Almost always a high point, the archival section of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) truly blossoms this year with a collection of revivals that emphasize the maturing work of Luis Bunuel, Peter Sellers, Melvyn Douglas, Catherine Deneuve, Hal Ashby and Kenji Mizoguchi.
Perhaps the pinnacle of Ashby’s career, “Being There” (1979) is the gently satirical story of an enigmatic gardener named Chance (Sellers) who draws most of his inspiration from TV. Ashby sets him loose in contemporary Washington, D.C., where the movers and shakers adopt him as one of their own.
Douglas won an Oscar for playing one of his most enthusiastic fans. Sellers was nominated, and Shirley MacLaine should have been. The movie looks scarily prophetic in the Trump era, although Chance is a much more appealing character. Sellers and Douglas died not long after its release; Ashby passed in 1988.
Over the years, the character of Chance has seemed to change with the times, becoming a more isolated and commanding creation.
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“There is no explanation for his isolation,” Ashby said when I interviewed him in 1980. “Everyone told us it was a one-joke idea, but to me the character was solid. There was no doubt in my mind that people would have a good time with him and I’d be able to make a comment. I never had anyone but Peter in mind.”
The Criterion Collection recently brought out a bells-and-whistles DVD/Blu Ray that includes lots of extras. But you should grab the chance to see it on the big screen at noon, June 2, at SIFF Uptown.
“Hal,” a new documentary on Ashby, also plays the festival, 6 p.m. June 1 and 12:30 p.m. June 3 at SIFF Uptown.
Douglas’ last film – now available on video – is an ambitious ghost story with George C. Scott called “The Changeling.” It gets a rare screening at 6:30 p.m. June 5 at the SIFF Uptown. Set in Seattle but mostly filmed in British Columbia, it introduces Scott as a New York music teacher who has lost his wife and daughter. He relocates to a spooky mansion in Seattle.
More archival specials at the festival:
“Belle du Jour”: Luis Bunuel’s kinky, dreamy 1967 tale of a housewife (Catherine Deneuve) who becomes a sex worker. 6:30 p.m. May 28, at SIFF Uptown.
“Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day”: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 television series makes a long-delayed U.S. appearance. 10 a.m. May 19 marathon screening, 6:30 p.m. May 23 (Parts 1 and 2), 7 p.m. May 30 (Parts 3 and 4), 7 p.m. June 6 (Part 5) all at SIFF Film Center.
“The Crime of Monsieur Lange”: Restored version of Jean Renoir’s 1936 farce about the publishing business. 2 p.m. June 3, at SIFF Uptown.
“Sansho the Bailiff”: Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 epic of medieval Japan. 2 p.m. May 20, at SIFF Uptown.