Wisconsin's Own Agnes Moorehead!

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on Agnes Moorehead and her performance in Citizen Kane was written by Evan Davis, UW Alum and former Cinematheque staff member

 

What is there left to say about Citizen Kane, the “greatest movie ever made” (or second-greatest, depending on who you read)? The stories of its production and release have been visited and re-visited, refuted and affirmed, analyzed and and analyzed and analyzed. On a personal level, the film was my cinephile origin story: A late-night viewing in September 2001, at the raw age of 16, changed my life forever. But even that experience has been picked through in the dark corners of my own psyche. Orson Welles’s first feature is a bleached skeleton on the dried riverbed of movie history, the vultures fat and happy from their feast. So I’m just going to talk about Agnes Moorehead, the most underrated actor of her generation.

Moorehead has deep Wisconsin roots. Her family moved to Reedsburg from St. Louis in 1919, when Moorehead was a young woman. She earned a Master’s degree in English at UW-Madison, working as a teacher throughout her young life. She studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and just before turning 30, she decided to chase her childhood dream of being a star. But it wasn’t to be, not at first, anyway. Moorehead struggled to find work, going hungry for much of those early years in New York. Radio gave her a steady paycheck, and in 1937, the 36-year-old Moorehead met a hotshot 22-year-old theatre director who would become the catalyst for her nascent career: Orson Welles. Moorehead spent two years as part of the Mercury Theatre on the Air and Campbell Playhouse cast, in addition to playing Margo Lane opposite Welles’s Lamont Cranston in The Shadow. When Welles uprooted Mercury to Hollywood in late 1939, Moorehead went along. Citizen Kane was their first film, and dear old Agnes was off and running.

Moorehead’s role in Kane is not exactly a large one based on screen time; she’s in only one scene—two shots total—for all of four minutes. But as Mary, the mother of Charles Foster Kane, she may have the most important role in the whole film. She is, after all, the psychological engine that drives Kane for the rest of his life, the symbol of lost innocence, of love never received; Rosebud in the flesh.

Moorehead has to make quick work of her time onscreen in order to convey the importance of Mary’s position in relation to young Charlie, but also the importance of the decision she makes. Welles helps anchor those acting choices by using the famous long-take, reverse tracking shot that keeps the young Kane perfectly framed in the boarding house window while Mary signs her brand-new gold fortune—and Kane’s legal guardianship—over to Walter Thatcher’s (George Coulouris) bank in the foreground. Watch Moorehead in this first shot, the icy resolve in her face, curtly shutting down Kane’s father, Jim (Harry Shannon). It’s all business, an investment made for future return. Jim subtly shuts the window as she signs the papers, closing the link between Mary and Charles, however briefly. And in a feat of pure, unbridled power, the camera tracks forward again as Mary goes to open the window, restoring the maternal bond.

It’s the first part of that second shot where you realize that Mary Kane is not simply a woman doing what she thinks is best for her son, but is bearing the full, tragic weight of that decision. A part of her is being severed. She stares out the window in medium-close-up, Thatcher and Jim in deep-focus midground, framing her. She maintains the same steely resolve, but her pain boils underneath her face, simmering and seething with false placidity. Citizen Kane comes down to this face, and the single line she utters: “I’ve got his trunk all packed. I’ve had it packed for a week now…” Mary Kane is confident that her son will be better off. But she can barely suppress the tragedy of losing him to the pages of history. Most actors portray such a loss by using every facial contortion and bodily gesticulation in the book; Moorehead doesn’t move an inch.

Welles’s critics often like to paint him as a showboat, a clever trickster more interested in showing off with the camera than a director possessed of any emotional or thematic depth. One can charitably describe this position as foolish. The man knew what he wanted to convey in his work, and used the oft-unconventional, always expressive tools at his disposal to get there. But when it came down to it, he loved actors most of all, and knew how to get the best out of them. With Moorehead, he had a perfect foil. It’s not insignificant that Welles called her “one of the best in the world.” Moorehead’s greatest performance was probably Fanny Minafer in The Magnificent Ambersons, but in her four minutes of screen time in Citizen Kane, she set in motion the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane’s life, all while masking the anguish of doing so. Those two shots never fail to bring me to tears, and it’s all because of Agnes Moorehead’s quietly devastating performance.

