Saturday February 27, 7 pm at Anthology Film Archives: $10
This trailer might be en Español, but if we’re going by Trump definitions of “American” this 1972 film is about as American as it gets, for better and for worse. Presented at Anthology in all its grainy 35mm glory, Unholy Rollers is not only 100 percent English-language cinema, but it also features battling broads, busty babes, and roller derby dames behaving badly, satisfying our inalienable right as taxpaying Americans to see hot girls beat each other up.
But instead of simply being eye-rolling babesploitation cinema, the film shimmers with campy, stupid brilliance. That might be because filmmaker Vernon Zimmerman is a true weirdo, demonstrated throughout his bitty, but super-out there catalogue of movies. Zimmeran worked with Warhol darling Taylor Mead on the short film Lemon Hearts in 1960 (according to Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader, “Mead plays eleven roles in this entirely improvised film,” which is described as an example of “boundless” imagination and “liberated senses”) and co-wrote Teen Witch (1989), the super- camp cult classic about a teenager who acquires magical powers from her past lives on the occasion of her 16th birthday.
In some ways, Unholy Rollers is a win for feminism in its portrayal of powerful, in-control women who dominate the dum dum boys around them with ease. It’s also a classic tale of redemption and the exciting turns life can take if you just let things flow. Our heroine Claudia Jennings stumbles onto the riveting and dangerous world of roller derby, quitting her job at a cannery to pursue success in the sport. She’s a natural, and of course acquires some haters along the way. At first Claudia weathers some major beat-downs and bruise-ups, but eventually grows thick-as-hell skin and claws her way to the top of the roller derby mountain of glory.
The Burning Crucible
Saturday February 27, 7:30 pm and 10 pm at Spectacle: $5 at the door and online
Speaking of playing 11 different roles in one film, in 1923 Ivan Mosjoukine did the same in The Burning Crucible which also happened to be his singular directorial effort. Mosjoukine (whose name looks decidedly not-Russian because he preferred the French transliteration of Mozzhukhin) was a wildly successful Moscow-based silent film actor in his day, a career that he managed to carry with him to Paris, when he fled Russia in 1917, the year of the October Revolution. Not only was Mosjoukine adept at filling roles, however, he conceived and wrote many of the scripts for movies he also starred in, including The Burning Crucible (sometimes translated as The Blazing Inferno), released in 1923. Even though the film’s bizarro, surreal narrative was groundbreaking, as with many works ahead of their time, people were just not that into it.
In the film, Detective Z (played by Mosjoukine) is a sort French Sherlock Holmes– he’s famous and appears in many popular books, of which Elle (the pretty young wife of a wealthy capitalist dude) is an avid reader. Elle’s relationship with her husband is kind of on the rocks. While he showers her in material possessions, she feels there’s something missing, and the husband likewise is unsure about some things and his propensity for jealousy and paranoia trips just make things worse. So when Detective Z begins invading Elle’s dreams, the husband senses that Elle is drifting farther away from him. And when he makes the mistake of hiring Detective Z to find out who Elle’s banging (or at least planning to bang), well, it’s not the best of situations that ensues. Spectacle is turning the film on its head, though, and instead of having a classical live score, they’ve hired DJ Space Jam (Stephanie Neptune) to share her eclectic live electronic music with filmgoers. Should be sufficiently strange.
*Batteries Not Included
March 7, 5:30 pm, 7:45 pm, and 10 pm at Syndicated: $3 at the door
Sometimes it seems like Sydnicated is a theater entirely devoted to Steven Spielberg, which is whatever, but there’s reason to get real excited about at least one film produced by the king of big, stupid Hollywood movies (which have their place, I’m not gonna lie)– *Batteries Not Included is arguably the best film of 1987. Sure, there are the obvious contenders like Robocop, Raising Arizona, Spaceballs. But *Batteries has it all– heart, hope, flying spaceship alien things, and New York City sass.
In case you haven’t killed a bottle of vodka and cried yourself to sleep in front of this movie more times than you can count, (even then, you might not remember the ending) *Batteries is a story about the struggle of the proletariat against heartless capitalist landowners who will stop at nothing to maximize their profits as slumlords of a crumbling East Village building on East 8th street. When the developers try to kick out the family and their neighbors so they can level the whole block and build fancy towers for the bourgeoisie, the family has just about given up. But the arrival of adorable flying spaceship aliens from a “very small planet” with magical powers, swoop in to bring the tenants of the building together and generally raise class consciousness by instilling in them a new desire to work. Can the aliens help the tenants in their fight against their evil capitalist overlord?
Embrace of the Serpent
Friday, Feb. 26 through Tuesday, Mar. 1 at Film Forum: $14
If you’ve done all you can with this whole urban shamanism thing, perhaps it’s time to consider the origins of ayahuasca and what it all means to the IRL shamans who are really, truly living the shit and not just opting to be a hallucinogenic weekend warrior only to return to being a button-down wearing desk jockey for some app company. Two Western white guys head down to the Amazon (jaunts that are 40 years apart) in search of rainforest plants with healing powers, only to find that the jungle is a tough place to be when you’re used to the early-20th-century comforts of urban life.
They meet a shaman named Karamakate who basically acts as their manic pixie dream girl and teaches them, well, how to dream and how to get high on hallucinogens without totally freaking out. Embrace of the Serpent, like the tribal outlook it explores, infuses myth with actual, historical accounts. Filmed in beautiful black and white, the images in this movie are as spellbinding as the experience of these two gringos.