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September/October 2008 Film Calendar

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September 23, 2008 | by Judy Moore
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Block Cinema, a collaboration of the Northwestern University School of Communication and the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, screens classic and contemporary films. Block Cinema is dedicated to providing the Northwestern campus, the North Shore and the Chicago area with a quality venue for repertory cinema.

All films are screened in the James B. Pick and Rosalyn M. 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 otherwise noted, general admission to Block Cinema screenings is $6 for the general public or $4 for Block Museum members, Northwestern faculty and staff, senior citizens aged 65 and older, and students with IDs. Films in the "Reeltime" and Louis Family Nature series are free. Special events are $10. 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 visit the Block Cinema Web site at http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/block-cinema.

This fall, Block Cinema is screening 30 films in two series -- The Berlin School and WWII: The Photography of John Swope and Hollywood's Depiction of WWII.

The Berlin School series features contemporary films from what may be the next great wave in German cinema. These small-scale films explore issues of 21st-century life, including the integration of East and West Germany and the dominance of globalized capitalism. The series features awarding-winning works by Christian Pentzold, Christoph Hochausler and Angela Scanelec. The series is a special chance to see these films, which have been rarely screened in the United States. Ulrich Köhler's 2006 film "Montag kommen die Fenster" ("Windows on Monday") makes its Chicago premiere at Block Cinema Oct. 23.

Block Cinema's WWII film series relates to the Block Museum's Fall 2008 exhibition in the Main Gallery, "A Letter from Japan: The Photographs of John Swope." In that spirit, Block Cinema has programmed a series of Hollywood films that provide multisided perspectives -- often devastating, sometimes funny and always nuanced -- on World War II. World War II is the defining historical event of the 20th century, and Hollywood has grappled with its meaning ever since the studios donated their services to the U.S. Armed Forces in 1941.

Block Cinema also has included a number of non-Hollywood films in the series, including two Japanese films from director Kon Ichikawa and the epic British war film "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." The chaos and destruction of war is impossible to represent. These films succeed not with "accurate" depictions of war, but rather with the powerful honesty of fresh perspectives.

Roman Polanski's classic 1962 film "Knife in the Water" will be shown Oct. 10.

Free Oct. 22 and 24 Reeltime screenings of the autobiographical documentary "Indestructible" feature Chicago actor and playwright Ben Byer. Byer was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), a neurodegenerative disease that took his life this past summer. Both screenings will include a special guest appearance by Rebecca Rush, the film's producer and Byer's sister.

An Oct. 31 screening of Charlie Chaplin's 1947 film "Monsieur Verdoux" will celebrate Halloween.

The following is a listing of Block Cinema films that will be screened in late September and throughout October.

SEPTEMBER 2008 FILMS

WWII: "Go for Broke!" 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24 (Robert Pirosh, 1951, United States, 92 minutes, 16 mm). The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was composed of Nisei, or second-generation Japanese-Americans, many of whose families were interned in the United States. While their relatives were behind barbed wire, the 442nd was assigned to the European theatre, where it became the most highly decorated military unit in the history of the Armed Forces. The film, which takes the unit's motto as its title, shows the selflessness of soldiers who fought bravely for a country that made prisoners of their families and who were forced to combat racism within their own army. The film features a cast of veterans from the 442nd. It's a companion piece to photographer John Swope's empathetic portraits of the Japanese and their everyday life after the war, on exhibit at the Block Museum's Main Gallery through Nov. 30.

Berlin School, "Klassenfahrt," ("School Trip") 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25 (Henner Winckler, 2002, Germany, 88 minutes, 35 mm). A slowly evolving character study of teenage restlessness, Winckler's feature debut follows a group of German middle school students on a class trip to a boring resort town in Poland. Ronny (Stephen Sterling) is a shy boy attracted to his classmate Isa (Sophie Kempe). When Isa begins to develop an interest in a Polish boy, Ronny's attempts to win her affection take a dark turn. Winckler captures the volatility of adolescence, when ennui can turn into violent posturing at any moment.

WWII, "Attack!" 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26 (Robert Aldrich, 1961, United States, 107 minutes, 35 mm). One of the few movies in Block's WWII series set in the European theatre, "Attack!" is also one of the few films about the war where the Americans are clearly losing, cut down by the German guns somewhere in the Ardennes. While John Swope's photography (exhibited in the Block Museum's Main Gallery through Nov. 30) humanizes the just defeated Japanese, Aldrich's film is the inverse because it portrays an American captain as incompetent. Aldrich directs a talented cast of actors, some of whom actually served in the war. Jack Palance suffered severe burns to his body and face as a bomber pilot, and Lee Marvin was left for dead on a Pacific Island.

