RYAN WAAL ON DAVID GORDON GREEN'S 'GEORGE WASHINGTON'

Thursday, March 27th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay reflecting on David Gordon Green's George Washington (2000), was written by UW Madison student Ryan Waal (class of 2015). Green personally presented George Washington at the 2001 Wisconsin Film Festival. Green will appear in person at the April 3 Opening Night screening of the Wisconsin Film Festival with his new film, Joe, starring Nicolas Cage. Tickets for the screening of Joe are currently "rush only". George Washington has just been released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.

David Gordon Green’s George Washington stands alongside Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Richard Linklater’s Slacker as one of the most auspicious no-budget debuts in recent film history. Made for only $42,000 with mostly non-professional actors, the film’s small theatrical release prevented it from achieving the same breakout success as those other two films, but strong critical praise and festival showings helped Green rise to prominence as a major new player on the indie scene. But George Washington’s importance for Green’s career can sometimes overshadow the film itself—a lyrical, inspired, bizarre, permanently memorable parable that conjures an entire world unique both in setting and in feeling.

It takes place in an unidentified lower-class town in North Carolina, a town colored in various shades of brown, brimming with dilapidated buildings, dirt, excrement, landfill and stray animals. Despite the setting, this movie is hardly concerned with social messages about poverty—Green devotes his energy to crafting a tapestry of unique and complex characters. There are Buddy (Curtis Cotton III) and George Richardson (Donald Holden), two young boys fighting for the affection of Nasia (Candace Evanofski), who narrates the story. Their friends, the older, larger Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee) and the tiny, monotone Sonya (Rachel Handy) play around town, steal cars and harass a group of eccentric train mechanics who provide much of the film’s comic relief. George, whose father is in jail, lives with his Aunt Ruth (Janet Taylor) and Uncle Damascus (Eddie Rouse), a hot-tempered rail-and-woodworker desperately afraid of animals.

George Washington begins innocuously as a tale of young love set against this backdrop of colorful individuals; in the film’s opening scene, Nasia dumps Buddy for George. It’s a scene at once heartbreaking and mirthful—these kids are too young to understand what love really means. Soon though, the tone and focus of the film changes. George is implicated in two major events: the death of one child, the rescue of another. The complicated juxtaposition of these two events, the way George and his friends wrestle with them internally and the acceptance they ultimately find are the center of this film. Green unspools an enormously complicated morality play and places it in the midst of a coming-of-age story, making the film an unusual, yet captivating genre hybrid.

Viewers of George Washington will almost certainly pick up on at least one of Green’s stylistic influences early on: that would be Terrence Malick, of whom Green is a self-professed partisan (Malick co-produced Green’s Undertow in 2004). Green incorporates a great deal of Malick’s aesthetic: the lyrical, meditative voiceover narration of children; the languid pacing; the exhaustive use of natural imagery and his general emphasis of feeling over narrative. Green overtly acknowledges Malick’s influence upon him in one scene, when he essentially recreates the final shot of Malick's Days of Heaven (1978) by having George walk along a railroad track.

Like that film, George Washington is largely concerned with the way children grapple with the trauma and complexity of adulthood. Nassia’s voice-over narration recalls Linda Manz, whose innocent musing buffers and frames the adults’ story in Heaven. Both directors see childhood as a period of objective purity, and both films convey the loss of that purity by throwing the characters straight into the dark realities of life.
But it would be dismissive and unfair to say that Green merely copies Malick’s style; Green has talents and idiosyncrasies that no other director has. Malick, for instance, never incorporates humor in his movies in the same way Green does here—he knows just how long to hold an awkward pause and when to cut a shot for maximum comedic effect. When George becomes a town hero for rescuing a young boy from the county pool, his newfound confidence transforms him (both mentally and sartorially) into a superhero, providing surprising yet tonally appropriate levity to a heavy story.

Green is also willing to let his narrative bloom out into many different strands, incorporating asides with characters that appear unimportant. One of the great surprise moments in the film involves Damascus explaining his fear of dogs to George. He tells a traumatic, formative story from his childhood that changes our opinion of him from a selfish jerk to a fragile, human person. The scene makes us wonder how George will be changed by his experiences, what fears and ideologies coagulate within his mind. The narrative may seem disjointed and unfocused at times, but it is the thematic rather than causal relationships between the characters that makes this film fascinating and rewatchable.

You may be wondering what the title means. I don’t know either. Nasia tells us repeatedly throughout the film that George wants to be the President of the United States, and George’s bedroom prominently features a portrait of George H.W. Bush. Perhaps we are meant to laugh at and pity George’s ambitions. Or perhaps we are meant to consider the childhoods of our own heroes, and wonder what moments in their lives made them who they are today. Presidents, like lawyers, I suppose, were children once.

I don’t know, and part of me doesn’t care. Many elements of George Washington remain puzzling and unclear. Some may say this makes the film flawed; I say it makes it a classic.

Leo Rubinkowski on MARJOE

Friday, March 7th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan's 1972 documentary Marjoe, were written by Leo Rubinkowski Ph.D candidate, Film Studies, Communication Arts Department. Marjoe screens Friday, March 7 at 7 p.m. in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall

 

“No matter how you slice it, it still comes out as self-exploitation of a sort that strikes me as being exceedingly sleazy.”

