Photo of Cinematheque Ontario’s fall 2008 programme guide by Jonathan Goldsbie.
It seems that at least twice as many people have heard about Cinematheque Ontario and would like to go one day than have ever actually attended it. That’s a shame. But as Cinematheque is an arthouse cinema run by the Toronto International Film Festival Group out of the Art Gallery of Ontario, it’s also an understandable situation. What isn’t as clear as it should be, though, is that Cinematheque is actually no less accessible than most of the repertory theatres in this city, even if they don’t tend to screen second-run features. And, yes, their programming includes some of the longest and most difficult movies ever made, but no one expects you to begin your foray into film history with Berlin Alexanderplatz.
They run four seasons of movies a year, and most are anchored by at least a couple director retrospectives, split between better-known auteurs and forgotten or underappreciated masters. The fall season, which (not counting their Nuit Blanche programming) kicked off two weekends ago, brings one of each: “Encounter David Lean,” a look at the films of British legend Sir David Lean (Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.) and “In the Realm of Oshima: The Films of Japanese Master Nagisa Oshima,” best known for his 1976 provocation In the Realm of the Senses, originally banned in Ontario. Other series this season include “A Fortnight at Cannes: Forty Years of the Quinzaine,” which presents highlights from the Directors’ Fortnight, one of the Cannes festivals that runs parallel to the official event, and the return of “Classic Sundays: Treasures from the Bologna Film Festival,” which brings Sunday matinees of pristine prints of semi-forgotten Hollywood and European gems from throughout the last century.
All of the prints at Cinematheque are pristine, of course, regardless of format or year; there is no venue in Toronto with a higher standard of presentation. All screenings take place at the 200-seat Jackman Hall at the AGO, and so the better-known films (or at least the ones written up in the dailies) tend to sell out. Advance tickets can be purchased online, over the phone at 416-968-FILM, or in person at the Toronto International Film Festival Group box office at the Manulife Centre. Prices run about $6.50–$7.75 for members, AGO member, students, and seniors, and about $11-$12 for people who don’t fall into any of those categories.
After the jump, we run through the season’s movies that most excite us. Some of them we’ve seen before and are recommending based on our first-hand knowledge, but with most of them, we’re going on a combination of reputation and the programme guide’s description, from years of experience combing through for the good stuff.
Still from War and Peace (1967) from the Alternative Film Guide.
War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk): It was the weekend of the 17th, so you already missed it, but if seven-hour movies are your kind of thing, you already had the Cinematheque guide in your hands within a week of its release, and you don’t need us to tell you what’s playing. At its best, it’s like The Lord of the Rings without CGI: battle scenes with armies of literally tens of thousands of people stretching out past the horizon are literally jawdropping. At its worst, it’s like second-rate Ophüls; Bondarchuk is more adept at spectacle than opulent melodrama. You’re probably better off with the COC’s superlatively reviewed production, anyway.
L’Enfant sauvage (François Truffaut): Unlikely to be as much fun as Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, but if you like Truffaut, this will probably be your thing. Friday, November 28, at 7:00 and Saturday, November 29, at 8:45.
Encounter David Lean
Photo of Lean and a (relatively) young Alec Guinness on the set of Great Expectations (1946) from the British Film Institute.
Brief Encounter (David Lean): The early-ish Lean film that indirectly inspired Wilder’s The Apartment. Sunday, November 2, at 5:30.
Great Expectations (David Lean): In one of the greatest films ever made, Lean condenses Dickens’s opus into two hours while retaining the richness of the original novel. While not as dreamily erotic as the Alfonso Cuarón version or as faithful as the South Park version, this is still the definitive adaptation of the dizzying wonder and irony and beauty of Pip’s odyssey. Good preparation for Slumdog Millionaire, too. (Also features Alec Guinness, in his screen debut, as Herbert Pocket.) Monday, November 3, at 7:00.
Oliver Twist (David Lean): Made by Lean two years after Great Expectations, this is necessary viewing for fans of the former movie. Plus: no “Consider Yourself.” Sunday, November 9, at 3:00.
Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean): No, it’s not in 70mm. The only Toronto theatre with a 70mm projector is the Cinesphere, and they no longer show real movies. So until something changes, this is the best you’re going to get. Saturday, November 29, at 2:00 and Sunday, December 7, at 7:00.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean): “Lisa, her teeth are big and green / Lisa, she smells like gasoline / Lisa, da da da Disa / She is my sister, her birthday, I missed-a.” Saturday, December 6, at 2:00.
The Free Screen
Still from Limite (1931) courtesy of ZZ Productions.
Cinema and Disjunction: Part of Cinematheque’s ongoing series of free screenings of avant-garde works (entitled, appropriately, “The Free Screen”), Cinema and Disjunction brings the world premieres of two new (35mm!) experimental works examining Toronto’s built form. Architectural designer-about-town (and Now‘s initial Nuit Blanche cover boy) Adrian Blackwell debuts his thirty-minute Regent Park timelapse, Night Equals Day, while Daniel Young and Christian Giroux show up with what is arguably one of the greatest titles ever: Every Building, Or Site, That a Building Permit Has Been Issued for a New Building in Toronto in 2006. Skip the Heritage Toronto Awards and see these films instead. Monday, October 27, at 7:00. FREE.
Limite (Mário Peixoto): How often do you have a chance to see a Brazilian film from 1931? For free, too? The guide compares the style to German Expressionism. Sounds hypnotic. Wednesday, December 10, at 7:00. FREE.
In the Realm of Oshima
Still from Gohatto (2000) from the Cinematheque Ontario website.
