Wednesday, July 24, 2024

If this column has felt a little thin in recent weeks, there’s a reason: The Harvard Film Archive, a perennial cornerstone of Cambridge’s film scene (not to mention one of the most renowned and unique cinematic institutions in the country), was forced to close its doors unexpectedly in May for an emergency replacement of its electrical system. But the HFA plans to reopen in September and begin a long-awaited retrospective of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville that had been set to run over the summer. In the meantime, it has partnered with The Brattle Theatre for a preview series, “Melville et cie” (or “Melville and company”), which runs Friday through Tuesday.

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Though often lumped in with the French New Wave (Godard famously cast him in a cameo in “Breathless”), Melville is more properly classified as an influence, and was part of a brief movement (the “and company” of the series’ title) that bridged the gap between the more stately French films of the 1950s and the free-wheeling anarchy of the nouvelle vague. Melville specialized in a severe, almost minimalist take on American gangster pictures and film noir. His best-known film, “Le Samouraï” (1967), stars Alain Delon as a ronin-like Parisian hitman with a strict moral code; it serves as the centerpiece of the series in a dazzling new 4K restoration. Elsewhere, Melville capitalizes on the unflappable cool of his “Breathless” co-star Jean-Paul Belmondo in films such as “Le Doulos” (or “The Informer,” 1962) and “Leon Morin, Priest” (1961). As advertised, the series also includes a smattering of films from like-minded directors, such as Jacques Becker’s prison-break classic “Le Trou” (“The Hole,” 1960) and Claude Sautet’s “Classe tous risques” (“The Big Risk,” 1960, also with Belmondo). Each of the featured films runs in multiple showtimes across several days – see the Brattle website for the full schedule and ticketing info.

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On Saturday, the Somerville Theatre presents a 35 mm screening of one of the most purely enjoyable horror comedies of the 1980s: Tom Holland’s “Fright Night” (1985). The film stars William Ragsdale as an all-American teenager who becomes convinced his new neighbor (an impossibly suave Christopher Lambert) is actually an evil vampire. Naturally, none of the adults in his life believe him, so he turns to the one person who might, faded horror actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who has been reduced to hosting a “Svengoolie”-like late-night movie show on local TV. “Fright Night” takes a lovably simple premise and plays it for both scares and laughs; the cast is uniformly game, and McDowall in particular is wonderful as the reluctant vampire-slayer (true to his character’s name, McDowall has a blast channeling Peter Cushing and Vincent Price in equal measure). The screening is co-presented by the podcast The Spooky Picture Show and the annual convention MonstahXpo, which will take place in Nashua, New Hampshire, on July 13-14 and feature “Fright Night” cast members Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Dorothy Fielding and Stephen Geoffreys (Evil Ed himself!) in person.

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The theme of July’s Retro Replay series at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema is music, and it kicks off Tuesday with one of the greatest concert films of all time in Mel Stuart’s “Wattstax” (1973). Presented by the legendary soul label Stax Records on the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, the Wattstax concert was conceived as a Black answer to Woodstock. The lineup, plucked largely from the Stax roster, includes some of the greatest Black artists of the 20th century, including the Staples Singers, Albert King, the Bar-Kays, Rufus and Carla Thomas (performing separately) and the great Isaac Hayes at the absolute height of his powers. As if the bill of the concert itself wasn’t sufficiently stacked (no pun intended), the film version includes a handful of additional performances by the likes of Johnnie Taylor, Little Milton and Richard Pryor. If, like me, you were born too late to see these artists in person, catching this on the big screen is the next best thing.

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The average moviegoer is understandably annoyed with the increasingly lengthy block of trailers shown before a feature at a chain theater, but what if the only problem is that modern trailers aren’t good enough? A great trailer, after all, is a work of art in its own right, and plenty can rightly be called more entertaining than the films they were crafted to advertise. Such is the premise of The Brattle Theatre’s beloved annual Trailer Treats festival, which presents a full evening of wild and wooly coming attractions, curated lovingly into a cinematic mixtape and screened on 35 mm. This year, the program coincides with the 50th anniversary of two films whose previews have become Trailer Treats staples: Brian De Palma’s outré glam-rock thriller “Phantom of the Paradise” and John Boorman’s sci-fi head-scratcher “Zardoz” (tagline: “ZARDOZ!!!”), which screen in a double feature July 10 and July 11. Trailer Treats itself runs July 11, and it truly is about as fun as a trip to the movies can be. Think of it as a movie marathon, only condensed into two hours – and, crucially, with all the boring parts snipped out.


Oscar Goff is a writer and film critic based in Somerville. He is film editor and senior critic for the Boston Hassle and his work has appeared in the monthly Boston Compass newspaper and publications such as WBUR’s The ARTery and iHeartNoise. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Online Film Critics Society.