How to Watch HOW I WON THE WAR

Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

How to Watch How I Won the War

By Amanda McQueen, UW Cinematheque Programmer and Project Assistant

I'll admit, the first time I sat down to watch How I Won the War, I didn't make it all the way through. I just wasn't in the mood for a film that asks so much of the viewer. Richard Lester's comedic war satire is deliberately difficult - just as much today as it was for audiences in 1967. Those who didn't understand the film upon its release disliked it; those who did understand it - or, more often, who misunderstood it - were offended. The Rank Organization found the film traitorous and refused to screen it in its theaters on Memorial Day. The New York Times' Bosley Crowther also attacked the film, insisting "war isn't funny." Of course, that was precisely Lester's point: war is not funny, or glamorous, or entertaining. Though it hasn't quite gained the status of an overlooked masterpiece, How I Won the War is a film that bears revisiting, and Steven Soderbergh has called it a fascinating work that only gets better with age. So here are some thoughts about how to watch How I Won the War.

1. Don't worry too much about the plot. Adapted by English playwright Charles Wood from Patrick Ryan's 1963 novel, How I Won the War tells of the comically incompetent Lt. Earnest Goodbody (Michael Crawford), who is given a mission to set up a cricket pitch in enemy territory in North Africa in order to improve morale and impress a visiting officer. While this plot provides a basic through-line, your experience of the film might be more rewarding if you approach it not as a conventional narrative, but as variations on a theme: war may be necessary but it is never noble.

2. It's OK if you don't get all the references.  How I Won the War is a dense film, and although it can be read as commentary on Vietnam, the satire is mobilized through British experiences of World War II. Indeed, it is because Lester is criticizing the Good War - rather than a more controversial conflict - that his film was declared unpatriotic. But it is through this historically and culturally specific lens that the film's satire should be read. So the cricket match - that typically British pastime - becomes a symbol not only for the idea of war as a game, but also for the film's commentary on the upperclass military officers. There are also the recreations of actual battles: Dunkirk, Dieppe, El Alamein, and Arnhem. Staged as skirmishes in which Goodbody's men fight and die, these battles serve as reminders of real-life tactical errors and a critique of British Army commander Bernard Law Montgomery's leadership. Some of this is made evident in the film, but if you’re not aware of things like the irreverence toward Montgomery or the classist associations of cricket, then the satire can be hard to fully grasp. However, that's all right, because the film has another point of entry.

3. If you're not a WWII history buff, focus on the critique of war movies. Lester found films like Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) condemnable for presenting war as entertainment. So How I Won the War attempts to deconstruct conventional war films by undermining tropes like the important assignment, the noble sacrifice of those killed, and the fostering of camaraderie under adversity. Humorous references to these conventional war films, such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), also abound. Though many critics chastised Lester's film for not treating war with respect, the director believed that it was far more respectful than something like The Dirty Dozen (1967), because it was "doing everything in one's power to say, 'For God's sake, don't use war as entertainment: aren't you ashamed?'" And since we are still surrounded by mediated images of war - the Brad Pitt vehicle Fury being just the most recent example - we are well equipped to handle this aspect of the film's indictment.

4. Embrace the Brechtianism. Like Jean Luc Godard's Les carabiniers (1963), How I Won the War attempts to bring Bertolt Brecht's techniques of distanciation into mainstream cinema. So Lester continually disrupts the narrative, reminding viewers that they are watching a movie and refusing to allow them to identify with characters or experience sympathy for the situations. As Neil Sinyard notes, the film is "structured like a minefield, ready to explode" when you least expect it. There are dramatic jumps in time and space. Actors break the fourth wall. Archival footage is intercut with new footage, in both color and black and white. And there are odd, surrealist touches, such as the brightly colored dead soldiers that follow Goodbody's troop. Lester has admitted recently that some of these techniques were perhaps a mistake, as they alienated audiences, but they seemed the best way to achieve the film's goals at the time. And today, they still offer a fascinating example of political argument through stylistic and narrative experimentation.

5. Enjoy Roy Kinnear. How I Won the War is perhaps best remembered for John Lennon's appearance as the kleptomaniac Gripweed. This was Lennon's third film with Lester - after A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965) - and it is reportedly the film to which one of the verses of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" refers:

I saw a film today, oh boy
The English army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book

But How I Won the War features other notable performances, including one from fantastic British character actor Roy Kinnear, who also appeared in several of Lester's films and was a close friend of the director. Personally, I always find a film improved by Kinnear's presence.

It's important to see How I Won the War as the product of its time. Lester was young and disillusioned and created an angry film that was determined to make audiences ashamed of what they were watching. Even if it takes more than one viewing to fully absorb what Lester's trying to do, How I Won the War is ultimately worth the effort.

A 35mm print of Charles Chaplin's Shoulder Arms begins a Cinematheque series honoring the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I on Saturday, November 1 at 7 p.m. Shoulder Arms will be immediately followed by a 35mm print of the decidedly World War II-based How I Won the War.


Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man  was written by Jenna Stoeber, Media and Cultural Studies Grad Student and Teaching Assistant in the Department of Communication Arts at UW, Madison. The Wicker Man: Final Cut will screen at the Cinematheque on Halloween, October 31, at 7 p.m. in our regular venue 4070 Vilas Hall.

The history of The Wicker Man is one mainly composed of cuts, from the original run time of 99 minutes (though some records suggest it was even longer) to the brisk 87-minute film that most audiences are familiar with. Large portions were removed so that it might run as a B-movie attraction to A-headliners like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (which screened earlier this month at the Cinematheque). Somewhere in the editing process, the clips of those 12 minutes were lost, and audiences have had to make do with the truncated version ever since.

Even in its trimmed state, however, the movie has been a hallmark of high quality horror cinema. For example, it was described by the film magazine Cinefantastique as being “the Citizen Kane of horror films.” Even for people who aren’t fans of horror, it’s not hard to see why this film is a classic. Few movies - and fewer horror movies, especially - can so adeptly reposition a viewer from one screening to the next. When first seeing the film, we, the audience, are very much positioned in the same role as Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a deeply devout police officer who has come to the paganistic island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of Rowan Morrison. Seeing the story with fresh eyes, it’s impossible not to follow along with him as we all piece together what happened to Rowan, if indeed she exists at all. He canvases the town, but Mrs. Morrison insists she doesn’t have a daughter named Rowan, and the townspeople contend that they’ve never seen her picture. However, traces of her presence are seen throughout the village and every piece of information leads us closer to understanding what’s happening. As Howie investigates, we uncover more clues about the jubilant heathen religion practiced on the island. The villagers clearly know more than they let on, and each sinister hint we find and Howie finds only leads to more questions.

But something happens when viewed a second, third, or fourth time (or more, if you’re like me); once you know the mystery, you can’t help but identify with the villagers as they drop small hints about Rowan’s fate and about the unknown rituals they practice. Instead of helplessly allowing the coy barkeep Alder MacGreagor (Lindsay Kemp) to direct our gazes, we are free to watch as he smirks at the increasingly frustrated sergeant. We know, as the incisive Miss Rose (Diane Cilento) knows, the grim pagan lore that grounds their belief system.

The insight provided is astounding. In a particularly unsettling scene, Howie tears open a desk he believes is Rowan’s, only to find a beetle with a string glued to its back, circling around a nail until it can’t move any more. A school girl laughs and calls it a poor old thing, to which the sergeant snaps “Well, why in God’s name do you do it, girl?” But she can’t say just yet- that would spoil everything. For those re-viewing, the machinations are laid bare and we are encouraged to take part in the festivities.

For years, Christopher Lee, who plays the island’s eloquent patron, Lord Summerisle, insisted that a longer, more complete version must exist somewhere, in some canister waiting to be untombed- and he was right. As the movie’s 40th anniversary approached, film distributor StudioCanal called for a search for any existing prints that might contain the missing footage. After several months, a 92 minute version was found buried in the Harvard Film Archives.

The Wicker Man: Final Cut - perhaps named prematurely, as several minutes are still missing- features a restoration of roughly 5 minutes of footage that has been unseen for decades, as well as some familiar scenes shuffled into their original order. For fans of the movie, watching the extended version is like hearing a second punchline to your favorite joke. The additions include two fantastic extended monologues by the always impeccable Lee, including a salacious sequence in which he stands beneath the barmaid Willow’s window and recites Walt Whitman’s “I think I could turn and live with animals…” Also restored are some of the movie’s beautiful musical sequences, such as the subtle and demure “Gently Johnny.”

The restoration offers satisfying new sights and sounds even for old fans. The Wicker Man: Final Cut is a Halloween necessity, regardless of how many times you’ve seen it- and especially if you’ve never seen it at all. As Lord Summerisle would doubtless say in his assiduous way, “it is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man.” (Jenna Stoeber)

A Glimpse at SABOTEUR

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur was written by UW Madison student Blake Davenport. A 35mm print of Saboteur will screen on Sunday, October 26, 2 p.m. in our Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen 'More Hitchcock!' series.

High-octane excitement! Circus performers! Romance! A Dastardly gang of spies! Even Explosions! Although I may have led one to believe that I am simply describing one of the weekly parties thrown by the UW professors (you guys aren’t fooling us), these are just a few of the elements Alfred Hitchcock utilizes to construct his highly entertaining 1942 spy thriller Saboteur. Sandwiched between two of Hitchcock’s complex relationship dramas Suspicion (1941) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Saboteur finds our beloved Alfred in full action mode, showcasing early experimentation with grand locales and fast-paced plotting that undoubtedly laid the groundwork for his later masterpiece North by Northwest.