Lea Jacobs' New Book!

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

By Amanda McQueen

We at UW Cinematheque are pleased to announce the release of a new book from our founder and former director Dr. Lea Jacobs, entitled Film Rhythm After Sound: Technology, Music, and Performance. Jacobs' book focuses on the early years of sound filmmaking and the evolving methods for synchronizing sound and image -- both technological and formal -- that transitioned us from the awkward first talkies to the comparatively advanced films of the late-1930s. In particular, Jacobs examines the strategies filmmakers employed during the early sound period to create cinematic rhythms. Looking beyond just the beat of the score or the speed of the editing, Jacobs analyzes the intricate relationships between music, dialogue, acting, and visual style that were made possible by the coming of sound.

Jacobs undertakes her analysis through a diverse set of case studies, which she combines with discussions of sound technologies and examinations of contemporary discourse on film tempo and rhythm. She begins with director Sergei Eisenstein's theory of rhythmic montage and an analysis of his collaboration with composer Sergei Prokofiev on Ivan the Terrible (1944). Jacobs then turns to a number of prototypical examples of early sound filmmaking, including:

  • Walt Disney cartoons like The Three Little Pigs (1933) and Playful Pluto (1934)
  • The Paramount operettas directed by Ernst Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian, such as Monte Carlo (1930) and Love Me Tonight (1932)
  • The early sound films of Howard Hawks, such as The Dawn Patrol (1930)

Through these examples, Jacobs shows how filmmakers in the early sound period experimented with different sound synchronization technologies and developed a variety of formal strategies to create rhythmically unified scenes. Jacobs thus demonstrates that cinematic rhythm can take many forms -- from the tight matching of sound and image known as "mickey mousing" in the Disney cartoons to the carefully timed dialogue in Hawks' films -- and her book offers a new method of audiovisual analysis that takes into account how rhythm, as a formal device, is best understood as a complex relationship between multiple elements of film style.

The detailed prose analysis in Film Rhythm After Sound is also nicely supplemented by online clips, which generally place the scene under consideration alongside a musical score that has been annotated with lines of dialogue and key figure movements. As the clip plays, the annotations help the reader see and hear how various filmic elements work together in real time to create the scene's overall rhythm. As an example, here's one of Jacobs' annotated clips of Ivan the Terrible.

Lea Jacobs' Film Rhythm After Sound offers fascinating new insights into early sound filmmaking practices and has been receiving high praise within the academic film community. We hope that you'll check out this work for yourself. For those interested in film sound and music, in films of the 1930s, or in questions of film history and aesthetics, Jacobs' book proves a particularly rich and readable source of information. Film Rhythm After Sound is currently available from the University of California Press.

NINJA III - Screening Date Changed

Monday, January 5th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Due to a scheduling conflict, the screening date for Ninja III: The Domination, part of our Marquee Mondays: Cannon Fodder series, has been changed from Monday, March 2 to Monday, March 9, 7 p.m. The 35mm screening will take place at the Marquee Theater at Union South. We apologize for any inconvenience.
 

Amanda McQueen's Favorites of 2014

Sunday, January 4th, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Amanda McQueen is a Programmer and Project Assistant of the UW Cinematheque. She is also a Programmer and Print Traffic Coordinator of the Wisconsin Film Festival.


