Indie and Art Film Highlights in September

“Bottoms” arrives amidst huge word of mouth after premiering at the recent South by Southwest Film Festival, and the Cindependent Film Festival returns.
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Within the world of indie/art/specialty films, Bottoms arrives in Cincinnati after premiering at this year’s prestigious South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The weekly newsletter from Indianapolis’ Kan-Kan Cinema, one of the Midwest’s coolest indie art houses, said it’s one of its most anticipated summer titles. Kan-Kan also has a very succinct description of the film on its site.  “Two unpopular, queer high school students start a fight club to have sex before graduation.” [Bottoms opens September 1 at Esquire Theatre, AMC Newport on the Levee and AMC West Chester. Watch the trailer.]

“Bottoms”

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that blurb suggests. The two students, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), discover that the self-defense fight club does indeed attract some of their school’s most popular girls, including the cheerleaders they pine for, but the real appeal is beating each other to a pulp. PJ and Josie don’t know how to stop the violence.

Writing for Variety, critic Owen Gleiberman says, “Bottoms is unlike any high-school comedy you’ve ever seen. It’s a satire of victimization, a satire of violence, and a satire of itself. It walks a tightrope between sensitivity and insanity (with a knowing bit of inanity), and it’s full of moments that are defiantly what we once used to call incorrect.”

Bottoms is directed and co-written (with Sennott) by Emma Seligman, whose first film, Shiva Baby, is being re-released to capitalize on Bottom’s debut. (It played at the Woodward Theater last month.) That film, an edgy and smart comedy in which a young bi-sexual Jewish woman (Sennott) attends a shiva with her parents and runs into both an old girlfriend and a male “sugar daddy,” netted Seligman enough attention to get Bottoms distributed by Orion Pictures, owned by Amazon’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer media company.

Jules

[Watch the trailer. Screening now at Mariemont Theatre.]

I didn’t include Jules in my August film preview because I didn’t know what to expect from this “E.T. for seniors,” as the media has been calling it. It’s an odd tale on paper, about an elderly man (Ben Kingsley), living alone in a small western Pennsylvania town, who gives shelter to an alien from outer space (the Jules of the title) when the latter unexpectedly lands in his backyard. I feared a sentimental, hoary comedy.

But I’ve now seen Marc Turtletaub’s film, and it’s really quite moving. There’s a gentle, low-key humor underscored by quiet melancholy, but it has a surprisingly absurdist/black humor strain that, when it pops up unexpectedly, works surprisingly well. Kingsley is superb, aided by two women (Harriet Sansom Harris and Jane Curtin) who can be quite determined about helping Jules. The film seems to have found an audience at the Mariemont, staying on for several weeks. It’s definitely worth seeing.

“King Coal”

King Coal

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. September 11 at Woodward Theater, Over-the-Rhine.]

Based on early reviews, King Coal is a candidate to be the best indie/specialty film to play Cincinnati this month. Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s film is being promoted as using magic realism to “contemplate Appalachia’s historical relationship to coal and imagine a future beyond (it).” The director is a native of the coal region; born in West Virginia, she now lives in the emerging arts hotspot of Knoxville, Tennessee.

When the film opened in New York in early August, New York Times critic Robert Daniels wrote a Critic’s Pick review so nicely composed that it deserves to be read in full. In part, he says, “Sheldon’s film doesn’t answer what lies ahead. Rather, the poignantly poetic rhythms and wistful insights of King Coal are meant to provide closure. Healing in her documentary can take form in on-the-nose metaphors, such as the film staging a literal funeral for the anthropomorphized King Coal, or move through subtler means, like the sharing of oral history by locals in several Appalachian states.”

Leave Her to Heaven

[Watch the original trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. September 19 and 4 p.m. September 24 at Garfield Theatre, downtown.]

“Leave Her to Heaven”

Tim Swallow, who heads Cincinnati World Cinema, believes there’s a need to show good prints of film noir classics in a local theater. Luckily, the Garfield at 719 Race Street is the right place, and it has the right film: a restored version of Leave Her to Heaven, a 1945 Technicolor Hollywood landmark about a newly married couple in which the husband (Cornel Wilde) discovers his wife (Gene Tierney) has an extreme jealous streak. The film was nominated for four Oscars (including one for Tierney) and won one for its color cinematography. John Alberti, a Northern Kentucky University professor, will lead a post-screening discussion. Get ticket info here.

“Carlos”

Carlos: The Santana Journey

[Watch the trailer. Screens on September 23 and 27 at various theaters and September 24 and 27 at Mariemont Theatre.]

I’m surprised one of our theaters doesn’t just devote a screen full-time to rock docs, as often as new ones are coming to town. This month brings Carlos: The Santana Journey, the story of the famous musician’s life from his time as a 14-year-old street musician to his elite status as a Grammy-winning guitarist whose playing deftly combines the spiritual with a knack for pop catchiness.

Mr. Jimmy (and other music docs)

[Watch the trailer. Opens September 25 at Esquire Theatre.]

If that’s not enough for a while, the Mariemont and the Esquire are listing as “Coming Attractions” the documentaries Mr. Jimmy—about a Japanese guitarist who devotes himself to recreating Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin parts note-for-note—and Joan Baez: I Am a Noise. Also, for those who missed Have You Got It: The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd at its previous screenings around town, Woodward Theater is bringing it back for a command appearance on September 18. And in the offing is the remastered 2023 version of the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, called one of the greatest rock concert movies when it debuted in 1984 and still considered that today. And while it’s not exactly rock—it’s bigger than that—Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour concert documentary arrives October 13. Will there be much Cincinnati footage?

