Attenborough's Pinkie Points to a Great Career.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on the Boulting Brothers' Brighton Rock (1948) were written by Cinematheque Programmer and Project Assistant Amanda McQueen. A 35mm print of Brighton Rock from Rialto Pictures will screen on Saturday, March 28, at 7 p.m. in 4070 Vilas Hall. The screening is the first of two that highlight the superb villainy of the late actor Richard Attenborough.

By Amanda McQueen

When Lord Richard Attenborough passed away in August 2014 at the age of 90, he left behind a career as an actor, producer, and director spanning an impressive 65 years – from his first minor role in 1942 to his final directorial feature in 2007. His diverse filmography holds no shortage of excellent performances, but one of his earliest is routinely singled out: juvenile gangster Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock (1948). Although initial reception of the film was mixed, it has since become a canonized classic of British cinema, in no small part because of Attenborough's performance.

Graham Greene's 1938 novel Brighton Rock was adapted for the screen ten years after the book’s publication by twin brothers John and Roy Boulting; John acted as director, Roy as producer. Greene, in collaboration with Terence Rattigan, wrote the screenplay. Thanks to its literary origins and the strong reputation of the Boutling brothers, Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) – second only to the Rank Organization in terms of industrial clout – assigned the project a budget of £178,000, a mid-sized budget for the time but more than was generally allotted for a gangster picture. For ABPC, Brighton Rock was primarily a genre film – another entry in the popular post-war cycle of crime films – not a prestigious literary adaptation. Nevertheless, the Boultings were given a great deal of freedom during production and a lengthy shooting schedule of nearly six months.

Greene believed that films were most effective when they fused melodrama with realism, and the Boultings, known for cinematic depictions of social issues, concurred. The events depicted in the film were rooted in the real-life criminal underworld of 1930s Britain, when illegal cash gambling was a huge industry controlled by corrupt officials and gangs armed with straight razors. The seaside resort of Brighton, with its lavish hotels and racetrack, was a particularly notorious site for adultery, illicit gambling, and murder (despite assertions to the contrary, the town's reputation had not changed by 1948). For Greene, Brighton's contrasting sides – its bright, sophisticated exterior and its seedy underbelly – made it the ideal setting for an examination of good and evil. Brighton Rock’s production team thus sought to convey the town’s symbolic duality while also keeping the action rooted in a realistic world.

Creating an authentic Brighton on screen was accomplished in part through location shooting. Contrary to popular myth, however, the bulk of the film was shot at ABPC's small studio at Welwyn and on MGM's large soundstages at Elstree, where Brighton landmarks like the Cosmopolitan Hotel and the seaside promenade were meticulously recreated. It’s a testament to John Howell’s art direction, Harry Waxman’s cinematography, and Peter Graham Scott’s editing that the location footage and studio footage are so seamlessly combined. To further assist in the creation of a believable criminal milieu, Roy Boulting brought in Carl Ramon, a card shark and ex-member of the Sabini gang, which had ruled Brighton Racecourse in the 1930s. It was Ramon who would instruct Attenborough on how to speak, walk, and dress like an authentic spiv.

Attenborough also had the advantage of having played Pinkie before. The stage version of Brighton Rock opened in the West End in 1943. Greene had wanted an unknown actor for the lead, and the twenty-year-old Attenborough, a recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art with only two minor film roles under his belt, was just that. Greene was initially unsure whether the actor's round, boyish face could connote the required evilness of the character, but Attenborough quickly won him over. His strong stage performance and the close relationship he formed with the Boultings during their time together in the RAF Film Unit assured that he would be brought in to reprise the role on film (Attenborough wasn't the only import, however; five other actors came with him from the stage version). With John Boulting's help, Attenborough learned how to tailor his performance to the intimacy of the screen and realistically convey his character's complex psychology. But while some contemporary reviewers believed that "Attenborough's performance . . . is so good that one loses all sense of its being a performance," not everyone agreed. The Daily Express famously quipped that "the film version of Pinkie is about as close to the real thing as Donald Duck is to Greta Garbo."

The range of responses to Attenborough's Pinkie were part of a larger debate about the fidelity of Brighton Rock to its source material. Adapting Greene's dark, heavily symbolic tale to the screen had not been easy. When he discovered that the theatrical adaptation had softened his novel's ending, Greene was furious. Yet he also stated that the original ending was too bleak for mainstream commercial cinema and approved Rattigan's suggestion to give Pinkie's wife Rose (Carol Marsh) a moment of happiness at the film's conclusion. Complaints that Brighton Rock lost something in translation might also derive from the fact that distributor Pathé insisted on cutting several scenes to make the film run a tight 92 minutes and fit on a double bill. Some have argued that by deleting expository scenes explaining Pinkie's background, the film becomes more thriller than social drama. Rather than being seen as a product of his poverty and upbringing, Pinkie is reduced to a monster, pure and simple. Finally, Brighton Rock was replete with violence and references to Catholicism, neither of which made it past the British Board of Film Censors completely intact. But even in its approved, somewhat diluted form, Brighton Rock was too brutal for some tastes. Daily Mirror film critic Reg Whitley condemned it as "false, cheap, nasty sensationalism" that no woman would go to see. The rate of adolescent incarceration was also rising rapidly in Britain, and many thought that popular entertainment should portray positive values, not razor-wielding teenage delinquents.

Of course, controversy often helps box office, and Brighton Rock was one of ABPC's top grossing films of the year. But its success was limited to the domestic market. Pathé worried the film wasn't exportable, even briefly changing its title to The Worst Sin out of concern that foreign audiences wouldn't be familiar with Brighton and the hard candy to which the titular "rock" refers. Foreign censor boards also posed a problem. Brighton Rock was banned in Holland, and ABPC didn't even submit the film to Hollywood's Production Code Administration, fearing it would demand additional cuts. Warner Bros., part-owner of ABPC, refused to distribute the film without a PCA seal, and so Brighton Rock didn't make it to America until 1951, when indie distributor Mayer-Kingsley gave it a limited release (without PCA approval) under the title Young Scarface.