I’m often behind on new releases, as I somehow never manage to make it to the theater, and I spent a lot of time in 2014 re-watching movies for my dissertation that I’d seen many times before. Nevertheless, I did manage to see enough new and new-to-me movies this past year to put together a short list of those I enjoyed. Here’s my top ten in alphabetical order: 

The Double (Richard Ayoade, 2013)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014)

I’m So Excited! (Pedro Almodovar, 2013)

Into the Woods (Rob Marshall, 2014)

The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick, 1951)

Rock ’n’ Roll High School (Allan Arkush, 1979)

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, 2013)

What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi, 2014)

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono, 2013)

And some runners up:

Black Jack (Ken Loach, 1979)

Dom Hemingway (Richard Shepard, 2013)

The Duke Wore Jeans (Gerald Thomas, 1958)

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)

Le Week-End (Roger Michell, 2014)

Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)

Xanadu (Robert Greenwald, 1980)
 

Ben Reiser's Favorites of 2014

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Ben Reiser is a Programmer and Accounts Manager of the UW Cinematheque, as well as the Coordinator of the Wisconsin Film Festival

THE GUEST The only film I saw twice in a theater this year. This is a pitch perfect amalgam of Halloween and The Terminator. THE GUEST is an embarrassingly entertaining genre film mash-up in which the whole is even greater than the sum of it’s parts.

THE ONE I LOVE – What starts out feeling like a gimmick winds up mining surprisingly deep territory when it comes to how married people feel about each other after the bloom is off the rose. I was really impressed with the subtleties of Mark Duplass’s performances.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Not all Wes Anderson movies are created equal, and this one transfixed and delighted me in a way I hadn’t experienced since THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS. I watched it a second time recently paying exclusive attention to Ralph Fiennes and got the sense that I could probably do the same thing with equally enjoyable results with some of the other performances.

IT FELT LIKE LOVE – Made me feel like I was seeing the Brooklyn, New York of my youth as it had never been seen on screen before.

UNDER THE SKIN – I’ll entertain any arguments about the rest of the film, but the scene on the beach is the stuff of nightmares – the kind that rarely get captured on film as convincingly and excruciatingly as they do here.

THE SACRAMENT – Ti West continues to know exactly where to place the camera for maximum tension and suspense.

THE DROP – This kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini are both riveting in this film.

JOHN WICK – The most purely pleasurable action film I’ve seen since ROADHOUSE.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES – If I’m being honest with myself, only two of the six Tolkein films made by Peter Jackson are what I would consider to be good movies – THE TWO TOWERS and now this one. It’s tightly focused and full of classical visual storytelling.

Mike King's Favorites of 2014

Friday, January 2nd, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Mike King is a Programmer and Chief Projectionist of the UW Cinematheque and Senior Programmer of the Wisconsin Film Festival.


Top ten new films to play Madison in 2014, in alphabetical order:

Cutie and the Boxer (2013, Zachary Heinzerling)

The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade)

Force Majeure (2014, Ruben Ostlund)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)

The Homesman (2014, Tommy Lee Jones)

Lucy (2014, Luc Besson)

Manakamana (2013, Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez)

Night Moves (2013, Kelly Reichardt)

Person to Person (2014, Dustin Guy Defa)

Stray Dog (2014, Debra Granik)

Runners up:

Actress (2014, Robert Greene)

Domestic (2013, Adrian Sitaru)

Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman)

Goodbye to Language (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)

Life of Riley (2014, Alain Resnais)

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013, Sion Sono)
 

Jim Healy's Favorites of 2014

Thursday, January 1st, 2015
Posted by Jim Healy

Jim Healy is Director of Programming of the UW Cinematheque and the Wisconsin Film Festival.

As a Cinematheque Curator and as a Wisconsin Film Festival Programmer, I usually have the great luxury of not having to see every “new release”, unlike most film critics. This means that on an annual basis, I will usually see more movies from cinema’s past than its present, but I don’t really believe in “old movies”; there are movies I’ve seen and movies I haven’t seen. Because I’m allowed to follow my interests and instincts when selecting the movies that I watch, the average quality of each film I see is pretty high and I saw a lot of great and very good things last year. Of the nearly 550 feature films that were all new to me in 2014, these 20, presented here in alphabetical order, were my very favorites (I've written in greater detail on some of the more vintage titles here at Brian Saur's Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog):

BOYHOOD (2014, Richard Linklater)

