This Week in Repertory Film: Häxan, Nosferatu, Vingança
Between our glut of museums, embassies, film festivals, and a growing collection of independent (AFI Silver Theatre and the soon-to-open West End Cinema) and independent-ish (Landmark's E Street Cinema) movie theaters, Washington boasts an impressive calendar of repertory film screenings. Some are high-profile retrospectives like AFI's tributes to John Hughes and other filmmakers or Landmark's midnight screenings of classic science fiction hits. The embassies (and other international depots like the Goethe-Institut), meanwhile, offer up a healthy international circuit.
Starting today and every Tuesday from now on, Arts Desk will be previewing some of the week's highlights (and occasionally lowlights) of repertory and one-off screenings going on around town.
Repertory Film of the Week: Häxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages). This 1922 picture by the Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen was purportedly a documentary based on an old manuscript used by 15th-century German inquisitors that confounded medieval superstitions with what the modern world now knows to be mental illness and other diseases. But Christensen's dramatic recreations of devil worship, torture and sexual deviance made the film more than anything a progenitor of contemporary horror. At a cost of two million krona, this Swedish-Danish production easily set the record for the most expensive movie in Scandinavian history, it was promptly banned in the United States and heavily censored elsewhere outside of Scandinavia. It has since been re-released several times, culminating in a 2001 Criterion Collection DVD. This Sunday at 4 p.m., as the kiddies are suiting up for trick-or-treating, the National Gallery of Art is presenting Häxan alongside a live performance of the film's original score as reconstructed by the musicologist Gillian B. Anderson, who specializes in the restoration of silent film soundtracks. In an essay for the Criterion release, Anderson commented that the soundtrack ranges from "gratuitous anti-Semitism" in its use of the Jewish composition "Kol Nidrei" alongside a scene depicting satanic possession to "deep pity" while the film climaxes with scenes of brutal violence.
At National Gallery of Art East Wing. 4th Street NW. Sunday, 4 p.m. In Danish and Swedish with English soft titles, 110 minutes. Free.
Other Scary Stuff: Other cinemas around the DMV are marking Halloween with some more recent horror titles. The AFI Silver Theatre is presenting Nosferatu complete with a live orchestra performing the Gillian Anderson-recreated score on Friday and Saturday nights as well as midnight showings of Edgar Wright's 2005 rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead. AFI's calendar is available here. Consider both highly recommended.
From the South American Bureau: OK, these films aren't as frightening, but this week the Embassy of Brazil is producing it's 4th annual Brazilian Film Week with some of that country's most acclaimed productions of the past few years including Paulo Pons' 2008 rape-revenge tale Vingança (Retribution) and Anna Muylaert's black comedy E proibido fumar (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes). The mini-festival runs through Thursday with free screening throughout the day at E Street.
Halloween for Chumps: Yes, I know its the longest-running midnight movie and yes, I know it's Halloween and yes, I know it's more about the shared experience of singing along while wearing tattered vinyl and way too much mascara, but come on, you're going to spend your pre-Halloween hours seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the E Street Cinema? Gauche. They're also playing The Shining. What's more appropriately seasonal? Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon in their underwear or Scatman Crothers running into that axe? Besides, aren't those kids from Glee doing their Rocky Horror cover tonight anyway? If you must spend the witching hour at E Street this weekend, please, skip the Time Warp and head for the Overlook Hotel.