Cinema of Neglect: the 1970s. Fontbonne University presents a series dedicated to highlighting underappreciated films of the '70s. This week features Bill Gunn's Ganja and Hess (1972). One of the most shamefully overlooked films of the '70s, director Gunn's Ganja and Hess is a hauntingly beautiful and original work that becomes more interesting with repeat viewings. Butchered by distributors hoping to cash in on the blaxploitation and horror trends, Gunn's film is often described as a vampire story, but any generic label fails to do justice to the film's complexity. Wealthy anthropologist Hess Green (played by Duane Jones, best known as the hero of Night of the Living Dead) becomes infected by the same parasitic virus that destroyed an ancient African civilization, but his newly developed taste for blood leads not into the melodramatic trappings of coffins and garlic but into a mesmerizing and sensual meditation on desire, culture and race. Aided by beautiful cinematography, a strong gospel- and jazz-tinged score by Sam Waymon and fine, understated performances by Jones, Marlene Clark and Gunn himself, Ganja and Hess is a neglected landmark; its first public screening in this area in more than twenty years is long overdue. Plays at 7 p.m. September 17 at the Fontbonne University Library. (RH)
Reel Late Midnight Movie Series. The Tivoli Theatre presents a series of classic and destined to be classic films. This week features Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko (2001). As emotionally rich as it is intellectually demanding, Kelly's feature directorial debut is an eerie, heartbreaking portrait of a deeply troubled, perhaps psychotic adolescent. Jake Gyllenhaal (The Good Girl) gives one of the year's best performances as a contemporary Holden Caulfield whose increasingly hostile behavior toward others masks a deep despair about life and his place in it. After experiencing a near-death experience, he begins to see strange, inexplicable sights that suggest he has acquired supernatural abilities. Straddling the line between drama and fantasy, the story is open to numerous interpretations, but viewers who read the film as a sci-fi exploration of time travel will have sorely missed the film's point -- as well as its beauty and strength. Working in perfect synch with director Kelly is cameraman Steven Poster, whose cinematography captures the mystery and darkness -- both literal and metaphorical -- that pervade this exceptional film. Like gathering storm clouds, Donnie Darko creates an atmosphere of eerie calm and mounting menace. One of last year's best films. Also playing is Flesh Gordon. Donnie Darko plays at midnight September 13, noon and midnight September 14 and noon September 15. Flesh Gordon plays at midnight September 13-14. (JO)
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