Let’s Try to Break the Death Spiral of Declining Information About and Interest In Indie and Art Films
BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI MAGAZINE / APRIL 7, 2023
(From film A Thousand and One)
Upon leaving his position after 23 years as co-chief film critic for The New York Times, A.O. Scott recently took stock of the state of current movies and the theaters showing them. He was especially addressing “specialty” or “indie” / “art house” movies and the more personal, neighborhood-oriented theaters and other alternative (to megaplexes) venues that screen them:
“The current apocalypse is that streaming and Covid anxiety are conspiring to kill off moviegoing as we have known it, leaving a handful of I.P.-driven blockbusters and horror movies to keep theaters in business while we mostly sit at home bingeing docuseries, dystopias and the occasional art-film guilt trip. Am I worried? Of course I’m worried. The cultural space in which the movies I care most about have flourished seems to be shrinking. The audience necessary to sustain original and ambitious work is narcotized by algorithms or distracted by doomscrolling. The state of the movies is very bad.”
Then he quickly added, “The movies themselves—enough of them, as always—are pretty good.”
That’s the conundrum Cincinnati film fans are forced to confront: the downward spiral of fewer places showing non-mainstream movies, which leads to smaller audiences for these works, which leads to less media coverage of those genres, resulting in even less knowledge of and interest in new specialty movies coming to theaters, museums, and other venues across the region. Perhaps a monthly preview of such films showing in Cincinnati can start to break that cycle.
Why? Because it’s needed. Specialty and indie movies have sizeable followings here and elsewhere but too often tend to slip in and out of theatrical screenings without much notice. At least, without the kind of notice that benefits Marvel and DC adaptations, endless sequels, and cleverly titled action and horror movies (looking at you, Cocaine Bear). Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with such mass-appeal movies, incidentally. But some excellent “smaller” films continue to get overlooked.
Here’s a look at April highlights across Cincinnati and the region. A caveat: Things can always change in terms of a theater’s plans, so it’s wise to check websites before attending any of these screenings.
A Thousand and One
[Watch the trailer. Showing at Esquire Theatre in Clifton, AMC Newport, Cinemark Oakley Station, Showcase Cinema de Luxe Springfield, AMC West Chester, and Regal Deerfield Town Center.]
If it seems antithetical to my stated purpose to highlight a film playing the plexes, A Thousand and One is a quintessential specialty film. Its distributor, Focus Features, primarily handles those types of movies, and the Esquire is where this title would play even if it wasn’t opening elsewhere simultaneously. The wider release is an indication of everyone’s belief that this film is a big deal.
I was fortunate to see a stream of the film, from up-and-coming director/screenwriter A.V. Rockwell, as part of January’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the top Grand Jury Prize for dramatic films. Not only did it deserve that honor, but it also deserves serious Oscar consideration for best film and for Teyana Taylor’s terrific performance as a woman trying to help her young child (and herself) negotiate the unfriendly, uncaring streets of New York to find some security and renewed hope. Rockwell brings great empathy and toughness to this story, and she also offers some surprising and engrossing plot twists sure to make those who see A Thousand and One talk about it afterward.
One Fine Morning
[Watch the trailer. Showing at Mariemont Theatre, Mariemont.]
The highly regarded French director Mia Hansen-Løve recently made the English and Swedish language Bergman’s Island, in which a couple trying to write seek refuge on the Swedish island of Fårö, once the home of the late Ingmar Bergman, a master of international cinema. For One Fine Morning, she’s returned to her French roots with a challenging yet romantically steaming store of a single mom—raising a daughter and caring for an ailing father—who nevertheless has time for an affair with a married man. Says Charles Hutchinson of The Seattle Times: “When we then all look back on our lives, with these moments of strife and serenity molded together, it is this latest vision from Hansen-Løve that provides yet another glimpse of what it is that we would see.”
[Screens at 7 p.m. April 10 at Esquire Theatre.]
Noted Cincinnati film historian Joe Horine has developed a good following for his “deep dive” screenings of classic movies, where he adds his critical insights into each title’s effectiveness and impact. Audience members offer their observations and question his, resulting in a rewarding event for anyone who sees film as art. With the 1952 western High Noon, he’ll have much material for discussion. Not only did Gary Cooper win an Oscar for his portrayal of a small town’s marshal trying desperately to get citizens to help him resist a man who wants to kill him, but the film now is considered an allegorical protest against the McCarthyism of the day—when few would defend Hollywood figures unfairly smeared as communists by right-wing politicians.
Little Richard: I Am Everything
[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. April 11 at Cinemark Oakley, Regal Deerfield Town Center, and Milford 16.)
