Rob Marshall could learn a thing or three about transporting dance to the big screen from NY Export: Opus Jazz, an adaptation of Jerome Robbins’s famed jazz ballet that’s directed with clean, muscular, majestic grace by Jody Lee Lipes (Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same) and Henry Joost (Catfish). Varying between master shots and close-ups, straightforward and inventive angles, the filmmakers’ treatment enhances rather than obscures the lithe, tumultuously expressive movements of their New York City Ballet cast. The dancers do grand justice to Robbins’s groundbreaking work, which, after a celebrated European run, premiered stateside on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958, and here—though retrofitted with modern outfits and staged on location throughout Manhattan—retains its horn-blowing, finger-snapping West Side Story–style cool. The film’s portrait of disaffected urban teens proves an evocative tribute to the vitality of youth, and ReRun will complement its theatrical run with a part history recap, part behind-the-scenes documentary, as well as a never-before-seen archival featurette on the ballet’s original production. Essentially wordless even in the concise sequences that connect the various routines, yet oozing seductive passion, sorrowful yearning, and playful joy, Opus Jazz is a brief but striking film that demonstrates the capacity of art—be it dance, music, or cinema—to speak volumes without saying a word.
That BAMcinématek’s inaugural 16-day festival looks to bring in something other than the mortuary crowds of Manhattan moviegoers is obvious in its lineup. This big-tent affair accommodates four overnight marathons, including All Night Bong (yes, really) and Before They Were Scientologists, in which a frolicsome Travolta can be seen attempting to shatter the fourth wall with his package in Staying Alive. Each is accompanied by a dance party.
Youth is also well-represented in the 18-film premier selection, the most extreme example of which is What’s On Your Plate?, in which two New York City 11-year-olds recite drilled-in lessons about the preferability of organic, sustainable, locally grown blah, blah, blah. Feeding nigh seven billion is apparently so easy that even a preteen can get it—one of their mothers, however, handles directing duties. If the karmic justice of youthful rebellion still works, they’ll grow up scarfing ribs and voting Republican.
From progressive pageantry to regressive grown-ups: Jody Lee Lipes’s Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same trains “Ooh, cinematography” framing on multimedia stuntman Enright during the countdown to his gallery debut, as he stages petulant crack-ups with his girlfriend over rent and his inability to access “the madness” that fuels his shock visions. Lipes has the raw material here for a comedy classic about the reduction of the arts to an ATM for dysfunctional exhibitionists—”People pay to see this shit!” squeals the mouse-suited galpal, after Brock defecates on camera—but the sentimental wrap-up belies any such reading. This should be viewed back-to-back with Hamid Rahmanian’s very human The Glass House, which profiles attendees of a school/support program for abused young women in Tehran, and shows what real self-possession in the face of actual problems looks like.
For a great ode to fucking shit up, bypass Enright’s pretense for the fire-starting, tantrum-improv You Won’t Miss Me, made with commitment and absorbing sympathy by director Ry Russo-Young and star Stella Schnabel (an art-world scion, playing an open-bar debauchee who never seems to work, but makes rent). Schnabel’s Shelly is an easy lay, intense enough to spook you the morning after, but not commitably crazy, spending her twenties hungover at auditions after swapping chlamydia with any Williamsbeard scrub in a bad band. Miss Me gets its milieu’s bathroom-sex stink and, in scenes like the sudden slash of insults between Shelly and a girlfriend on a spoiled weekend trip, has a pure 180-proof burn.
Russo-Young has been affiliated with the unassuming lowercase-title crowd formerly known as mumblecore, but I’m betting she’s too much of a live one to settle for critics’ “modest” and “wryly observed” backpats. Miss Me is the most successful, but hardly the only, study in repining youth here. There’s Bradley Rust Gray’s The Exploding Girl—unfortunately, inaccurately titled—and Dia Sokol’s Sorry, Thanks, with Wiley Wiggins and Andrew Bujalski, whose Beeswax is also on the schedule. Bujalski’s scavenging of throwaway conversation remains a Magic Eye painting, in which fans and prolix critics seem to see something I don’t. The creak of Schnabel’s voice is one standout in a chorus of individuals; Bujalski’s approach to ensemble acting is attenuating his whole cast to a level plane of congested passive-aggressive limpidity.
Big Fan is the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, The Wrestler scribe and former Onion editor. Its the story of a Giants superfan, a logorrhea of Staten Island working-class grotesques, which accordingly plays like one of those “Area Man . . .” headlines on the banality of everyday life, pathetic without being very insightful. Frazer Bradshaw’s Everything Strange and New, also dealing in stalled mid-life, is more ambitious and frustrating, matching a married-with-kids carpenter’s plangent inner monologues on homeownership and waning expectations to midday-empty East Bay houses. Strange and New deals in a workaday stoicism better represented in life than in movies, with performances recognizably lived-in—especially Rigo Chacon Jr. and Luis Saguar—even if they don’t quite interplay.
Among imports, Scottish comic Armando Iannucci’s handheld-hectic, profane In the Loop is good for a larf. A flying circus of backstage political damage control and deal-making skips between London and D.C. in the buildup to a vote on an Iraq-esque invasion. The good one-liners, between which there’s some downtime, are mostly courtesy of Peter Capaldi’s apoplectic director of communications. It’s most sure-footed on the municipal level—everything involving Steve Coogan’s disgruntled constituent is gold—though destined for inordinate praise for its big subject and correct politics.
Finally, a buffet of repertory programming includes guest curation by Arnaud Desplechin, introducing two films unified through their delicate self-contextualization in film history, style-augmented passion, and scene-stealing wallpaper: The Royal Tenenbaums and François Truffaut’s 1969 suspenser Mississippi Mermaid. In the latter, Catherine Deneuve is a mail-order bride of an uncertain past, delivered to remote Reunion Island and tobacco fortune heir Jean-Paul Belmondo. The lovers-on-the-lam picturesque that follows—from a Cornell Woolrich story, homaging Gun Crazy—is easily Truffaut’s most successful engagement with American genre, good enough to make you wish these kids nowadays would start jocking Hitchcock again.