Vincent Canby chose these words to describe Marjoe in a New York Times review of the 1972 documentary, but his acid criticism arguably applies just as well to Marjoe Gortner’s first brush with national exposure. At four years of age, the “World’s Youngest Minister” married Raymond Miller and Alma Brown in a ceremony apparently calculated to prove the adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Indeed, while clergy, legislators, and onlookers criticized the Long Beach wedding and its pint-sized presider (Life Magazine quoted one Catholic priest: “The child is as incapable of witnessing a contract as Charlie McCarthy.” ), the Gortner’s reaped just the rewards they had sought. The boy’s fame spread within Pentecostal communities, he toured the revival and church circuit as a star attraction, and his income supported the family for several years, until deceit, divorce, and disillusionment ended that part of Marjoe’s life.

The sensational details of our protagonist’s early years exist primarily as background, though. In a sense, it is the cherubic tyke greeting viewers with his excited “Howdy, neighbors! May the Lord bless you!” who justifies the documentary, but Marjoe’s ambitions exceed the biographical in at least two respects.

First, the filmmakers have clearly designed the film to comment on the Pentecostal community through which Gortner escorted them during production. Juxtapositions between images, as well as between sound and image, allow Kernochan and Smith to substantiate Marjoe’s cynicism in interviews. During the first extended sequence in which we see Gortner work a crowd, there is an abrupt and brief change of scene from the tent to an office, wherein we find Marjoe and his host dividing the night’s take. Later, during the 24-Hour Prayer Crusade sequence, a close-up of the lead preacher’s gaudy, glittering broach complements audio of her assurances that donations will not be wasted on foolishness. At every turn, Marjoe works to remind its audience that big religion means big business for traveling evangelists. Most often, it is Marjoe himself who makes the case, his status as a leading participant grounding his authority as a chief skeptic. Who but a professional could have provided the film crew with careful instructions for filming congregants speaking in tongues?

Significantly, however, Gortner’s expertise also complicates whatever commentary viewers find lurking within the film’s mise-en-scène, cinematography, sound, and editing. For one thing, Gortner’s explicit criticisms of the business of religion are just that: criticisms of the business of religion. If he is frustrated with the close-mindedness of his flocks, his comments are more damning of their shepherds. At the same time, and still counting himself among the wolves in sheep’s clothing, Gortner is also on record rationalizing the business. In a conversation with Grace Lichtenstein for a Sunday issue of the New York Times in August 1972, he explained: “I justified it, in a sense. These people don’t go to any musical comedy. They spend no money on alcohol. It’s a sin to go to the movies. [Was this a source of comfort for Gortner?] Their only form of entertainment is these revivals. You figure you spend $3.50, $4 on a movie, well, that’s about what I got [per person in offerings]. And I gave them a show.”  By this logic, entertainers who entertain deserve compensation for their labor, even if they are frauds. Though Gortner apparently never wholly embraced this position, it remains a provocative one, especially in light of Marjoe’s second aim.

In the same review cited above, Vincent Canby observes that the film is “less a documentary about Marjoe’s final weeks on the Pentecostal church-and-tent circuit than a feature-length screen test.”  Indeed, at the time of Marjoe’s production, its namesake was looking for an opportunity to leave preaching for work as a musician or an actor, and this film was only the latest attempt at making the transition. He certainly had chops. Many reviewers echoed Lichtenstein’s claim that Gortner was “evangelism’s answer to Mick Jagger.”  The justification is obvious. Microphone to his lips, left hand on his hip, arm cocked back, and marching his svelte frame before the pulpit, Marjoe reproduces the lead singer’s mannerisms almost to a tee. (There’s a joke about Marjoe’s sympathy for the devil’s music hiding here…) To extend the comparison, Marjoe itself treats its subject as though he were a famous musician on tour, perhaps inspired by the example of vérité films like those of D.A. Pennebaker. Much of the 88-minute running time is organized around three tent meetings and a 24-Hour Prayer Crusade. In each case, footage and audio organize our attention around Marjoe, so that he is always either audible or visible. Viewers are also regularly treated to the sounds and images of Gortner’s audiences as they react to his presence and message with devotion and fervor. In between these gigs, Marjoe takes its audiences “behind the scenes.” In the last of these sequences, when Marjoe converts a dog, the two threads running throughout the film intertwine – Gortner may not believe in what he is doing, but his talent is so thoroughly honed that his audiences cannot tell the difference between performance and witness, if there is a practical difference at all.

Marjoe may have been exploitative, but it was also successful. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1972, and Gortner quickly found his way to Hollywood. After peaking with his appearance in the disaster classic Earthquake (1974), Marjoe continued to work through the next two decades, taking primarily minor television roles or leading and supporting roles in minor films, such as the Star Wars knock-off Starcrash (1978) and the Evel Knievel vehicle Viva Knievel! (1977).

Lasting fame may never have been in the cards for Marjoe Gortner, but thanks to Marjoe, he remains something more than a footnote in history. “Glory gee to besus!”

RYAN WAAL ON ZEMECKIS' 'USED CARS'

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Posted by Jim Healy

This essay, on Robert Zemeckis' Used Cars, was written by Ryan Waal, UW Madison class of 2015. Zemeckis' I Wanna Hold Your Hand screens as part of the Cinematheque and WUD Film Committee's 'Marquee Monday' series on Monday, February 10, 7 p.m., in the Marquee Theater at Union South, 1308 W. Dayton Street.