Over time, Brighton Rock has come to be seen as a film ahead of its time in terms of performance and style. In 1999, it placed 15th on the BFI's poll of the 100 best British films of the 20th century, having been embraced as a brilliantly chilling depiction of the nation's dark side. And although the role of Pinkie Brown caused Attenborough to be typecast for a number of years as a spiv and a baby-faced teenager, there is little doubt that it launched the career of a man who would become an institution of the British film industry.

A Taste of Il Cinema Ritrovato This Weekend!

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

By Jim Healy, Director of Programming, UW Cinematheque & Wisconsin Film Festival

This coming Friday and Saturday, March 20 & 21, the Cinematheque will offer a small sampling of one of the world’s greatest Film Festivals, Il Cinema Ritrovato. Held annually in Bologna, Italy over eight days during the early summer, Il Cinema Ritrovato (“Rediscovered Cinema”) is the leading event in the realm of retrospective and repertory festivals and is presented by that mecca for film culture and preservation, the Cineteca di Bologna.

I am increasingly convinced that there are no “old” or “new” movies, just movies I have or have not seen, and that the only true test of a movie’s greatness is how it holds up 40, 50, even 100 years after its first release. The sheer volume of great movies that I have been able to see during my three visits so far to Il Cinema Ritrovato has reinforced my faith in cinema’s past. At this feast for cinephiles, you don’t have to rigorously plan your viewing or worry about catching up with the “buzz”. All you need to do is place yourself in the capable hands of the tasteful and knowledgeable programmers, who have been, for the most recent editions, the late cinema historian and filmmaker Peter von Bagh; the Cineteca di Bologna’s Director, Gian Luca Farinelli; the celebrated curator Mariann Lewinsky; and Il Cinema Ritrovato’s Festival Coordinator, Guy Borlée, among others.

Il Cinema Ritrovato programming usually contains some focus on Japanese cinema (last year was a selection of the best early sound films from Japan) and a series that offers highlights of moviegoing from exactly 100 years ago. Plus, “Ritrovati e Restaurati” (“Recovered and Restored”), an annual selection that brings not just new restorations of canonized titles, but the new prints and DCPs are usually accompanied by the leading names in film preservation and restoration, who are present to discuss their valued work. The most recent edition of Ritrovati e Restaurati, in 2014, included scrubbed-up versions of A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1948), both of which are Cinematheque selections this spring; Plus: Carne’s Le Jour se Leve (1939); Paradjanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1969), and two titles that will play in our upcoming Wisconsin Film Festival: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Ettore Scola’s black comedy Il Piu bella serrata della mia vita (The Most Beautiful Evening of My Life, 1971).

To name just a few of the many personal viewing highlights and discoveries since my first trip to Bologna in 2011: retrospectives of the somewhat forgotten Italian directors Riccardo Freda and Luigi Zampa, particularly Zampa’s 1954 Gina Lolobrigida vehicle, La Romana and Freda’s medieval family melodrama, Beatrice Cenci (1956); a program of 16mm “soundies” – short musical performances made for vintage video jukeboxes; a Howard Hawks tribute that placed an emphasis on the legendary Hollywood director’s earlier work, especially his hard-to-see movies from the silent era; a series focusing on French auteur Jean Gremillon that revealed him to be, for me, the equal of Jean Renoir; von Bagh’s “Cinema at War Against Hitler” program, which introduced me to John Farrow’s The Hitler Gang (1944) and Frank Tuttle’s The Magic Face (1951); and a selection of the best episodes from Italian omnibus features (in particular Guglielmo il dentone, Luigi Filippo D’Amico’s hilarious episode from Il Complessi (1965) starring Alberto Sordi).

I am also continually impressed with the highly civilized fashion in which films are presented. Viewers usually have to choose between one of four venues: the two screens at the Cineteca di Bologna’s campus and the larger sized Cinemas Jolly and Arlecchino. The first morning screenings usually begin around 9 a.m. and the last morning sessions usually end around 1 p.m. This gives all festival-goers a 60-90 minute lunch break before the first afternoon sessions begin around 2:30. The afternoon and early evening screenings usually wrap up around 7 or 8 p.m., which gives everyone a 2 or 3-hour dinner break before the final screening of the evening begins at 10:30 p.m. in the magnificent outdoor setting of Bologna’s grand Piazza Maggiore (see attached picture). Attendance at Il Cinema Ritrovato has been on the rise over the last few editions and the festival organizers might want to take a closer look at managing the growing queues, especially at the smaller venues. That said, the crowds are usually of a manageable size and it is very easy to see five or six movies a day without much stress. An all-festival pass, which also includes admission to dozens of discussion sessions and panels with filmmakers, critics and preservationists, is quite a bargain at less than 100 Euros.

At our Cinematheque event this weekend we will welcome Il Cinema Ritrovato’s Festival Coordinator, Guy Borlée, who will present four programs of movies all restored at Cineteca di Bologna and screened at a recent edition of the festival. On Friday, March 20 at 7 p.m., our series begins with two landmarks in African cinema, Ousmane Sembene’s short Borrom Sarret (1969) and Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Senegalese feature, Touki Bouki (1973).

On Saturday, March 21, Borlée will introduce three very different movies: at 2 p.m., Love Everlasting (Ma L’amour Mio Non Muore!, 1913), a silent vehicle for one of the great divas of the Italian stage, Lyda Borelli; at 4 p.m. an American underground classic, not seen for many years, Brand X (1970), conceived and directed by the late Wynn Chamberlain; and at 7 p.m., one of the great masterpieces of all time, Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders.

