Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Joan Crawford: Forsaking All Others

The AFS Essential Cinema Series Bette & Joan, spotlighting two of the greatest film actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, is currently underway at the AFS Cinema. The series culminates in a Movie Madness party and screening of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on August 25.

Though they shared a profession and were contemporaries, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were notorious enemies. Both were fine actresses, and both had long careers that went through many seasons, from their years of radiant youth, through to their critically acclaimed peak years, and, much later, as stars of horror and thriller films in the PSYCHO mold. For this Essential Cinema series we lightly scratch the surface of these remarkable careers. Naturally we conclude it with the film that brought their rivalry to a screaming climax, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

See the trailer here:

Born Lucille LeSueur in San Antonio sometime between 1904 and 1906, the young woman who was to later be known as Joan Crawford developed an affection for the stage at an early age. Her stepfather ran the Opera House in the family's adopted hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma and the young Lucille was exposed to a wide variety of touring performers. Her home life, however was unhappy. The stepfather was a lech at home and an embezzler at work.

The family relocated to Kansas City, where the mother and stepfather soon split up and pre-teen Joan was compelled to work her way through Catholic school, scrubbing toilets. All this time, Crawford harbored a love of show business and as she grew up she became an uncommonly beautiful young woman with enormous eyes and radiant good health. Soon, show business began to meet her halfway.

She became a chorus girl in a number of traveling revues and, while in New York, she caught the eye of a talent scout who took a screen test of the gorgeous young woman and sent it to Hollywood. MGM, then the most prestigious studio in the movie capital, signed her to a modest contract in 1924. She was to remain with MGM for nearly nineteen years, becoming in the process one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and suffering a downfall in popularity - largely caused by a decline in script quality - that mirrored the arc of her contemporary and rival Bette Davis.

During the course of her stardom she largely created the template for what we consider a glamorous movie star to be. She capped her teeth, spent endless hours toning her legs and shoulders, drove herself to study elocution, acting, modeling, etc. She made herself into a kind of dream figure and set the standard for Hollywood goddesses to follow. In GRAND HOTEL she holds her own against the stars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. She had already become a capital-S star.

When Crawford was dumped by MGM in 1943, she pursued her comeback with the same dedication and fervor, and it worked. She signed a budget deal with Warner Brothers to do three films. The first two movies were not hits but she had her eye on one property - an adaptation of James M. Cain's novel "Mildred Pierce." It was Bette Davis who Warner Brothers' contract director Michael Curtiz coveted for the role of Mildred, but Davis turned him down. He pursued his second choice, free agent Barbara Stanwyck, but studio head Jack Warner insisted that the role go to Crawford.

The rest is history. Crawford brought all her considerable talent to the role. It was a sensation at the box office and in the critic's columns and Crawford won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Now a bigger star than ever, Crawford became the Queen of the Hollywood Melodrama and sustained this run for several years.

As her star fell for the final time, Crawford stayed active in the business world and played occasional parts. Even in such unfortunate films as William Castle's STRAIT-JACKET and the real bottom-of-the-barrel TROG, she maintained her dignity, even when the rest of the production did not rise to her standard.

Here are the remaining titles in the Bette & Joan series:

GRAND HOTEL 8/10 & 12
Edmund Goulding, USA, 1934, 35mm, 112 min

At the center of this soapy, star-studded MGM spectacular is their versatile young romantic actress Joan Crawford, third-billed after superstars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. Amid the parade of glamour and decadence, Crawford's beauty stands out as the film’s symbol of life and hope.

JEZEBEL 8/17 & 19
William Wyler, USA, 1938, 35mm, 104 min.

Bette Davis, passed over for the part of Scarlett O'Hara, goes after the role of a spoiled southern belle with astonishing ferocity in William Wyler's still-surprising costume drama. Henry Fonda ably holds his own as her betrothed.

Michael Curtiz, USA 1945, 35mm, 111 min.

Joan Crawford's career seemed to be at an end in 1945. But her will to survive was mirrored in her next part, the title role in this film, one of her career mileposts. She plays a devoted mother who stands by her daughter through everything, including murder.

Robert Aldrich, USA, 1961, DCP, 134 min.

One of the strangest films ever made in Hollywood, Robert Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY) directs Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in a show business-centered thriller that allows these two great actresses and forces of nature (who genuinely hated one another) to truly vent.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

From Video Essay to Screen: Why Kogonada's COLUMBUS is a Radical Movie

COLUMBUS opens at the AFS Cinema on August 25. Writer/director Kogonada will join us in person for the August 26, 7pm screening and will also attend a free screening on the same afternoon of his collected video essays.

