Yet another test for theatrical exhibition as moviehouses reopen across America: can a movie ever make over $100 million in its opening weekend again, and will that movie be family-business “F9“? (“F9” didn’t shake the world in its recent China opening, with an opening weekend of $137 million slaloming to only $20.8 million in its second weekend.) Jafar Panahi’s alternately lyrical and bleak “Crimson Gold” has been restored, and the Music Box premieres François Ozon’s sunny-serious coming-of-age “Summer of 85” on 35mm. Walter Hill’s 1984 baroque street-level superhero musical “Streets of Fire” releases its narcotic gas to a larger world as it drops onto Netflix, and three films by Jacques Rivette are on free-to-stream Tubi, including “La Belle Noiseuse.” Sam Fuller’s eighty-minute “kino-fist” masterpiece “Pickup on South Street” arrives in a new 4K digital restoration on Blu-ray from Criterion.
“F9“: It’s pronounced “fine.” “F9” opens in theaters on Friday, June 25.
Jafar Panahi’s slow-burn thriller “Crimson Gold,” (2003), based on a story by the still-sanctioned Iranian director and the late Abbas Kiarostami, appears to begin as glum summation of the stylistic devices of Iranian cinema of that moment, but proceeds as something much stranger, epic and hurtful. Panahi’s alternately narcoleptic and savage portrait of class in greed in urban Iran, seen through the rounds of a poor Tehran pizza delivery guy, is a genuine stunner: lyrical, raw, then lyrical again, and finally, brutal. However great Panahi’s minimalist recent movies, made against the wishes of Iran’s rulers who have barred him from filmmaking for twenty years—”This Is Not a Film” (2011), “Closed Curtain” (2013), “Taxi” (2015)—”Crimson Gold” demonstrated a craftiness and a canniness mingled with scruffiness that simmers, then sears. May Iran allow Panahi to someday make more such movies, the sooner, the better. Streams via the Siskel Film Center from June 25.
François Ozon is at his singular best at the tactile, teasing out, the tingle, the anticipation of touch. In “Summer of 85,” the eclectic French filmmaker, in his twenty-third feature, is back in the palace of memories, capturing a working-class boy’s rescue from the sea by an older boy, confident, Jewish, who opens a world of potential—the world of himself—through their intense new friendship, which is physical and all-consuming in its brief, bright flicker. The village off the coast of Normandy proves as heated through the course of their time together. Music Box Films has struck only three 35mm prints of “Summer of 85” and will be showing one at the Music Box, opening Friday, June 25.
The last time “Streets of Fire” was in the Chicago conversation was when a 70mm print, of all things, was found among the Universal stores and was shown as part of the 70mm Festival at the Music Box. It’s snuck into the larger, unknowing, unprepared world with its recent apparition onto Netflix. Hyperbole has erupted in precincts like Twitter, such as this from a writer at Collider: “the only good film ever made.” (Of more import for film history, the influence of Walter Hill’s blissfully berserk production on generations of anime is getting explored and explicated by those in the know.)
“The following story takes place in the Other World,” begins the unpublished screenplay for Walter Hill’s 1984 “Streets of Fire,” shot, with great hope, under the title, “The Adventures of Tom Cody: Book One.” “A far off place”—partially shot under a studio-built hallucination of Chicago’s El tracks—“where genres collide — in this case, Futuristic Fantasy meets the Western, gets married and has Rock and Roll babies. And in a rather special way, it’s meant to be a comedy.” Yes, this caterwauling rampage of a movie was produced “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”: the 1980s.
Co-written with Larry Gross, ‘Streets of Fire” is a grandiloquent compatriot to the quietude of their later masterpiece, “Geronimo: An American Legend” (1993) but more pertinently, their collaboration on 1982’s “48 HRS,” which enabled the lurid finery of Hill’s seventh feature. It’s a superhero movie without superpowers, it’s a musical, it’s a fever dream, it’s “Streets of Fire.” More exuberantly stylized than “The Warriors” (1979), “Streets” at first seems to stand out in stark relief to the carborundum asperity of movies like “Hard Times” (1975), “The Driver” (1978), “The Long Riders” (1980) and “Southern Comfort” (1981). Yet, along with its willingness to go for baroque at every turn in its boisterous retelling of the Helen of Troy myth, “Streets of Fire” elevates the estimable craft of those movies with a vivid, grimy, neon-draped palette, with expressive, classical framing in both wide and closer shots, an unerring instinct for when to cut (and slash) a shot or scene, and a simple joy in humans and machines in motion and the splendor of noise. (Larry Gross has also cited John Hughes movies as a key influence on the lines drawn in the film’s gang warfare.) “Streets of Fire” is lunar, unearthly, magnificent, bought with the success of “48 HRS.” but handed down with its own unbridled glee, as in, “Can you believe we’re getting away with this shit?” (And this once, they did.) “’Streets of Fire’ will be followed by ‘The Long Night,’ Book Two in The Adventures of Tom Cody,” the script concludes. What further myth rests in the Other World? Still, this ninety-three-minute specter is glorious. With Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Michael Paré. “Streets of Fire” streams fire on Netflix (U.S. only).
