes. But, happily enough, the advance of digital technology means that the films he champions (and often restores and re-releases through his company) are available on DVD. As such, this year's edition of Mr. Lustig's annual program at Anthology Film Archives celebrates another distributor, the Warner Archive Collection, for making accessible the studio's catalogue through a DVD manufacture-on-demand service. This series of 16 titles from the 1960s and '70s are all a click away, although many are being shown in 35mm.
Hopscotching across genres, the films deliver plenty of whack-ball jollies. Indispensable English cinematographer-turned-director Jack Cardiff flaunts his take on Her Majesty's Secret Service in "The Liquidator," a rather more dispensable post-007 spy spoof adapted from John Gardner's Boysie Oakes fiction, with ruddy roughneck Rod Taylor at his most Bond-like. There's even Shirley Bassey, from "Goldfinger," belting out the brassy theme song. Its title? "The Liquidator."
Even further go-go-gone is the Gamma-One Series. Antonio Margheriti's swinging outer-space franchise first arrived in 1965, around the same time as "The Jetsons" and the birth of Lenny Kravitz (whose second career as an interior designer seems to borrow a lot from the shag-carpet futurism of Piero Poletto's production design). The films, which include "War of the Planets," "The Wild, Wild Planet" and "The Snow Devils," infected the brains of a generation of future rock-video directors, fashionistas and drag queens.
For raw action enthusiasts, there's also a mini-festival of blaxploitation hero Jim Brown's caper flicks, including "Dark of the Sun," "The Split" and "The Slams." And for a softer side of the former Cleveland Browns running back, "The Grasshopper" is a real change of pace. He's a pit stop in the free-spirited life of Christine (Jacqueline Bissett), an innocent young British Columbian who comes to California with dreams of love, only to wind up as a Las Vegas prostitute—although she doesn't seem all that upset about it. Because … hey, man, it's the '60s. The film is sprinkled with bids at social relevance (homosexuals, psychedelic rock bands, interracial marriage, pot smoking) and maudlin pop ballads. It was co-written and co-produced by Garry Marshall (better known for creating "Happy Days" and making Julia Roberts a movie star in another strangely upbeat hooker saga, "Pretty Woman"). This is far more entertaining than either of those. Think of it as Mr. Marshall's "Showgirls."
30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, (718) 636-4100
Holidays are much about the joy of ritual. And what could be more ritualistic than Elmer Fudd aiming his feckless shotgun at that pesky wabbit, Bugs Bunny? Such scenes fill a weekend of classic cartoons masterminded by Chuck Jones (1912-2002). The animator was the definitive hand behind Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes of the late 1940s and '50s, creating such immortal moments of American pop art as "What's Opera, Doc?" (Bugs Bunny goes Wagnerian), "Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century" (Daffy Duck vs. Marvin the Martian in a Cold War analogy set in outer space) and the brilliantly anarchic art goof "Duck Amuck" (in which Daffy breaks the fourth wall and takes on the animator in an aesthetic tug-of-war). Besides three cartoon programs, the series also features work inspired by Jones, including "Gremlins 2: The New Batch," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," and the Jean-Pierre Gorin documentary "Routine Pleasures," focused on the minute obsessions of model-train enthusiasts.
The Rolling Stones: 50 Years on Film
Museum of Modern Art
11 W. 53rd St., (212) 708-9400
Through Dec. 2
"The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness." Mick Jagger's line from "Performance," Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's hallucinatory 1970 film, resonates as a description of what drew the filmmakers to the singer and his band, the Rolling Stones, in their heyday. Mr. Jagger's slippery-hipped sexuality made him irresistible as the hedonistic Turner, the rock-star recluse who invites a Cockney hoodlum (James Fox) into the polymorphous oblivion of his lair, only to become his unwitting doppelgangster. That was 40 years ago, but like the musicians themselves—now preparing to launch a new tour—the band's cinematic legacy has endured. The madness made for the Maysles Brothers' fourth-wall smashing Altamont chronicle "Gimme Shelter" and Jean-Luc Godard's bonkers "Sympathy for the Devil," which captures the studio transformation of the title song into a spellbinding anthem for the age, amid the director's revolutionary-chic vignettes.
'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie'
Film Society of Lincoln Center
144 W. 65th St., (212) 875-5610
Be glad Luis Buñuel isn't serving Thanksgiving supper. The lifelong surrealist loved to upend expectations. In this Oscar-winning 1972 comedy, the director tweaks what might now be called "the 1%," staging a series of overlapping vignettes in which various characters of wealth, status and social pretension attempt, and fail, to dine. Instead, these occasions lapse into dream sequences and absurdist encounters, leaving the protagonists exposed as frauds and hypocrites. On its 40th anniversary, the classic gets a weeklong revival at the FSLC's Francesca Beale Theater, flaunting a cast of great European actors such as Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig and Stéphane Audran. Viewers might be wise to enjoy leftovers beforehand, and maybe pair their moviegoing with a look at this film's inversion: "The Exterminating Angel" (1962), in which a group of Mexican swells enjoys a grand dinner party, but is then unable to leave.
Goddess: Chinese Women on Screen
725 Park Ave., (212) 517-2742
Through Dec. 8
Celebrating the iconic beauties from six decades of Chinese cinema, this series continues Tuesday with the 1933 silent film "Daybreak," a Shanghai melodrama in which a rural girl's quest for happiness in the big city leads to tragic circumstances that the heroine (Li Lili) transcends through her revolutionary spirit—rooted in her agrarian upbringing. Further screenings include "The Red Detachment of Women," a 1970 ballet opera that was a product of the Cultural Revolution and catapulted its star, Xue Jinghua, to fame. Her latter-day inheritors of the hearts and minds of a nation include Gong Li, who rose to stardom in her debut "Red Sorghum," a historical epic that also marked the arrival of director Zhang Yimou; and Maggie Cheung, represented by Wong Kar-Wai's swordplay adventure "Ashes of Time Redux."