COUNTER-ATTACK (1945, Zoltan Korda)

THE CROWD (1928, King Vidor)

FIVE CAME BACK (1939, John Farrow)

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014, Wes Anderson)

A HIGH WIND IN JAMIACA (1965, Alexander Mackendrick)

THE HOMESMAN (2014, Tommy Lee Jones)

THE IMMIGRANT (2013, James Gray)

JUDEX (1963, Georges Franju)

JUKE GIRL (1942, Curtis Bernhardt)

THE KEEPING ROOM (2014, Daniel Barber)

LIFE ITSELF (2014, Steve James)

LISTEN UP PHILIP (2014, Alex Ross Perry)

MADEMOISELLE FIFI (1944, Robert Wise)

MR. TURNER (2014, Mike Leigh)

NORA PRENTISS (1947, Vincent Sherman)

THREE SECRETS (1950, Robert Wise)

IL SORPASSO (1962, Dino Risi)

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (2013, Isao Takahata)

 

I also enjoyed these movies; some more than others, of course, but I offer the list in alphabetical order instead of any sort of critical ranking. Consider it a highlighted sampling of my 2014 viewing adventure:

 

ACTRESS (2014, Robert Greene)

AMERICAN SNIPER (2014, Clint Eastwood)

APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT (2014, Amanda Rose Wilder)

THE ARNELO AFFAIR (1947, Arch Oboler)

THE BABADOOK (2014, Jennifer Kent)

BAD GRANDPA (2013, Jeff Tremaine)

BEATRICE CENCI (1956, Riccardo Freda)

BEWITCHED (1945, Arch Oboler)

BIG EYES (2014, Tim Burton)

BIG HERO 6 (2014, Don Hall, Chris Williams)

THE BIG LAND (1957, Gordon Douglas)

BLACK HAND (1949, Richard Thorpe)

THE BOXTROLLS (2014, Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi)

THE BOYS IN THE BAND (1970, William Friedkin)

THE BRIGHTON STRANGLER (1945, Max Nosseck)

CALVARY (2014, John Michael McDonagh)

CHAMPION (1949, Mark Robson)

CLAUDELLE INGLISH (1961, Gordon Douglas)

THE CRAZY-QUILT (1966, John Korty)

CRIME WAVE (1985, John Paizs)

THE CROSS OF LORRAINE (1943, Tay Garnett)

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014, Matt Reeves)

DRAFT DAY (2014, Ivan Reitman)

DUST BE MY DESTINY (1939, Lewis Seiler)

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014, Peter Strickland)

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2013, Doug Liman)

ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS (2014, Mark Hartley)

ENOUGH SAID (2013, Nicole Holofcener)

THE EQUALIZER (2014, Antoine Fuqua)

THE FAREWELL PARTY (2014, Sharon Mayman & Tal Granit)

FELIX AND MEIRA (2014, Maxime Giroux)

THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST (1958, Gordon Douglas)

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (2013, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel)

FLAMINGO ROAD (1949, Michael Curtiz)

FOUR HOURS TO KILL (1935, Mitchell Leisen)

FURY (2014, David Ayer)

THE GO GO BOYS (2014, Hilla Medalia)

THE GREAT MAN (2014, Sarah Leonor)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014, James Gunn)

THE GUEST (2014, Adam Wingard)

THE HANGMAN (1959, Michael Curtiz)

HAPPY CHRISTMAS (2014, Joe Swanberg)

THE HARD WAY (1942, Vincent Sherman)

HERCULES (2014, Brett Ratner)

THE HITLER GANG (1944, John Farrow)

HOTEL (1967, Richard Quine)

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014, Chris De Blois)

HUMORESQUE (1947, Jean Negulesco)

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 1 (2014, Francis Lawrence)

INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (2014, Maya Forbes)

INTERSTELLAR (2014, Christopher Nolan)

INTO THE WOODS (2014, Rob Marshall)

I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965, William Castle)

IT FOLLOWS (2014, David Robert Mitchell)