Before Robert Zemeckis’ breakthrough as an A-list director in the eighties with Back to the Future, he was just a USC graduate struggling to forge a foothold (and a voice) in the film industry. Zemeckis’ early projects, many of which were collaborations with writing partner Bob Gale, didn’t sell many tickets, but they developed cult followings for their energy, ingenuity and wholeheartedness. Used Cars, released in 1980 to disappointing box office, is among both Zemeckis’ earliest and most unusual films; this black comedy/satire/action film is simultaneously vicious and sweet, macabre and playful, with a full, black heart affectionate towards characters who may not deserve any sympathy. In short, there’s no other film quite like it, which may be exactly what Zemeckis and Gale were going for.

The film exists in a reality as cartoonish as Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s. Kurt Russell stars as Rudy Russo, an unapologetically sleazy used car salesman. The film’s opening sequence, in which Rudy attaches a ten-dollar bill to a fishing line and literally reels in a customer, wouldn’t have been out of place in a Looney Tunes short—Rudy has the same sly, anarchic charm as Bugs Bunny. The “New Deal” lot where Rudy works is filled with all sorts of peculiar characters: the superstitious and technologically savvy Jeff (Gerrit Graham), a lackadaisical mechanic named Jim (Frank McCrae), and even a comic relief dog named Toby. The sole voice of reason on the lot (and in this film, perhaps) is its owner, Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who agrees to help Rudy fund his state senate campaign on the condition that he keep his business alive after his death.

Rudy’s promise to Luke is tested early on; Roy L. Fuchs (also Jack Warden), Luke’s more successful brother whose lot neighbors New Deal, puts a hit out on Luke in order to collect on his life insurance policy. Rudy, realizing that Roy arranged the murder, decides to hide Luke’s body (preventing Roy from collecting inheritance) and avenge his death by wreaking havoc upon Roy’s business.

Rudy and the New Deal crew use every base tactic to attract customers away from Roy. They perform signal intrusion on a football game to get advertising without paying for it. They hire topless dancers to perform on their lot. Jeff tricks customers into thinking they have run over Toby (a very convincing actor), and tells them he can only be consoled by selling the car. They even fire shotguns on Roy’s cars and set off bombs on his lot. There’s an uncomfortable satisfaction in watching the chaos unfold—that this was directed by the same man who made the family-friendly The Polar Express is astonishing.

But the war between New Deal and Roy is more than just a silly food fight; it represents a conflict of business ethos and ideology. Rudy and Roy are both bad people in their own ways; each lies to their customers and goes past moral boundaries in order to make a buck. But Roy’s lies are bigger; the family friendly, self-righteous image he cultivates for his business is so drastically disingenuous that Rudy seems like a petty thief by comparison. Rudy eschews ethics, but like a taxi cab covered in a thin sheen of blue paint, something real exists behind his all his huckster artifice.

This clash of values speaks to the rich political subtext of this film, which was released at the dawn of the eighties and produced during the Carter administration. As a film about America, Used Cars shows a nation in disarray, filled with doubt about the ethics and efficacy of their leaders and consumed by materialism and debauchery. It may be no coincidence that the New Deal crew perform a second signal intrusion on a speech by Jimmy Carter, whose “malaise” speech challenged the indulgence of this period directly, and whose struggle with the Iran hostage crisis compromised people’s faith in government. Luke Fuchs, whose lot is named after Franklin Roosevelt’s major policy achievement and owned by a member of the Greatest Generation, is a relic of a very different epoch: a time of stability, progress and decency which seems light years away from the world of this film.

It may be a stretch to call Used Cars a conservative film—Zemeckis himself is a Democrat. Really, the film serves as a broad critique of antiquated notions of politics and of “what your country can do for you.” No political intervention will stop Roy from taking control of Luke’s lot, and New Deal has to take matters into their own hands to keep the business alive. In Roy’s case, political leaders have failed him outright—his lot is on the verge of being seized by eminent domain throughout the film. Politicians are just as crooked and sleazy as these used car salesmen (why else would Rudy run for senate?), so Roy and Rudy are essentially left to fend for themselves.

The characters live in a harsh world of bad people, where everyone is consumed by self-interest, and all the bad things the characters do to survive are, ultimately, somewhat justifiable. The disturbing final message of this movie is that everyone lies and cheats and rips people off, and that all this deception is necessary when everyone’s looking out for themselves. If this idea upsets you, you’d be right to be upset, though you may also not be living in the real world.

The film is a time capsule of period fashion and technology, and also shows future comedy heavyweights (Michael McKean, Joe Flaherty, director Betty Thomas) at the start of their careers. But above all else, Used Cars is an exhilaratingly fun example of early filmmaking. The young Zemeckis throws everything at the screen and experiments with genre, tone and subject matter in ways that only people truly excited about making movies do. This film may disgust or even scare you, but you will not be bored.

RYAN WAAL ON JIA ZHANGKE'S 'STILL LIFE'

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
Posted by Jim Healy

These notes on Jia Zhangke's Still Life were written by UW student Ryan Waal ('15). Jia Zhangke's newest film, A Touch of Sin, will have its only area theatrical screening at the Cinematheque on Friday, December 13 at 7 p.m.

When we think of modernization, we tend to think of big things: infrastructure, technologies, economies, societies. People tend to think about progress through these larger structures because they make change easily identifiable. But in the midst of these larger changes, it’s easy to forget about the people that change happens to, and the ways in which modernity descends upon their lives.