Set during the heated midst of World War II, the film almost immediately begins in disaster, as a massive fire breaks out at the airplane plant where our protagonist Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) also happens to work. When one of Barry’s friends and colleagues is killed in the fire, Barry is accused of sabotage and murder. From this point onward, the plot adheres strongly to Hitchcock’s oft-used “wrong man” formula, with Barry attempting to uncover the real perpetrators of the sabotage while simultaneously evading the police. Along his quest Barry encounters billboard model – and Hitchcock signature blonde - Patricia Martin (Priscilla Lane). Although Patricia is initially extremely way of Barry, even attempting to turn him in, she becomes crucial to the hero’s quest as they team up to take down the group of saboteurs and clear Barry’s name.

Judging from the scene that signals the fire alone, one can immediately ascertain how a certain play with style comes to the forefront in Saboteur. Although the camera is static, thick billows of black smoke pour across the frame, alerting the audience to the ominous presence of the fire and the saboteurs. This shot is signature Hitchcock, as the heightened visuals work to expose action as opposed to simple dialogue or dramatics. Another moment like this is when the camera humorously tracks in to a novel entitled “The Death of a Nobody” as the saboteurs taunt Barry. Another Hitchcock flourish is the use of memorable locales, from deserted ghost towns to New York City, a touch that allows the director a greater flexibility in how the action is staged throughout the film. As the thrilling climax takes place on the Statue of Liberty herself, its clear that the spectacle of locale is almost as important as the story.

While directorial style is, of course, a huge contributing factor to the enjoyment of Saboteur, it is the personal opinion of this author that the colorful cast of supporting characters provides just as much of the fun. As the police refuse to listen to Barry’s side of the story, the ragtag supporting give Barry the solace and assistance he needs to clear his name. Ranging from a jolly truck driver to a troupe of circus performers, the supporting players provide an oppositional stance to the sort of “fascist” manner in which the police pursue Barry. It should also be noted that Patricia’s blind uncle, portrayed by Vaughan Glaser, might be one of the coolest Hitchcock characters of all time, acting like sort of 40s version of Morpheus who can see “intangible things,” such as Barry’s innocence.

Hitchcock held a certain sort amount of disdain towards Saboteur. While the auteur was famously known for attempting to control every aspect of his pictures, the parameters surrounding this particular picture didn’t quite gel with this aesthetic. David O. Selznick, Hitchcock’s usual producing partner of the time sold the script to producers from Universal, which largely impacted the budget and casting of the film. Hitchcock himself notes in his interview with Francois Truffaut, that Priscilla Lane, “Was imposed on me as a fait accompli. She simply wasn’t the right type for a Hitchcock picture.” Further along in the conversation Hitchcock makes similar comments about overall structure as well, noting how the plot is a “mass of ideas”. However, from just a single viewing of Saboteur, its quite clear that this was just Hitchcock’s complaints are a reflection of his usual perfectionism.  The film is very entertaining, suspenseful, and action-packed, and while Hitchcock may not have preferred his female lead, Cummings and Lane turn in very good performances that carry the narrative effectively. Retaining excellent use of setting and one of the most memorable Hitchcock climaxes of all-time, Saboteur is an exciting thriller that easily ranks as a must see for anyone looking to spend a little more time in the world of Hitchcock

A Strange Soundtrack for Your Body's Ears

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay on the music featured in Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears was written by UW Cinematheque Programmer and Chief Projectionist, Mike King. The Strange Color will have its only Madison-area theatrical screening on Friday, October 24 at 7p.m. in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall.

A Strange Soundtrack for Your Body's Ears

By Mike King

Belgian directing team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani craft modern giallos with unbelievably vivid textural detail.  Their hallucinatory new film, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, is riddled with cinephilic allusions, yet wholly original.  Though clearly indebted to films of the past, the only thing Cattet and Forzani actually copy verbatim is music: much of the soundtrack is directly lifted from the 1970s cinema that inspires them.

Of course, films have been repurposing each others’ music since the studio era, with examples ranging from sly commentary, as when characters in William Wellman’s hardscrabble Depression portrait Wild Boys of the Road ironically whistle “We’re in the Money” from Warner’s contemporaneous Gold Diggers of 1933, to the simply bewildering, as when “Over the Rainbow” appears as a refrain in the seedy 1941 noir I Wake Up Screaming (a title, incidentally, that would fit The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears like a black leather glove).  In recent years, Quentin Tarantino has become the king of this kind of sonic appropriation, curating Billboard-charting soundtracks that crib from blaxploitation movies and Ennio Morricone scores.  Tarantino traffics in deep cuts, but the more well known the source, the murkier the line between homage and theft—in 2012, Kim Novak cried foul when The Artist swiped Bernard Herrmann’s iconic Vertigo theme. 

Like Tarantino, Cattet and Forzani have enviable record collections, and playing DJ is an inextricable part of their creative process.  The duo assembles their soundtrack as they write; music selections are even indicated in the script, so the uncanny fusion of sound and image is embedded from the film’s earliest stages. In an interview with Electric Sheep, Cattet reveals that “music inspires the way a sequence develops. It gives us a rhythm, and ideas too… all of a sudden, there’s one track that strikes us, so we play it again and again.”  For Cattet and Forzani, old giallo scores become muses for the film itself: crate-digging is symbiotic with screenwriting.

