Monday, October 24, 2016

1976 Flashback: Werner Herzog & Errol Morris Plot to Dig Up Ed Gein's Mother's Grave

Werner Herzog's essential 1977 film STROSZEK screens at the AFS Cinema twice this week, on Tuesday October 25 and Friday October 28, as part of the Hello, Goodbye series, commemorating the imminent closure and renovation of the theater space. Tickets are available now.

Warning: some disturbing content and language below.

By now, we all know that Werner Herzog is the most interesting human being drawing breath on this planet. His films alone should be evidence of this, but he continually drops anecdotes about his life that make it clear that no one else need even bother trying to be interesting because the market is cornered.

Here's an anecdote I read about in passing that Herzog and his close friend, filmmaker Errol Morris (whose shoe Herzog once ate, yawn) dropped in a 2008 interview.

Apparently, during the shooting of Herzog's 1977 masterpiece STROSZEK in Plainfield, Wisconsin, Herzog and Morris were so fascinated by the horrific deeds of hometown serial killer (and inspiration for both PSYCHO and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) Ed Gein that they planned to dig up the grave of Gein's mother to find out if he had in fact abducted her corpse, as was alleged. It's the kind of plan that a pair of mischievous young people, deep in their cups, might discuss late at night, but, as it turned out, Herzog was 100% serious. Morris was not. Here they are from their 2008 Believer interview:
Werner Herzog: There is something about Kemper and, of course, Ed Gein as well—we had a falling out over Ed Gein at the time, sometime later. 
Errol Morris: Cannibals can turn friends into enemies. Go figure. 
Werner Herzog: But actually, yes, it was a deep concern and in a way it had to do with cinema, for you at that time were more into the direction of writing. But we had a very, very intense rapport over it. Errol had a problem with me when we tried to find out in Plainfield, Wisconsin, where Ed Gein—the very probably most notorious— 
Errol Morris: The movie Psycho was based on Ed Gein. Robert Bloch, the writer of the novel Psycho, lived in a small Wisconsin town, Weyauwega, about twenty miles from Plainfield. Ed Gein was notorious. And the farmhouse where he lived alone became the ultimate house of horrors. He had upholstered furniture in his house with human flesh. He was a human taxidermist, cannibal, serial killer, grave robber, necrophile. An all-around good guy. 
Werner Herzog: Errol wanted to know more about the grave robberies, because Ed Gein had not only murdered people. He also excavated freshly buried corpses at the cemetery. And I do remember: he dug up graves in a pretty perfect circle. And in the very center of this circle was the grave of his mother. And Errol kept wondering, did he excavate his mother and use her flesh and skin for some sculptures in things at his home? 
Errol Morris: A relatively innocuous question. [Laughter] 
Werner Herzog: So the only way to find out is, I proposed, let’s go to Plainfield, grab a shovel, and dig at night. And I showed up in Plainfield, Wisconsin, because I was doing some filming up in Alaska and I came in a car all the way from Alaska down to Plainfield to visit Errol 
Errol Morris: I was living with Ed Gein’s next-door neighbors at the time, who I had befriended. Beth and Carroll Gear. 
Werner Herzog: You didn’t show up. 
Errol Morris: Oh, much later, yes. The chronology of all this is coming back to me. 
Werner Herzog: I was there, but you didn’t show up. And we had a date. It was something like September 10, and I said, I’m going to be there, and you will be there, and you didn’t show up. 
Errol Morris: He’s unfortunately correct. 
Werner Herzog: And I would have dug, even though Errol wasn’t there. I was kind of scared because people open fire easily in this town. 
Errol Morris: Well, wait a second. I had been living there. I had become friends with this very strange doctor, Dr. George Arndt. He had written one academic paper in his entire medical career, called “A Community’s Reaction to a Horrifying Event.” Essentially it was a compendium of Ed Gein jokes. I had befriended Dr. Arndt and together we drove to Plainfield Cemetery. He had a very, very big Cadillac. It reminds me actually of that scene in your Antarctic movie. Dr. Arndt and I had put our ears to the ground in the vicinity of the Gein graves, looking for hollow areas in the earth. 
Werner Herzog: I had forgotten about it completely. So things come back thirty-five years later. 
Errol Morris: And Dr. Arndt, who was really quite mad—I should tell you at least one of the Ed Gein jokes. Do you remember any of them? 
Werner Herzog: I don’t think so. 
Errol Morris: Why did Ed Gein keep his chairs covered overnight? 
Werner Herzog: I don’t know. 
Errol Morris: To keep them from getting goose pimples. So I was there with George Arndt in the cemetery and Arndt had this theory that Ed was so devious that he wouldn’t have gone down directly into his mother’s grave. I had discovered that many of the graves that he had robbed made a circle around his mother’s grave. And Dr. Arndt took this new information and came up with the hypothesis that Gein went down into one of the side graves—he only robbed the graves of women who were middle-aged and overweight, like his mom. He went into one of those graves and then tunneled, that there would be this radial tunnel toward the center, toward his mother’s grave. Arndt’s theory was that Gein would never have gone directly down into his mother’s grave. Psychiatrists have amazing theories. But he would never go down into the grave. As Arndt put it: Gein was too indirect, too devious. Hence, his radial digging, this tunneling. And I wondered, Wait a second—is she really down there? I could never get an answer. I could never get a straight answer from anyone. Is Mrs. Gein still buried in Plainfield Cemetery? And I told the story—this was the big mistake here—I told the story to Werner. 
Werner Herzog: And I showed up in Plainfield. 
Errol Morris: And so there was this horrible realization: he’s actually going to do it. And I have to say, I did get scared. I had this picture—you know, I was always really—I probably still am—trying to please my mother. I had already been thrown out of these various graduate schools. I was a ne’er-do-well, and down for the count, and I saw my life flashing before my eyes. I saw myself arrested with the Germans. I saw this full moon. I saw the Plainfield police. I saw the police photographers. I saw myself being led away with the Germans in handcuffs, the complete disgrace. So this is an opportunity to apologize. I apologize for not showing up.
Werner Herzog: I have to apologize for something else, because my car had broken down and there was no mechanic in the mile out there. There was a wreckage yard, and I fell in love with the guy who fixed my car. 
Errol Morris: Clayton Schlapinski. 
Werner Herzog: Yes, Clayton Schlapinski. And I said that we were going to do a film there in Plainfield, and that really upset Errol a lot. He thought I was a thief without loot. This was his country, his territory, his Plainfield, and I shot in Plainfield. I shot a film, Stroszek, which I think is forgotten and forgiven by now, and we can maintain friendship over this now. 
Errol Morris: I told Werner: For you to steal a character or a story isn’t real theft. But to steal a landscape, that is a very, very serious crime. 
Werner Herzog: I understand that. I take it to heart, but there actually is a film out there, and we can’t take it off the map. 
Errol Morris: It’s a very good film. 
Werner Herzog: It has a beautiful end with a dancing chicken, and I really like it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Starting 10/25: The HELLO,GOODBYE series: Herzog, Altman, May, Mambéty, Ashby...

