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Fall Films Showcase Emerging Trends, Evolving Movements, Bollywood

September 29, 2009 | 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" 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 www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/block-cinema.

This fall, Block Cinema is screening films in three series -- Mumblecore, Amitabh Bachchan and Distilled into Something New: Film Noir from 1955 to 1970.

The Mumblecore series features films that are part of an emerging trend in American independent cinema. The term "mumblecore" was invented at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, where several screened films were micro-budget, loosely-shot affairs that focused on simple stories about characters in their 20s. "Funny Ha Ha" (Oct. 8) is a succession of awkward, half-desperate interactions while "Medicine for Melancholy" (Oct. 29) was shot for less than the cost of a new car. Starting with "The Puffy Chair" (Sept. 23) and including a panel discussion on the potential of small films, this series explores a trend in current filmmaking with a future as shaky as its promise is great.

Block Cinema's Amitabh Bachchan series traces the evolving aesthetics of Bollywood by following the rise of Bachchan, the highest paid star in Bollywood and arguably India's most famous actor. The series begins with "Zanjeer" (Sept. 25), in which Bachchan became the face of the angry, young Indian man responding to the country's escalating political and economic crises, and continues with the films "Deewaar" (Oct. 2) and "Sholay" (Oct. 9). After leaving the industry for a brief stint in politics in the 1980s and a supposed retirement in the 1990s, Bachchan returned to stardom in television, as the host of India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Block Cinema's Film Noir series relates to the Block Museum's Fall 2009 exhibition in the Main Gallery, "Robert Motherwell: An Attitude Toward Reality, From the Collection of the Walker Art Center" (Sept. 25 through Dec. 6) which explores Motherwell's role in the evolution of the Abstract Expressionist movement as he eventually strayed from the boundaries that he had helped delineate. In that spirit, Block Cinema has programmed a series of film noir from the mid-1950s to 2008 that are both oddities and exemplars, containing the essence of film noir, but also something new and inimitable. These late film noirs led to an exodus, as filmmakers abandoned film noir while incorporating many of its elements into other reinvigorated genres.

Block Cinema also will screen "Painters Painting" (Oct. 28), a 1973 documentary on the New York School of painters, which features interviews with the most important artists of the (1940 to 1970) period, including Robert Rauschenberg, William de Kooning, Jasper Johns and Robert Motherwell. The screening also complements the Block Museum's of Art's fall 2009 "Robert Motherwell" exhibition.

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

Mumblecore, "The Puffy Chair," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 (Jay Duplass, 2005, United States, 85 minutes, DVCam). The Duplass brothers, writer-producer-actor (Mark) and writer-director (Jay), tell the story of Josh (Mark again), a failed New York City indie rocker who also is failing at his new job as a booking agent. But he has at least found the perfect gift for his father: a vintage 1985 Lazy Boy on eBay. Josh needs to drive cross-country to deliver the chair; the catch is that his girlfriend Emily and brother Rhett end up in the van with him, making for a journey that is about a lot more than a giant purple chair. The feature debut of the Duplass brothers was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival that spawned the "mumblecore" label. Their low-budget film cost $15,480 to make.

Noir, "Kiss Me Deadly," 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 (Robert Aldrich, 1955, United States, 106 minutes, 35 mm). A woman runs barefoot down the highway, thrusting herself in front of Mickey Spillane's car. He begrudgingly offers her a ride and the opening credits role over the sounds of Nat King Cole and the desperate panting of a woman who already knows she's dead. Spillane wakes up three days later. His car had gone off the road, apparently, but the woman he had picked up was dead before it crashed. Suspicious of the authorities' interest in the case, Spillane decides to figure it out on his own.

Bachchan, "Zanjeer," 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25 (Prakash Mehra, 1973, India, 145 minutes, video). Amitabh Bachchan plays Inspector Vijay Khanna, a police officer who is wrongly imprisoned based on accusations by Teja, the leader of a powerful gang. Once released from prison, Khanna learns that Teja also was responsible for the murder of his family 20 years before and he sets out to seek revenge. "Zanjeer" is Bachchan's breakout role into stardom in India and a departure from his earlier romantic comedies. It also established him as the angry young man of Bollywood. Admission is free.