Still Life, director Jia Zhangke’s 2006 drama which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, is about these smaller stories of change and progress, crafting characters that struggle to forge their own, personal progress against the backdrop of a Chinese city which is itself in a state of transition. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of this immensely soulful, visually sumptuous film is that it shows both the tragedy and the beauty of change, simultaneously mourning the loss of past traditions while reminding of the need to move forward.

Set in Fengjie, a city irreparably altered by the creation of China’s Three Gorges Dam, the film unfolds over the course of four chapters—“Cigarettes,” “Liquor,” “Tea” and “Toffee.” Han Sanming (played by an actor of the same name), returns to Fengjie sixteen years after leaving, in search of a wife and daughter he lost contact with. When he gets there, the ways in which his home has changed are immediately apparent; after docking, a street magician forces Han to watch a magic trick and then gets mad when he doesn’t want to pay him for it. The corrupting influence of capitalism is readily apparent. When Han takes a taxi to his former address, Jia presents an enormous shot of his street submerged in the dam’s flood waters, which only continue to rise. While searching for his family, Han takes a job as a demolitions worker. Still Life presents a Chinese society replete with destruction of the past.

Running parallel to Han’s story is Shen Hong (Zhao Tao), a nurse who also travels to Fengjie to reconnect with family—in her case, an estranged husband who she has barely spoken to in years. Like Han, Shen is lost in the chaos of the new, modernized Fengjie, where the landscape is so crammed with people, businesses and demolished buildings that finding anything in particular is a struggle. Shen and Han never meet face to face in the film, although their journeys almost intersect at various moments. While both characters initially seem partially culpable for their problems, the movie reveals both of them to be victims of modernity more than anything else. There is a sense that these characters, with their shared feelings of regret and dislocation, and their comparable struggles for achieving closure, could find solace with one another if they had the chance.

Jia’s vision of present-day China is incredibly complex. The film’s four chapters each constitute a different commodity of exchange in Fengjie; old values of generosity and brotherhood have been replaced by quid pro quo and outright theft. Modern influence manifests itself in ways that are funny—when characters do impressions from martial arts movies and jam out to ring tones—and tragic—when people abandon their partners for career opportunities.

In keeping with its themes of modernity, Jia filmed Still Life in a most modern—and controversial—format: high-definition digital video. Film purists who deny the legitimacy of digital filmmaking should give this movie a chance; cinematographer Yu-Lik Wai’s camera renders Fengjie wonderfully, absorbing all the grime, dirt and fog as well as the golden sunlight, green hills and enormous bodies water which envelop it. The film’s photography also evinces the influence of Michelangelo Antonioni; the opening shots of the film contain slow, 180-degree pivots across characters that appear in films like La’aventura.

Critics have also noted Jia’s Antonioni-like use of images to convey emotional or thematic subtext. The film’s final shot, a flourish of visual poetry whose exact meaning still eludes me, will leave viewers appropriately confounded. And while, on the surface, the film is a restrained character-drama, it also contains several moments of baffling wonder and cinematic intrigue. There are scenes of magical realism, as when a UFO appears out of nowhere or a demolished building blasts off like a spaceship. One character’s tragic death is handled with such cinematic skill that you will never see it coming, even after it’s happened.

Many critics have viewed Still Life as a lamentation, a sorrowful docudrama of the ways that socio-economic change has disenfranchised China’s people. But I don’t see this so much as a sad film, but rather, a realistic one. Shen and Han’s stories end with renewed hope, and amidst the oppression of change, the citizens of Fengjie have all found ways to keep spirits high and full. These people have uncovered a necessary truth: the floods will come whether we want them or not. We can either find higher ground, or drown. We can’t just stand still.

-Ryan Waal

Still Life can be purchased through Amazon.com and rented through Netflix.

2ND SCREENING OF 'INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS' ADDED! - DECEMBER 12

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Posted by Jim Healy

UW CINEMATHEQUE ADDS 2ND PRE-RELEASE SCREENING OF JOEL AND ETHAN COEN’S ‘INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS’

DECEMBER 8 & DECEMBER 12 SCREENINGS OF NEW FILM ABOUT 60S NYC FOLK MUSIC SCENE WILL BE SHOWN ON 35MM

The UW Cinematheque has added a second special free preview screening of the new film Inside Llewyn Davis. In addition to the already announced screening on Sunday, December 8 at 7 p.m., a second screening will take place Thursday, December 12 at 7 p.m.. Both screenings will take place in the Cinematheque’s regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue.

Inside Llewyn Davis, the new film from Academy Award-winners Joel and Ethan Coen, follows a week in the life of a young folk singer at a crossroads, struggling to make it in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac)—guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter—is beset by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, some of them of his own making. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn journeys from the baskethouses of the Village to an empty Chicago club—on a misbegotten odyssey to audition for a music mogul—and back again. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, and Garrett Hedlund,

No passes required. Seating is limited and provided on a first-come, first-seated basis. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. We anticipate a full-house. Please arrive early!

A 35mm print will be shown

What and Where:

A screening of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Sunday, December 8, 7 p.m.

AND

Thursday, December 12, 7 p.m.

at:

UW Cinematheque
4070 Vilas Hall
821 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706

Admission free. Seating limited.