Cruel Story of Youth, a.k.a Naked Youth (Nagisa Oshima): The programme calls this “the seminal work, the Breathless, of the Japanese New Wave” and says the new print “emphasizes its sublime riot of retro – hot neon, red, blue, and turquoise telephones, rockabilly, teased, shellacked hair, a V-neck terry towel T-shirt to die for…” We’re sold. Friday, October 31, at 7:00.
Night and Fog in Japan (Nagisa Oshima): It takes guts to derive the title of your movie from a landmark Holocaust documentary, especially when your movie isn’t even about the Holocaust. We’re also automatically curious about anything with this much promised stylistic audacity. Saturday, November 1, at 7:00.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima): It stars David Bowie as a POW and features Takeshi Kitano in a supporting role. Plus, it’s the movie from which the still featured on the programme guide’s cover is taken, which is always a good sign. Saturday, November 1 and 8, at 9:00.
Boy (Nagisa Oshima): And then sometimes a movie’s premise is intriguing enough to warrant giving it a chance: “Boy recounts the true story, one that briefly shocked Japan in 1966, of a married couple who trained their ten-year-old child to fake being hit by autos so they could collect damages from the shaken drivers.” Sunday, November 2, at 3:15.
Death by Hanging (Nagisa Oshima): Another one with an insane true premise—it sounds like the less you know about it going in the better. Sunday, November 9, at 5:30.
In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima): Oshima’s best-known film, by far, is legendary. Words used in the programme description include “banned,” “riots,” “ferocious,” “sexual,” “pornography,” “bondage,” and then no fewer than four separate bodily fluids. There’s violence, too. Friday, November 14, at 8:30 and Saturday, November 15, at 9:00.
Band of Ninja (Nagisa Oshima): This is the first time we can recall Cinematheque showing a feature-length animated movie. And not just animated, anime! Though typically unconventional, “instead of animating [the source manga] in the usual fashion, [Oshima] employs his camera to move over actual comic book pages to give them life and movement, adding voices, narration, and sound effects.” Saturday, November 15, at 2:00.
Still from Mon Oncle (1958) from La Cinéma de Kleinhase.
Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati): A different, English-language version of the M. Hulot film, shot concurrently with the French version, this restored 35mm print will be vastly superior to the mediocre 16mm one shown by CINSSU last year. The second of Tati’s four Hulot features, which are essentially silent comedies, if the great silent comedians had sound at their disposal. Sunday, November 2, at 1:00.
The Great Consoler (Lev Kuleshov): As the programme notes, all film students are taught about the Kuleshov effect, but very few of them (or anyone, for that matter) ever get a chance to see a Kuleshov film. Well, here’s one, sounding like an almost Kaufmanesque web about the writer O. Henry. Sunday, November 16, at 1:00.
Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher): Boetticher is revered by Western scholars as among the genre’s greatest directors, up there with Ford and Peckinpah, but he’s still relatively obscure to just about everyone else. Worth a look. Sunday, November 23, at 1:00.
Violent Saturday (Richard Fleischer): Best known for stuff like 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle, and Soylent Green, Fleischer also made stuff like this 1955 heist movie with Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer. Sunday, November 30, at 1:00.
A Fortnight at Cannes
Still from Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating) (1974) from Reverse Shot.
Entre la mer et l’eau douce (Michel Brault): TIFF director and CEO Piers Handling wrote the programme description. That’s rare enough to draw attention to the perceived importance of this seminal French Canadian film from 1967. Friday, November 21, at 7:00.
Goin’ Down the Road (Donald Shebib): A classic of English-Canadian cinema, it’s probably best remembered for its depiction of the Sam’s sign and 1970 Yonge Street. Saturday, November 22, at 7:00.
Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese): We’re pretty sure this is the first time in the six years we’ve been going to Cinematheque that they’re showing a Scorsese movie. And it’s one of his very best, all colours and rock music, with a largely irrelevent plot; technically a gangster film, it functions best as an impressionistic indulgence into the back rooms of 1973 New York City, as Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro (the latter working with the director for the first time) help Scorsese establish so many of the themes and styles that came to define his oeuvre. Virtually every Scorsese trademark is present in the first five minutes. Saturday, November 22, at 8:45.
A Married Couple (Allan King): Canada’s greatest living documentarian, cinema verité master Allan King, will be attending Cinematheque to introduce this screening of his 1967 work about a duo’s marital difficulties. Monday, November 24, at 7:00.
Fata Morgana (Werner Herzog): We can’t tell from the description whether it’s a documentary or not, but like a lot of Herzog’s movies, we doubt that we’d be able to cleanly classify Fata Morgana even after seeing it. It’s probably the most discussed pre-1980 Herzog film that featured neither Klaus Kinski nor Bruno S. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, Grizzly Man might be a better starting point. Monday, December 1, at 9:00.
Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Jacques Rivette): Probably Rivette’s most well-liked movie, it was assumed to be the inspiration for Lynch’s Inland Empire until Adam Nayman discovered in an interview that Lynch had never seen this or any other Rivette film. Sunday, December 7, at 3:00.
Touki-Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambéty): As rare as it is for a Senegalese movie to play in Toronto, it’s even rarer for it not to be one directed by Ousmane Sembène. Tuesday, December 9, at 9:00.
Photo of Fassbinder and Hanna Schygulla on the set of Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) courtesy of Bavaria Film International.
Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder): At about fifteen hours, almost certainly the longest classic of world cinema—if you’ve actually read this far into the post (and not just scrolled down to the end), you’ve likely already booked off the weekend of December 12-14.