This Week's Revivals
By Richard von Busack
Cat People/Curse of the Cat People
(1942/1944). "One day," said director Jacques Tourneur, "Val Lewton called and asked me over to his office. He said he'd that [head of RKO] Charlie Koerner had been at a party the night before and that someone suggested he make a picture called Cat People. The next morning, Charlie asked Val to come up with a script to suit the title." ( John Brosnan, Horror People.) The result was producer Val Lewton's best-remembered psychological horror film, a story of an ancient Serbian legend reoccurring in New York as the delusions— or are they?—of a lady (Simone Simon). The skin-tightener is the indoor swimming pool scene; Tourneur claims the significant shadows on the wall are caused by his fist over a spotlight, but many viewers have seen a panther there, stalking and ready to strike. BILLED WITH Curse of the Cat People. Ann Carter plays the daughter of the Simone Simon character in Cat People, here bewitched—or perhaps bedeviled—by an imaginary lady, as well as two sinister, fanciful ladies next door. (Plays May 5-6 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.)
(2006) Evangelicals gone wild. Documentary makers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady tour a South Dakota camp for Kids in Ministry International, where church and state are irreparably mixed. We see a ceremonial blessing of a cardboard stand-up of George W. Bush, placed on a mantle of fleecy cotton representing heaven; this idol is saluted in an oratory of worshippers speaking in tongues. Interviewees include Ted Haggard of the New Life Church, very shortly before an especially delicious scandal forced him out of office. The finale takes place at a car wash, near where slate-colored snow surrounds jail-like housing tracts. It looks, in poet Ted Hughes' phrase, as if a fist of cold had squeezed the fire in the core of the world— a vision of the wintry triumph of a bornagain land, and it's all a hell of a lot more bloodcurdling than Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. (Plays May 4 at 7:30 in Palo Alto at the Unitarian/Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston. www.worldcentric.org.)
The Toll of the Sea/Madame Butterfly
(1922/1934) Two versions of Madame Butterfly to help celebrate Opera San Jose's current production. The Toll of the Sea stars a 17-year- old Anna May Wong as Lotus Flower, who rescues a shipwrecked American and ruins her life. This early experiment in Technicolor was written by Francis Marion, celebrated in the book and documentary Without Lying Down. A figure similarly in need of historical retrieval is Sylvia Sidney, whose Janet Gaynor-like frailty concealed enough durability to survive bouts with Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock, as well as to stay onscreen deep into old age. (Tim Burton used her as the gently senile granny rescued from hideous aliens in Mars Attacks!) Sidney, a Jewish New Yorker with Romanian roots, plays the self-sacrificing Japanese heroine in this slightly static nonmusical version. Despite being a Caucasian in an Asian part, Sydney's shy sweetness gets the desired emotional effect in the film's punch line. The young Cary Grant co-stars as the faithless Pinkerton. Pauline Kael wrote that Grant wasn't really Grant until the era of the screwball comedy. On the contrary, you can clearly see a star on the rise in Grant's carefree scenes at a teahouse, in the way he sleekly finesses Cio-Cio-San's discovery of a photo of a blonde in her new husband's suitcase—and finally when he registers the dreadful seriousness of his situation, reflected in the face of the poor woman who waited for him. (Plays May 4 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)
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