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January 2010 Film Calendar

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January 13, 2010 | by Judy Moore
"Duck Soup," the classic Marx Brothers romp, is showing Jan. 21.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Block Cinema is screening films in three series this winter -- The Teen Screen; Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham: Political Comedies; and A Cinema of Their Own: Bloomsbury on Film.

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. It is dedicated to providing the Northwestern campus, the North Shore and the Chicago area with a quality venue for repertory cinema.

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. 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.

The Teen Screen series captures a time in life when every conceivable human emotion is felt, but is little understood. The teens in the selected films, though divided by decades and miles, experience the universal tug-of-war between childhood and adulthood, hedonism and discipline, rebellion and responsibility. Two of the series' documentaries, "High School" (Jan. 22) and "Seventeen" (Jan. 29), illustrate the stark contrast between factory-like conformity of America's education system and the most anarchic impulses of the student body.

The Film and Projection Society (FPS), a student-run film group at Northwestern dedicated to fostering film culture on campus, will present the Political Comedies series. Even in an age when war and protests dominate headlines, few weapons -- real or rhetorical -- pose a greater threat to politicians and social orders than a well-timed gag. Humor can expose corruption, injustice, hypocrisy or just plain foolishness. "In the Loop" (Jan. 15) satirizes political snafus in the post-9/11 world while the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup" (Jan. 21) and Woody Allen's "Bananas" (Jan. 28) are madcap portrayals of the follies of leadership.

To coincide with the Block Museum's winter exhibition, "A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections," Block Cinema presents the Bloomsbury on Film series of Saturday matinees with films about the lives and writings of members of the Bloomsbury group. Selections include "Carrington" (Jan. 16), a look at the life and loves of painter Dora Carrington and "The War Within: A Portrait of Virginia Woolf" (Jan. 30), an illuminating documentary about one of Bloomsbury's central figures.

JANUARY 2010 FILMS

Political Comedies, "In the Loop," 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 (Armando Iannucci, 2009, United Kingdom, 106 minutes, 35 mm). A bumbling British government minister (Tom Hollander) makes a verbal snafu during a TV interview, inadvertently backing a U.S. war in the Middle East. Consequently, he becomes the stooge for powerful Pentagon politicos (James Gandolfini and Mimi Kennedy) and a tool for their Machiavellian dealings. This razor-sharp, laugh-out-loud political satire pokes fun at the ineptitude of our highest leaders and features some of the most hilarious dialogue since the heyday of screwball comedy.

Bloomsbury, "Carrington," 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 (Christopher Hampton, 1995, United Kingdom, 121 minutes, 35 mm). Director Christopher Hampton delivers a witty, frank and entertaining portrait of painter Dora Carrington. Emma Thompson plays the irreverent and talented artist, a woman whose unconventional life is told through a series of vignettes. Though she had many lovers, the love of her life was Bloomsbury writer Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce), who was gay. Hampton's biopic focuses on Carrington and Strachey's complex relationship, offering a portrait of an unorthodox couple and of bohemian England around the First World War.

Political Comedies, "Duck Soup," 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21 (Leo McCarey, 1933, United States, 69 minutes, 35 mm). This classic Marx Brothers romp follows Rufus Firefly (Groucho Marx), the newly appointed leader of the penniless nation of Freedonia, just as neighboring Sylvania plans to attack. Though first and foremost an anarchic comedy in which the gag trumps any consideration for plot or theme, "Duck Soup's" greatest punch line may be that Groucho's corrupt, lunatic dictator would play the straight man against his real-world counterparts. With a post-World War I cynicism toward patriotism and a pre-World War II unease about the fragility of democracy, the Marx Brothers mine comedic gold from topics including war, nationalism, money and politics.

The Teen Screen, "High School," 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22 (Frederick Wiseman, 1968, United States, 75 minutes, 16 mm). Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman focuses his lens on the daily goings-on in a large middle-class Philadelphia high school during the late 1960s. In his trademark verité style, the director captures tense confrontations with teachers, administrators and parents, highlighting the everyday absurdities that students endure, from detention to dress codes to gym class.

Political Comedies, "Bananas," 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 (Woody Allen, 1971, United States, color, 82 minutes, 35 mm). A spiritual sequel to "Duck Soup," "Bananas" chronicles the unlikely rise of an unlikelier dictator. To impress a pretty activist (Louise Lasser), New Yorker Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) travels to civil war-torn San Marcos, where a resident played by Carlos Montalban faces a growing left-wing insurgency. Neither idealist nor warrior, Mellish stumbles his way into the revolution's inner circle, becoming the nebbishy Che Guevara to San Marcos's Fidel Castro stand-in, the megalomaniacal Esposito (Jacobo Morales). Allen deflates the romantic image of the Latin American revolutionary with absurdist delight.

The Teen Screen, "Seventeen," 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29 (Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines, 1983, United States, color, 120 minutes, 16 mm). Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines' expose of a group of teenagers in Muncie, Ind., in the early 1980s is arguably one of the best (and little-known) portraits of American youth ever committed to celluloid. The film centers on a precocious, sharp-tongued 17-year-old, and her hard-partying friends. Originally commissioned for the Public Broadcasting Service, but ultimately deemed too hot for public television, the film, which deals with racism, binge drinking and more, never candy coats its subject matter.

Bloomsbury, "The War Within: A Portrait of Virginia Woolf," 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 (John Fuegi and Jo Francis, 1995, United Kingdom, color, 52 minutes, video). This award-winning documentary provides a compelling glimpse into the complex life and work of one of the central figures of the Bloomsbury group. Blending eye-opening interviews with those who knew her personally and never-before public excerpts from her diaries, love letters and more, John Fuegi and Jo Francis's film is an artfully constructed and illuminating study. Admission is free.

(Nathalie Rayter, a junior in the School of Education and Social Policy, contributed to this story.)