As most of you know by now, the AFS Cinema will be closing for an extensive remodel and expansion soon. But before we begin ratcheting down the number of our events in preparation for construction, we wanted to have a great week full of brilliant films about endings and beginnings. It's the HELLO, GOODBYE series, at the AFS Cinema (formerly the Marchesa Hall & Theatre) 10/25-10/30.

Please tell all your friends and join us for this celebration of the cinema that we have shared so many great experiences in for the last three and a half years.

This special program includes Werner Herzog's 1977 tragicomedy STROSZEK, about a couple from Berlin who immigrate to America and find it very different from the place they imagined; Robert Altman's frantic 1973 detective whatsit THE LONG GOODBYE with Elliott Gould as a seriously '70s version of Raymond Chandler's private investigator Phillip Marlowe; Elaine May's 1971 black comedy A NEW LEAF with Walter Matthau as a formerly rich man who tries to claw his way back to the top of the heap with the unknowing participation of a strange, awkward woman, played by the director herself; Djibril Diop Mambéty's colorful and vibrant 1973 film TOUKI BOUKI about a Senegalese couple, obsessed with cosmopolitan Paris, who long to escape Africa, and scheme to make it happen; and finally 1973's THE LAST DETAIL, from director Hal Ashby (and writer Robert Towne) about two tough Navy lifers (Otis Young and Jack Nicholson - at his best) who are ordered to escort a young cadet (Randy Quaid), guilty of a minor crime, to the brig for an eight year sentence. Funny, deep, and poignant, this is great filmmaking.

Note: AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater's next film, LAST FLAG FLYING, scheduled to shoot soon, is a followup to THE LAST DETAIL.

All of the films in this program are presented in 35mm except STROSZEK, which is presented in a new DCP restoration.