Perhaps our screenings will whet your appetite and inspire a trip to Bologna this June/July when Il Cinema Ritrovato will present its 29th edition. Plans for this year include salutes to comedy and melodrama master Leo McCarey and the early movies of Ingrid Bergman; “The Soviet Thaw 1953-1957”; “Jazz Goes to the Movies”; and early Japanese color cinema. You can read more about the upcoming edition and purchase your festival passes here.



Monday, March 16th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

The UW Cinematheque is announcing a schedule change within its currently running ‘Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen: Universal ‘71’ series. After confirming a booking last fall, Universal Pictures has discovered that their 35mm print of Red Sky at Morning is in deteriorating condition and cannot be loaned for our screening, originally scheduled for March 29. In place of Red Sky at Morning, Universal is making available a 35mm print of Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, one of the few of Universal’s low-budget slate in 1971 to turn a profit! The screening of Play Misty for Me will take place one week after the March 22 screening of The Beguiled, also starring Eastwood and directed by his mentor, Don Siegel, who appears as a bartender in Play Misty.

The screening of Play Misty for Me, on March 29 at 2 p.m., will be held in the auditorium at:

Chazen Museum of Art

750 University Avenue

Madison, WI 53706


USA | 1971 | 35mm | 102 min.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, Donna Mills

In his directorial debut, Eastwood plays an overnight jazz disc jockey who hooks up with one of his ardent fans (Walter), little knowing that she is dangerously possessive and homicidal. One of the few medium-budget movies produced at Universal in 1971 that went on to become a box office success, Play Misty for Me is a tightly crafted, unnerving thriller that was surely an influence on a number of movies to come, particularly Fatal Attraction (1987). Walter gives a memorably unhinged performance “so creepy and sexually aggressive that she hardly worked again for years” (Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader).  Decades later, she became well-known as Arrested Development’s matriarch, Lucille Bluth.

About this series:

Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen: Universal ‘71

In 1971, one of the great years in Hollywood history, Universal Pictures released a slate of high quality original productions with low-to-medium budgets that, collectively, went unmatched by any other studio’s annual lineup during the early 1970s. Inspired by Columbia Pictures’ success with Easy Rider, Universal provided full creative freedom to many up-and-coming directors like Peter Fonda, Clint Eastwood, Dennis Hopper, John Cassavetes, Milos Forman, and Monte Hellman. Meanwhile, old Hollywood hands like Don Siegel and Robert Wise were encouraged to make daring stylistic choices. While critically acclaimed, few of the Universal ‘71 releases found wide acceptance from audiences at the time of their original release, though their reputation among cinephiles has grown steadily over the subsequent five decades. All of these selections will be shown in 35mm prints.

To read more about the series, go here.

All Cinematheque screenings are free and open to the public. Seating limited.

Matthew Connolly on WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on the 2005 blockbuster War of the Worlds, directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by David Koepp, was written by Matthew Connolly, Teaching Assistant in the UW, Madison Communications Arts Department. A 35mm print of War of the Worlds will screen on Wednesday, March 11, at 3:30 p.m. in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall. The screening will be introduced by David Koepp, who will also participate in a post-screening discussion.

By Matthew Connolly

“No scenes of beating up on New York. No destruction of famous landmarks. No shots of world capitals. No TV reporters saying what‘s going on. No shots of generals with big sticks pushing battleships around the map. Let‘s not see the war of the world. Let‘s see this guy‘s survival story.” – David Koepp, describing the ground rules for adapting War of the Worlds, in The Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2005

Released four years after the September 11th attacks, War of the Worlds not only attempted to revive a somewhat moribund genre (as co-screenwriter David Koepp’s above comments reflect) with a focus upon individualized experience over dog-eared clichés. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 1897 novel rethought these conventions to breathe new relevance into a genre that many felt had exhausted its potential to entertain the minute the Twin Towers plummeted into Lower Manhattan.

Indeed, Spielberg explicitly stated that a contemporary War of the Worlds should engage with the imagery of terrorist attacks that the genre had become inextricably bound up in in the days following September 11th. The director told the Los Angeles Times, “I think 9/11 reinformed everything I‘m putting into War of the Worlds 2005. Just how we come together, how this nation unites in every known way to survive a foreign invader and a frontal assault. We now know what it feels like to be terrorized…” The 9/11 signifiers found throughout the film—the ash and ripped paper floating through a decimated urban landscape; the hastily assembled collection of “missing” signs strung on a fence after the aliens’ attack—provoked debate about whether the film proved provocative or exploitative, yet Spielberg saw no other way to tell Wells’s story in a relevant and even responsible fashion. Prior to the film’s release, Spielberg stated simply to the Los Angeles Times that “9/11 set the tone and made it worth my time and the audience‘s time to see this story treated in this way.”

Not that Paramount and DreamWorks (the film’s co-financiers and distributors) supported the project due solely to its makers’ topical ambitions. War of the Worlds came about in part due to the fortuitous holes in the schedules of its director, star, and one of the studios behind its production. Paramount originally planned on releasing the third installment of their highly successful Mission: Impossible franchise in the summer of 2005, but had to postpone the project until the following year after then-director Joe Carnahan left the project in July 2004. The studio had both a massive gap in their summer 2005 schedule and no project for Cruise, who was set to reprise his role as Ethan Hunt. Around the same time, Spielberg also found himself with delays. The initial screenplay for Munich—the filmmaker’s other, more explicitly topical release in 2005—had been given to playwright Tony Kushner for a rewrite, and hopes of reviving the long dormant Indiana Jones franchise halted when producer George Lucas expressed reservations about the script. In short, mid-2004 saw one of the world’s biggest stars, most profitable directors, and largest studios with idle time and money on their hands.

