New Orleans Film Festival
The New Orleans Film Festival kicks off Friday with the local premiere of Welcome to the Rileys, starring James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) as a traveling businessman who befriends an underage hooker (Kristen Stewart) while he and his wife (Melissa Leo) struggle with their marriage. The film was shot in New Orleans and is one of the festival's many features, documentaries and other films with local ties. Major studio films screening at the festival in advance of fall release dates include Black Swan, 127 Hours, Conviction and Blue Valentine. Foreign films range from the third installment of Stieg Larsson's millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, to the Hong Kong remake of the Coen brothers' Blood Simple, A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop, and director Taylor Hackford's Love Ranch, with his wife Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci starring as Nevada brothel owners. There also is a wide array of documentary films, some of which are previewed below. Visit the festival website (www.neworleansfilmsociety.org) for full schedule and details.
Directed by Elijah Drenner
7 p.m. Mon. & Wed., Oct. 18 & 20
Chalmette Movies, 8700 W. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette
Even if it were just the longest series of trailers for exploitation films to add to your Netflix queue, American Grindhouse is an orgy of strange and guilty vicarious pleasures. By the time it gets to the mid-1970s films Wham Bam Thank You, Spaceman and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, you'll weep for humanity's dark and insatiably curious soul, or feel relief that you are not alone.
Grindhouse is actually a chronicle of exploitation films going back to the earliest days of the industry, when Thomas Edison was pushing prurient topics to drum up interest in movies. Filmmakers found creative and devious ways to get nudity, sex, violence, carnival sideshow entertainers and more absurd topics on screen. There were films ostensibly about hygiene, childbirth, abortion, prostitution, drugs and abuse. Gimmicks blossomed into genres, including beach films, "nudie cuties," for which Russ Meyer became famous, "roughies," combining sexuality and violence, blaxploitation, horror and gore, women biker gang and lesbian prison films. Most of these films had low-budget aesthetics, but continuously, whatever sold tickets at shady theaters soon found its way into more mainstream, higher-budget, major studio productions. Film noir and modern horror blockbusters had antecedents in B-movies. Director Elijah Drenner's film covers a lot of territory about the changes in the movie industry over seven decades, and it's both a titillating and smart look at the veiled but close relationship between racy and vulgar entertainments and popular culture.
The Canal Street Madam
Directed by Cameron Yates
4 p.m. Sat., Oct. 16
The Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania St.
7:15 p.m. Sun., Oct. 17
The Theatres at Canal Place, 333 Canal St.
Cameron Yates' film about Jeanette Maier, The Canal Street Madam, doesn't break any news about her infamous brothel on Canal Street, which became the subject of an extensive FBI investigation and national news when it was finally busted. Tapes of johns arranging for sex, caught on thousands of wiretapped calls, provide some entertaining moments in the documentary, but during most of the film, Maier and her family talk about how they got into and were affected by the prostitution business, including Maier's daughter working for her.
Yates' film dwells on a couple of important issues. One is the profound injustice of busting the prostitutes but not the clients, and it's all the more outrageous when the men are elected officials who are supposed to oversee the creation and enforcement of laws. Of course, the film covers Maier's accusation that Sen. David Vitter was one of her brothel's clients. Maier also is an advocate for decriminalization of prostitution, saying it's a victimless crime between consenting adults. Unfortunately, after seening the toll it has taken on her and her children, it doesn't seem like a terribly viable family business.
Cigarettes and Nylons
Directed by Fabrice Cazeneuve
7 p.m. Sun., Oct. 17
Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania St.
Glen Pitre (Belizaire the Cajun) executive produced this made for French and German TV movie about a group of several French war brides as World War II winds down and they move to the U.S. Several women meet in one of the army-run camps where they are "Americanized" before crossing the Atlantic to be with their soldier husbands. There are many cultural barriers to address, and some of the couples don't yet speak the same language. And once married to a Yank, many women find themselves unwelcome in their French communities. It's a warm portrait of determination and perseverance during the difficult transitions from wartime to peace and exotic romance to married life. The film was shot outside of Paris and at several locations around New Orleans and South Louisiana.
Directed by Ben Steinbauer
7:30 p.m. Fri., Oct. 15; 7:15 p.m. Sun., Oct. 17; 7 p.m. Tue., Oct. 19
Chalmette Movies, 8700 W. Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette
Before there was viral video on the Internet, there were tape traders, especially filmmakers who dealt in absurdities caught on video. One of the stars of that era was Jack Rebney, a blustering curmudgeon cast in a marketing video for a then new line of Winnebago campers (discussing "new modular concepts"). The film crew saved countless takes gone awry as Rebney descended into profanity-laced tirades about bad scripts, forgetting his lines and flies on the campground shoot.
Austin, Texas-based filmmaker Ben Steinbauer got curious about what happened to Rebney. He filmed his quest to find the reclusive onetime spokesman and show the world the real person otherwise immortalized as "the angriest man in the world." Rebney still has plenty to say, but he resists letting anyone else film him again. The postmodern leap from obscure clip to real time is less hazardous than Rebney's volatile temper, but both filmmaker and subject find satisfaction when he reconnects with his fans.