Now in Rep Cinemas: Stranger Than Paradise, Close Encounters, Fright Night, Minnie & Moskowitz
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Now in Rep Cinemas: Stranger Than Paradise, Close Encounters, Fright Night, Minnie & Moskowitz

Each week, Now in Rep Cinema compiles the best repertory and art house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements.

  mm_royal_small.jpg   Stranger Than Paradise
The Royal
Monday July 18, 9 p.m.
  mm_fox_sm.jpg   Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Fox
Wednesday July 20, 7 p.m.
  mm_underground_sm.jpg   Fright Night
The Underground
Thursday July 21, 9:30 p.m.
  mm_lightbox_sm.jpg   Minnie and Moskowitz
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday July 24, 7:30 p.m.

Minnie and Moskowitz
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Sunday July 24, 7:30 p.m.

So basically, the line on John Cassavetes is this: his films are intense, memorable, and plain different because they hew close to reality. It’s a distinction that characterizes Cassavetes’ indie-American cinema as being different from the mainstream Hollywood pictures against which he defined himself (though he acted in plenty of them, skimming from the system to fund his own projects). One of the main things that gives credence to Cassavetes’ privileged artistic purchase over reality is the dialogue in his films. Cassavetes, it’s often said, wrote like people talk.
I’m not so sure about this. Who, really, talks as manically and frantically and loud as the characters in Cassavetes’ films? Take 1971’s Minnie & Moskowitz, which screens later this week at the Lightbox as part of their ongoing Cassavetes retrospective. All Seymour Cassel (playing mustached, hot dog–munching, parking lot attendant Seymour Moskowitz) does in that film is bellow and yell and whip around and holler some more. If people really talked like this, the world would be a deafeningly loud and obnoxious place. Contrarily, there’s Gena Rowlands’ Minnie Moore, the depressed blonde who just kind of sits there tight-lipped or murmurs half-incoherently. But there are hints of real speech in their dialogue and their cutesy (in the despairing Cassavetes way) romance. All the “hmm”s, “huh”s, and “JESUS CHRIST!”s are like little signposts, signalling that this is real language. Or something like it, anyways.
But it’s not that this stuff is unique or especially real, exactly. It’s more that Cassavetes develops a kind of blue collar and white collar patois; constructed languages so internally coherent that they smack distinctly of “reality.” It’s tempting to lump his films in with the Italian neo-realists, but if anything, his films (and screenplays) share more in common with those of David Mamet, or even Quentin Tarantino. Like Mamet, Cassavetes’ method has its origin in theatre, and his dialogue and scenarios often play like ongoing revisions of the wartime tenement drama. But more importantly, both filmmakers’ use of language proves essential to the construction of their art.
Mamet’s films, and the plays they’re based on, work through a kind of jerky English dialect, often termed “Mamet Speak.” Characters will repeat things, speak speedily, and inflect flatly, creating a kind of tone-deaf street jargon. The performances, at times, seem stiff or hammy. But that’s the point. As with Cassavetes, characters speak in a manner just a few degrees off from how we normally talk, and in doing so achieve something close to the uncanny, creating a world more-or-less like or own, if not for the noticeable differences in diction (ditto, too, Tarantino, whose scripted fantasies of universal eloquence and pop culture literacy do pretty much the same thing). Cassavetes’ vernacular isn’t as off as Mamet’s or Tarantino’s, but it’s still off enough. Enough that it allows for the construction of a hermetic world beholden to its own linguistic and emotional structures. Language, after all, constructs the world of meaning. And that Cassavetes uses language elegantly to give life to the muddled emotional lives of his characters (and the mud of emotions generally) is what makes them so affecting.
Minnie and Moskowitz, which though it is dark and sporadically violent like most of Cassavetes’ pictures, is also somehow his lightest and most tender. Some even consider it a romantic-comedy. Certainly there is pith here that is too tight and perfectly-worded to pertain to a reality that is our reality (like Seymour dorkily telling Minnie that he thinks about her so much that he forgets to go to the bathroom). But in a film that’s about two people prenaturally getting each other, without productive words even being passed between them (any attempt to parse the emotions linguistically inevitably turns into a frothing screaming match), these taut little turns of phrase are like sunlight peeking in through a slit in the drawn blinds. They are, beyond being cute, beautiful.
It’s this beauty and sympathy that makes Minnie and Moskowitz one of my favourite Cassavetes films, even if it is awfully noisy. And even if it’s not real in the same way that all the external stimuli we swim around in constantly is real, it’s still self-sufficient and orderly. Through the use of language (however self-consciously inarticulate), it creates its own intelligible reality. And while not unique to the medium, this hewing of worlds is one of the cinema’s greatest, most profound gifts.

Also Unspooling…

Stranger Than Paradise
The Royal (608 College Street)
Monday July 18, 9 p.m.

mm_royal_small.jpg With the rather excellent documentary Blank City, a film about New York City’s “no wave” cinema movement, screening at the Royal until Thursday, the cinema is pairing the doc up with one of the movement’s standout films. 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise is the second feature by Jim Jarmusch, no wave’s once and future king. Suffused in downtown cool and deadpan humour, the film remains a hallmark of American indie cinema in the 1980s. It also helped position Jarmusch as a formidable force in the arthouses, putting him on track to becoming the name-brand auteur he is today.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Fox (2236 Queen Street East)
Wednesday July 20, 7 p.m.

mm_fox_sm.jpg Hey, you know what’s a good song? That one that goes: dum-dum-da-dum-bummmm. You know, the five tone thingy from Close Encounters? It’s kind of hard to represent in type, actually. Anyways, Close Encounters is also a great movie, being Spielberg’s other smiley portrait of alien encounter (it’s like E.T. for grown-ups). And the Fox is even pairing it with J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (screening after, at 9:30 p.m.). Which makes total sense because Super 8 was pretty on the nose about being E.T. for kids these days, except if E.T. was confused and malevolent and ate cops. So come sing along! dum-dum-da-dum—wait for it—bummmmmmmmmmmm.

Fright Night
The Underground (186 Spadina Avenue)
Thursday July 21, 9:30 p.m.

mm_underground_sm.jpg Tom Holland’s vampire-next-door flick Fright Night was one of those weird and awesome mid-’80s horror films that seemed pitched directly at kids, despite carrying a soft-R rating. Which means when you saw it when you were 11 or 12, around the age of the film’s horror-loving protagonist (William Ragsdale), it seemed extra cool because it was kind of gorey and gooey, in addition to being spooky. Like anything else special, it’s being re-made. And the protagonist is being upgraded to a full-blown teenager, giving it a distinctly Disturbia-n vibe. It may not be a total wash, considering that Colin Farrell is playing the part Chris Sarandon played in the original, a suburban Dracula keen to suck the blood out of the neighbourhood. But will the remake have a character named “Evil Ed”? Doubtful. So see the original. Quick! Now!

Illustrations by Clayton Hammer/Torontoist.