As has been often said, the male pioneers of rock and roll—the founding fathers—were all wildly colorful characters: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and especially Little Richard. His string of gloriously upbeat, ecstatically revved-up 1950s hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” and “Long Tall Sally” just may stand the test of time as well as Shakespeare’s best work. This new documentary by Lisa Cortés has fabulous footage of him in action in his prime and later. (Richard Penniman died in 2020 at age 87.) It also has a provocative premise: Little Richard established the queer roots of rock & roll, even if he could fight against his gayness and his own secular music by seeking refuge in religion.
Laurel and Hardy silent short films with organ accompaniment
[Screens at 7 p.m. April 13 at Music Hall Ballroom, Over the Rhine.]
Laurel and Hardy, one of the best comedian teams ever, made films from 1921 to 1951 but have remained popular ever since their careers together came to an end. In fact, there was a lovely, beautifully acted biopic about them in 2018, starring Steve Coogan as Stan Oliver and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy. On April 13, Friends of Music Hall is presenting five of Laurel and Hardy’s silent shorts from the 1920s with live accompaniment on its Mighty Wurlitzer organ—an attraction in its own right—by Clark Wilson. And film historian Joe Horine will lead a Q&A when the films and music are finished.
Smoking Causes Coughing
[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. April 14 at Garfield Theatre, downtown.]
Just the other day my wife was asking me whatever happened to the nutty director who made that film about a tire—yes, a lone tire—that terrorizes everyone who gets near to it (Rubber). As it so happens, French director Quentin Dupieux is back with Smoking Causes Coughing, which sounds as oddball as his earlier film. There are superheroes in bizarre spandex outfits, some very strange talking animals, and a robot that blithely walks off a pier into a lake as a superhero bursts out laughing. Cincinnati World Cinema says on its website the film has a wood chipper scene that makes Fargo’s look tame, and John Waters has called this one of his favorite movies of the year … or so the film’s trailer boasts. Given the extreme put-on nature of Dupieux’s work, it’ll probably generate laughs and controversy.
What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?
[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. April 17 at Woodward Theater, Over-the-Rhine.]
Rock & Roll is filled with mysteries about why some amazing artists failed to have hits and others were mediocre talents yet wildly successful. But the mystery of Blood, Sweat & Tears is especially bewildering. How could this creative, nine-piece jazz-rock band have the Grammys’ 1969 album of the year, which spawned three Top 10 singles, yet soon be considered so square its career was essentially over? This new documentary’s director, John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon), posits that the downfall started when the band went on a U.S. State Department tour of Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe. American youth did not want their rock heroes cooperating with the administration of then-President Richard Nixon, hated for his refusal to end American involvement in the Vietnam War. Will this film solve a long-lasting rock mystery and spur a Blood, Sweat & Tears revival?
[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. April 19 at Garfield Theatre.]
A 2022 film slowly getting a U.S. release city by city, No Bears is from the lauded Iranian director Jafar Panahi. Actually, he isn’t all that lauded by the Iranian government; he’s faced criticism and even jailtime for his searching, questioning, and personal films. This one, about a director trying to make a film despite government concern, has been hailed as a masterpiece by The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, who also calls it “a commentary on movie making on a par with Day for Night.” (The latter is a 1973 masterpiece by Francois Truffaut.)
Dosed: The Trip of a Lifetime
[Watch the trailer. Screens at 1 p.m. on April 23 at Mariemont Theatre and April 24 & 27 at Esquire Theatre.]
Canadian directors Nicholas Meyers and Tyler Chandler have now made two documentaries exploring the growing use of psychedelics to help those facing death from cancer ease their anxiety and come to terms with what they’ve achieved in life. In Dosed: The Trip of a Lifetime, released in 2022, the subject they profile is a mother of four seeking peace and wisdom from magic mushrooms.
Art Films galore
“Art film” is most often used to describe a genre of narrative movies, usually made for a small budget and using subtitles, that aim to provoke rather than pander to our preconceived notions. And we need more of them! But there’s another kind of art movie that seems to be getting increasingly popular: visits to major worldwide art museums and their special exhibitions, or documentaries about artists.
Quite a few are appearing this month across the region, although Cincinnati’s activity seems subdued while Louisville’s Speed Art Museum—which has a relatively new cinema with its own curator—really stands out. Here are some to check out, in order of screening dates:
Cezanne: Portraits of a Life
April 7–9 at Speed Art Museum
Vermeer: The Greatest Exhibition
April 15–16 & 19 at Speed Museum; also at 7 p.m. April 18 at Mariemont Theatre
Master of Light
April 16 at Speed Art Museum. The film’s subject, George Anthony Morton, is a contemporary classical painter who spent 10 years in prison on a drug charge and now devotes himself to art.
April 21–23 at Speed Art Museum. This is a dramatic depiction of the life of Hilma af Klint, now recognized as a pioneer of abstract art. The director is Lasse Hallstrom, a Swede who’s made such movies as My Life As a Dog, Cider House Rules, and Chocolat.