October 25 & 28

Werner Herzog’s too-strange-to-not-be-completely-human tale of an ex-mental patient in the Berlin slums looking for a new start in Wisconsin is one of the greatest “grass is greener” tales ever to be put to cinema.
More Info & Tickets>>


October 26 & 29

Robert Altman and Elliott Gould go a trifle over-the-top in this adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s private eye novel. One of the best and most entertaining films of the ‘70s.
More Info & Tickets>>

October 27 & 30

Writer/director Elaine May’s black romantic comedy stars Walter Matthau as a dissolute playboy in need of funds, who targets an eccentric rich woman in a scheme to marry and kill for money. The woman (played by May herself) is considerably different than he expects. A joyous film.
More Info & Tickets>>

October 28 & 30

Djibril Diop Mambety is the master of post-colonial African magical realism. In TOUKI BOUKI, a sort of psychedelic Senegalese Bonnie & Clyde story, a young couple will do anything to get out of Africa and start a sophisticated new life in France.
More Info & Tickets>>

October 29 & 30

See Jack Nicholson as you always want him to be, a foul-mouthed, cigar-chewing sailor on a last night out with a fellow headed to prison. Two independent film greats, director Hal Ashby and screenwriter Robert Towne, are on top of their game, and thankfully, there is hardly a plot in sight during the film’s many loose, rambling scenes.
More Info & Tickets>> 

Watch This: A Bizarre Bela Lugosi Interview from 1932

This 1932 short-subject interview with horror movie legend Bela Lugosi (born on this date in 1882) is staged and rehearsed as you might expect and has some really jarring shifts in tone. One minute he is saying,
"I am studying now American slang. I know how to say "OK", "cat's, uh, whiskers" and "baloney", and "and HOW!" 
We can detect obvious sadness as he talks about being forced to leave his home country of Hungary for political reasons. Then, later, when asked if playing Dracula onstage depressed him, he becomes gloomy and frightening as he intones,
"Very much. It haunted (hunted?) me. I often dreamed of the dead. In the morning when I woke up I was tired and depressed... (trails off)
 Then a jump cut to a cheerful Lugosi asking brightly, "Did you see the play?"

Later, after a flirtatious exchange about the Hollywood party life, Lugosi's brow again darkens and he slips into monologue mode again,
"Well, I guess I'm pretty much of a lone wolf. I don't say I don't like people at all but to tell you the truth I only like them if I get a chance to look deep into their heart and their mind. If I find there is something worthwhile, some human kindness, some sympathy."
Then it gets even stranger and creepier from there.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Just Announced: AFS November & December Programming

Brando directs!

This November and December, as the AFS Cinema remodel begins, we will offer a large number of events both onsite at the AFS Cinema (pardon our dust please!) and at a number of other local venues. We will continue to offer events around town until the Cinema reopens early in 2017. More news about January and February offerings to come soon.

On Friday, November 4, we will screen New York Times Critics' Pick LITTLE SISTER,  the latest film from Zach Clark (WHITE REINDEER) at the AFS Cinema. This is a Free Member Friday. This screening will be preceded by an AFS Member mixer starting at 6pm.

Our long-running free History Of Television series continues at Austin Public on Monday, November 7 with a selection of episodes of the '70s paranormal series IN SEARCH OF... starring Leonard Nimoy in an assortment of wide collars as he chases Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

On Friday and Saturday, November 11 and 12, we will again be joined by our friends from our sister city Angers, France as we help celebrate Angers Week with a pair of screenings. On Friday, we will present VINCENT, a favorite from Angers' Premiers Plans festival, and on Saturday we will host a family-friendly program of animated shorts from France.

Doc Night continues with screenings on Sunday, November 13 and Wednesday, November 16 of FIRE AT SEA, an extraordinary new film, made over the course of a full year, that documents life on the ancient Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, which, in addition to its insular culture of fishermen, now hosts large numbers of refugees from Africa, who are rescued along the treacherous seaways nearby. Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and Amnesty International's Film Prize.

We are thrilled to present a new restoration of Howard Hawks' 1934 screwball comedy classic TWENTIETH CENTURY, starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, on Tuesday, November 15 at the historic State Theatre. It's an all-time favorite, and we are excited to partner with the Paramount and State to offer this special screening.

On December 18 and 20 we present one of our favorite new films of the year, IXCANUL, just before we close the doors of the AFS Cinema for the last time in 2016. IXCANUL, from Guatemala and in the spoken Mayan language Kaqchikel, tells the story of a young woman who lives with her family on the side of a volcano, where they harvest coffee beans. A series of events occur that bring the old ways into sharp contrast with modern values. By far the most acclaimed film ever to emerge from Guatemala. We are proud to present it.