Given their subject matter, naturally Cattet and Forzani use a couple of Ennio Morricone cues (his music appeared in their previous giallo, Amer, as well), including this chilling number, originally from The Short Night of the Glass Dolls:


Forzani cited the following Morricone composition from Maddalena as “the most important music” in The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears.  The breathy vocals accompany one of the film’s most spellbinding sequences.


A few of Strange Color’s non-Morricone pieces exist online, as well.  Originally composed for a 1970 Italian take on The Picture of Dorian Gray (directed by erstwhile Sergio Leone cinematographer Massimo Dallmano), Giuseppe de Luca’s “Rito a Los Angeles” was also used by Steven Soderbergh for a sequence in Ocean’s Twelve.


Cattet and Forzani’s incomparably broad knowledge of exploitation sounds extends even to Italian ripoffs of softcore’s deathless Emmanuelle series.  Nico Fidenco’s “My Boundless” is one of the film’s most memorable cuts.


Just as every other aspect of the film is endlessly revised in the transition from script to screen, not all the music Cattet and Forzani had in mind made it to the final cut.  Cattet cites the theme for Seven Blood-Stained Orchids as “the very first piece we thought of for our film, and it inspired the first drafts.”  Even though it no longer appears in the film, its status as a key inspiration merits inclusion here - consider it a bonus track.



Monday, October 20th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

November 13, 3:30 p.m., UPDATE: Online ticket sales for this event have ended. A very limited number of tickets will be available at the will call table in the Point Cinema lobby beginning at 6 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $20, cash only.

The UW Cinematheque is proud to announce the only Madison-area screening of the latest feature from cinema legend Jean-Luc Godard, Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage), the director’s first feature-length project in 3D. The 3D benefit screening will take place on Thursday, November 13, at 7 p.m., at the Marcus Point Cinema, 7825 Big Sky Drive, in Madison. Tickets for this screening are $20 and proceeds will benefit the UW Cinematheque’s efforts to bring digital 3D projection to our regular screening venue, 4070 Vilas Hall.

Half a century after igniting the French New Wave with his revolutionary Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard has produced his first 3D feature, a mind-blowing fusion of art and technology that seems beamed in from a future era of moviemaking.  One of cinema’s true visionaries, Godard applies his relentless creativity to 3D, using custom-made camera rigs to conjure breathtaking, eye-bending effects like you’ve never seen before, and that absolutely must be experienced on the big screen.  A magisterial meditation on philosophy, infinity, and the auteur’s own pet dog, Goodbye to Language is as dazzling and invigorating as anything in Godard's legendary filmography.  Far and away one of the most acclaimed films of the year, Goodbye to Language won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where New York Times critic Manohla Dargis called it a “thrilling cinematic experience that nearly levitated the theater.” 

The UW Cinematheque presents the Wisconsin premiere of this awe-inspiring achievement; as an added bonus, our 3D screening will be introduced by UW Madison’s Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies Emeritus David Bordwell, who has declared Goodbye to Language “the best new film I’ve seen this year, and the best 3D film I’ve ever seen.” Professor Bordwell will also lead a post-screening discussion with the audience.

The benefit screening of Goodbye to Language will screen on Thursday, November 13, 7 p.m. at:

Marcus Point Cinema
7825 Big Sky Drive
Madison, WI 53719

France | 2014 | DCP | 70 min. | French with English subtitles
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Heloise Godet, Kamel Abdelli, Richard Chevalier

Special Thanks to Gary Palmucci and Jonathan Hertzberg of Kino Lorber, David Bordwell, Mike King, Ben Reiser, Christina Martin-Wright

Tickets, $20, can be purchased through the Wisconsin Film Festival’s ticketing system here.

Read David Bordwell on Goodbye to Language here:

Read David Bordwell's further thoughts on Goodbye to Language here.

November 13, 3:30 p.m., UPDATE: Online ticket sales for this event have ended. A very limited number of tickets will be available at the will call table in the Point Cinema lobby beginning at 6 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $20, cash only.


THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY: Hitchcock's Surrealist Romance

Friday, October 17th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

By Amanda McQueen, UW Cinematheque Programmer and Project Assistant

The Trouble With Harry is a bit of an outlier in Alfred Hitchcock's oeuvre. Though ostensibly about the discovery of a dead body, the film is really a droll - if somewhat macabre - romantic comedy, lacking in the suspense typically associated with the director's most celebrated works. Harry was also a commercial failure upon its release in 1955, and this seems to have played a role in the comparative lack of attention the film has received. In more recent years, however, critics have started to reevaluate the film, and rightly so.