“The American Dreamer”

The American Dreamer

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 12:30 p.m. September 24 at Speed Art Museum Cinema in Louisville.]

Dennis Hopper’s route to enduring fame has been a strange thing. Isolated to minor movies in the 1960s as an unreliable “difficult” actor, he somehow managed to direct and star in his own countercultural film, 1969’s Easy Rider. He was suddenly the future of American cinema and had a rock-star-level following among the nation’s young. But the failure of his ambitious auteurist follow-up, 1971’s The Last Movie, along with his hyper-excitably personality and gun fetish, cooled his career in the 1970s. His most well-known role of that decade, as a crazed photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, was effective for the film but did little to improve his image.

But everything changed for him in 1986, when he received an Oscar nomination for the sentimental role of an alcoholic assistant basketball coach in Hoosiers, and he galvanized every second of his screentime as the psychotically mesmerizing Frank Booth, a kind of “monster from the id” set loose in a small town in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Hopper pretty much never stopped working after that year until he died in 2010, in movies both forgettable (Hell Ride) and quite good (Elegy, based on a Philip Roth novel). He’s now revered as a great American actor; there’s probably a film festival devoted to him somewhere.

Overlooked amid all the renewed interest in his work is a prescient 1971 documentary, The American Dreamer, from L.M. Kit Carson and Lawrence Schiller. Barely released at the time and then lost, it emerged restored on DVD in 2016 and now is slowly visiting cinematheques, including Louisville’s Speed Museum Cinema. Its website gives a good description of what to expect: “A film crew follows Hopper as he begins post-production for The Last Movie on his New Mexico ranch and muses candidly about art, filmmaking, photography, sex, politics, and drugs as a leading figure in the shifting countercultural landscape of the early 1970s.” It’s recommended for ages 16-plus. Tickets are free.

Incidentally, film co-director Schiller will be delivering the keynote address for the Louisville Photo Biennial at 5:30 September 21 at the Speed Museum’s Great Hall. Tickets are free; register here. Besides documentary films, Schiller’s career has included still photos as well as other works of distinguished photojournalism. He produced a landmark pictorial expose with W. Eugene Smith in 1975, Minamata, about mercury poisoning in Japan. He also had a close working relationship with the novelist Norman Mailer, a man potentially more explosive than Hopper.

“Fioretta”

Fioretta

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7 p.m. September 28 at Mariemont Theatre.]

Randol Schoenberg is known for being the grandson of the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg and also for being the Los Angeles lawyer who helped an Austrian Jewish woman recover Gustav Klimt paintings confiscated by the Nazis after the took control of Austria in 1938. Her story was told in the 2015 film Woman in Gold. Now he has another major accomplishment: He and his son Joey are the subjects of a new documentary, Fioretta, that follows their search for family roots in Europe. A screening at the Mariemont is a special presentation of the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust Center, the Mayerson JCC, and Cindependent Film Festival. Directed by Matthew Mishory, the film is frequently touching and humanistic and has excellent cinematography.

Schoenberg will lecture at the Cincinnati Museum Center at 5:30 p.m. September 27. Admission is free, but reservations are needed and available here.

Cincinnati Psychotronic Film Festival

[Screenings are September 21-23 at Esquire Theatre.]

Clifton’s Torn Light Records, super-informed on all the many cultist niches that give pop culture and contemporary arts such incredible variety, presents its second annual Cincinnati Psychotronic Film Festival this month.

September 21 brings Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, a 1965 film from an auteur of sexploitation movies, Russ Meyer, and 1997’s Perdita Durango, starring Rosie Perez and Javier Bardem. The September 22 offers The Claw, a documentary about wrestler Baron von Raschke; The Dragon Lives Again, a 1977 Hong Kong release in which the deceased Bruce Lee comes back to fight a bevvy of pop culture villains; and 1988’s Deadbeat at Dawn, a gritty, low-budget action flick filmed in Dayton, Ohio. The fest wraps up on September 23 with 1990’s Frankenhooker, in which a medical student wants to recreate his decapitated fiancée by assembling parts from Manhattan prostitutes (IMDb.com warns that it’s “incorrectly regarded as goof”); House, a 1977 Japanese horror comedy that has developed a keen U.S. following for its artistry; and 1989’s Dr. Caligari. Ticket info is here.

Cindependent Film Festival

[Watch the trailer. Screenings are September 29-30 at Memorial Hall, Over-the-Rhine.]

Welcome back to the Cindependent Film Festival in full recognizable form for the first time since pre-COVID pandemic. The film programming consists of 75 movies, the great majority of which are shorts submitted by filmmakers locally and nationally. They’ll be presented in screening blocks of 75-85 minutes in length.

Allyson West, executive director of the nonprofit fest, is additionally enthusiastic about the showing of two feature films. Booked is described on the fest’s website as being about two high school theater geeks who, after being snubbed for roles in the senior musical, get even by auditioning for the world’s top BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) musical theater program. It was made by two UC College-Conservatory of Music alums.

Citizen Sleuth, a documentary by Chris Kasick that premiered at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, follows an Appalachian true-crime podcaster as she investigates the death of a local girl. “(It) examines the ethics of the true crime genre and how the power of narrative affects truth, victims and communities”, according to the festival.

Booked screens at 3 p.m. September 30 and Citizen Sleuth at 7 p.m. that same day. Ticket info is here.

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