After Minority Report (2002), Spielberg and Cruise had previously agreed that War of the Worlds would be their next project together when both of their schedules opened up, and had even had a brainstorming session with Koepp in January 2004 about the screenplay. Agreeing to push forward with the project in mid-2004 seemingly solved everyone‘s problems: Cruise and Spielberg could pursue the script, and Paramount (along with DreamWorks, who joined the project along with Spielberg) had a summer blockbuster. The sudden nature of the project’s fruition, however, meant that Spielberg and company had roughly ten weeks of preproduction: a relatively brief amount of time to plan what would become a special-effects heavy, $132 million production. Shooting proved equally as tight, with production beginning in early November and scheduled for 75 days. Spielberg worked to alleviate some of the pressures of this fast-paced shoot by storyboarding major sequences with computer animation, shooting key action sequences first so they could be immediately sent for post-production work to special effects house Industrial Light & Magic (ILM); and working with previous collaborators like cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, editor Michael Kahn, costume designer Joanna Johnston, and ILM visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren. The film was ultimately ready for its June 29, 2005 release date, undoubtedly a comfort to Paramount studio executives who less than a year earlier had wondered if they would have any major blockbuster to offer during the summer months.

At the time of its release, however, the film proved notable for other—and, for its star, more unfortunate—reasons.  The principal target of discussion (and derision) was Cruise‘s May 23, 2005 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Cruise rapturously proclaimed his love for new girlfriend Katie Holmes by jumping onto the set’s couch and falling onto one knee. Cruise provoked additional skepticism amongst the press, however, by increasingly foregrounding his belief in Scientology. The New York Times reported in March 2005 that Cruise had insisted on taking visiting executives of United International Pictures (the international distributor for War of the Worlds) on a personal tour of Los Angeles based Scientology facilities: a trip that caused chagrin amongst some attendees, who had to extend their planned stays especially for the visit. He also insisted upon sponsoring a Scientology tent on the War of the Worlds set, a potential violation of Universal Studios policy (where the film was shot) that Spielberg had to personally intervene on Cruise‘s behalf. These were among the less publicized moments. Cruise’s discussions of his religion within the media took on increasingly hostile tones, with accusations that fellow Scientologist Brooke Shields violated the religion‘s principals by taking medication for post-partum depression and culminating in a terse interview with Matt Lauer over the efficacy of prescription drugs. Spielberg defended Cruise multiple times throughout the build-up to War’s release, even coming to Cruise’s aid in a joint interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, comparing Cruise’s Scientologist principles to his own work with the Shoah Foundation in promoting Holocaust awareness. (An executive at DreamWorks later deemed the comparison “unfortunate”).

Such eyebrow-raising antics did not stop War of the Worlds from receiving a generally warm reception from critics and a worldwide gross of almost $600 million. Indeed, Cruise gives one of his best Hollywood leading-man performances, tamping down his irascible on-screen charm to foreground the resentments and failures of his Ray Ferrier, a mediocre divorced dad forced into parental duties when the extraterrestrial attacks occur while teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) visit him for the weekend. Anchoring the film’s bravura set pieces, Cruise’s frequently bewildered and exhausted face acts as a highly effective stand-in for our own terror and curiosity as the aliens unleash a series of deadly attacks whose relentlessness becomes amplified by the screenplay’s ruthless focus on Ray and his kids and Spielberg’s astonishing control of cinematic pacing, suspense, and surprise. What ultimately results is not merely a popcorn flick with a dash of topical relevance, but a thrilling reminder of how (at its best) blockbuster filmmaking can provide a large-scale forum to explore our collective fears and anxieties—those queasy curiosities and unspoken fantasies best acknowledged in the communal darkness of the movie theater.

David Koepp in person! Just added screening of THE PAPER!

Monday, March 9th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

The UW Cinematheque is proud to welcome the accomplished and acclaimed screenwriter/director David Koepp to the UW Madison campus on March 11 and 12. Koepp, a native of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, has contributed to the screenplays for numerous contemporary blockbusters, including four directed by Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), War of the Worlds (2005), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)), three by Brian DePalma (Carlito’s Way (1993), Mission: Impossible (1995), and Snake Eyes (1998)), David Fincher's Panic Room (2002), and Sam Raimi’s Spider Man (2002). More recently, he has penned the scripts for Ron Howards’ Angels and Demons (2009) and Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). In 1996, Koepp made his debut as writer/director with The Trigger Effect, and has since gone on to helm four other features: Stir of Echoes (1999), Secret Window (2004), Ghost Town (2008), Premium Rush (2013) and Mortdecai (2015).

Koepp will join us to introduce two of the films he wrote, War of the Worlds and Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994) on March 11. On March 12, he will present his delightful Ricky Gervais comedy, Ghost Town. Koepp will participate in post-screening discussions for all three programs.

All three screenings will be held at:

UW Cinematheque

4070 Vilas Hall

821 University Avenue

Madison, WI 53706


Wednesday, March 11, 3:30 p.m.


USA | 2005 | 35mm | 116 min.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins

Faced with an invasion of well-armed aliens from outer space, working class divorced father Ray (Cruise) faces numerous deadly challenges in his efforts to protect his daughter (Fanning) and son (Justin Chatwin). Matching the intensity of Jaws and Jurassic Park, Spielberg’s update of H.G. Wells’s canonized novel deftly infuses the hyperbolic sci-fi premise with post 9/11 anxieties. Screenplay co-author David Koepp, who also wrote the scripts for the two Spielberg-directed Jurassic Park movies, will talk about his writing in a post-screening discussion.