Based on a 1949 novella by English writer Trevor Jack Story, The Trouble with Harry tells of a group of townspeople who find a corpse in the woods - that of the titular Harry. Each believing they are in some way responsible for Harry's death, they conspire to hide the body until a solution can be reached. In the midst of the discussions of mortality and murder that ensue, love blossoms and couples are formed. Paramount considered adapting the novella in 1950, but thought the scenario too whimsical and unworldly for an effective screen translation. The story's understated dark humor and romance appealed to Hitchcock, however, and he bought the rights - anonymously, in order to ensure a low price. Hitchcock had a multiple picture deal with Paramount at the time, and though the studio was still skeptical about the property's commercial potential, they were willing to bet on the director's reputation and put up a budget of $1 million.

To write the film, Hitchcock selected his favored screenwriter of the moment, John Michael Hayes. Hayes had just finished Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955), to much acclaim, and would follow up Harry with the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). (But a disagreement over screen credit on Man severed Hayes' personal and professional relationship with Hitchcock permanently). Hayes' penchant for character development and sharp dialogue made him a good fit for Harry, which is peopled with quipping eccentrics. Moreover, Hitchcock had decided to set the film in a small town in New England in the fall, and this appealed to Hayes, who had grown up in that part of the country. To ensure the authenticity of the desired autumnal foliage, locations were selected in Craftsbury and Morrisville, Vermont, and though Hitchcock wanted to shoot the entire film there - setting up a make-shift sound stage in the American Legion building in Morrisville - uncooperative weather drove the crew back to California, bags of real Vermont leaves in hand.

Upon its release in October of 1955, Harry received mixed reviews; some critics found it slow and strained, others thought it sophisticated and funny. Though it performed decently overseas, it was a flop in America and ultimately did not recoup its costs. At first glance, we might understand why. Harry has no big-name stars and no pre-sold story; it had only Hitchcock's name to market it. And this might not have been a problem, had Harry been something more typical of the Master of Suspense. But as film critic Peter Bradshaw hypothesizes, while audiences expected Agatha Christie, Hitchcock gave them Waiting for Godot.

Aesthetically speaking, The Trouble with Harry has a great deal to recommend it. It features lush VistaVision cinematography by long-term Hitchcock collaborator Robert Burks; solid editing from Paramount veteran Alma Macrorie (nominated for an Oscar for her work on The Bridges at Toko-Ri [1954]); and a jaunty, ostinato-based musical score from Bernard Herrmann. This was the first of seven soundtracks Herrmann did for Hitchcock over the course of their 11-year relationship, and it remained the director's favorite. Harry is also well cast, making good use of stalwart character actors Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, and Edmund Gwenn, and featuring an early performance from Jerry Mathers - two years before he would become beloved throughout America as Theodore "The Beaver" Cleaver. Most notably, though, Harry also marks the screen debut of Shirley MacLaine, who was reportedly cast after associate producer Herbert Coleman and unit production manager Doc Erickson took a break from location scouting to see The Pajama Game on Broadway. As luck would have it, dancer Carol Haney was out sick, and MacLaine, her understudy, was on that night.

It is ultimately the film's tone, however, that has really started to attract some critics back to The Trouble with Harry, ironically, since it was tone that deterred Paramount from adapting Story's novella in the first place and it was the tone that seemed most off-putting to contemporary reviewers and audiences. Harry is fairly frank in its discussion of death and sex - at least by 1955 standards. Certain concessions had to be made to the Production Code Administration, of course, to ensure the film's release: for example, Jennifer's son is illegitimate in the novella but not so in the film, and the film eliminates the novella's rather perverse scene where Harry offers to make love to Jennifer while pretending to be Robert - his dead brother and Jennifer's former lover. Nevertheless, double entendres and allusions abound, and there are explicit discussions about nude portraits and the scandalous double bed. More noteworthy, however, is the way characters discuss their love lives and their potential for murder with the same nonchalance and practicality. Death and sex are completely intertwined in the film and neither seems to be cause for much fuss. Harry's fictional town of Highwater, Vermont thus comes across like a strange dreamscape, populated with witty sleepwalkers. Indeed, it is this eerie, somnambulistic detachment of the characters - their muted responses to things that should be shocking or upsetting - that has sparked comparisons between Harry and surrealist works like Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).

The Trouble with Harry has been called a pastoral comedy, a fairy tale, and an experiment in "radical, absurdist cinema." However you want to characterize it, it is certainly an unusual, perhaps even dream-like, but ultimately delightful experience. It is also an experience that Hitchcock stood resolutely by. The director blamed his "enemies" – the distributor and exhibitors – for the film's financial failure, and though he was forced to admit that it ultimately proved to be "an expensive self-indulgence," he also insisted that The Trouble with Harry was one of his personal favorites.

A 35mm print of The Trouble with Harry will screen on Sunday, October 19 at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the Chazen Museum of Art.