Cinematheque website: http://cinema.wisc.edu

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
USA | 2013 | 35mm | 106 min.
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan

See you at the Movies!

Jim Healy, Director of Programming

A GIRL IN EVERY PORT: THE BIRTH OF LULU?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013
Posted by Jim Healy

Program Notes by Thomas Gladysz

Howard Hawks' A Girl in Every Port is a well-crafted and entertaining "buddy film" widely considered the director's best silent. It's also a film with a special legacy.

A Girl in Every Port features a romantic triangle – a reoccurring motif in many of Hawks' later works. It tells the story of two sailors (Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong) and their adventures in various ports of call around the world. Louise Brooks plays Marie (Mam'selle Godiva), a high doen, and sideshow siren and the love interest of both sailors. Other girls in other ports of call include Myrna Loy, Sally Rand, Leila Hyams, and Maria Casajuana (the future Maria Alba).

Released by Fox in February of 1928, A Girl in Every Port debuted at the 6,000 seat Roxy Theater in New York City. For days on end, the film played to a packed house. Ads placed by the studio in trade publications claimed it set a "New House Record – and a World Record – with Daily Receipts on February 22 of $29,463." Considering ticket prices of the time, that's a lot of money.

Popular as well as critically acclaimed, the film receoend good reviews in New York's daily newspapers. The New York Times described it "A rollicking comedy," while the New York Telegram called it "a hit picture." The Morning Telegraph pronounced it a "winner."

The Daily News noted, "Director Howard Hawks has injected several devilish touches in the piece, which surprisingly enough, got by the censors. His treatment of the snappy scenario is smooth and at all times interesting. Victor's great, Armstrong's certainly appreciable, and Louise Brooks is at her loveliest."

Reviewing the premiere, TIME magazine stated, "There are two rollicking sailors in this fractious and excellent comedy. . . . A Girl in Every Port is really What Price Glory? translated from arid and terrestrial irony to marine gaiety of the most salty and miscellaneous nature. Nobody could be more charming than Louise Brooks, that clinging and tender little barnacle from the docks of Marseilles. Director Howard Hawks and his entire cast, especially Robert Armstrong, deserve bouquets and kudos."

A number of critics singled out Brooks. The New York American stated, “Then comes THE woman. She is Louise Brooks, pert, fascinating young creature, who does high and fancy diving for a living. . . . Miss Brooks 'takes' our hero in somewhat the manner that Grant took Richmond. . . . Louise Brooks has a way of making a junior vamp and infantile scarlet lady seem most attractive."

A reviewer for the English Kinematograph Weekly echoed American reviews of the film, and picked up on the film's somewhat different bromance. "Louise Brooks made a charmingly heartless vamp. . . . It has the novelty of a love interest that does not materialize, which is replaced by the friendship between two men."

The film made a bigger splash in France. Writing in 1930 in his "Paris Cinema Chatter" column in the New York Times, Morris Gilbert noted ". . . there are a number of others – mostly American – which have their place as 'classics' in the opinion of the French. . . . They love A Girl in Every Port, which has the added distinction of being practically the only American film which keeps its own English title here." The film enjoyed an extended run in the French capitol, and lingered for decades in the French consciousness.

Writing in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1963, French film archivist Henri Langlois stated, "It seems that A Girl in Every Port was the revelation of the Hawks season at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For New York audiences of 1962, Louise Brooks suddenly acquired that 'Face of the century' aura she had had, many years ago, for spectators at the Cinema des Ursulines. . . . That is why Blaise Cendrars confided a few years ago that he thought A Girl in Every Port definitely marked the first appearance of contemporary cinema. To the Paris of 1928, which was rejecting expressionism, A Girl in Every Port was a film conceoend in the present, achieving an identity of its own by repudiating the past."

Brooks, under contract to Paramount, was loaned to Fox for her role in A Girl in Every Port. Anticipating the female types cast by Hawks in later works, the bobbed-hair actress stands as what might well be the first "Hawksian woman." Years later, the director stated, "I wanted a different type of girl. I hired Louise because she's very sure of herself, she's very analytical, she's very feminine, but she's damn good and sure she's going to do what she wants to do."

Film histories note that A Girl in Every Port ranks as the most significant of Hawks' silent films; additionally, historians claim, it seemingly persuaded G.W. Pabst to cast Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box. Such a claim was likely first made by James Card of the George Eastman House in his 1956 article, "Out of Pandora's Box: Louise Brooks on G. W. Pabst." It was repeated by others, including Brooks herself, in filmnd interviews in the 1970's.

In Germany, Pabst came to cast Brooks as Lulu only after a well publicized nationwide search which concluded months after A Girl in Every Port premiered in New York City. Not quite content with a German actress (including, legend has it, Marlene Dietrich), Pabst wrote to Paramount asking after Brooks, then an American starlet. The German director was also in search of a "different type."

Chronologically, the assumption that Pabst saw his Lulu in Hawks' Marie makes sense – Brooks plays a temptress in both films. Records show, however, that Blaue jungens, blonde Madchen (the German title for Hawk's film) was not shown in Germany until December, after production on Pandora's Box was finished.

Could Pabst have seen A Girl in Every Port well prior to its release in Germany? Or, might Pabst have noticed Brooks in one of her earlier American films, like Die Braut am Scheidewege (Just Another Blonde) or Ein Frack Ein Claque Ein Madel (Evening Clothes)? Each were shown in Berlin while Pabst was looking for Lulu, and each receoend press which highlighted Brooks.