OCTOBER 2008 FILMS

WWII, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1 (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1943, United Kingdom, 163 minutes, 35 mm). Initially controversial, the epic tale of Clive Candy is now seen as the great British film of the World War II era. Its characters would defy any propaganda machine: Candy is a dim, buffoonish, strangely endearing soldier, and the film traces his bumbling life from the Boer War to World War II. Exceedingly British, the sumptuously shot film is ultimately a comedy of manners. However, it is as warm in its tone and as keen in its observations as Swope's photography in the Block's Main Gallery exhibition.

Berlin School, "Yella," 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2 (Christian Petzold, 2007, Germany, 88 minutes, 35 mm). With a hypnotic lead performance by Nina Hoss (which won the Best Actress award at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival), "Yella" is the eerie journey of an East German woman into the business world of reunified Germany. Unlike other European films that have tackled 21st-century capitalism, Petzold, inspired by the cult classic "Carnival of Souls," sees modern business as essentially petty, a comic arena of cramped cars, bland motel rooms and unctuous fakers. "Yella" is an emotional thriller, twisted and entrancing. A free reception, hosted by Northwestern University's German department, will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Block Museum. Assistant Professor Marco Abel from the University of Nebraska will present an introductory lecture on the "Berlin School" before the film and lead a brief discussion after the screening. Abel has contributed articles on the Berlin School filmmakers to Senses of Cinema (a massive Australian-based online journal geared toward a general but film literate audience) and Cineaste (an American film magazine published quarterly). The screening is co-sponsored by the German department.

WWII, "Three Came Home," 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3 (Jean Negulesco, 1950, United States, 106 minutes, 35 mm). After the Japanese invasion of Borneo, American Agnes Newton Keith (Claudette Colbert) is separated from her British husband and forced to raise their son on her own in a Japanese prison camp for women and children. Though she endures much abuse and brutality at the hands of Japanese military personnel, her encounters and conversations with the camp's administrator, Colonel Suga (Sessue Hayakawa), are an elevating dimension of Keith's true story -- an attempt by two people, from opposing sides of a bitter conflict, to achieve some degree of understanding. The photographs of John Swope (in the Block Museum's Main Gallery through Nov. 30) share a similar sensibility in their earnest, naturalistic rendering of a people typically cartooned or vilified.

WWII Short Films from the Rohauer Collection, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8 (various directors, 1941-45, United States, about 90 minutes, 16 mm).
Hollywood aided the war effort with educational short films, entertaining public service announcements and patriotic propaganda. These short films delivered news from the front, instructed soldiers facing battle and warned of enemy espionage. Great talents, including director Preston Sturges and actor Walter Huston donated their service to create some of the most interesting short films of the 1940s. Many of these were overseen by the newly created Office of War Information and motion picture divisions of various branches of the military. This program contains examples of their work. Block Museum Film Curator Will Schmenner will lead a discussion, possibly with a special guest. Inspired by the exhibition "A Letter from Japan: The Photographs of John Swope," this program is part of the Block Museum's Three American Photographers: In-Depth series and American Art American City, a citywide initiative celebrating the history of American art, sponsored by the Chicago-based Terra Foundation for American Art.

Berlin School, "Marseille," 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9 (Angela Schanelec, 2004, Germany, 91 minutes, 35 mm). Upon her return to Berlin, following a holiday in Marseille, Sophie, a photographer from Berlin, is unable to focus on her job as a nanny for Hanna, an actress. Hanna is deeply unhappy with her husband, and an inappropriate, uncomfortable role-reversal takes place between the two women: the nanny becomes Hanna's blunt therapist. "Marseille" is a lush mood piece that never divulges much information about its alienated characters and refuses to follow any narrative conventions.

Canonical Classic, "Knife in the Water," 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10 (Roman Polanski, 1962, Poland, 92 minutes, 35 mm). Roman Polanski's 1962 film "Knife in the Water" is still one of the best feature debuts in cinema history, an unsettling psychological thriller whose economical storytelling taps into a reservoir of repressed fears and sexual anxieties. A young hitchhiker joins an unhappily married couple on a weekend yacht trip. When a storm forces the three below deck, the tension mounts as the two men battle for the woman's attention.