IT’S A SMALL WORLD (1950, William Castle)

JACQUOT DE NANTES (1992, Agnes Varda)

JOHN WICK (2014, Chad Stahelski)

JOHNNY BELINDA (1948, Jean Negulesco)

JOHNNY COME LATELY (1943, William K. Howard)

THE KINGDOM OF DREAMS AND MADNESS (2014, Mami Sunada)

KUMIKO: THE TREASURE HUNTER (2014, David Zellner)

LADIES OF LEISURE (1930, Frank Capra)

LAND HO! (2014, Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz)

LIFE OF CRIME (2013, Daniel Schechter)

LIVING IN A BIG WAY (1947, Gregory LaCava)

LOCKE (2014, Steven Knight)

LOUIE BLUIE (1985, Terry Zwigoff)

LOVE IS STRANGE (2014, Ira Sachs)

LUCY (2014, Luc Besson)

MACABRE (1958, William Castle)

MACISTE ALL’INFERNO (1962, Riccardo Freda)

THE MAGGIE (1954, Alexander Mackendrick)

THE MAGIC FACE (1951, Frank Tuttle)

MALEFICENT (2014, Robert Stromberg)

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1952, Alexander Mackendrick)

MANDALAY (1934, Michael Curtiz)

MANGE TES MORTS (2014, Jean-Charles Hue)

MAN WITHOUT A STAR (1955, King Vidor)

MARGIN FOR ERROR (1943, Otto Preminger)

MASSACRE (1934, Alan Crosland)

THE MERRY WIDOW (1925, Erich von Stroheim)

METALLICA: THROUGH THE NEVER (2013, Nimrod Antal)

MILLION DOLLAR ARM (2014, Craig Gillespie)

I MISERABILI (1948, Riccardo Freda)

LES MISERABLES (1935, Richard Boleslawski)

THE MOONSHINE WAR (1970, Richard Quine)

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014, James Bobin)

THE NAKED DAWN (1955, Edgar G. Ulmer)

NIGHTHAWKS (1978, Ron Peck, Paul Hallam)

NON-STOP (2014, Jaume Collet-Serra)

OKLAHOMA! (1955, Fred Zinnemann)

THE ONLY SON (1936, Yasujiro Ozu)

PARACHUTE JUMPER (1933, Alfred E. Green)

PARRISH (1961, Delmer Daves)

PASOLINI (2014, Abel Ferrara)

PHILOMENA (2013, Stephen Frears)

LA PIU BELLA SERRATA DELLA MIA VITA (1972, Ettore Scola)

RAPTURE (1965, John Guillermin)

RAIN OR SHINE (1930, Frank Capra)

THE REACH (2014, Jean-Baptiste Leonetti)

THE RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN (1980, John Sayles)

THE REVOLUTIONARY (1970, Paul Williams)

RIDE A WILD PONY (1976, Don Chaffey)

THE RIVER WILD (1994, Curtis Hanson)

RUN FOR THE SUN (1956, Roy Boulting)

A RUN FOR YOUR MONEY (1949, Charles Frend)

SABBATICAL (2014, Brandon Colvin)

SABOTAGE (1936, Alfred Hitchcock)

SABOTAGE (2014, David Ayer)

SANTIAGO (1956, Gordon Douglas)

LA SAPIENZA (2014, Eugene Green)

SEED OF CHUCKY (2004, Don Mancini)

SHOOTER & WHITLEY (2014, Laura Stewart)

SHOOT FIRST…DIE LATER (1975, Fernando Di Leo)

SIDDHARTH (2013, Richie Mehta)

SILK STOCKINGS (1957, Rouben Mamoulian)

SOMETHING, ANYTHING (2014, Paul Harrill)

SPECULATION NATION (2014, Bill Brown & Sabine Gruffat)

STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS (2013, Sam Fleischner)

THE STRANGE DEATH OF ADOLPH HITLER (1943, James Hogan)

STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (1955, Jacques Tourneur)

STRAY DOG (2014, Debra Granik)