From Toronto Now critic Norm Wilner comes word that two films by Jacques Rivette are streaming for free on Tubi, his two “Joan of Arc” films as well as the recent restoration of the painstaking marvel “La Belle Noiseuse,” which, upon its 1992 release, Roger Ebert wrote that it is “the best film I have ever seen about the physical creation of art, and about the painful bond between an artist and his muse… The greatness of ‘La Belle Noiseuse’ is in the time it spends on the creation of art, and the creation and destruction of passion.” Free on Tubi.
The world spins, but some things have not changed: the reservoir of film noir is a deadly, beautiful world that refuses to die. The Cold War paranoia masterpiece, “Pickup on South Street” (filmed under the writer-director’s preferred title, “Blaze of Glory”) may be the most concise of exemplars of the “kino-fist” espoused by the prolific primitive Samuel Fuller. We could talk about the purple patois of that pulp popinjay, where gangsters are selling secrets on microfilm to the Soviet Union: “So you’re a Red, who cares? Your money’s as good as anybody else’s.” Or we could lean close and listen to a match made in critic-to-movie heavenly hook-up, the confident rasp of Manny Farber’s 1969 summa of Fuller from Artforum: “Though he lacks the stamina and range of Chester Gould or the endlessly creative Fats Waller, Sam Fuller directs and writes an inadvertently charming film that has some of their qualities: lyricism, real iconoclasm, and a comic lack of self-consciousness.” His work, etches Farber, is “sometimes so good as to be breathtaking, ‘Pickup on South Street’ is a marvel of lower class nuttiness, Richard Widmark as a pickpocket working with a folded newspaper in the subway, almost all of it at night and each all-libido character acting uncorked, totally without propriety checks… The simplest way to describe his best film, ‘Pickup on South Street,’ is to talk about his movie eye. A blunt melodrama about microfilm, stoolies and Soviet agents (Fuller’s scripts are grotesque jobs that might have been written by the bus driver in ‘The Honeymooners’: “OK, I’ll give you five minutes to clear out. If you’re not out, we’re going to burn the place down”), its quite long segments in a subway have a devilish moodiness, spareness, quietness. While Widmark’s Skip character goes to work in a crowded subway car, there is this light touch and satisfying balance between buildup and attention to the moment.
“Bresson in his own ‘Pickpocket’ film doesn’t get close to the directness or the freshness: the ability to keep a scene going without cuts or camera tricks, fastening on enormously pungent faces, Widmark’s fine-boned and tight-skinned youthfulness, the way he moves through the car, approaching his victim, Jean Peters, and, in one of the most unexpected detail shots, his hand becomes like a seal’s sensitive flipper, dropping down below a newspaper and into a pocketbook. Part of the fun is the not-sure consternation on the faces of two FBI agents who are following the girl and have no expectation of seeing an expert pickpocket at work.” Or, as Luc Sante puts it in the liner notes, “Fuller is crude and subtle, blatant and deep, unschooled and spilling over with ancient lore, harsh and plaintive, cynical and so attuned to complicated human emotions, you can’t accuse him of being merely sentimental. ‘Pickup on South Street,’ it follows, is a penny dreadful with a hundred layers of felt meaning—the kind you register subcutaneously, without requiring professors to dissect and explicate it. If film noir is a genre in which tin-pot crimes are merely the outer manifestations of the churning unconscious, then ‘Pickup on South Street’ is quintessential noir. Like so many of the worthwhile products of the American 1950s, it is a work of reverberating complexity, wrapped up to look like a candy bar.”
This edition includes the 4K digital restoration, a 1989 interview with the irrepressible Fuller conducted by the lugubrious Richard Schickel; an essay by Martin Scorsese; a chapter from Fuller’s posthumously published 2002 autobiography, “A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking” and “Cinéma cinémas: Fuller,” a 1982 French television program in which he discusses the making of the film. “Pickup on South Street” is on Criterion Blu-Ray.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.