Wednesday, March 11, 7:00 p.m.


USA | 1994 | 35mm | 112 min.

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close Director Howard's throwback to the classic newspaper picture updates the fast-paced dramatics and comedy of movies like Five Star Final (1931) and His Girl Friday (1940) to a modern-day tabloid in NYC. In a 24-hour period, New York Sun Assistant Managing Editor Henry Hackett (Keaton) tries to get to the bottom of a double murder case, all while trying to re-negotiate his position and keep his pregnant wife (Marisa Tomei) happy. The sterling supporting cast includes Close and Duvall as the paper's chief editors, and Randy Quaid as a dogged reporter. The fun, classically-structured screenplay is by David Koepp, working in collaboration with his brother, Stephen. David Koepp will participate in a post-screening discussion. "The Paper gets a lot of things right about working on a newspaper, and one of them is how it screws up your personal life." (Roger Ebert).

Thursday, March 12, 7:00 p.m.


USA | 2008 | 35mm | 102 min.

Director: David Koepp

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear Gervais, in his own inimitable way, plays Bertrum Pincus, a misanthropic dentist who, after undergoing a minor surgical procedure, wakes up with the ability to see dead people, all of whom want something from our hero. A possibility for romance is introduced when one ghost (Kinnear) asks Bertram to look after the widow (Leoni) he left behind. One of the most underrated comedies of the last decade, Ghost Town is kept afloat by a witty script and great performances by the entire cast, including Kristin Wiig, sidesplitting as a barely competent surgeon. Writer/director Koepp will join us in person for a post-screening discussion.

Special Thanks to David Bordwell

All three of these screenings are free and open to the public. Seating limited.

Maureen Rogers Enters Cannon's NINJA Cycle

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on the history of Cannon Films' Ninja cycle of action movies was written by Maureen Rogers, Teaching Assistant and Ph.D candidate in the Department of Communication Arts at UW Madison. A 35mm print of Ninja III: The Domination will screen as part of our Cannon Fodder series on Monday, March 9, 7 p.m., at the Marquee Theater at Union South.

By Maureen Rogers

Ninja III: The Domination (1984) is the third and final installment of a rather loosely connected series of films starring Japanese martial arts star Sho Kosugi and released by the Cannon Group. Enter the Ninja (1981) inaugurated this mini-franchise, followed by Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and Ninja III one year later. Though some industry pundits complained of martial arts exhaustion at the time, Cannon followed the Ninja films with yet another martial arts series, the American Ninja franchise, made up of five films starring Michael Dudikoff and released from 1985-1993.

Cannon's commitment to the low-budget martial arts franchise fit with their overall emphasis on selling to the foreign market and on keeping production costs down. After purchasing the Cannon label in 1979, Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus began to build Cannon as an internationally-oriented company that produced or acquired films for under $5 million and released a large number of them each year. Golan and Globus became particularly known within Hollywood for outsized displays at film markets such as Cannes, AFM, and Mifed, where they often arrived with a dozen or so film titles to sell to international distributors. At Cannes, Golan and Globus often bragged about Cannon's appeal to international buyers. In one interview, Golan explained his emphasis on foreign sales: “The world wants American movies, but the American producers and distributors live like there is only America. There are hundreds of independent distributors who can't get good American movies. So me and my partner had the idea: make American-quality pictures... sell to distributors in Europe, Japan.” Over and over again, Golan framed Cannon's niche in Hollywood as selling low-budget Hollywood knock-offs to distributors outside of North America.

Martial arts franchising also helped Cannon to develop B-grade stars. By making films in the same series, Golan and Globus could create buzz around recurring martial arts heroes. This was more easily achieved with stars who had pre-existing name recognition, such as Charles Bronson. I would argue, though, that Cannon also tried to create some kind of star persona around Sho Kosugi in the Ninja series as well as around Michael Dudikoff in the American Ninja series. Star-powered low-budget action franchises had several advantages in a place like Cannes. International distributors had some idea of what they were getting, and if audiences had responded to Kosugi in the past, it was a good bet that they might in the future.

Action films in general also sold remarkably well to theatrical distributors and in ancillary markets. In 1987, Variety reported that the action genre were the best performing genre at international film markets. Several factors contributed to this including the fact that action films lacked the gory violence of the slasher film, a popular genre at the time. Second, the action film was thought to have unique cross cultural appeal. Conventions of the genre, like shoot outs and explosions, were easy for audiences to comprehend even if the film was poorly dubbed. One Texas based producer explained: “[Action films] translate well through all social, political and economic differences." Action titles also sold well on home video, which was another important component of Cannon's sales strategy.

This strategy mostly worked with the Ninja series. Enter the Ninja (1981), the first installment, was the most commercially successful of the three films. For one, Franco Nero and Susan George, both well-known actors, starred alongside Kosugi. The two subsequent Ninja films were never able to match the star power of this initial release. Enter the Ninja was also filmed in the Philippines, which added a kind of flair that the other two films (filmed in Salt Lake City and Arizona) never matched. Golan and Globus were able to secure a foreign distribution deal with MGM/UA, further offsetting prints and advertising costs. In addition, at Cannes in 1981, Golan and Globus made deals with Columbia Pictures International, Viacom, and HBO to release the film theatrically and on pay cable.

1983's Revenge of the Ninja arrived amid Cannon's massive expansion. Golan and Globus were in the midst of purchasing several theater chains and further increasing their position in Hollywood and beyond. Kosugi returned in Revenge of the Ninja, and Sam Firstenberg was hired to direct the film. While reviews for Enter the Ninja were rather mediocre, Revenge of the Ninja fared even worse. Variety complained of the bad acting, lack of star power, and weak script but praised the "solid action sequences spotlighting topliner Sho Kosugi."

