January 2006 Film CalendarJanuary 4, 2006 | by Judy Moore
Block Cinema is a collaboration of the Northwestern University School of Communication, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and the student-run Film and Projection Society.
All films are screened in the Pick-Laudati Auditorium at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus. Free parking is available in the lot directly south of the museum.
Unless noted, general admission to Block Cinema screenings is $6 or $4 for Block Museum members, students with ID’s and senior citizens. Films in the “Life of the Spirit” and Reeltime series are free. Season passes are $20. Tickets are available 30 minutes before show time.
For more information, call the Block Cinema Hotline at (847) 491-4000 or go to the Block Cinema Web site at http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/block-cinema.
This winter, Block Cinema will present three series of films.
“The Life of the Spirit in French and Italian Film” series reflects the profound social and religious trauma that plagued 20th century France and Italy. Socialism seeking to replace religious beliefs severely tested the traditional dominance of the Church. Many Europeans, especially artists, believed as much in spiritual as in political revolution. Claiming to speak for the little man and promoting fundamental virtues of compassion and social justice, these new voices condemned Church corruption and complicity, gave shape to new forms of faith, and even proposed a new perception of Christ as a champion of the oppressed. This series is free and includes films by directors Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard.
Films in the “Pre-code Paramount” series were made before the motion picture industry enforced the decency code of 1930 -- the Hays code -- to regulate the content of Hollywood movies. It was a gesture of good faith to an essential part of Hollywood’s developing fan base and to a branch of the American public that was clamoring for decency. For four years the code went unenforced until in 1934 surging public opinion demanded the entertainment make good on its promise. Many of these films are ageless and among the great Hollywood comedies and were made by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch and Cecil B. DeMille.
The Arthur Freed series will focus on films by the legendary MGM producer. Assembling a team of filmmakers in the 1940s, Freed and his crews produced some of the best musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, including “Singin’ In the Rain,” “On the Town” and “The Band Wagon.” Working with Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli and Fred Astaire, it would be hard to expect less. But Freed gave these musicals more than great talent -- he increased their production value, helping to create the MGM look, a sophisticated, lavish and polished production style that audiences adored. He also challenged those working for him to tap into their creative networks and be spontaneous -- whether it was Astaire dancing on the ceiling or Kelly dancing on roller skates.
The Robert Altman in the 1970s series will feature films by the movie director. While many of Altman’s colleagues pursued big budgets and epic stories, during the 1970s, Altman make quirky and delicate movies about fascinating characters and places. Among his biggest successes was the anti-war movie “M*A*S*H*,” as well as films such as “Buffalo Bill and the Indians” and the comedy “Popeye,” which deconstructed popular American legends. The Altman selections chosen by Block Cinema depict an ambitious director coming into his own --and one who, even today at the age of 80, continues to make fascinating movies.
In addition, the Reeltime Independent Film and Video Forum is a presentation of award-winning independent feature, documentary and short subject films and videos. The series is jointly sponsored by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and the Evanston Public Library, in partnership with project directors Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer. Each screening is followed by discussions with the audiences. All Reeltime screenings are free.
Pre-code Paramount, “City Streets,” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 4 (Rouben Mamoulian, 1931, United States, 83 minutes, 35 mm). When he wasn’t busy being Chicago’s most notorious gangster, Al Capone liked to take in a movie -- “City Streets” was a favorite. It is a stylish gangster film that is not afraid to slim down the violence for a bit of romance. The plot follows the love story between Nan (Sylvia Sydney), the daughter of a racketeer, and a gallery showman called The Kid (Gary Cooper). When Nan is thrown into jail on murder charges, The Kid has no choice but to descend into her father’s world.
Freed, “On the Town,” 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5 (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1949, United States, 98 minutes, 35 mm). The film tells the story of three sailors in Manhattan on a 24-hour shore leave. Gene Kelly falls for “Miss Turnstiles of the Month” and Jules Munshin is the object of study in the most sensual dance number ever set in the Museum of Natural History. Frank Sinatra just wants to see the sights. Adapted from Broadway, the classic musical captures Kelly and Sinatra in their youthful glory, dancing and singing Leonard Bernstein’s iconic tunes.
Altman, “M*A*S*H*,” 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6 (Robert Altman, 1970, United States, 116 minutes, 35 mm). Robert Altman kicked off a whirlwind decade of filmmaking with this black comedy about the adventures of an army medical unit in the Korean War. It is a bitingly cynical picture of the U.S. military and its expansion into East Asia. Featuring an ensemble cast -- an Altman signature -- and a series of revealing vignettes instead of a set plot structure, “M*A*S*H” inaugurated a decade of unconventional war movies.
