We are initially attracted to a movie by its story, unless your first question isn't "What's it about?" but "Who's in it?" or, alternatively, "Who directed it?" More often than not, though, the films that stick with us are memorable for their characters rather than their plots. Human nature and human behavior, in all forms and permutations, fascinates us more than anything else. Love 'em or hate 'em, the array of characters chewing the scenery on local screens this month is beyond entertaining.
In 1967, the great African-American director Shirley Clarke and a gay, African-American hustler named Jason Holliday collaborated on a one-of-a-kind movie. Portrait of Jason is an extended interview-slash-performance in which Jason -- a substance-using prostitute -- manages to be revealing, evasive, shocking, confrontational, vulnerable, discomfiting and endlessly fascinating. Let go of everything you learned about sociology and psychology, as well as the rules and conventions of documentary, and submit to a mind-bending trip with a real character. Portrait of Jason screens at the Roxie in a new 35mm print August 16-22. For more information, visit roxie.com.
The first time I saw Singin' in the Rain was on the big screen, all but dragged by the lapel by a downstairs neighbor appalled that I'd reached the ripe age of 27 in a state of such ignorance. Perhaps you had a better upbringing than I, and discovered Gene Kelly's enormous talent, Debbie Reynolds' pink-cheeked charm and Donald O'Connor's delightful footwork as a child. Regardless, you hardly need encouragement to tap-dance your way to Union Square Saturday night, August 17 for Film Night in the Park's screening of Kelly and Stanley Donen's 1952 masterpiece, from Adolph Green and Betty Comden's sublimely witty screenplay. Plan to arrive by 8pm, blanket in tow; the opening credits roll at dusk. For more information visit filmnight.org.
The Pacific Film Archive parleys Berkeley's milder summer evenings and political enthusiasm into a quirky night out(doors) at the movies with a 1964 curiosity called The Troublemaker. Written by Buck Henry shortly before he and Mel Brooks created Get Smart, this semi-improvised romp centers on a naive and idealistic out-of-towner who opens a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village. Disdaining the obligatory payouts and payoffs to mobsters and city folks (including an Irish fire chief, played by the hilarious African-American actor Godfrey Cambridge), our hero upsets the (un)natural order of things. Adam Sussman begins the show at 8:30pm on Wednesday, August 28 with a poetry reading. For more information, visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.
The Troublemaker was slightly overshadowed in 1964 by another satire armed with sharper teeth, a blacker worldview and the chutzpah to joke about Mutually Assured Destruction: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The inarguable genius of Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers has not dimmed an iota in the ensuing half century, and veritably shimmers thanks to a new digital restoration on view Wednesday, August 28 at the Castro on a double bill with The Bed-Sitting Room (1969), a savage post-apocalyptic comedy directed by Richard Lester and starring Dudley Moore and Rita Tushingham. For more information, visit castrotheatre.com.
It was long believed that Sellers' scathing portrayal of an arrogant German megalomaniac in Dr. Strangelove was based on Henry Kissinger, to the point where Kubrick felt compelled to deny it. Kissinger turns up in Our Nixon, the curious new documentary about his BFF, Richard Milhous Nixon. Constructed from Super 8 film footage shot by the President's trusted accomplices, er, aides, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin that was shelved for decades in FBI vaults, the documentary succeeds in humanizing the ambitious animal that was Nixon, but not in making him likable. It's hard to conceive of a film that could manage that feat. Our Nixon opens Friday, August 30 at the Roxie. For more information, visit roxie.com.