About 5 years ago, a video essay explicating Stanley Kubrick's use of the one-point-perspective appeared on the internet and became a sensation with the group of people I sometimes lovingly call "Criterion nerds." The piece is not only brilliantly edited, it is obviously the work of a terrifically observant and intelligent person, someone who has given cinema a LOT of thought.

Here is the piece, if you haven't seen it. Don't worry, it's short.

This video-essay is one of many. Kogonada has created nearly a score of them, and his peers and acolytes have made this form extremely popular. YouTube and Vimeo are bursting with these cinephile "super-cuts." Some are good. Some betray their makers sophomoric ideas in every frame.

No one really disputes that Koganada is the master of the form. He has since been commissioned by such heavy hitters as the BFI and, the holiness of holinesses, Criterion itself to make these videos.

Super-cut video essays are a world away from narrative films, of course, and, while Kogonada has demonstrated brilliance as an editor and re-composer of other filmmakers' images, what are the odds he could manage a set, work capably with his collaborators, understand the nuances of actors, and deliver a solid film his first time around. There was every reason to think that his frame compositions would be gorgeous (and boy are they ever), but could he be a total filmmaker?

Those of us who have seen his feature COLUMBUS know the answer. He has done it. All that promise, all that brilliance, it lights up the screen. Set in the small city of Columbus, Indiana, an architectural mecca that contains some of the most jaw-dropping examples of mid-century modern buildings, the film is about a pair who come together in the shadow of these structures to make sense of the choices (design-wise and other) that they have made in their lives. This is uncommonly thoughtful writing, by Kogonada himself, and the actors, led by John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, get it.

This is a film that has emerged from a different kind of perspective. Not just the perspective of a Korean immigrant who grew up in the American midwest - that's Koganada's story - but the perspective of a man who absolutely devoured the work of Bergman, Bresson, Kubrick and Tarkovsky via optical discs and has emerged with so many lessons. Fortunately he has the judgment and restraint to share these lessons sparsely and wisely.

Here is the trailer for COLUMBUS. Come see this film with us at the AFS Cinema starting August 25.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What They're Saying about LANDLINE, Opening this Week at AFS Cinema

Director Gillian Robespierre's (OBVIOUS CHILD) comedic second feature LANDLINE has thrown the Los Angeles and New York cinema scenes for a nostalgic loop which The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday calls "a rueful glimpse of a vanished time and place. . . often unexpectedly and guffawingly funny.

Again, here Robespierre teams with actor Jenny Slate (OBVIOUS CHILD, SNL) who stars as Dana, a befuddled twentysomething languishing in 1990s Manhattan. 

Bette Davis: That Certain Woman

The AFS Essential Cinema Series Bette & Joan, spotlighting two of the greatest film actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, starts today, August 3. The series culminates in a Movie Madness party and screening of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on August 25.

Though they shared a profession and were contemporaries, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were notorious enemies. Both were fine actresses, and both had long careers that went through many seasons, from their years of radiant youth, through to their critically acclaimed peak years, and, much later, as stars of horror and thriller films in the PSYCHO mold. For this Essential Cinema series we lightly scratch the surface of these remarkable careers. Naturally we conclude it with the film that brought their rivalry to a screaming climax, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

See the trailer here:

Bette Davis was already an experienced stage actress before she came to Hollywood at age 21 in 1930. Signed to an exclusive contract by Universal Pictures, who could never quite figure out how to use her talents, he made a number of low-budget films for Universal and was loaned out to other studios for B-pictures.

In 1932, Warner Brothers picked up her contract and, while the directors were better, the scripts were often still poor, with EX-LADY a pretty fair example of the kind of rote story that was redeemed only by Bette's remarkable personality and presence. When she starred, on a loan-out arrangement, in RKO's IN HUMAN BONDAGE, she was finally able to fully display her volcanic talent. The parts soon got better and her reputation as one of the finest actresses of the screen spread. She won an Academy Award in 1935 for DANGEROUS but the scripts got worse again so in 1936 the headstrong Davis defaulted on her contract with Warner Brothers and went to England to make films there. Warner Brothers soon came to their senses and an agreement was reached to give Davis more prestige pictures.

JEZEBEL (1938) was a kind of gift from Warner Brothers to Davis for her trouble. Though she was considered for the part of Scarlet O'Hara in David O. Selznick's long gestating GONE WITH THE WIND project, she was never a serious candidate. The role she plays in JEZEBEL is much like O'Hara and, under the extraordinarily detailed and careful direction of William Wyler, and with Henry Fonda in support, it is one of her best vehicles and she won the Academy Award for it.