Pre-code Paramount, “Girls About Town,” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 (George Cukor, 1931, United States, 66 minutes, 35 mm). Before Carrie Bradshaw and the vixens of “Sex and the City” stalked the streets of Manhattan in six-inch heels, Wanda Howard and Marie Bailey in George Cukor’s “Girls About Town” ruled the streets. In this comic and raunchy film, Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman portray “good time girls” who target wealthy single businessmen. But the heart is fickle, as they learn when Francis falls for a noble (but “poor”) man.
Freed: “Singin’ in the Rain,” 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12 (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952, United States, 103 minutes, 35 mm). Gene Kelly -- with his smooth voice, graceful moves and umbrella -- has a career-defining performance in this gentle satire of the silent film industry. Kelly stars as Don Lockwood, a 1920s film star who transitions along with leading lady Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) into talkies. Don’s voice is superb, but Lina’s is comically bad, so the producers hire chorus girl Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) to read her lines. With extravagant production numbers and an expertly nuanced script, director and choreographer Kelly created what many call the best original musical ever.
Altman: “Brewster McCloud,” 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13 (Robert Altman, 1970, United States, 105 minutes, 35 mm). Brewster (Bud Cort) is a modern-day Icarus who lives underneath the Houston Astrodome and dreams of building his own wings to carry him away from his sorrowful world. Those who cross him die suddenly and mysteriously, their faces marked with telltale bird droppings. A hilarious and underappreciated Altman film, it also features the debut of his muse throughout the 1970s, Shelly Duvall.
Pre-code Paramount: “Trouble in Paradise,” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18 (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932, United States, 83 minutes, 35 mm). Berlin-born director Ernst Lubitsch knew what leading a double life was like: before he became a Hollywood legend, he worked as a bookkeeper in his father’s store while performing in cabarets at night. Perhaps that is how Lubitsch so masterfully directed “Trouble in Paradise,” a romantic comedy about deceit and double-crossing. It is the story of a pair of criminals (Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) trying to dupe a rich young widow (Kay Francis). As usual, love gets in the way.
Freed: “The Band Wagon,” 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19 (Vincente Minnelli, 1953, United States, 111 minutes, 35 mm). Out-of-luck film star Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) attempts to sing his way into a Broadway musical in order to save his fading career, but the production goes awry when director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) tries to turn it into an artsy meditation on the soul. It features an astonishingly nimble dance performance from an aging Astaire particularly in the number “Shine on Your Shoes.” The musical comedy is an over-the-top MGM extravaganza.
Altman: “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20 (Robert Altman, 1971, United States, 120 minutes, 35 mm). Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond famously exposed the negatives to Altman’s revisionist Western prior to developing them, giving the entire film an unsettling murkiness. This atmospheric masterpiece is centered around a snowy town in the Northwest and John McCabe (Warren Beatty), a simpleton entrepreneur who arrives to build a casino-brothel. The success of the venture earns him enemies culminating in a climactic, one-sided shootout, one of the great sequences of the 1970s.
Reeltime, “The Origins of Animation,” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, (Various directors, 1906-1918, various countries, 90 minutes, video, Free). Northwestern University Associate Professor Scott Curtis will present a selection of films from animation pioneers that include Emile Cohl, J. Stuart Blackton and Winsor McCay. The first animated films drew from longstanding traditions in caricature, comic strips and vaudeville, but they also established patterns and themes in animation that continue to this day.
Life of the Spirit: “Au Hasard, Balthasar,” 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, (Robert Bresson, 1966, France, 95 minutes, 35 mm, Free). Through the eyes of a mistreated farm animal, the world is a cruel but beautiful place. As unconventional as its main character, this masterpiece follows a donkey named Balthasar from its idyllic youth to the pain of adulthood. In possibly his most profound work, Bresson imbues the suffering of life with a quiet divinity, making Balthasar perhaps cinema’s most austere yet mundane spiritual muse. “Au Hasard, Balthasar” draws many worthy comparisons to movies such as “Citizen Kane” for its purity and brilliance.
Altman: “The Long Goodbye,” 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27 (Robert Altman, 1973, United States, 112 minutes, 35 mm). Altman’s take on Raymond Chandler’s novel updates its setting to the 1970s and includes a controversial recasting of the iconic detective immortalized by Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep.” This time, Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe is more mumbling misfit than smooth-talking gumshoe. Los Angeles in the 1970s is still as barren as it was in the 1940s, but now the corrupted youthful counterculture is cast as the cause of that emptiness. “The Long Goodbye” is an acerbic portrayal of the vacuous Hollywood with which the director was all too familiar.