Whatever the answer to this small mystery, A Girl in Every Port remains an entertaining film worthy of greater recognition – not only because it stars Louise Brooks, and not only because it may or may not have led Pabst to cast the actress as Lulu in Pandora's Box.

It's deserving because it is an early work by great director which introduces the themes and characters Hawks would continue to explore throughout his long and distinguished career.

Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist, silent film enthusiast, and the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, an online archive and international fan club devoted to the film star. Gladysz has curated exhibits, contributed to books, appeared on television, and introduced the actress's films around the world.

Just added! NEW FACES OF INDEPENDENT FILM program

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Posted by Jim Healy
New Faces

CINEMATHEQUE PRESS RELEASE -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 13, 2013


CINEMATHEQUE PRESENTS “NEW FACES OF INDEPENDENT FILM”
3 SHORT FILM DIRECTORS TO APPEAR IN PERSON ON NOV. 16

On Saturday, November 16 at 3 p.m., the UW Cinematheque welcomes three filmmakers who appeared on Filmmaker Magazine’s prestigious “25 New Faces of Independent Film.”  Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Scott Blake and Mohammad Gorjestani will each present the short film that landed them on the list, and participate in a discussion afterwards with Filmmaker Managing Editor Nick Dawson. 
The screening will take place at the UW Cinematheque, at 4045 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. This Cinematheque Screening is free and open to the public.   Please see below for a complete description of this special program.

Event Synopsis:

Since 1998, Filmmaker Magazine has put out an annual talent list, its "25 New Faces of Independent Film," which has acted for a barometer for American indie cinema, bringing early attention to such talents as Hilary Swank, Ryan Gosling, Lena Dunham and Miranda July, among many others. This fall, three directors selected for the 2013 list -- Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, Scott Blake and Mohammad Gorjestani -- hit the road with their work, accompanied by Filmmaker's Managing Editor Nick Dawson (author of Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel). Following the screening of the trio's short films, there will be a Q&A discussing both the movies being shown and the legacy of the "25 New Faces" list.

Short Film Details:

Needle
Anahita Ghazvinizadeh / USA, 2013 / 21 mins
Young Lilly is going to get her ears pierced. A quarrel between her parents overwhelms the situation and directs it differently.  Winner, Cinefondation Prize, 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Refuge
Mohammad Gorjestani / USA, 2013 / 23 mins
Set in 2020, a brewing cyberwar between the US and Iran puts Sonia, a young Iranian refugee, at risk of deportation. Her only escape may come at a greater price than she’s willing to pay.

Surveyor
Scott Blake / USA, 2012 / 25 mins
1848. In the last days of the Mexican-American War, a government agent surveyor attempts to return home after surveying land on the Western frontier. His journey becomes a nightmarish trek through an American gothic landscape.

Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film will screen Saturday, November 16, 3 p.m. at:

UW Cinematheque
4070 Vilas Hall
821 University Ave.
Madison, WI 53706

Admission free. Seating limited.

Our website: http://cinema.wisc.edu


See you at the Movies!

Jim Healy, Director of Programming

AFTERNOON DELIGHT - Jill Soloway in person!

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Posted by Jim Healy
AFTERNOON DELIGHT

CINEMATHEQUE PRESS RELEASE -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 13, 2013


UW CINEMATHEQUE & WUD FILM COMMITTEE WELCOME JILL SOLOWAY TO CAMPUS FOR SCREENING OF HER FILM “AFTERNOON DELIGHT”
NOVEMBER 14 SCREENING AT UNION SOUTH WILL BE FOLLOWED BY PANEL DISCUSSION MODERATED BY THE WRITER-DIRECTOR AND UW MADISON ALUM

The UW Cinematheque, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Union Directorate Film Committee, will welcome award-winning writn, and director Jill Soloway back to campus on November 14 for a screening of her feature-film debut, AFTERNOON DELIGHT. The 7 p.m. screening at the Marquee Theater in Union South will be immediately followed by a 30-minute panel discussion moderated by Jill Soloway that she has entitled “The Heroine’s Journey: How the Feminine is Expressed Through Cinematography, Feminism and Judaism in AFTERNOON DELIGHT.”
The story of AFTERNOON DELIGHT follows affluent wife and mother Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) who, after a chance meeting, finds herself irresistibly drawn into the messy personal life of young stripper McKenna (Juno Temple). When Rachel invites McKenna to move into her home, it unleashes a series of dramatic changes in Rachel’s life. With sharp observations on class and women’s roles in contemporary Los Angeles, the frequently funny, and wonderfully performed Afternoon Delight won Jill Soloway the Best Director prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has earned the admiration of critics and cineastes like Quentin Tarantino, who has listed the film as one of his ten favoritn films of 2013 so far.

The post-screening panel will be moderated by Jill Soloway, who will discuss her work joined by Afternoon Delight’s Cinematographer Jim Frohna, as well as two UW, Madison professors: Tony Michels, the George L. Mosse Associate Professor of Jewish American History in the Department of History and Ellen Samuels, Assistant Professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Department of English.