We have always been interested in the history of film and its techniques. One of the most fascinating and least appreciated aspects of golden-age filmmaking is the use of painted backdrops. University of Texas lecturer Karen L. Maness has just completed a book on the subject, THE ART OF THE HOLLYWOOD BACKDROP, and will share some of her research and insights with us in a special free screening room presentation on Wednesday, November 30.

We return to the State Theatre on Monday, November 5 for another exciting new restoration. Marlon Brando only directed one film, the weird, existential western ONE EYED JACKS (1961). When original director Stanley Kubrick dropped out, producer/star Brando assumed the directorial reins. In many ways it feels more like Kurosawa than John Ford. After many years in eclipse, this has now received the Film Foundation DCP treatment and can be seen and appreciated as the great film it is.

On Thursday, December 8th at the Bullock we return to present the great new doc A SONG FOR YOU: THE AUSTIN CITY LIMITS STORY. Made by Keith Maitland (TOWER) with the full participation of ACL's producers and archivists, this is a music-packed, interview-heavy appreciation of not only the greatest music television show of all time, but also the city and attitude that made it possible. With special guests!

Speaking of special guests, on Sunday December 11, our Science on Screen program resumes at the Bullock with a showing of Al Reinert's seminal 1989 documentary FOR ALL MANKIND, about the Apollo space missions, culled from over 1,000 hours of raw NASA footage. We will be joined by Reinert and members of the original Mission Control team for an educational discussion after the film.

Julie Dash's epochal 1991 independent film DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST has been restored and we will screen it at the Bullock on Tuesday, December 13. Before DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, no film directed by an African-American woman had ever been distributed in the US. The film, set in 1902, tells the story of a Gullah family who live on an island off the coast of Georgia that has had very little contact with the mainland. A film of great cultural and historical importance, DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST was selected for the National Film Registry at the Library Of Congress in 2004.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Just Announced: Joss Whedon in Conversation - This Saturday

Joss Whedon (AVENGERS, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) has recently turned his filmmaking attention to the 2016 election with “Save The Day,” writing and directing videos starring some of Hollywood’s biggest talents (Scarlett Johannson and Robert Downey Jr. among them) that aim to register voters and Get Out The Vote. During this special election season event, Joss Whedon joins us in-person at AFS to go behind the scenes of Save The Day's videos, and have an interactive audience discussion about Hollywood, politics, and the importance of voting to our democratic process.

This event does not advocate for any view, candidate or political party. The content and speakers do not reflect the opinion or views of the Austin Film Society.

Date: Saturday, October 15, 2016
Time: 11:30 AM
Location: AFS Cinema (6226 Middle Fiskville Rd)
$10 General Admission · $7 AFS Watch/Make/Love Members · Free for AFS Premiere Members

Monday, October 10, 2016

Festival Alert: Austin Asian American Film Festival Schedule Announced


In Austin we are lucky to have a big-time, massive film fest (SXSW Film), and some less gigantic but still world-class festivals (Austin Film Festival, Fantastic Fest). And we are also fortunate to have a number of smaller (though not necessarily small), targeted festivals that expose us to international films we might never see otherwise. The Austin Asian American Film Festival (AAAFF) is one of these, and the programming seems to get better and better each year.

We have been honored to share a venue with them in past years, though this year our cinema renovation has forced a move to the very snazzy Blanton Auditorium. As always the focus is on quality rather than quantity. The twelve features and twenty two shorts chosen all look first class, and range from CREEPY by Japanese horror auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa to the new Hirokazu Koreeda film AFTER THE STORM and the buzzed-about Chinese indie sensation KAILI BLUES.

The AAAFF runs from November 3-6. The full schedule, along with ticket links,  is here. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pushed By Her Fundamentalist Family into an Arranged Marriage, She Fights Back With this Music Video

As the teenage daughter in an Afghan refugee family in Iran, Sonita Alizadeh is in a difficult position. A free spirit, who aspires to a career in music, she is also a member of a highly religious tradition that forbids the making of music. Additionally, her very poor family can make the equivalent in $9,000 if they agree to offer her in an arranged marriage.

As the tensions ratchet up, Sonita tells her side of the story in the only way she knows how, through her words, music, and filmmaking. The song is a direct plea to her parents and is very, very powerful.