Noir, "Rififi," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 (Jules Dassin, 1955, United States, 122 minutes, 35 mm). Director Jules Dassin was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. After he refused to testify he was blacklisted. Three years later, he directed this low-budget French film noir that won him best director at Cannes and changed what was possible for film noir -- in effect, perfecting the modern heist movie where the protagonists are tragic heroes. "Rififi" is famous for its nearly 30-minute heist sequence.

Mumblecore, "Nights and Weekends," 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1 (Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg, 2008, United States, 80 minutes, DVCam). Joe Swanberg teams up with Greta Gerwig, the star of his two previous films, to write, direct, produce and star in this intimate examination of a couple struggling with a long-distance relationship. Mattie and James are split between Chicago and New York, and the film, which begins as their relationship starts to show some long-distance strain, also is divided between their two cities. A yearlong break in the filmmaking matched a yearlong break in the narrative, adding a layer of authenticity to a film that already feels uncomfortably real. Director Joe Swanberg will introduce the film.

Bachchan, "Deewaar," 7 p.m. Oct. 2 (Yash Chopra, 1975, India, 174 minutes, video). "Deewar" is classic Bollywood, a mega-blockbuster that cemented Amitabh Bachchan's reputation as India's angry young man. Perhaps the most famous commercial Hindi film ever made, "Deewar" sums up the attitude of a young, disaffected generation towards the turbulent politics and economy of 1970s India. The first collaboration between Bachchan and famed director Yash Chopra, "Deewaar" has been called "absolutely key to Indian cinema" by director Danny Boyle, who cited the film as an influence on his 2008 blockbuster, "Slumdog Millionaire." Admission is free.

Reeltime, "Copyright Criminals,"
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7 (Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod, 2009, United States, 70 minutes, video). Can you own a sound? It depends who you ask. Hip-hop artists have long sampled previously recorded music to create new compositions. But once record company lawyers got involved, sampling became "copyright infringement." Featuring many of hip-hop's founding figures, this documentary takes a close look at what happens when artistic expression collides with big money and copyright law. Peter DiCola, assistant professor, Northwestern University School of Law, will lead a discussion. The screening is co-presented with ITVS Community Cinema, Independent Lens and WTTW 11.

Mumblecore, "Funny Ha Ha," 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8 (Andrew Bujalski, 2002, United States, 100 minutes, 35 mm). Considered the first film in the "mumblecore" mold, "Funny Ha Ha" follows recent college graduate Marnie as she navigates the world of temporary jobs and post-graduate malaise and tries, unsuccessfully, to cut down on her habits of drinking and going after the wrong guys. Writer-director Andrew Bujalski acts in the film as an awkward temp. An unadorned film about touchingly helpless characters, it finds a bit of small beauty in post-collegiate limbo and longing.

Bachchan, "Sholay," 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9 (Ramesh Sippy, 1975, India, 188 minutes, video). The highest grossing film of all time in India -- "Sholay" ran continuously in one Mumbai theater for more than five years. It is a classic of the "curry Western" style, which became popular in Hindi films in the 1970s. The movie follows two small time crooks, Jai and Veeru (Amitabah Bachchan and Dharmendra Deol), who are chosen by a former police officer, Thakur, to seek vengeance on a bandit who murdered Thakur's family and maimed him for life. Deeply influenced by the Westerns of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, "Sholay" was panned by the critics. A quarter-century later, BBC India named it the Film of the Millennium. Admission is free.

Noir, "Antigone's Noir,"
7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14 (Domietta Torlasco, United States, 2008, 29 minutes, digital video). Written and directed by Northwestern's Domietta Torlasco, assistant professor of Italian studies and screen cultures, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, "Antigone's Noir" is composed of three interlocked episodes (Lenox, Effie and Judy Barton) that look back at classic film noir. Each episode envisions -- with the help of scenes shot in contemporary settings, documentary photographs and footage from public archives -- what might have happened before a film started or after it ended. Relationships between protagonists and marginal figures, between male and female characters are shifted, creating irreverent configurations of memory and desire that reach beyond the archetypes of the femme fatale and the innocent woman. Admission is free.

Noir, "Diabolique," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14 (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955, France, 116 minutes, 35 mm). In the hands of director Henri-Georges Clouzot, film noir became something closer to psychological horror. In "Diabolique," Clouzot and his longtime cinematographer Armand Thirard manage to create an atmosphere of dread and suspense that is so pervasive that even everyday objects like bathtubs and clothes hampers become fiendish. Set in the French countryside, this is the story of a school headmaster so piggish he has inadvertently goaded his wife and his mistress into conspiring to kill him. It soon becomes clear, however, that it isn't clear at all what's happened.

