What is art house cinema? Picture a small, independent theater. In your mind’s eye, you’re probably not imagining the latest action movie or Summer blockbuster on the marquee. Instead, you may envision foreign, independent, or art films not intended for the mass-market. Many films that started out in art houses are now found in the collection at Mechanics’ Institute. Below are staff recommendations from the 2nd Floor DVD and Blu-ray display.
I’m still pining for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unrealized version of one of my favorite books, Dune by Frank Herbert. Fortunately, we have other films by this Chilean-French director, screenwriter, playwright, poet, composer, musician, and graphic novelist to whet our appetite for the surreal – in 1929, film writer David Church called his work “a hybrid blend of mysticism and religious provocation.”
Fando y Lis (Spanish language with subtitles) is an adaptation of a Fernando Arrabal play by the same name. Shot in high-contrast black and white on weekends with a correspondingly tiny budget, the film was first shown at the Acapulco Film Festival in 1968. The plot follows Fando and his girlfriend Lis through a postapocalyptic wasteland in search of the mythical city of Tar, where the true nature of eternity will be revealed. The narrative of the film mimics the workings of the subconscious, leaving much to the audience's interpretation.
The Holy Mountain (English language) is a surrealist fantasy film – directed, written, produced, co-scored, co-edited, with set and costume designs by, and starring Alejandro Jodorowsky! Partially funded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jodorowsky’s follow-up to Fando y Lis was shown at Cannes and various international film festivals in 1973. There’s extensive imagery from the tarot deck, and part of the plot involves a case of mistaken identity around the figure of Jesus – with plenty of confusing/interesting musings on the meaning of life. For instance, think of Marla’s iconic line about herself in Fight Club (“The girl is infectious human waste…”), which inspires the defining mantra of Tyler Durden’s space monkeys. One influential line from this film is, “You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.” No spoilers: while watching this weird, mystical 1973 film, look for the many other ways it has influenced the mainstream modern films you know and love.
"Black Swan's imagery and storytelling were so vivid and memorable that I was compelled to watch it multiple times."
“I vote for "Withnail and I," which we have in our collection. If you have not seen this movie, and you like dark comedy, I encourage you to see it. Set in the late 1960's London, two unemployed best friends embark on a self-discovery trip to the English countryside.”
Even if you’ve already seen The Seventh Seal before, I recommend checking out our restored copy of the Swedish existential film by Ingmar Bergman. If you haven’t seen The Seventh Seal, this thought-provoking and beautifully photographed explores religion, faith, and the Black Death. For our Chess Club members, there is an iconic chess game between Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) and the Death (Bengt Ekerot). Curious who wins? You must watch to find out!
Do you ever dream of writing a celebrated novel? Jep Gambardella, played by Marco Antonio Servillo, is a famous novelist who has retired to a life of parties and writing for a society paper in La Grande Bellezza. What happens to a writer who has spent decades resting on his laurels? Watch Gambardella reflect on love, regret, and his life in picturesque Rome.
A Woman Under the Influence - or pretty much any John Cassavetes movie. Cassavetes used his money from acting in Hollywood movies to produce and direct his own low-budget independent movies. The influence of his movies is hard to overstate – he helped define modern American independent film well before the term "indie movie" was ever used. 'A Woman Under the Influence' is one of his best and Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk give two of the most devastating acting performances you'll ever see.
Werckmeister Harmonies – Director Bela Tarr is known for his long-takes that linger and roam around complicated scenes, and this gorgeous film is packed full of them. Set in communist Hungary, the plot revolves around the arrival of a circus into a bleak and deprived town. The circus and its main attractions (a giant stuffed whale and a mysterious performer named "the Prince") unsettle the town and riots break out, sending the town into even deeper crisis.