SUSAN SLADE (1961, Delmer Daves)

TEODORA (1953, Riccardo Freda)

THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (1939, Busby Berkeley)

THIRTEEN (1998, David D. Williams)

TILLIE AND GUS (1933, Francis Martin)

TIM’S VERMEER (2013, Teller)

THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT (1952, Charles Crichton)

TOMBOY (2011, Celine Sciamma)

22 JUMP STREET (2014, Phil Lord, Chris Miller)

2 DAYS, 1 NIGHT (2014, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)

UNBROKEN (2014, Angelina Jolie)

UNDER THE SKIN (2013, Jonathan Glazer)

UNION DEPOT (1932, Alfred E. Green)

A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS (2011, Todd Strauss-Schulson)

THE WALKING DEAD (1936, Michael Curtiz)

WALK SOFTLY, STRANGER (1950, Robert Stevenson)

WELCOME TO HARD TIMES (1967, Burt Kennedy)

WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP AND I WORE A BIG RED ROSE (1983, Steven Schaller)

WHERE EAST IS EAST (1929, Tod Browning)

WHIPLASH (2014, Damien Chazelle)

WHY BE GOOD? (1929, William Seiter)

WILD (2014, Jean-Marc Vallee)

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014, Bryan Singer)

YOUNG AT HEART (1954, Gordon Douglas)

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS: Notes on a Musical Classic

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis were written by Jenny Oyallon-Koloski, Fellow in Film in the UW Communication Arts Department. A 35mm print of Meet Me in St. Louis will screen on Friday, December 12 at 7 p.m. in 4070 Vilas Hall.

By Jenny Oyallon-Koloski

Meet Me in St. Louis is “the answer to any exhibitor’s prayer,” gushes the Variety review for this 1944 film. With “bursting vitality,” Bosley Crowther of The New York Times adds, “the Smiths and their home, in Technicolor, are eyefuls of scenic delight.” A turn-of-the-century story about an affluent Midwestern family anticipating the St. Louis World’s Fair, the film was a smashing success at the box office and inspired other Hollywood studios to produce similar musical period pieces.

Despite its favorable outcome, Meet Me in St. Louis’ production kicked off in a conflicted atmosphere. The film was a risky endeavor. Producer Arthur Freed and Vincente Minnelli, his director of choice, liked the source material – a novel by Sally Benson, based on her New Yorker short stories – finding it an “[affectively warm] evocation of a bygone era, despite its sentimental nature,” as Emanuel Levy puts it. But studio head Louis B. Mayer had reservations. Mayer’s script reader, Lillie Messenger, convinced him to go ahead with the film, however, by reminding him that the story’s content would likely resonate with contemporary audiences: “The script is a fine kind of Americana, and it was about the family. Don’t forget that the country is at war” (quoted by Levy).

Minnelli’s favorite sequence in the film was also under attack at various stages of the production process. The Halloween revelries—during which Tootie Smith (Margaret O’Brien) successfully “kills” an intimidating neighbor by throwing flour in his face and is deemed “the most horrible” by the older children (a high honor)—were almost eliminated from the film. Minnelli recounts the situation in an interview with Jerome Delamater: “The picture was long and everyone said, ‘The only thing that can be cut out entirely is the Halloween number.’ I was beside myself because that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the picture so badly against the whole studio. We ran the film for Freed and all the people involved, and after the picture was run, Freed stood up and said, ‘It’s not the same picture at all.’ It became just a boy and girl story whereas Meet Me in St Louis is the story of a family.” So the Halloween revelries stayed, and one of Esther’s (Judy Garland) numbers – “Boys and Girls,” a song performed at the unfinished World’s Fair grounds after the trolley ride – was cut instead. Joseph Breen also had objections to the Halloween portion of the script when it arrived at the Hays Office for Production Code approval. Breen thought it was unacceptable to portray children throwing stolen furniture and doormats onto a fire; in the final film, the burning furniture we see has presumably been donated by willing neighbors, playing along with the children’s morbid celebrations.