A string of excellent films followed, and Davis' reputation as a premier performer was well established. This was the period of DARK VICTORY, THE LITTLE FOXES and NOW VOYAGER, among other prestige projects. Unfortunately a losing streak at the box office followed and Davis was dropped by Warner's in 1949 only to emerge with a vengeance in 1950 with ALL ABOUT EVE, giving an iconic performance that only she could pull off. The great parts stopped coming, though and it was the sick humor and stunt casting of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, in which she starred alongside her old rival and bitter enemy Joan Crawford, that brought her back to box office prominence. The film is bitter and razor-edged, and was a major critical and commercial success. Davis was again nominated for an Oscar.

After BABY JANE, Davis found a new audience, and was cast in a number of thrillers, with greatly varying degrees of quality. Her reputation as a 'difficult' actress preceded her and may have restricted her access to the kinds of roles that an eminence of her stature might reasonably have expected. Her final film, for Larry Cohen, was 1989's THE WICKED STEPMOTHER, during the filming of which, true to form, she walked away due to disagreements with the director.

Here are all the titles in the Bette & Joan series:

EX-LADY 8/3 & 5
Robert Florey, USA, 1933, 35mm, 67 min.

Bette Davis shines in this pre-code urban comedy about a couple, played by Davis and Gene Raymond, who have an open marriage, quite a daring idea for the time. Davis, as always, brings new dimensions and a modern flair to the film.

GRAND HOTEL 8/10 & 12
Edmund Goulding, USA, 1934, 35mm, 112 min

At the center of this soapy, star-studded MGM spectacular is their versatile young romantic actress Joan Crawford, third-billed after superstars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. Amid the parade of glamour and decadence, Crawford's beauty stands out as the film’s symbol of life and hope.

JEZEBEL 8/17 & 19
William Wyler, USA, 1938, 35mm, 104 min.

Bette Davis, passed over for the part of Scarlett O'Hara, goes after the role of a spoiled southern belle with astonishing ferocity in William Wyler's still-surprising costume drama. Henry Fonda ably holds his own as her betrothed.

Michael Curtiz, USA 1945, 35mm, 111 min.

Joan Crawford's career seemed to be at an end in 1945. But her will to survive was mirrored in her next part, the title role in this film, one of her career mileposts. She plays a devoted mother who stands by her daughter through everything, including murder.

Robert Aldrich, USA, 1961, DCP, 134 min.

One of the strangest films ever made in Hollywood, Robert Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY) directs Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in a show business-centered thriller that allows these two great actresses and forces of nature (who genuinely hated one another) to truly vent.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

AFS Goes a Long Way Back with A GHOST STORY Director David Lowery

When David Lowery's film AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS became a breakout hit in 2013, many filmgoers were introduced to this special talent, a writer-director poised to break into the pantheon. But, as it happened, the Austin Film Society was already very familiar with Lowery.

If you only know AFS as the home of film exhibition, it may surprise you to know that AFS has given over 1.7 million dollars to nurture filmmakers and help them make career leaps via the AFS Grant, which you too can apply to receive for your project. This grant is funded by AFS members, donors, and people like you who attend films at the non-profit AFS Cinema.

In 2005, the then 24 year old Lowery applied for an AFS grant to complete his ambitious short film THE OUTLAW SON. With that film in tow, Lowery made the rounds of film festivals and began to put together the building blocks for his first feature ST. NICK, also helped along by a $6,000 AFS Grant in 2007.

When ST. NICK caught the attention of festival programmers, AFS again helped Lowery with a pair of travel grants, so he could attend a lab and festival and further advance his career.

Next, in 2011, Lowery made a short called PIONEER and was again able to travel to Sundance thanks to a $500 AFS travel grant.

By this time, Lowery's talent had been recognized and his career was well under way. After AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS, Lowery signed on with Disney to reimagine PETE'S DRAGON and now he has made one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, A GHOST STORY, now playing at the AFS Cinema.

Lowery's films are just a few of the nearly 500 film and video projects that have been partially funded by the AFS Grant. We're proud to be able to help and we hope you'll join us at the AFS Cinema for this remarkable new movie.

You can watch the trailer for A GHOST STORY here:

And as a special bonus, here is the writer-director himself recommending some of his favorite ghost movies. Take notes!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Watch This: Suzanne Ciani Brings Far-Out Synthesis to 80s Kid’s TV

Suzanne Ciani may not be a household name, but the sounds she invented were in every home in America during the early 80s. In addition to her brilliant work as an electronic composer, Ciani pioneered the use of synthesizers to create musical sound effects – like the fizzy pop of a Coke bottle cap (a hard attack of resonance followed by a long decay of white noise) – and 80s advertising embraced it in a big way. Soon her sound effects were in high demand - she even designed the sensual electric coos of the Bally XENON pinball machine.