A graduate of UW, Madison, Jill Soloway is a veteran television writn, & producer who earned three Emmy nominations for her work on HBO’s SIX FEET UNDER. She was also Showrunner for HBO’s HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA and Showtime’s UNITED STATES OF TARA. Before that, she authored the humorous feminist memoir TINY LADIES IN SHINY PANTS. In the land of theater, she created or co-created THE REAL LIVE BRADY BUNCH, MISS VAGINA PAGEANT and SIT N’ SPIN, a twice-monthly night of comedic monologues that’s been running for over a decade. The pilot of Jill Soloway’s original latest project, called TRANSPARENT will premiere on Amazon Prime in February, 2014.

What and Where:

A screening of AFTERNOON DELIGHT followed by a panel discussion moderated by writn,-director Jill Soloway.

Thursday, November 14, 7 p.m. at:

Marquee Theater at Union South
1308 W. Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53715

Admission free for both screening and panel discussion. Seating limited.

Cinematheque website: http://cinema.wisc.edu

AFTERNOON DELIGHT
USA | 2013 | HD Projection | 90 min.
Director: Jill Soloway
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch
After a chance meeting, affluent wife and mother Rachel (Hahn) finds herself irresistibly drawn into the messy personal life of young stripper McKenna (Temple). When Rachel invites McKenna to move into her home, it unleashes a series of dramatic changes in Rachel’s life. With sharp observations on class and women’s roles in contemporary Los Angeles, the frequently funny, and wonderfully performed Afternoon Delight is the first feature film from Jill Soloway, a veteran television scribe and producer (Six Feet Under, The United States of Tara) and UW Madison alum. Soloway will join us in person to discuss her film, which won her the Best Director prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

See you at the Movies!

Jim Healy, Director of Programming

NOTES ON A VAMPIRE CLASSIC

Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Posted by Jim Healy
Klaus Kinski is Count Dracula in NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT

The following notes on Werner Herzog's NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE were written by UW Madison student Ryan Waal (class of 2015). A screening of the restored, German version of NOSFERATU to benefit the Cinematheque and the Wisconsin Film Festival will occur on October 29. Tickets, $20 each, can be purchased in advance here: https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/UWFF/ or at the door (cash only) the night of the performance. Come in costume - door prizes!

What is it that makes a film scary? Horror films can employ any number of tricks to make their audience jump in their seat, scream or get a queasy feeling in their stomach. But while most films produce these responses through cheap jump scares or over-the-top violence, true masters of horror sustain their audience’s fear not through gimmicks, but through a general feeling of unease.

Enter Werner Herzog, whose 1979 horror film Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht is among the best films in the vampire genre I’ve seen, a picture which captures the full terror, absurdity and perverse humor of Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula story. Conceoend as an homage to F.W. Murnau’s landmark 1922 silent film of the same name, this film is emotionally expressive and scary in ways most films only aspire to be, and a fantastic demonstration of Herzog’s abilities to curate and display pure weirdness on the screen. The film doesn’t try to be conventionally “scary,” but rather instills the viewer with pure dread.

The story, if you’re not familiar: Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz), a real estate agent from Wismar, Germany, is sent by his employer Reinfeld (Roland Topor) to close on a offer from the mysterious Count Dracula (the always disturbing Klaus Kinski). When he arrives, Dracula’s real intentions, involving the courtship of Jonathan’s wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) and the endless pursuit of human blood, become clearer.
This story has been done countless times cinematically, but previous Dracula movies haven’t the astonishing pictorial beauty that Herzog achieves. With his cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein, Herzog shows a solemn, sad and harsh German countryside, with rich green hills enveloped by endless grey skies. The film hearkens back to techniques of German Expressionist artistry, most notably that of rückenfigur, in which human figures are displayed from behind looking out into the massive, overpowering environment. For a story that aims to portray the futility and weakness of humanity against dark, inhuman forces, Herzog’s visual style adequately conveys a kind of existential dread that any good horror film should strive to achieve.

One suspects that Murnau would’ve been proud of Herzog’s visual accomplishment, which incorporates nearly all of the filmic breakthroughs developed between the two films luxuriously. Besides the obvious inclusions of colo, and sound, Herzog incorporates mobile and handheld cameras to great effect; an early dinnertime confrontation between Jonathan and Dracula is perfectly realized with jittery camera movements that display the unease and paranoia of the situation. It also includes an absolutely majestic score by German band Popol Vuh, which emphasizes the scale of Jonathan’s journey and the ensuing terror he unleashes upon Wismar.

Complementing Herzog’s superb cinematic acumen is a cast which could not have been better calibrated for their roles. Ganz is an effective leading man and Adjani is hauntingly beautiful as his wife, a reservoir of fear and longing. Reinfeld, later revealed to be Dracula’s servant, is a character which requires an actor to luxuriate in madness, and Topor accomplishes this masterfully, creating a credibly mad human with his maniacal laugh and wild, bulging eyes.

But in the end, this really is Klaus Kinski’s show. As Dracula, he is constantly unpredictable, always on the edge of exploding with murderous energy upon his victims. His performance has a lot to do with small details-the way his lips part, his breathing, his tired, yet terrifying rhythm of speech-but these details coalesce into an overall impression: that this man, this thing, is positively other worldly, something beyond human. Herzog and Kinski are famous for the collaborations on projects concerning wildly obsessive, passionate human beings (Aguirre the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo), and his portrayal of Dracula in this film reminds us of the power of their collaboration. It truly is one of the finest meetings of actor and part the vampire genre has ever seen.