An inspired example of genre hybridity, Ninja III is a wonderful amalgam of a martial arts film, Flashdance, and a possession horror film. Firstenberg returned to direct, and Kosugi continued to play his role as the virtuous Ninja. This time, however, Lucinda Dickey of Breakin' and Breakin' 2 fame joined the cast as an aerobics instructor who, as Variety describes her character, is "blessed with ESP and a morbid interest in Japanese culture." This aerobics premise helps to motivate some wonderfully odd scenes and costume choices, and it is worth the price of admission (free) to see how Firstenberg attempts to meld these generic elements into a plausible, unified story. Discussing the film's box office appeal, Variety ended its review of Ninja III with a sentiment that is also a fitting exhortation to any readers who are considering seeing Ninja III: "If the spirit is willing, the fun and a few thrills are there to be had."

Evan Davis on Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL

Friday, February 27th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay discusses Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL and was written by UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member Evan Davis. TOUCH OF EVIL screens in a 35mm print of the 1998 "memo cut" restoration in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, on Saturday, February 28 at 7 p.m.

By Evan Davis

We finally arrive at the concluding miasma that was Orson Welles’s long relationship with Hollywood, the culmination of the film noir movement as it has been understood up to now, with the noir form stretched as far and as grotesquely as it could go: Touch of Evil (1958). Perhaps more studied and analyzed than any other Welles film besides Citizen Kane (1941), this nasty little tale of police corruption and border town crime has been thoroughly canonized. But that fate wasn’t always guaranteed.

By now, the story is approaching tired cliché: Welles goes to work for a minor studio, leaves or is tossed off the lot, and then the studio re-cuts, re-writes, and re-shoots behind his back. Everyone goes back and forth as to whether Welles was self-indulgent, slow, wasteful, and didn’t care about protecting his own work, or if he was maligned by the suits who only cared about the bottom line. The case of Touch of Evil is no different. What is different is what came after.

Welles shot Touch of Evil in the spring of 1957. In July of that year, he left the editing room (whether by choice or by mandate is unclear). Meanwhile, Universal hired Harry Keller to direct some additional scenes to be included in the film. Welles saw a rough cut that autumn, and wrote a 58-page memo that December, detailing all the changes he wanted Universal’s team to make. A small number were implemented, but most were ignored. The studio released a 93-minute edit in early 1958. In 1976, a 108-minute cut initially used as a preview version made it into circulation, with several more minutes of Welles’s footage included. It also contained a great deal more of Keller’s re-shot material. And so the preview version and release version were the only things people could judge Touch of Evil on for 40 years.

You may recall: the studio destroyed the cut footage from The Magnificent Ambersons; if the excised material from The Stranger and The Lady from Shanghai exists, then no one’s turned it up. Welles’s Hollywood career is woefully incomplete. Universal Studios, however, hung onto the sloughed-off images and sounds of Touch of Evil, and in 1997, a project began that was to do for that film what couldn’t be done for so many earlier ones. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum—who originally published the memo in 1992—producer Rick Schmidlin, and legendary editor Walter Murch set about instituting every single editing request Welles made in the memo. They had to keep some of the Keller footage for reasons of continuity, but once they premiered the film at Cannes in 1998, the world finally had as close a “Welles version” as they were ever likely to get. It may not be a director’s cut per sé (who knows what Welles would have done had he been allowed to complete the editing himself), but it’s still an incredible reconstruction.

What’s most impressive about it is the subtle shifts in rhythm and tone. At 111 minutes, it’s the longest version of the film—only about five or six minutes are completely new. But Murch and his team incorporated Welles’s rigorous cross-cutting methods to depict up to four different plotlines simultaneously unfolding. They also changed the soundtrack to emphasize Quinlan’s (Welles) brutality in order to make him less sympathetic. (Note Quinlan’s offscreen beating of Sanchez [Victor Millan] while Mike Vargas [Charlton Heston] searches Sanchez’s apartment.) Lines that more explicitly describe the Grandi gang’s plan to frame Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh) for heroin use are added. All of this is per Welles’s instruction. And of course, the greatest coup is the opening tracking shot, with Henry Mancini’s score removed, the credits deleted, and the “radio-dial” atmospherics of sound added, sounds emanating through the town while Mike and Susan stroll to the border. 

Touch of Evil brought back the long, sinewy mobile takes of Welles’s initial Hollywood period, coupled with a thoroughly contemporary representation of the seedy side of life on the US-Mexican border. It is scabrously funny and also tender and mournful. It is full of bravura and also of nuance and subtlety. It is, in other words, an Orson Welles film. (It also contains the last great performance by Marlene Dietrich.) It is undoubtedly one of Welles’s best, and we are pleased to present this reconstruction in glorious 35mm.


Friday, February 20th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay discusses Orson Welles' Confidential Report (aka Mr. Arkadin, 1955) and F for Fake (1973) and was written by UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member Evan Davis. Both films screen in original 35mm prints on Saturday, February 21, beginning at 7 p.m. in our regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall.

by Evan Davis

Confidential Report (Mr. Arkadin)

Borges once said of Citizen Kane (1941) that the film was "a labyrinth with no center."  A provocative and partially true statement, no doubt. At the very least, Orson Welles's first featureexists as a stable text that can be viewed as its director intended for it to be seen. The same cannot be said for Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report).