Minnelli’s elegant camera movements, subtle staging, and bold use of Technicolor in Meet Me in St. Louis established him as a new force to be reckoned with in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer filmmaking community. And despite Judy Garland’s reservations at once again playing a younger character, the film introduces an adult, glamorous side of the actress to audiences who had previously known her in roles that emphasized her youthful, childlike qualities. Meet Me in St. Louis has become one of MGM’s most beloved musicals, with such memorable numbers as “The Trolley Song” and Garland’s moving rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “In the words of one of the gentlemen,” Crowther writes, “it is a ginger-peachy show.”

UW Student Blake Davenport on Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND

Thursday, December 4th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound were written by UW Undergraduate student Blake Davenport. Spellbound  will screen on Sunday, December 7 at 2 p.m. in the Chazen Museum of Art.

By Blake Davenport

“I like stories with lots of psychology” – Alfred Hitchcock

Although Hitchcock will forever live on through his masterful films, the public persona he cultivated during his more than 50 years in cinema undoubtedly opened up a realm of discourse that propelled the director to legendary status. From villainous misogynist to eccentric oddball, opinions on the auteur are dizzying in number and largely compounded by the fact that Hitch was notoriously misleading in interviews.

One aspect of his persona that Hitchcock would gladly reveal was his love of the good practical joke. These included: dyeing every course of one of his dinner parties blue; sending 400 smoked herrings to one of his stars; and even handcuffing his leads together for hours during the filming of The 39 Steps. Clearly, this was a man who took a certain delight in testing the psychological limits of those around him both in his work and private life. Invariably, Hitchcock’s penchant for psychological play becomes dramatically grounded in the 1940s, when Freudianism was very much in vogue, in such films as Rebecca (1940) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943). In 1945, Hitchcock would direct his first film narratively centered on psychoanalysis, the romantic thriller Spellbound.

Top-billed by Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, Spellbound weaves together the intricate threads of whodunit murder and psychological romance in an effective and suspenseful, if at times taxing, narrative. Bergman stars as Dr. Constance Peterson, an up and coming psychiatrist and the only female doctor at Green Manors mental hospital. Although Constance is charming, intelligent and essentially a great catch, her fellow doctors tease her for her overly clinical attitude towards patients and life. One of her fellow doctors even attempts to melt her façade with romance, which she notably rebuffs.

With the arrival of young and brilliant new hospital director Dr. Edwardes (Peck), Constance soon finds her world turned upside down, as the two immediately develop a strong attraction to each other. Unfortunately for the happy couple, this is a Hitchcock film and things cant be so cut and dry. Constance soon discovers that Edwardes is not the esteemed psychologist at all, but a deeply disturbed and amnesiac patient of the real Edwardes, who may or may not have been murdered by his pretender. As the police soon pick up on the mysterious “John Brown’s” trail, Constance throws all caution to the wind and the two set out in an attempt to uncover the truth behind Edwardes death and the root of John’s psychosis.

While Spellbound might not top the list of favorite Hitchcock films for cinephiles, there are many elements throughout that make the film a worthwhile treat for admirers of the esteemed director. On a certain level the character roles are quite demanding of its two leads, as Peck and Bergman have to juggle the duality of romance and patient-doctor relationship. However, the two characters anchor the film beautifully and create a passionate web of love and psychology that is made even more interesting by the rumor that Bergman and Peck carried on an affair during filming.

Perhaps the most impressive aspects of Spellbound lie in some of the technical decisions that were made as well. Bernard Herrmann, who became Hitchcock’s usual musical composer 10 years after Spellbound was released, famously declined to work on the film, which fortunately paved the way for Miklos Rozsa’s beautifully sweeping score. Ever the perfectionist, Hitchcock complained that the music “got in the way of his direction”, but Rozsa’s work is perfect for the tone of the film and well deserving of one of only seven Academy Awards won for a Hitchcock film.