Ciani became the unofficial spokesperson for the synthesizer in the late 70s and early 80s, appearing on a slew of popular television programs to demonstrate some of the futuristic sounds of this mysterious new instrument.

The new doc A LIFE IN WAVES (playing AFS Cinema July 19 & 22) tells of Ciani’s singular path through the music industry, despite the intense zeitgeist of sexism in commercial music, to become a modern cult figure among electronic music aficionados. Not just a great story about an overlooked artist, the film is a veritable overdose of 80s aesthetic nostalgia, featuring an abundance of rich archival material including Ciani’s commercials, TV appearances and home studio. This is the stuff that Tumblrs are made of.

Here is one TV appearance that somehow didn’t make the cut: in 1980, Suzanne Ciani brought her cosmic synth sounds to the popular PBS kids program "3-2-1 Contact." With the soft-spoken patience of a kindergarten teacher, Ciani breaks down some rather sophisticated concepts of sound and synthesis, all while dropping some pretty spaced-out synth sequences. Check it out, you might even learn a few things yourself.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Peter Sellers Comedy Classic You've (Probably) Never Seen is Coming to the AFS Cinema

AFTER THE FOX (1967) closes the AFS Comedy, Italian Style series with a bang. It screens (in 35mm) on Thursday June 29 and Saturday, July 1.

When we reflect on the great Peter Sellers' comedic performances we might, understandably, first think of Blake Edwards' PINK PANTHER movies, of his performances in the early dark comedies of Stanley Kubrick, and of his seriocomic turn in BEING THERE.

But there is a Peter Sellers film that is not only a tour-de-force of comic acting, but also a loving satire of the Italian film industry. This film is written by the dream team of Neil Simon (THE ODD COUPLE, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, SWEET CHARITY and Cesare Zavattini (BICYCLE THIEVES, SHOESHINE, TWO WOMAN), and directed by the great master Vittorio De Sica.

Sellers plays a master thief, "the Fox," who, despite being a criminal mastermind, is still a Mama's boy through and through. He also has a beautiful sister, played by Sellers' real-life girlfriend Britt Ekland, of whose virtue the Fox is zealously protective. When an opportunity arises to steal a fortune, the Fox poses as an eccentric Italian movie director, engages a crew and cast (led by the surprisingly hilarious American leading man Victor Mature), and goes "on location" in a rural fishing village.

Here's a Trailers From Hell commentary from ED WOOD screenwriter Larry Karaszewski, an avowed lover of the film.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

An Introduction to UGETSU Director Kenji Mizoguchi

Mizoguchi and company behind the scenes of UGETSU

With the new restoration of Kenji Mizoguchi's late masterpiece UGETSU (1954) playing in theaters nationwide - it opens at the AFS Cinema on Saturday, June 24 - the rediscovery of this great master, whose career was roughly contemporaneous with our John Ford and who was similarly a poet of the screen, has begun again. Film scholar and essayist David Bordwell has pointed out that this Mizoguchi rediscovery happens roughly every ten years.

In his long essay here, Bordwell provides what might be the best sustained context for understanding the career and work of Mizoguchi before you plunge into the mysteries and ecstasies of UGETSU.

Mizoguchi's approach to melodrama, summarized here by Bordwell, gives an idea of his approach to genre and commercial expectations of the film markets:
"Mizoguchi refuses to beg for tears. Some directors, notably Sirk, amp up melodrama; others, like Preminger, bank the fires. Mizoguchi seems to try to extract the situation’s emotional essence, a purified anguish, that goes beyond sympathy and pity for the characters."
This purity of film essence is what makes Mizoguchi so special, and what sets him apart from his distinguished counterparts Ozu and Kurosawa, who also made a splash on the American atthouse scene in the '50s (Bordwell details this as well, and it's fascinating - well, to me it is).

Here is the trailer for a film that has often been considered one of the most beautiful ever made.

Monday, June 19, 2017

BEATRIZ AT DINNER - We Need to Talk: Opens at AFS Cinema This Week 6/22

Every once in a while a movie like BEATRIZ AT DINNER comes along and says, "we need to talk." In the midst of the seismic political, cultural and, yes, spiritual forces that quake around us now, we certainly do need to talk. And talk is what Salma Hayek's Beatriz and John Lithgow's Doug Strutt do in this provocative, insightful and even funny new film. BEATRIZ AT DINNER, currently in limited release, and expanding to more theaters, including the AFS Cinema, on Thursday June, 22.

Beatriz is a massage therapist who has had a really bad day. When she packs up to leave her wealthy client's home, her beat-up old car won't start and she is invited to stay for the evening's dinner party. As it happens the guest of honor is a business magnate and right-wing news personality played by Lithgow. Their conversations at dinner (it should be noted here that Beatriz is a Mexican-American immigrant), and interactions afterward, form the heart of this remarkably engaging film.