UW Cinematheque's Ben Reiser on DON'T LOOK NOW

Thursday, October 16th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy


By Ben Reiser, UW Cinematheque Programmer and Accounts Manager

(There are some mild spoilers below, but if you want to experience this film the way it should be experienced, maybe wait ‘til after you’ve seen it…)

I first saw Don't Look Now on the tail end of a double bill with Rosemary’s Baby at Cinema Village in NYC when I was 14. My friend Steve and I had gone (and gotten some adult to buy us tickets to this R rated double bill) to see Rosemary’s Baby which I had seen parts of on TV. We didn’t know anything about Don’t Look Now, and weren’t really even planning on staying for all of it, unless it really grabbed us.

Well, by the end of the first scene it had indeed grabbed us. By the end of the movie I was a wreck, the wind knocked out of me, unable to get up from my seat or say anything to Steve. That’s only happened to me two other times at the movies (I saw Halloween in 1978 when I was 12, that was also the only time I’ve ever actually hid under a seat, and later, in 1988, I was unable to move for a good five minutes after the ending of The Vanishing).

Don’t Look Now immediately became one of the cornerstones in my lifelong love of scary movies. I’ve since seen it, talked about it, recommended it, thought about it, argued about it, and dreamt about it so many times I feel like I’m too close to it now to be able to say or write anything about it, but I’ll try.

To prepare myself I finally scouted out a copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s original short story of the same name to see just how much of the DNA of this film is Du Maurier’s and how much is Nicolas Roeg’s (and screenwriters Allan Scott and Chris Bryant). What I discovered is that the film is surprisingly faithful to the short story in terms of it’s plotting, but the overall tone is different and there are some rather important cinematic embellishments and differences in terms of character and theme:

First, the title. I’ve always wondered what, if anything, it signified. Ultimately I decided it was meant as a cautionary flag for the audience, and that at a certain point towards the end of the film, it was best to look away. Perhaps it should have popped up as an onscreen warning along the lines of the countdown clock that allowed viewers a chance to retreat to the "Coward's Corner" before the ending of William Castle's Homicidal (1961), or the infamous countdown before the climax of Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone (1998), but in Du Maurier's short story, which for most of its length is more of a comedy of manners, the most likely refers to the main character (John Baxter)’s humorous attempts to keep his wife from seeing a pair of sisters (twins in the short story) who claim to have a psychic bond with the couple’s dead daughter. The humorous tone and mild satire of British class warfare in the short story is replaced by a more somber meditation on grief and on the dangers of misperception and miscommunication in the film adaptation.

Towards that end, Roeg makes even better use of Venice as the setting of the story than Du Maurier does, doubling down on the language and cultural barriers only hinted at in the original story. By making Baxter an American with a British wife rather than a fellow European, and as played by Donald Sutherland, Baxter conveys a different kind of entitled arrogance than that of the original story’s upper crust Brit. He’s even more a fish out of water and his struggles to understand and be understood are a constant source of unease. Venice in the film is not only a dank, shadowy maze that feels like a twisty, open air haunted house (every hotel and restaurant in the film is shuttered, closing down, covered with sheets, it’s the end of the tourist season and it feels like there will never be another one) it’s also a very foreign land, with strange customs and a language that for the characters in the film and most American viewers is a definite roadblock, an obstacle where important nuances are lost, never to be recovered.

Roeg adds a haunting prologue not found in the short story that firmly establishes a mood of dread and sorrow as well as introducing a number of recurring visual motifs: water, broken glass, the color red. These elements provide a roadmap that viewers will find difficult to decipher upon first viewing, and indeed it’s this wonderful “form mirroring content” that makes Don’t Look Now such a master class in filmmaking. The film sprinkles clues and hints throughout in a way that leads the audience to come to the same conclusions as the characters, right or (frequently) wrong. We never get a clearer picture of events than the characters do, but it’s done so expertly that we don’t register the manipulation. Through his use of unconventional editing and sound design, Roeg disorients us as viewers much as Baxter and his wife, Laura (a radiant yet haunted Julie Christie), are disoriented in the back alleys of Venice and adrift in their lives as they struggle to deal with the death of a child. The visceral cinematography tends to put us in the center of the action, and in a terrifying sequence, we are dangling by a thread, high above a hard floor after some broken scaffolding leaves Baxter hanging on for dear life. We as viewers are right there with him, fists clenched, hearts racing.

The film’s infamous sex scene is but a mere mention in the short story. Much has been made of this scene between Sutherland and Christie in the movie, it frequently ends up on lists of the top sex scenes in cinema history. Eschewing a linear trajectory, we see shots of the couple making love interspersed with shots of the two of them going through the routine motions of getting dressed, post-coitus, for dinner. There is a vérité quality to the lovemaking that is rarely seen in such scenes using movie stars, awkwardly angled body parts, and the fairly explicit indication of cunnilingus. Perhaps what caused such a stir is that this sex more than most onscreen sex resembles the way an actual married couple might commingle, with a knowledge of each other’s bodies – what works and what doesn’t.