Noir, "The Big Combo," 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955, United States, 89 minutes, 35 mm). "First is first, and second is nobody." These are the words that Mr. Brown (Richard Conte), a mob financier, lives by. Brown is the focus of an obsessive quest by detective Leonard Diamond (Cornell Wilde), whose tactics eventually push his target to retaliate. What follows is an unbelievable torture scene, conducted with a hearing aid and a bottle of hair tonic.

Bachchan, "Kabhi Kabhie," 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16 (Yash Chopra, 1976, India, 177 minutes, video). "Kabhi Kabhie" is a romantic story about a young poet, Amit (Amitabh Bachchan), and his love, Pooja. Though they are deeply in love, Pooja bows to the wishes of her parents and marries Vijay (Shashi Kapoor). That settles it -- until the story fast-forwards to 20 years later and the next generation of lovers. Shot in Kashmir, the film is a sweet Bollywood epic. Admission is free.

Art Theory and Practice, "Public Lighting" 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21 (Mike Hoolboom, 2004, Canada, 76 minutes, BetaSP). The six portraits in "Public Lighting" tell of ordinary follies, narcissistic obsessions, wounded memories and desires. The separated man, the obstinate pianist, the aging singer, the Chinese emigre, the nocturnal Japanese and the confessed woman are fragments of a collective history. The screening will be introduced by video artist Mike Hoolboom. Admission is free.

Mumblecore, panel discussion, "Small Talk, Big Moments?"
8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22. The cast, crew, budget and scope of "mumblecore" movies are small, but these films also capture moments that speak to larger themes and a potentially larger audience. But will they ever get there? And should they? Are small films like these intrinsically limited to a small audience, and are they therefore better suited for the small screen? A panel of "mumblecore" filmmakers will discuss the implications of their work and the challenges and potential of the ultra-low budget filmmaking process. The panel will feature directors Joe Swanberg, Aaron Katz, Frank V. Ross and Barry Jenkins.

Art Theory and Practice, "Imitations of Life," 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23 (Mike Hoolboom, 2003, Canada, 75 minutes, BetaSP). "Imitations of Life" is packed with images taken from Hollywood fiction films, newsreels and documentary and scientific works, all patiently collected against the background of a salutary hold-up, have something of the construction of a metafilm. "Imitations of Life" is both a situational commentary and an endless and toilsome attempt to get another story to emerge from this mixture of images. The screening will be introduced by video artist Mike Hoolboom. Admission is free.

Robert Motherwell: "Painters Painting," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28 (Emile de Antonio, 1973, United States, 116 minutes, video). Originally released in 1973, "Painters Painting" is the definitive documentary on the New York School of painters, from 1940 to 1970. Newly digitally remastered and restored, the film features interviews with the most important artists of the period, including Robert Rauschenberg, William de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Barnett Newman, Hans Hoffman, Jules Olitski, Philip Pavia, Larry Poons, Robert Motherwell and Kenneth Noland. David Raskin, associate professor of art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will introduce the film and lead a post-screening discussion. Admission is free.

Mumblecore, "Medicine for Melancholy," 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 (Barry Jenkins, 2009, United States, 88 minutes, video). Starring Wyatt Cenac of "The Daily Show" fame, "Medicine for Melancholy," a departure from Cenac's late-night work, opens with a couple of 20-something African-Americans waking up together after a drunken night of partying. The movie follows Micah and Jo through their next day, and though the pair can barely remember meeting, their relationship quickly becomes close. Shot with a digital camera, "Medicine for Melancholy" is concerned with the class and racial divisions that too seldom show up in independent cinema. The directorial debut of Barry Jenkins, the film received multiple Spirit Award nominations last year.

Noir, "Night of the Hunter," 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 (Charles Laughton, 1955, United States, 93 minutes, 35 mm). Preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is a sleepy-eyed man of God and a serial killer. Briefly in prison for auto theft, he overhears his cellmate, who's soon to be hanged, talk of hiding $10,000. Following his release from prison, Powell travels to his cellmate's hometown to comfort his widow with the word of God and the cold certainty of death. Filmed with a stark, nearly surreal aesthetic that owes much to German Expressionist cinema, "Night of the Hunter," ignored by audiences and rejected by critics on its release, is now an influential classic.
(Nathalie Rayter, a junior in the School of Education and Social Policy, contributed to this story.)


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