Without much fanfare, The SIFF Uptown this week is playing five of the greatest movies ever. Perhaps the lack of publicity (it isn’t even mentioned in this week’s SIFF newsletter (Edit: well, it wasn’t in the first one I got for this week, it was in the second one)) is due to the fact that these films are hardly strangers to Seattle screens, or perhaps because they’re all screening digitally instead of on film. But regardless, the fact remains that there are few better ways to spend your cinematic weekend than watching a half dozen Alfred Hitchcock films in a movie theatre.
Two of the nominees for this past year’s Academy Award for Foreign Language Film see Seattle Screens for the first time this week, with the Grand Illusion showing Germany’s Beloved Sisters while the Seven Gables opens the Argentine film Wild Tales. It’s somewhat of an identity shift for the two venerable U-District theatres, because (as Charles Mudede points out on The Stranger’s blog) as one would expect to find the lushly costumed biopic of a famous poet thrilling the aged crowds of Landmark’s living room while the none-more-black revenge tale sextet would find a natural home on the GI’s genre-freaky calendar. But times change and with today’s diminished Landmark (a mere three first-run screens, down from 24 when I started working for them oh so many years ago), tough programming choices must be made. Not having seen the German film, I’m pretty sure Landmark made the right call, as Wild Tales is the kind of movie that should be a decent hit, if it can find its audience.
Ballet 422, which opens this week at the Sundance, owes a very great debt to the great documentarian Frederick Wiseman (seen recently haunting Seattle Screens with his National Gallery) especially his dance films (Ballet, La Danse and Crazy Horse). The film follows 25-year-old dancer/choreographer Justin Peck as he has two months to put together the New York City Ballet’s 422nd original production, his first choreographic work on such a large scale. As in the Wiseman films, the movie consists mostly of length footage of people at work, proceeding from the early rehearsal stage through the final performance, with occasional looks at the backstage workers (particularly the wardrobe department) and “pillow shots” (prominently close-ups of shoes, a favorite subject in the Wisemans as well) providing syncopating breaks in the narrative. As with Wiseman, there are no direct-to-camera interviews or explanatory voiceovers; the cinematic apparatus remains for the most part invisible (though there is a moment when the cameraman hilariously realizes he can see himself in a rehearsal mirror and quickly reframes himself out of the shot). Lipes does employ a very few un-Wiseman-like explanatory title cards, which are necessary in the beginning to set the story, but also serve to mark time as the clock ticks on our hero’s deadline.