And then of course there’s the ending. I’ve always thought that Don’t Look Now has one of the best shock-endings in the history of cinema, but perhaps that’s not an uncontested opinion. I mentioned this week’s screening to a longtime friend recently and he said something about how he could never get past the dumb ending. I couldn’t disagree more, but it’s true that for as much as I love it I always assumed that it was a Roeg revision, not part of the original story design. I was happily surprised to discover this week that the ending is Du Maurier’s completely. I think it’s perfect, and devastating, and unforgettable. The same can be said for the film as a whole.

A 35mm print of Don't Look Now will screen on Friday, October 17 at 7 p.m. in the CInematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall.

Belmondo: Cascadeur

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

By Jim Healy, UW Cinematheque Director of Programming

In the U.S. today, Jean-Paul Belmondo is still recognized as an iconic superstar of international cinema, but American audiences of today might not be quite as aware of the incredible range of this legendary performer. Belmondo is now best known for his leading roles in the groundbreaking features of the French nouvelle vague, films like Godard's Breathless (1960), A Woman is a Woman (1961) and Pierrot le fou (1965), Melville's Leon Morin, Priest (1961) and Le Doulos (1963), Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid (1969) and Resnais' Stavisky (1974). Thanks to enterprising independent American distributors like Rialto Pictures and The Film Desk and specialty home video labels like The Criterion Collection, most of these Belmondo titles have been kept in circulation for American art house theaters and on DVD/Blu-Ray. But these New Wave movies represent the more cerebral side of Belmondo's filmography and only a small fraction of his more than 60 feature film appearances.

In Europe, Belmondo is much better known as a light-hearted man-of-action. A former boxer with a memorable mug that has earned him comparisons with Humphrey Bogart, Belmondo made several dozen films in his native France during the 1960s, 70s and 80s that exploit his marvelous physicality and his willingness to do his own stunts. These movies - some straight-forward action thrillers, some comic spoofs - frequently found Belmondo pairing with one of a handful of French directors who knew best how to capture the charisma and antics of this unique star. The most notable of these directors include Henri Verneuil, Georges Lautner and Jacques Deray, and, in fact, several of their Belmondo vehicles, like Deray's Borsalino (1970) and Verneuil's The Burglars (1971) were originally given wide releases in American theaters. That neither of these popular films have been made available on DVD in the U.S. is indicative of the access most American viewers have to Belmondo's less-serious side.

The auteur who gave Belmondo his greatest exposure as an action superstar was Philippe de Broca (1933-2004). Belmondo and de Broca made five features together, beginning with the 1962 swashbuckler Cartouche and ending with 1975's L'incorrigible. Over the next two Saturdays, October 18 and 25, the Cinematheque will present new restorations of their second and third collaborations, the rollicking action-comedies That Man from Rio (1964) and Up to His Ears (1965). An only partial listing of Belmondo's activities in That Man from Rio alone include: driving a tractor across an airport runway, skydiving into a jungle swamp (where he has a showdown with a live alligator!), clinging to the side of an eight-story building and swinging, Tarzan-style, from a vine. But if that's not enough for ya, here's a montage of awe-inspiring moments from over a dozen different movies where Belmondo, in the tradition of Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan, risks life and limb for your entertainment. This compilation includes clips from Verneuil's The Burglars and The Night Caller (aka Fear Over the City, 1975), as well as de Broca's Le Magnifique (1973), three fun movies that we included in our Cinematheque's Belmondo retrospective during the summer of 2011.


Like Keaton and Chan, Belmondo suffered numerous injuries for his art, including fractured hands and legs. A heavy metal pulley struck him in the face during the making of Hold-Up in 1985 and Belmondo swore off doing his own stunts from that point on. A stroke in 2001 has kept him almost entirely off-screen for the last decade but he returned to take on the leading role in Un Homme et son chien, a remake of Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D, in 2008. While we anxiously await his return to cinema screens, a few efforts by American distributors have been made to remind us of Belmondo's range and extraordinary use of his physical instrument. In 2012, Olive Films released DVDs and Blu-Rays of two Belmondo vehicles from the 60s, Gerard Oury's jokey The Brain (1969) and Verneuil's Green in the Sun (1964). The latter film, a lighter knock-off of Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, concludes with a rollicking bare-knuckle brawl between Belmondo and Lino Ventura.

Now, the good folks at Cohen Film Collection are theatrically re-releasing That Man from Rio in honor of its 50th anniversary. That Man from Rio was conceived in order to cash in on the growing popularity of the James Bond franchise, but Sean Connery's got nothing on Belmondo when it comes to action scenes. The film proved so popular everywhere it played (especially in the U.S.) that Belmondo and de Broca immediately teamed up again for Up to His Ears the very next year. Cohen has made both films available in new 2K restorations. That Man from Rio screens Saturday, October 18 at 7 p.m. and Up to His Ears screens Saturday, October 25 at 7 p.m. Both screenings in 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue.



Even More Hitchcock!