As many as six versions of the film are extant, none of which were fully edited by Welles. Each has different footage and a different editing structure. Very little documentation of Welles's intentions is available, making a reconstruction damn near impossible. It is, in a lot of ways, themost unknowable film Welles ever made. At least there is a record of how The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, and Touch of Evil were supposed to look, sound andfeel like. If ever there was a labyrinth with no center in the Welles canon, Mr. Arkadin is it. That is oddly appropriate--the story of a man hired to find out the story of a man's life is a perverse echo of Citizen Kane, with inflections of The Third Man mixed in throughout. The version that you will see is the European release cut, re-titled Confidential Report. Missing is the more rigorous flashback structure we know Welles intended, along with the addition of Guy Van Stratten's (Robert Arden) voiceover, which Welles did not want to use. What remains is a grotesque, satirical thriller about amnesia, white slavery and the Electra complex.

There arepassages of weird, undeniable beauty, like Van Stratten's snow-filled approach to Jacob Zook's (Akim Tamiroff) apartment; the wide-angle clutter of Trebitsch's (Michael Redgrav) workshop; the confrontation between Arkadin (Welles) and Milly (Patricia Medina); and the final meeting between Arkadin and Zook, where one cannot help but laugh and weep at the thought of old age. It's as weird and unstable as Welles ever got.

F for Fake

There are three masterpieces in Welles's career that each signify a phase of his work. The first is Citizen Kane, the apotheosis of his Hollywood period. The second is Chimes at Midnight (1966), the apex of his achievements in European independent cinema. The third, and the crown jewel of his late, essayistic phase, is F for Fake (1974).

To the naked eye, F for Fake might seem like a departure for Welles. It is his first completed theatrical documentary, full of lightning-fast cutting and non-narrative digressions. A closer look reveals this to be perhaps Welles's great thesis statement on his own work. It is "a film about trickery," as Welles states at the beginning. Trickery is too small a word for what he accomplishes. It is an essay about the making of art itself, about the fallacy of authorship, and the crowning of art in the tapestry of human experience. It is the headiest movie about the relationship of art and truth, yet is also the most fun. Few films were more influential.

A little backstory: Elmyr de Hory, the famous Hungarian art forger, was recently outed and living a comfortable life on the island of Ibiza, away from the jurisdictions of more than a few countries where he was wanted for forging Modiglianis, Picassos, and a heap of other European masters. French documentarian Francois Reichenbach began making a fairly anodyne film about de Hory and his biographer, journalist Clifford Irving. But then Irving himself was outed as a forger, having faked an autobiography "by Howard Hughes," the famously reclusive tycoon. This is where Welles stepped in. Welles took Reichenbach's footage, re-edited it, and added in material of his own. Welles films himself at an editing table, literally making and re-making the film as it goes along (a technique Godard would use in his films only a few years later). He digresses about Hughes's life, Welles's own life, and finally arrives at the conclusion that while artists and authorship may be a fluid and dubious concept, the artworks themselves must be heralded as one of the only things humanity has left to hold onto. You see, only through the lens of the fake can one finally arrive at the real. Nothing is more important than the truth; sometimes, you have to lie to get to it. I love this film more than words can say. I hope you love it, too.

Evan Davis on Welles's THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI

Friday, February 13th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay discusses Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai and was written by UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member Evan Davis. The Lady from Shanghai screens in a new Sony Pictures 4K restoration in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, on Saturday, February 14 at 7 p.m.

By Evan Davis

Did Orson Welles belong in Hollywood? He was certainly a figure of great national renown, and if someone so popular in America was going to make movies, Hollywood was going to be the place. And yet time and again, he seems like such an outlier, an exception to prove the rule. His 1939 contract for RKO that gave him full creative control was unprecedented at the time. Not even major directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, or Frank Capra had similar deals at their studios--at least, not at first. Furthermore, his working methods ran counter to what major studios were accustomed. He loved to revise and reshape. He once famously said that he could never watch his own work, because he'd want to bust open the projection booth and start re-cutting the film. As influenced by his experiences in the theater and radio, Welles loved process over product.

It is perhaps no accident that of the five movies Welles made in Hollywood in the 1940s, none were for the four major studios (MGM, Paramount, Warner, Fox). They never would have been able to forgo their standardized production methods for his way of working--and he would have never been able to shackle himself to the confines of major studio production. What he could offer the minor studios, however, was prestige.

Citizen Kane made quite a splash in the run-up to its release, and while it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it was seen as an anomaly in the Hollywood landscape, and lost money. The Magnificent Ambersons met a similar fate, in addition to being bowlderized by RKO. Which brings us to his relationship with Columbia Pictures and the making of The Lady from Shanghai.

They may be owned by Sony these days, but Columbia wasn't always a powerhouse in the Hollywood landscape. President and head of production Harry Cohn had lost Frank Capra to Warner Brothers in 1940, and was without any director of equal notoriety. Not that Columbia could have afforded it; their budget structure wouldn't allow for the number of big-budget films made by the likes of Paramount and MGM, nor could it attract that kind of talent. (Columbia didn't even make a film in color until 1943, years after the other studios had done it.) Cohn could see the profits and prestige that big films could bring a studio, and he wanted back in the game.

Welles also wanted to revive his career. He was looking to get back into directing and needed money to fund his traveling production of Around the World in 80 Days in the spring of 1946. When he approached Columbia with an offer to write, produce, direct and star in a feature with his estranged wife (and Columbia's newest superstar, Rita Hayworth), Cohn envisioned a "Class AA" picture that would garner his studio some of the plaudits it had missed since Capra's departure. Both Welles and Cohn needed each other, but their needs would soon sharply diverge.