BEATRIZ AT DINNER could hardly arrive at a more advantageous time. While almost everyone seems exhausted by such confrontations in their own lives, it's still not out of mind. Some resolution is desired. Cinema and its stars are best when offering resolution to what are almost impossible problems. In BEATRIZ AT DINNER the resolutions are not simple and neither are the performances.

The Austin Chronicle's Kimberley Jones says Selma Hayek's Beatriz "cuts such a striking figure, you’ll want to follow her anywhere … and where the film ultimately follows is utterly gutting."

Anita Katz of the San Francisco Examiner praises Hayek and Lithgow, "While Lithgow's Strutt can be a hoot, Hayek owns the movie. Her Beatriz is a complicated mixture of clarity and confusion, and she's a self-described old soul whose capacity for caring, however unfashionable, proves lastingly moving."

Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out praises the movie's level of discourse, "Together, screenwriter Mike White and director Miguel Arteta have an almost magical way with light-touch verbal sparring, an art that's become lost in today's broad, banter-filled comedies."

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker notes some of the movie's fascinating narrative ambiguity, which is what sets it apart from a run-of-the-mill exercise: "Arteta is clearly confident of preaching to the converted, and of whipping up indignation at those who mean us harm. Thanks to his leading players, however, the movie grows limber, ambiguous, and twice as interesting, and the sermon goes astray."

Once you see the film, you're going to want to talk about it. Join us at the AFS Cinema for a free lobby discussion on Monday 6/26 at 7pm. See you there.

Wait... Erroll Morris Made a Short Interview Film with Trump? About CITIZEN KANE?

It's almost too astonishing to be true, but Donald Trump's favorite film is CITIZEN KANE. He's said it many times, and has even displayed some insight about Charles Foster Kane's plight - along with some seemingly pretty vapid misunderstandings. Certainly he is among the few people who can identify with Kane's great wealth, his vulgarity, his emotional disconnectedness and, perhaps, the primal trauma that seems to drive Kane, his "Rosebud."

The great documentarian Errol Morris has a way of drawing his subjects out and filming them in such a way that makes them tell you things that they may not realize they are telling you. When he films an interview, the result can be like one of those Goya portraits of the members of the royal court. He captures the soul beneath the skin. It's in the eyes. It's in the incautious turn of phrase. It's everywhere. It is the great value of Morris as an artist.

Watch this 2002 commissioned interview with Trump carefully. What is Trump telling us about himself, about his unusual life circumstances and about the universality (or non-universality) of art? When he sums up the message of the film, after making some good observations, it lands with a thud. We've become accustomed to that thud in recent months, but its's so strange to hear it in relation to the arts.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

In The Zone: Stalking Hypernormalisation with Tarkovsky

Special guest post by AFS Senior Programming Intern Cameron Timmons:

We at AFS enjoy programming films we’d love for you to see and enjoy, and occasionally those have an important relationship with current events. You have probably noticed some interesting political developments globally and at home where certain circumstances have western democracies now facing critical questions of character. What does this have to do with film? A lot—but here specifically we’re thinking of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film STALKER.

By 1979, years of Soviet government repression had led to clashes with the West which left the Soviets economically and culturally bankrupt. Despite it being plainly apparent their socialist experiment had failed as their country collapsed around them, Soviet leaders insisted things were normal and the people believed them because they knew of no other alternative. The Soviet Union became a world where pageantry and patriotism masked a broken economy and broken dreams. U.C. Berkeley professor Alexei Yurchak termed this unreality ‘hypernormalisation’ in his aptly-titled book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More.

Science fiction authors and brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky described this reality in their 1971 novel Roadside Picnic. The novel considers life following an unexplained extraterrestrial visit unwitnessed by anyone and realized only through the discovery of Zones, places subject to a kind of unreality outside natural laws where nothing is what it seems. A group of people called Stalkers venture into these Zones at great risk.

One of the reasons to venture into cinema is its opportunity of escape, and no other film offers an escape quite like STALKER. Based on a screenplay written by the Strugatsky brothers and adapted from their novel Roadside Picnic, STALKER takes audiences from their own reality into that of the Zone or ‘Zona’. Tarkovsky uses his unique cinematic skillset to examine the nature of physical reality and mental states inside the Zone. The film is an unsettling experience arising from an unsettling time in Russian history.

Western democracies, including the United States, are currently experiencing their own unsettling moment in history. Lately it seems the foundation of our American reality has begun to shift—the laws of politics are suspended, facts have an alternative, and the people have begun to divide themselves based on the reality they experience. STALKER is immediately relevant to our unsettled political reality because it shows us an iteration of reality and asks if we believe it—or if we even want to believe it.

In one section from documentarian Adam Curtis’ 2015 film HYPERNORMALISATION, the unique historical setting of STALKER’s production is explored through a series of archival clips from the period. Though not quite exacting scholarship, Curtis’ film is still a provocative study of the powerful effect politics have on individual lives.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Revisiting the Outlaw Indie TV Series SPLIT SCREEN with Host John Pierson Live 6/11

John Pierson and friend

John Pierson’s Split Screen, the essential show about American independent cinema, was a deep dive into both the great troublemakers of the 90s film scene alongside the truly obscure, interesting characters that were around at the time. Sadly, the series, which originally aired on IFC, was unavailable to the public for years, until its recent rerelease on the FilmStruck's Criterion Channel,

AFS is thrilled to join with John Pierson to host a live event presenting selections from the show on Sunday June 11.

The re-release is truly exciting news for film lovers. In what he called his “magazine-style show”, Pierson was able to capture all aspects of what was so special about the era-- it wasn’t just the big names like Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, but the creative corners of the film world that, in the early days of the internet, took an explorer to uncover.

Pierson was just the explorer for the job, and on Sunday he will present highlights from the series and share some offscreen memories as well. We invite you to join us for this historical and entertaining event.

One of those hidden corners could be found in the GrrrlRiot scene of Portland, where a feminist filmmaker was churning out her own ultra-indie magazine style film series. A few weeks ago, Miranda July recently joined a Split Screen event in New York alongside Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, John and Janet Pierson, and recalled her experience getting onto Pierson's show.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Easily One of the Best Films of the Year:" I, DANIEL BLAKE; Opens This Weekend at AFS Cinema

As you have probably read, or even seen for yourself, the AFS Cinema is open again, newly renovated, expanded and improved. We are offering the same kind of repertory, documentary, and community programming as before, only much more of it.

Additionally, we now have a New Release screen, dedicated to the best first run films. Even within the excellent cinema landscape of Austin, home to first-class venues like the Violet Crown, Alamo Drafthouse and Regal's Arbor theater, some of the most interesting and acclaimed art house titles have bypassed Austin because the screens just weren't here.

Well, there's a screen here now, dedicated to just that kind of programming. This Friday, June 2, we open the new film Palme D'Or winning film from cinema giant Ken Loach, I, DANIEL BLAKE. It is about a man, unable to look for work because of a recent heart attack, who is squeezed by the U.K.'s changing benefits system, and is compelled to join with others and fight back.

Reviews on the film have been rapturous. In her review, Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle calls I, DANIEL BLAKE "Emotionally involving and gut-wrenching throughout."

In the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday says the film: "brims with spirit, sympathy and candor as it tackles the catastrophic displacement brought on by economic and technological change."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Midcentury Medieval: 'Comedy, Italian Style' Begins May 26

From Pier Paolo Pasolini's chapter of the omnibus film THE WITCHES (1967)

In the Italian comedies of the sixties we find medieval obsessions — love, sex, class, religion, fate and honor — wedded to the shiny, modernist surfaces of midcentury cosmopolitan culture. The obstacles faced by our protagonists are the daunting challenges of modern life, and the tools they are equipped with are the attitudes of generations past--hence the comic tension that is the beating heart of these films. In the course of this series we encounter some of the archetypes of the Italian narrative tradition: the ruined baron who must make a marriage of convenience, the Casanova with a gnawing emptiness inside, the true lovers who must overcome familial obstacles, the brother who guards his sister’s virtue like his own treasure, the thief who was not cut out for the job, and many more. These films are joyous, beautiful, brilliant and very, very funny.

Please join us at the AFS Cinema over the next month to experience these films as they were meant to be seen.

Pietro Germi, Italy, 1961, 35mm, 105 min. In Italian with English subtitles

Marcello Mastroianni has never been funnier than in this epochal Italian comedy from director Pietro Germi in which he plays a titled (and poor) member of a noble family who is unsatisfied in his marriage and spends his life fantasizing about his wife’s attractive cousin. Full of surreal and ribald touches. One of the great classics of the genre.

IL SORPASSO 5/28 & 6/1
Dino Risi, Italy, 1962, DCP, 105 min. In Italian with English subtitles

Writer/director Dino Risi’s international hit follows an uptight young law student (Jean Louis Trintignant) as he is absorbed into the orbit of a handsome, carefree older rogue (Vittorio Gassman) and they embark upon a spontaneous cross-country voyage. During the course of the film, Trintignant’s initial admiration for his companion ripens into something more complex and revelatory. A complex, novelistic, and bittersweet film.