Friday, October 10th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

by Amanda McQueen, UW Cinematheque Programmer and Project Assistant

Not only is Alfred Hitchcock one of cinema's most popular directors, he is also one of the most studied and analyzed. It has helped, of course, that he was prolific; with a career spanning about 55 years, there's no shortage of material for critics, scholars, and fans to delve into. In the early-1920s, after some time designing title cards for silent films, he graduated to work as an art director, writer, editor, and assistant director - sometimes performing all four roles on the same film. Between 1925 and 1976, he directed over 50 feature films, spanning the transition from silent to sound and working in both Britain and Hollywood. He also produced and directed a number of additional projects for television, mostly for his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

When auteur theory arose in the 1950s and 1960s, Hitchcock was one of the first directors brought into the pantheon of great filmmakers. Since then, book upon book and article upon article have sought and analyzed the director's signatures - those elements of narrative, character, and style that seem to reveal his personal vision and that mark a film as definitively Hitchcockian. There's his preoccupation with blonde women, with doubles, and with false accusations and mistaken identity. There's his penchant for narrative twists, for favoring suspense over surprise, and for MacGuffins - those plot elements that turn out to be completely unimportant. And there's his interest in psychoanalysis, in sexuality, and in voyeurism.

Hitchcock films often explore the act of looking. Using camera movement, editing, and framing, Hitchcock is famous for putting the viewer in a voyeuristic position, but his films are also full of characters looking - watching each other and even breaking the forth wall to stare right at us. The Criterion Collection recently posted a wonderful, rather eerie video that speaks to this particular theme: "Eyes of Hitchcock."


Eyes of Hitchcock from Criterion Collection on Vimeo.

But perhaps the most literal of Hitchcock's directorial signatures - and certainly the most fun - are his cameos. He makes a brief appearance in 39 out of his 52 surviving films, and spotting him has become a game for Hitchcock fans. (In my opinion, composer John Addison ruins the game in Torn Curtain by signaling the director's presence with the theme song from Alfred Hitchcock Presents). Indeed, the cameos were so popular, that audiences would become distracted searching for them and would not pay attention to the plot; so Hitchcock began putting his personal appearances into the first part of the film, to get them out of the way relatively quickly. Some of his cameos are tricky; there are times when he keeps his back to the camera or otherwise obscures himself from direct view. Many other cameos function as amusing gags, often unrelated to the plot, but providing moments of levity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Internet is full of supercuts putting together all of the director's cameos, from that in 1927's The Lodger through 1976's Family Plot. Can you spot him in all of the clips compiled here?


See Hitchcock's 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much on Sunday, October 12, 2 p.m. at the Chazen Museum of Art, part of our ongoing More Hitchcock! series.

The Slaprobatics of Denis Lavant

Thursday, October 9th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

By Amanda McQueen, UW Cinematheque Programmer and Project Assistant

Denis Lavant is an incredibly physical actor. Though also known for his distinctive face - interesting, but not really classically handsome - Lavant has become associated with a markedly kinetic performance style. Slapstick, acrobatics, and dance are all within his wheelhouse, and Lavant has said that when approaching his roles, his body - not the text - is his first language. Taking inspiration from theater and street performing, where a particular intensity is needed to attract audiences, Lavant at times moves with an electrifying abandon that belies the control he is able to wield over his body. Those who work with Lavant - perhaps most notably director Leos Carax, who helped launch Lavant's career with Boy Meets Girl (1984) and who has featured the actor in most of his films - are often attracted to him because of his ability to shift from quiet to frenetic, from graceful to unrestrained. Carax, Lavant explains, "directs me more like a sculptor, physically."

Lavant's career is long and varied; though he describes himself as primarily a theater actor, he has done a great deal of work for film and television, appearing in shorts, features, and music videos. In 1998, for example, he starred in the award-winning video for "Rabbit in Your Headlights" from British electronic duo UNKLE (featuring vocals from Radiohead's Thom Yorke). The video relies primarily on Lavant's physicality; he stumbles erratically down a road, mumbling almost incoherently, and is repeatedly hit by passing cars. The payoff at the video's end, however, demonstrates just how powerful Lavant's body can be.


UNKLE - Rabbit in Your Headlights from Onur Akdeniz on Vimeo.

Some of Lavant's physical performances have become iconic. The pop culture website The Dissolve recently posted a list of "The Movies' 50 Greatest Pop Music Moments," and Lavant features twice. First, at #42, the celebrated final scene from Claire Denis' Beau Travail (1999), in which Lavant dances to Corona's "Rhythm of the Night." And then, at #41, is a scene from Carax's Mauvais Sang (1986), in which Lavant runs, leaps, and cartwheels down the street to David Bowie's "Modern Love."

In a 2008 interview, Lavant said: "Maybe I am more physical than the average [actor], but I admit it. It is part of my pleasure. I love dancing, I love all my body to play. For me, a role isn't just a face and a voice, and the great actors that I admire are those who use their body to give a shape to their character." By these criteria, surely Lavant himself will long be considered one of the greats.

Mauvais Sang screens at the Cinematheque this Saturday, October 11, at 7 p.m. in our regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall.