There’s something wicked in the air. Nearly all of my suggested best bets for Twin Cities film fans are either horror movies or arty interpolations of horror tropes or dissertations on the variety to be found within the genre.
Some smell May blooms. I opt for a whiff of the corpse flower. So onward and downward with my choices for this week:
“They’re coming! They’re coming!” shudders Tippi Hedren at the climax of the characteristically conversational trailer for The Birds, perhaps the most divisive of all Hitchcock’s masterpieces. For every person who considers it an awkward, simplistic waste of Hitchcock’s talents, there’s another person calling it one of his most incisive social comedies, albeit in animal horror drag. I’m in the latter camp. There’s nothing quite so hysterical as Hedren’s impenetrable ice queen being cut down to size by, on the one hand, a cadre of vengeful wing soldiers extracting nature’s revenge on Hedren’s avatar for cosmopolitanism and, on the other hand, an entire village doing basically the same. Live by the purse of haute couture, die by the cutting beak of provincialism. The Birds is screening at the Riverview as part of the Cities’ fifth annual Hitchcock festival, and The Lodger — which for a long time held a reputation as Hitchcock’s earliest surviving film before a few earlier ones were rediscovered — will screen over the weekend at the Trylon as part of the same fest.
Monday, May 6 through Thursday, May 9: Room 237 (St. Anthony Main Theater)
You don’t have to even be a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s bestseller to recognize Rodney Ascher’s buzzy new documentary as ground zero for cinephilia this season. In fact, I’m informed by some of The Shining‘s strident non-fans that Room 237 “only works” if you accept it as a given that Kubrick’s movie is (and I’m paraphrasing the complaints of the haters) an empty, scare-devoid exercise in bogus formalism. With an attention to detail that is downright unsettling, a series of theorists espouse their theories on Kubrick’s film throughout Room 237, insisting that the film is (depending on who you ask) about Kubrick faking the 1969 moon landing, about the Holocaust, about the genocide of Native Americans during westward expansion, that it only makes sense if you overlay the entire movie in reverse atop the original movie to turn it into a symmetrical work of art. To Shining haters’ credit, the point of Room 237 does appear to be that none of these theories is necessarily “right.” To their debit, there are few more convincing cases for Kubrick’s compelling artistry than can be found among these hypnotic zealots. Enter the labyrinth and you’ll find The Shining itself is the minotaur of all modern horror cinema.
Thursday, May 9: Show Girl in Hollywood (Heights Theater)
Self-reflexivity reigns supreme at the old-timey Heights Theater’s old-timey Hollywood series, which continues with director Mervyn LeRoy’s Show Girl in Hollywood, which straddles the line between depicting and embodying the growing pains of Tinseltown’s transition to talkies. LeRoy was, of course, one of the underheralded geniuses of the studio system (his Gold Diggers of 1933 is one of the Depression-era’s nuttiest entertainments), and if that’s not enough to pique your interest, note that the roster of original tunes includes “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Thursday, May 9: Trailer Trash (Theaters at Mall of America)
For anyone who went to Grindhouse and found themselves wishing they’d just skipped the double feature and focused on the faux trailers, this program is for you. The actual table of contents for the Mall of America’s slate of grimy-goofy previews for movies that time didn’t even bother to remember forgetting is something of a secret, but they’re teasing “cult classics, karate masters, little lost dogs and laser blasts.” Show up for the best sizzle reel of the season, and try to resist any urge to sample the steak.
Friday, May 10 & Saturday, May 11: Upstream Color (Walker Art Center)
Shane Carruth is bending brains once again. The director of Primer apparently hasn’t met any narrative ellipses he didn’t like or any pieces of exposition he did, but there’s no denying that his vision commands your attention. Upstream Color is, at the heart of it, either a defense of monogamy, a horror story told from behind glass, or a sci-fi tinged tone poem about invasive species, hostage taking and pig farming. It won’t be for everyone, and I noted more than a few blank stares at the screening I attended a few weeks back, but let it sink in and you’ll likely find your theories and opinions mutating just underneath your skin. (Or just ask Carruth what’s up point blank. He’ll be present this weekend at the Walker screenings.)
Sunday, May 11: Rosemary’s Baby (Theaters at Mall of America)
“I was brought up a Catholic … now, I don’t know.” Rosemary’s Baby, the headlining middle child of Roman Polanski’s trilogy of apartment-centric horror films, shows this Mother’s Day at the Mall of America in a particularly sly stroke of programming savvy. Like, if you take your mother to see this, what exactly are you saying about her? Or about you? This faithful adaptation of Ira Levin’s “what if?” novel kicked off a string of horror movies that presumed the existence of both God and the Devil, but Polanski’s take is hardly definitive on theological suppositions. It instead seems to pinch its overall tone from the hyperbolic Time Magazine cover question: “Is God dead?” And every time the movie invites its audience to question Rosemary’s convictions, it plunges deep into the ongoing politics surrounding women and their wombs. Unsettling isn’t the half of it.