And then there’s the famous dream sequence. As a major plot point in the film revolves around Constance and her mentor attempting to analyze John’s dreams, Hitchcock had his producer David O. Selznick bring in none other than Salvador Dali to design the entire sequence. The result? A stunning 2-minute (cut from 20!) twilight-zone journey, abound with gigantic blinking eyes, men with no faces and a variety of other symbols which unfortunately went right over this film major’s head. Nonetheless, the sequence is a must see quite simply for the visual pleasure, but also as one of the first filmic illustrations of psychoanalysis on screen!

Spellbound is not without its problems. In spending so much time developing the psychoanalytic framework of the film, the suspense plotline ultimately falls short, as it never really seems that our couple is in any pressing danger. Disregarding narrative qualms however, Spellbound takes the audience on a highly entertaining adventure that is a must see for anyone looking to gleam a little bit more about the psychology of Hitchcock.

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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

By Jim Healy, UW Cinematheque Director of Programming

During this season of giving, please take a moment to consider how the UW Cinematheque has enhanced our cinematic culture in 2014.

This year, the Cinematheque has presented nearly 150 screenings and programs, all for free, in our regular venues at 4070 Vilas Hall, the Chazen Museum of Art, and the Marquee Theater at Union South. Our selections have included series of films devoted to directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Claire Denis, Jacques Demy, Richard Fleischer, William Friedkin and David Cronenberg. Our other series included a salute to actor Alec Guinness, in honor of his centennial; plus, New Chilean Cinema, Rare Film Noir, New Restorations from the Academy Film Archive, Horror Classics for Halloween and WWI movies. Plus, we welcomed filmmaker Guy Maddin in person and brought you the only area theatrical screenings of such acclaimed new movies as the Oscar nominated documentary Cutie and the Boxer, Juliette Binoche in Camille Claudel 1915, Lars von Trier's epic Nymphomaniac, Jesse Eisenberg in The Double and Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves, Desiree Akhavan's Appropriate Behavior and, still coming up on December 5, the final film of Alain Resnais, Life of Riley.

In August of 2014, DCP (Digital Cinema Package) was added to the list of formats that can currently be shown in the UW Cinematheque's main venue, at 4070 Vilas Hall. As we prepare for our January-May 2015 programming season, our projection booth is being upgraded so that 4K DCP, currently the highest standard of digital exhibition, can be screened. Upcoming 4K screenings will include canonized titles such as The Lady from Shanghai by Orson Welles (whose centennial we will celebrate with screenings throughout 2015), Roberto Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia and The Beatles' first movie, A Hard Day's Night. Meanwhile, we've done more than our part in keeping 35mm projection alive with screenings of dozens of films in the original format throughout the year, including our upcoming December 7 screening of Hitchcock's Spellbound and our December 12 show of Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis.

Additionally, our auditorium at 4070 Vilas will be given a rejuvenating boost with new seats and carpeting, all improvements that make our venue an ideal place to watch a movie.

Our next improvement project will bring digital 3D projection capabilities to the UW Madison campus. In November of 2014, the Cinematheque held an off-site benefit 3D screening of Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language, which raised nearly 25% of the funds needed to give 3D a permanent home at the Cinematheque.  

Whether DCP or 35mm, 2K or 4K, 3D or 2D, the Cinematheque screenings will continue to be free and open to the public, but we still rely on donations from our audiences to keep our technical facilities up-to-date. Please help us in providing the Cinematheque with the most state-of-the-art, most versatile exhibition equipment in the region by making a donation today to the Cinematheque's Friends of Film fund here.

While we plan for the future, the Cinematheque continues to provide you with a bounty of cinematic treasures at our three regular venues. In addition to the above-mentioned Orson Welles salute, our January-May calendar includes another centennial tribute, this time to maestro of Italian comedy Mario Monicelli. Plus, more important premieres, Polish masterpieces, new Argentine cinema, the schlocky and the sublime from Cannon Films, and in-person visits from Cineteca di Bologna's Guy Borlee and acclaimed screenwriter/director (and Pewaukee native) David Koepp. 

See you at the Cinematheque!

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