By now it's pretty clear that time has not always been kind to many of the offerings in the UCLA--LACMA "Comedy, Italian Style" series. A case in point is Luciano Salce's 1961 "The Fascist," which screens Thursday at LACMA's Bing Theater following an 8 p.m. screening of Mario Monicelli's "The Great War."
"The Fascist" is yet another darkly humorous look back at World War II, which may have been cathartic at the time for Italian audiences but which seems more tedious than amusing today. Set in 1944, it stars Ugo Tognazzi as a comically zealous fascist who's arrested a distinguished professor (Georges Wilson, the veteran French character actor) slated to head a peacetime leftist government. Neither their adventures nor their dialogue on freedom and democracy is particularly inspired or fresh. Phone: (213) 857-6201.
Happily, Antonio Pietrangeli's 1964 "The Visit" (at UCLA Melnitz Saturday at 7:30, followed by Dino Risi's 1962 classic, "The Easy Life") is a deliciously funny tale about an adorable small-town spinster (Sandra Milo) with Lillian Russell hips, perfect '60s kitsch decor, a turtle named Consuelo--and a mousy-looking visiting suitor (Francois Perier) she's met through the personals and whom we most urgently hope will mean her no harm. Phones: (213) 825-2581, 825-6201.
LACMA will present a most welcome Michael Powell film series on Fridays and Saturdays in Bing Theater at 8 p.m. Powell, who collaborated frequently with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, remains one of the most assured, venturesome and entertaining stylists in the generally overly genteel and talky British cinema.
"The Red Shoes" (1948), which launches the series Friday, remains one of the most famous British films. It has inspired countless adolescent girls the world over to dream of becoming ballerinas. (Never mind that once its beautiful auburn-haired heroine, Moira Shearer, donned her scarlet slippers she was unable to stop dancing!)
Other Powell favorites include the overwrought "Black Narcissus" (1947) and "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940).
But the chief virtue of the series is that it allows for the rediscovery of an amusing, unpretentious gem like "Contraband" (1940), which follows the screening of "Thief" on Saturday. "Contraband" is typical of World War II British spy pictures celebrating an understated, devil-may-care heroism designed to boost public morale. The film has such offhand wit, ingenuity and sophistication as to bring to mind Hitchcock.
The great, leonine star of German silents, Conrad Veidt, by then in British exile, plays a worldly, dashing Danish sea captain who has an exciting escapade in blacked-out London--terrific suspenseful atmosphere here--with coolly elegant English secret agent Valerie Hobson. "Contraband" allows Veidt, famed for his intense, tormented characterizations, all the way back to "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," a rare opportunity to become a continental Cary Grant. Phone: (213) 857-6201.
Bill Viola's 90-minute, avant-garde video feature "I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like" premieres in the Mark Goodson Theater at the American Film Institute Saturday at 8 p.m.
Taking its title from the Rig Veda, an ancient religious Hindu text, it is a challenging, wildly imaginative (and occasionally just plain tedious) work that represents a bold attempt on the part of Viola to find himself in nature. In doing so, among other activities, he peers endlessly into the eyes of fish, birds and animals, records a ritual testing by fire and acupuncture in Fiji and celebrates the beauty of the South Dakota wilderness. His final sequence is a real stunner worth waiting for: a reconciliation of self with the eternal cycle of life and death. Phone: (213) 856-7787.
In "The Dream Screen" (7:30 tonight at at the Filmforum, Wallenboyd Center) experimental film maker Stephanie Beroes pays homage to Louise Brooks and her great film for Pabst, "Pandora's Box," and discusses the classic legend of Pandora as a way of exploring the timeless conflict between a woman's image and the reality of her self. Beroes has a striking visual sense but needs to get more of her ideas off her narration sound track and up their on the screen. Phones: (213) 387-2000; (714) 628-7331.