It didn't work out the way anyone had planned. When one studies the production files housed at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, one gets the sense that Columbia simply wasn't equipped to handle a production of The Lady from Shanghai's scope. Welles wanted a small, gritty picture shot entirely in New York City, but if Hayworth was to be involved, Cohn demanded exotic locations and lush romance. Cohn insisted on Welles changing the script to include sequences in Acapulco and San Francisco; Welles acquiesced. When Cohn demanded a sequence involving a love song and more close-ups of Hayworth, Welles acquiesced. In fact, Welles grudgingly bent to every demand Cohn made. Long tracking shots were broken up by inserts; voiceover was added to make the plot somewhat comprehensible after Cohn and editor Viola Lawrence cut the film down to 86 minutes. But all these changes slowed things down and ramped up the budget. Welles viewed the added shooting time and expense to be unnecessary, especially since he felt that his original design would be more efficient; Cohn wanted the film to appeal to stylistic norms. When all was said and done, Columbia had budgeted the film for an adjusted-for-inflation $18 million. The production went 33 days over schedule and cost an extra $5 million (adjusted for inflation).

So what film are we left with? The Lady from Shanghai is a Frankenstein's monster of a picture. Every word and image is Welles's, even though he didn't want to make many of them. There is a large swath of footage cut without Welles's consent, making much of its narrative incomprehensible. the score, sound effects, and dubbing process are not Welles's. Location footage to process shots, direct sound to dubbed lines--they oscillate from shot to shot. It's a positive mess. That said, every image is sumptuous, every line bitterly caustic and darkly funny. It is a film of competing stylistic norms and production practices all fused into a gloriously surreal melange. (Maybe my favorite of these touches is Hayworth's character, Elsa, speaking perfect Cantonese in San Francisco's Chinatown.)

Welles would knock off an adaptation of Macbeth for Poverty Row outfit Republic Pictures in only 21 days in the summer of 1947--well under budget--and would then decamp for Europe, not to return to a Hollywood director's chair for 10 years. His experiment with being an independent inside the Hollywood machine was effectively over.

Evan Davis on Orson Welles's OTHELLO

Friday, February 6th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay discusses Orson Welles' Othello and was written by UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member Evan Davis. Othello screens in a new restoration in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, on Saturday, February 7 at 7 p.m.

By Evan Davis

By virtue of its production and for its aesthetic qualities (and trust me, the two are interwoven as tightly as thread), Orson Welles's Othello represents a rebirth in his filmmaking career. It was the first film he made in Europe; it was the first film he financed independently, mostly from his own pocket; and it was the first film to abandon his trademark deep-focus, mobile long-take style for one more reliant on editing to provide its stylistic ballast. The fact remains, however, that Othello is one of Welles's greatest triumphs--and one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever committed to screen. It would serve as the template for Welles's working methods for the rest of his life.

Welles had escaped both the artistic and political turmoil of postwar Hollywood in 1947, just after finishing his version of Macbeth for Republic Pictures. A year later, an Italian producer asked him to make Othello. It seemed only fitting, as Welles was a great admirer of the play and had played the Moor at various points throughout his life. Financing was put together, and a plan was in place to shoot multiple scenes in single takes at a studio near Nice, France. But of course, as it would so often for the rest of Welles's career, the producer's finances dried up at the last minute. Welles was not deterred, however. Instead of building sets in a studio and shooting long takes, he decided to continue working, shooting on location in such far-flung places as Italy, Morocco and Tunisia. A simple enough fix, right? Wrong.

Welles was financing the movie from his own bankroll. That bankroll would quickly run out, and the cast and crew would have to shut down production. Welles would then take acting jobs (The Third Man, Prince of Foxes and The Black Rose among them) to raise more money to keep going. The obvious problem was that his actors and crew members wouldn't always be available at the same time, as months would pass between production sessions. Welles was then forced to use editing to maintain continuity within a scene. So rigorous were his scheduling and budgetary limitations that locations often moved a thousand miles from shot to shot, even though Iago (Micheal MacLiammoir) may only pass through a door in the scene. (Both MacLiammoir and Welles told a famous story of the scene in which Roderigo is murdered: Welles had ordered the costumes for the scene, but they never arrived. He only had so much time to film it, so on the fly, at the suggestion of his production designer, Alexandre Trauner, he converted a fish market into a Turkish bathhouse, shot the actors topless, and finished the scene.) All in all, the film took three years to film and edit.

How did Welles prevent Othello from becoming a jumbled mess? He was very conscious to obey the basic rules of classical continuity editing. Eyelines always match up from shot to reverse-shot; matches on action are smooth and graceful; lighting cues are consistent and properly sourced within the frame; even the locations themselves are visually complementary. Welles shot for three years on multiple continents with multiple cinematographers, with no script supervisor, and yet the film is seamless. To say that this is a phenomenal achievement is understating the case.

Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine the film without its extraordinary location work. Welles put his camera in every possible place within castles, on turrets, behind doors, above stone columns. His vision of Cyprus is an expressionist nightmare, with chiaroscuro pools of light piercing a labyrinth of secrets and betrayals. Welles's images are graphically overloaded with patterns and barriers, separating characters, always peering in with nefarious intent. The final, high-angle shot of Othello's death is cut with such perfectly brilliant force that Welles may never have made so starkly lonely an image for the rest of his career. Chimes at Midnight is Welles's heart, but Othello is the darkness inside his soul.

The version screening at the Cinematheque demands some commentary. Welles completed Othello in 1952, and then re-edited it slightly for its American release in 1955. The inferior dubbing equipment found in Europe at the time made the dialogue synchronization a little precarious. In 1992, Welles's youngest daughter and Othello's rights holder, Beatrice, commissioned a restoration to resync the dialogue. Beatrice and restoration producer Michael Dawson went further, re-recording the score in stereo based on a flawed source, and altering many of the film's sound effects. Some mistakes were corrected upon the restoration's release to home video, but the fact remains that the soundtrack is not Welles's. Carlotta Films recently digitally restored the film, and there is no doubt that this edition looks astonishingly beautiful; however, the same soundtrack from the 1992 restoration remains.