WWII, "The Teahouse of the August Moon," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15 (Daniel Mann, 1956, United States, 123 minutes, 16 mm). After the end of World War II, the inept Capt. Fisby is charged with "Plan B" -- bringing democracy and the American Way to the Okinawan village of Tobiko. When the new political and social practices don't take root according to the plan, the villagers persuade Fisby to build a teahouse instead of the Pentagon-shaped school "Plan B" calls for. Equal parts cultural, satire and slapstick, "August Moon" offers the viewer an account of the American postwar occupation that's uncomfortably comic and critical. Marlon Brando portrays an obediently subversive Okinawan in a rare WWII comedy at the expense of the United States.

Berlin School, "Bungalow," 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16 (Ulrich Köhler, 2002, Germany, 85 minutes, 35 mm).
When Paul (Lenni Burmeister) goes AWOL from the German army, he heads for his parents' country home, where he's surprised to find his older brother Max and his attractive new girlfriend, Lene, inhabiting the place. The film follows these characters during a several-day period, a respite of seemingly normal life that's shadowed by the military police closing in on Paul. The film encourages us to casually watch Paul, Max and Lene as they swim, flirt and avoid their problems.

WWII, "House of Bamboo," 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 (Samuel Fuller, 1955, United States, 102 minutes, 35 mm). A critical look at the American presence in postwar Japan, "House of Bamboo" focuses on a criminal organization of American ex-pat gangsters who exploit a Tokyo that's in transition -- corrupting its police force, robbing banks and endangering its citizens. The film also dares to deal with the charged issue of sex between the occupying Americans and the Japanese. Like Swope's work (in the Block Museum's Main Gallery exhibition), "House of Bamboo" is notable for its relatively sympathetic depiction of the Japanese people, their culture and their predicament. Excellent widescreen color photography enhances Fuller's exclusive use of location shooting in Japan -- including a hectic final chase scene atop an elevated amusement park ride, suspended above a crowd of terrified pedestrians.

(Two free screenings) Reeltime, "Indestructible," 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 (Ben Byer, 2007, United States, 118 minutes, video).
At age 31, Chicago actor and playwright Ben Byer was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), a neurodegenerative disease that took his life this past summer. Far from dark, this film is full of humor, frankness and humanity -- an inspiring autobiographical documentary that chronicles Ben's intense and uplifting quest to survive. Both screenings will include a special guest appearance by Rebecca Rush, the film's producer and Byer's sister.

Berlin School, "Montag kommen die Fenster"("Windows on Monday"), 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23 (Ulrich Köhler, 2006, Germany, 88 minutes, 35 mm). Nina (Isabelle Menke) is a suburban mother and wife who decides, amidst squabbles about her home's remodeling, to take leave of her family, arriving unexpectedly at her brother's cabin in the woods. She later finds herself at a nearby hotel in the off-season, where she meets and befriends a suave, but somewhat ridiculous tennis superstar (Ilie Nastase) who is there to serve as the 24-hour entertainment for a bevy of decadent guests. The film is comic and sometimes surreal, but never less than serious.

WWII, "Anatahan," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29 (Josef Von Sternberg, 1953, United States, 92 minutes, 16 mm). Von Sternberg's final film, set in the last days of World War II, is remarkable as historical artifact and masterwork of cinema. Made in Kyoto, his control over the film (writing, direction, shooting and narrating) is nearly absolute. It's the story of Japanese sailors shipwrecked on an island that's home only to a beautiful woman and her male companion. Von Sternberg's narration creates a pervasive sense of doom as the men jockey violently for the woman well after the war's end. Using a Japanese crew and cast, the film is a singular instance of cinematic collaboration, echoing John Swope's natural connections with the subjects of his photographs.

Berlin School, "Gespenster" ("Ghosts"), 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30 (Christian Petzold, 2005 Germany, 85 minutes, 35 mm). In this desolate story, Nina (Julia Hummer) leaves the stand-in family she's created at a Berlin orphanage to follow a wild-mannered young woman who gives her a sense of vitality and belonging that she's never felt before. Their friendship wavers between camaraderie and love and lust, between sisterly bonding and maternal care.

Halloween, "Monsieur Verdoux," 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 (Charlie Chaplin, 1947, United States, 124 minutes, 35 mm).
Charlie Chaplin's films are often about the difficulties of making a living. This time, however, it isn't the Little Tramp struggling through the cogs of an enormous mechanical mystery machine as he did in "Modern Times." It's Monsieur Verdoux, a suave charmer who supports his disabled wife and child by marrying rich women and killing them. The mid-1940s film was a failure, helping end Chaplin's Hollywood career. However, it was almost immediately championed by critics and filmmakers, including James Agee and Federico Fellini. It is a strangely brilliant mixture of competing genres that range from madcap farce and police procedural to courtroom drama -- not a typical Halloween film.
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