Rather than write straight, opinion-based film reviews, I try to use this space to contextualize the movies that fleet across the big screen in Louisville, the ones that come and go quickly. It can be assumed that if the film shows up here, it comes with my approval, but that does not mean that it is a film for you, Dear Reader. My hope is that by bullet pointing the notable features of a film, I’m giving you the hooks on which to hang your interest, or a running list of reasons to choose another movie to watch. In any case, what I am peddling here is an invitation to deepen the appreciation of film for the sake of film.
The Speed Cinema is currently offering up two movies about movies. One looks at the history and career of the people who, against all odds, brought the landmark film “Midnight Cowboy” to the mainstream. The other aims to peel back the layers of David Lynch’s mind by connecting his work to “The Wizard of Oz.” Both of these documentaries are well-edited studies, but their value is determined by what knowledge and experience the viewer is bringing into the room.
Saturday, June 24, 6 p.m.
Sunday, June 25, 3 p.m.
$12 | $8 Speed members
“Lynch/Oz” is the latest venture from documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe, who has established himself over the last decade through a series of docs about filmmaking. His work picks apart aspects of iconic films, from the shower scene in “Psycho,” to George Romero’s zombies and William Friedkin’s faith during and after “The Exorcist.” In “Lynch/Oz,” Philippe breaks this study up into six chapters, each featuring a different expert, including film critic Amy Nicholson and filmmakers John Waters, Karyn Kusama, and David Lowery. These Lynch admirers pontificate on the connections between surrealist director David Lynch’s oeuvre and Victor Fleming’s Oz.
In the chapter entitled “Kindred,” John Waters draws connections not just between Lynch and Oz, but also between Lynch and himself, threading the influence of Oz through his own films and the shared history between these two cult filmmakers. Karyn Kusama, director of “The Invitation” and “Jennifer’s Body,” goes in an unexpected direction connecting Oz and the dark dream turned nightmare film “Mulholland Drive,” but coming to an optimistic conclusion it took years for her to reach. There are times that the insights here are a bit threadbare, more appropriate for a youtube analysis, but as a whole, the insights are fun and seeing the two films side by side is delightful.
Disclaimer: I love David Lynch. Unabashedly. I don’t care that I don’t intellectually understand everything that happens in a Lynch joint. I feel like I understand what he is saying in my bones. He is a filmmaker who openly hates the (totally understandable) compulsion to explain his films, preferring that people feel them. So having a doc like this goes against the spirit of his work. But, fortunately, it wasn’t made for him! Instead it is made for people who enjoy puzzling over the way his mind stitches together scenes, full of wind sounds and red shoes and doppelgänger dreamscapes.
Is that you? Are you that puzzler? Desperate Souls: Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy
Friday, June 30, 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 1, 3 p.m.
Sunday, July 2, 12:30 p.m.
Friday, June 30, 1 p.m.
Saturday, July 1, 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 2, 3 p.m.
$12 | $8 Speed members
In 1969, eight years before David Lynch firmly planted his “Eraserhead” baby in the Midnight Film canon, British filmmaker John Schlesinger changed the film landscape with “Midnight Cowboy.” Despite its bleak story set in gritty New York City, it was a critical and commercial hit upon arrival, and its legend was cemented when it became the first, and only, X-rated film to win the Academy Award.
In “Desperate Souls: Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy,” director Nancy Buirsk sets out not to primarily tell the story of the making of the film, but rather the story of the people who brought it to life. Anyone with a working knowledge of 60s culture may be overly familiar with the territory covered here. But by using the different players both behind and in front of the camera, Buirsk is able to cover a lot of the societal changes of the late 60s. From director Schlesinger’s climb out of the closet, to the reemergence of blacklisted Waldo Salt, and the treatment of poor people hustling on unsanitary NYC streets reflected in Dustin Hoffman’s Rizzo and Jon Voight’s Joe Buck, “Desperate Souls” using MC to signpost much that was turbulent in the era, and makes the necessary connections to the time we live in now.
WARNING: Do not watch this doc if you haven’t seen “Midnight Cowboy!” Movies about movies are fun, and help develop the film interpretation muscle, but the films, first and foremost, speak for themselves. “Midnight Cowboy” is a cinematic feat, one that overshadows any documentary made about it. Fortunately, the Speed Cinema is screening it too. Don’t pass up the chance to immerse yourself in Joe Buck and Rizzo’s world and see a film that has aged incredibly well. •