The film is also notable for its simultaneous production of both English and German-language versions. Supposedly, this was done as conciliation towards 20th Century Fox, who wanted an “International” version-realeased as Nosferatu the Vampyre to sell in America along with the original German version.

The German version is simply superior. Admittedly, the structure and look of the film is essentially identical across both versions (barring a few minor alterations of shots). However, the principal actors, particularly Ganz, are more capable performers in German than English. Adjani and Kinski are serviceable in the English version, but the whole cast seems more comfortable and emotionally expressive in Phantom der Nacht. Additionally, some scenes in the English version incorporate dubbing and voiceover work that ultimately ends up distracting and unsatisfying. There is dubbing the German version as well; according to an article on “movie-censorship.com,” some scenes were reportedly too expensive to shoot twice and Roland Topor’s voice was dubbed for the German release. Still, Phantom der Nacht’s overall sound design is altogether more seamless and believable. This was clearly conceoend as a German film, and should be viewed as such.

As is the case with many of his films, Nosferatu is chocked full of memorable flourishes of Herzogian weirdness. Consider a random villager playing a violin for no reason around Dracula’s castle, or Renfield’s inexplicable joy as Dracula shoos him away after completing his mission. Consider the unusually high prevalence of cats throughout Wismar, or a brilliantly executed scene of gallows humor towards the end as a townsperson realizes he can’t arrest someone because the entire city government is dead. All of Herzog’s movies attempt to visually realize, with as much seriousness as possible, various forms of insanity. How fitting that he would make a horror film then, a genre where such insanity is not only allowed, but welcomed.

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE - SPECIAL BENEFIT SCREENING

Friday, October 4th, 2013
Posted by Jim Healy
NOSFERATU movie poster

CINEMATHEQUE PRESS RELEASE -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 4, 2013

UW CINEMATHEQUE & WISCONSIN FILM FESTIVAL PRESENT BENEFIT SCREENING OF HERZOG’S “NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE”
OCTOBER 29 SCREENING AT SUNDANCE CINEMAS IS FUNDRAISER FOR BRINGING DIGITAL CINEMA TO UW-MADISON CAMPUS

In conjunction with their current series tributes to Werner Herzog and the International Horror Film, the UW Cinematheque, in partnership with the Wisconsin Film Festival, will present a benefit screening of Herzog’s 1979 chiller NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT). The screening will take place Halloween week on Tuesday, October 29 at 7 p.m. at the Sundance Cinemas in Madison, 430 N. Midvale Blvd. The screening will serve as a benefit for the Cinematheque, which is seeking funds to install a new digital projecto, and server in their regular venue at 4070 Vilas Hall. These upgrades will also benefit the Wisconsin Film Festival, which annually holds its event at the Cinematheque venue.

Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online through the Wisconsin Film Festival’s website here: https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/UWFF/

A remake of F.W. Murnau’s horror classic, Herzog’s NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE is itself an outstanding contribution to the vampire genre. Unavailable for big screen showings for several years, the film’s visually sumptuous quality extends to its cast, which includes Klaus Kinski as the notorious and hideous count, the beautiful Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker, the vampire’s prey, and acclaimed actor Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker. Simultaneously shot in German and English versions, NOSFERATU will be screened in a newly restored DCP of the German version, with English subtitles.

Over the last two years, the vast majority of commercial cinemas in the U.S. and around the world have made the transition from exhibiting movies on 35mm film prints to screening them via DCP (Digital Cinema Package). DCP provides a bright, clear digital image in a lightweight, compact format that is immune to the type of damage and degradation of sound and picture that a 35mm print incurs during its lifetime.

While the UW Cinematheque has remained committed to screening 35mm, most major studios and independent distributors are proceeding with plans to make movies available only on DCP in the near future. This ongoing transition applies not only to new releases, but in some cases to the catalogue holdings of these studios and distributors - holdings that represent decades of cinema history. Even archives and museums, in an effort to preserve the original elements, are now loaning film titles that have been transferred to DCP.

Changes are coming to the Cinematheque that will allow our regular audiences, and audiences for the Wisconsin Film Festival, more opportunities to discover cinema’s past, present, and future.  For this to happen, it will be necessary for our projection booth to be upgraded with a new projecto, and digital server in compliance with current industry standards. Our new equipment will give us the ability to alternate between film prints and DCPs.

This fundraising initiative has a target of $50,000 and over $10,000 has already been raised. Donations are currently being accepted by the Cinematheque’s Friends of Film fund at http://cinema.wisc.edu/donate.

A benefit screening of NOSFERATU: THE VAMPYRE on Tuesday October 29, 7 p.m. at:

Sundance Cinemas
430 N. Midvale Blvd.
Madison, WI 53705

Tickets: $20.

Tickets can be purchased in advance here: https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/UWFF/

Tickets can also be purchased night of the screening (cash only).

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT)
West Germany | 1979 | DCP | 107 min. | German with English subtitles
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz
Herzog’s remake of F.W. Murnau’s horror classic is itself an outstanding contribution to the vampire genre. The film’s visually sumptuous quality extends to its cast, especially Kinski as the notorious and hideous count and the beautiful Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker, the vampire’s prey.

For inquiries, please contact Jim Healy, jehealy@wisc.edu or 608-263-9643.

See you at the Movies!

Jim Healy, Director of Programming

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