Various directors, Italy, 1962, Digital, 208 min. In Italian with English subtitles

During the European arthouse cinema boom of the ‘60s, some producers discovered that they could get good (and commercially viable) results by hiring big name directors and stars to make short films about an agreed upon theme, which could then be packaged into a feature. BOCCACCIO ‘70, purporting to show modern stories that might captivate the titular ribald moralist, is perhaps the best of these. With directorial contributions by Federico Fellini, Mario Monicelli, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti. Starring Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, Romy Schneider and Tomas Milian.

Various directors, Italy, 1967, 35mm, 110 min. In Italian with English subtitles

One of the more unusual Italian omnibus films. This time the common thread to all the chapters is actress Silvana Mangano, who displays her versatility in comedic chapters Directed by Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Piero Pasolini (a major highlight), Franco Rossi and Vittorio De Sica. She is joined by a first class roster of co-stars including Clint Eastwood, Alberto Sordi and Annie Girardot. A bizarre, wonderful and rarely screened film.

MAFIOSO 6/15 & 6/17
Alberto Lattuada, Italy, 1962, 35mm, 105 min. In Italian with English subtitles

MAFIOSO is nearly a companion piece to DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE, with its’ themes of the unsavory sides of traditional conflict resolution clashing with modern Italian values and, well, the law. Comedy star Alberto Sordi plays Sicilian expat Antonio, who has risen up through the ranks at his northern Milanese car factory but is overdue for a family visit to Sicily, where he’ll introduce his conservative peasant family to his northern cosmopolitan wife and their two young children. The return home is a comedy of clashing values that takes wildly unexpected turns, and Sordi’s character is achieved to perfection as the country boy made good who goes to absurd lengths, and stretches the limits of truth, to impress the home team while keeping the peace with his family and his wife.

Mario Monicelli, Italy, 1960, DCP, 106 min. In Italian with English subtitles

While not a household name, Mario Monicelli was one of the true masters of the Commedia All’Italiana, combining the astute observational power of a born ironist with the comedic abandon of a man drunk on the possibilities of cinema. THE PASSIONATE THIEF takes place over the course of a single New Year’s Eve in which we are introduced to a suave pickpocket (Ben Gazzara), his elderly lookout man (Toto), and the old man’s dream woman, a brash and blonde-wigged movie extra (Anna Magnani) who throws their plans into chaos. 

AFTER THE FOX 6/29 & 7/1
Vittorio De Sica, Italy/UK, 1966, 35mm, 103 min. In Italian and English with English subtitles

This film, a magnificent love child of the greatest comic minds of Rome, New York and London, is a self-aware spoof of the mid-century Italian cinema boom (as well as a shining example of it). Peter Sellers is brilliant as an Italian criminal genius and master of disguise who conceives a masterful plan to rob a gold shipment by posing as an eccentric film director in the mold of Fellini. Written by the odd couple of Neil Simon and Cesare Zavattini and directed by Vittorio De Sica, this is a roaringly funny movie.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The AFS Cinema Opening is Just Around The Corner: New Photos!

As many of you who are reading this doubtless already know, the long anticipated reopening of the AFS Cinema is coming very soon with the first public screenings starting on Friday, May 26. Check out the entire, packed calendar here.

Not only has the AFS Cinema added a second theater, we have reconfigured the lobby, ticket area, concession offerings, and event space. Now, for the first time, we have photos of these finished or nearly-finished spaces. Hope to see you in person there soon for one of the many screenings or other partner events. We're looking forward to sharing a few cold beers and some hot popcorn with you.

This is the bar!

Here's the "Polish Wall," named after the Polish posters from AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater's personal collection. A frequent pastime is trying to guess which film each poster represents. These are only a few of the posters in the space.

Here's a POV shot from the new Theater 2 auditorium. Sight lines have been configured for subtitled films, because we're going to show a few of those.

Here's a front view of the same auditorium

These are 35mm prints. We'll be playing a lot of them.

You can support AFS by buying our awesome merchandise, including a selection of books that we think you'll like.

Here's the bar again, with a few thirsty members of the AFS Cinema team for scale. They collectively bring many years of experience and are looking forward to making your moviegoing experience as pleasurable as possible.

Thanks to David Brendan Hall for the photographs.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Watch This: DEVO: The Men Who Make The Music

Today, composer/performer/visual artist Mark Mothersbaugh turns 67 years old. It's a good time to reflect on how pervasive his influence has been on the popular arts. His band Devo emerged from small-town Ohio with a fully formed aesthetic that was part cultural critique and part art movement. They were also a really solid rock band. That they were able to reach so many corners of society with a brand of music that is built on a pretend (but maybe not) philosophy of De-Evolution, is maybe even more impressive than the way punk broke out of CBGBs and the London scene, both of which were situated in major media capitals.

Devo always had a strong sense of the importance its film and visual assets. Even if you only know a few Devo songs, you can probably close your eyes and picture the hats and jumpsuits. Appropriately enough, Mothersbaugh has been a sought after film composer as well, writing scores for a large number of films and television shows.

Here is the 1979 Devo propaganda film DEVO: THE MEN WHO MAKE THE MUSIC, co-directed by Mothersbaugh. At the time, this was seriously cutting edge in its influences and angle. To its credit, it is still deeply weird and entertaining.

Friday, May 12, 2017

AFS Viewfinders Podcast: AFS Programmers Lars Nilsen & Holly Herrick on the New AFS Cinema

It's been a busy week at AFS. With the help of our capable team we have announced the opening of our new two-screen theater, the AFS Cinema. In only a few weeks we will resume our regular programming, only this time with the addition of many more screenings and a first run screen which brings the best new release art-house films to you.

We're very excited about this major step and are eager to see everyone we know at screenings in the upcoming weeks.

The newest AFS Viewfinders podcast is a special one. AFS Director of Film & Creative Media Holly Herrick joins me as we discuss our upcoming slate of films, and what we're most looking forward to.

Listen to that podcast here, or search for the AFS Viewfinders podcast on iTunes.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Austin Eater Gets the Scoop on the New AFS Cinema Food & Bev Menu

Today, Austin Eater published a nice overview of the initial menu offerings at the new AFC Cinema.

Fans of Smokey Denmark sausages, Antonelli's cheeses, beers from Austin Beerworks, Live Oak and Adelbert's, and Stumptown coffee should rejoice. Also, and this is no small thing, the popcorn offerings have been given a lot of thought and we think you're going to like our take on this movie theater staple. Eater calls it "upscale popcorn" but that makes it sound like a yacht or something. It's really more like "the best popcorn we've tasted."

Read the whole piece here.

Monday, May 1, 2017

More Photos of the AFS Cinema Renovation in Progress

The art deco doors remain unchanged

A few more photos of the AFS Cinema construction project have made their way to this desk and I wanted to share them with everyone. These were taken about three weeks ago, during a visit we staffers made to the space.

Last month, we shared some photos from earlier in the process, but this gives a much clearer idea of the how far along the space is coming. Soon we will have new screens, seats and technical upgrades complete. Before you know it we'll be announcing our opening slate of films. See you soon.

Here's a shot of the lobby facing away from the front doors. The bar has been replaced with a lower-profile area that doubles as a concession and ticket counter.

Here is the bare interior of the new theater 2. It has had the floor surface redone completely to improve visibility, particularly for subtitled films, and a built-in stage now rises from the floor

Lastly, it probably won't break anybody's heart to learn that the restrooms are being completely redone. Here is a shot of the womens' restroom after removal of all previously existing facilities

Cine Las Americas Starts This Week


Cine Las Americas is an annual tradition here in Austin. Now in its 20th year, Cine (as we customarily abbreviate it) brings us films that the other fests do not. It runs from Wednesday May 3 to Sunday May 7 at three locations, the Blanton Museum, the Santa Cruz Theater on East Seventh Street, and the Mexican American Culture Center.

Since this festival focuses on Latin-American, American Indigenous and Iberian films, and since the programmers are so good, we see an entirely different perspective on today's international film scene than we could get from other film fests, which generally focus elsewhere when compiling their programs. When we attend Cine, it's like getting a big package of letters from places we miss and don't hear from nearly enough.

The program is too big and varied for us to unpack here in its entirety. You should plan to spend a little time with this schedule and plan your festival. Remember that one third of the fest's screenings are absolutely free, so you can enjoy the fest even without a badge, but badges and individual tickets for screenings are available too, and are a bargain.

We at AFS are usually given the honor of choosing a film to co-present at the festival. This year the choice was just too difficult, so the team there gave us a chance to co-present two films. All AFS members may attend these two screenings free of charge by presenting a current membership card at the door.

The first, LA TIERRA Y LA SOMBRA (LAND & SHADE), screens on Thursday, May 4 at the Blanton. We have been following the career of Colombian writer/director César Augusto Acevedo for a few years now, and we presented the film LOS HONGOS, which he wrote, in 2015. In this, his feature directorial debut, he takes us into his native land's sugar cane country for a story of an old farmer who comes home to a family he left many years earlier.

The second could scarcely be more different, A CIDADE ONDE ENVELHEÇO (WHERE I GROW OLD), which screens on Saturday, May 6 at the Blanton, is a Brazilian/Portuguese coproduction. It is a portrait of youth culture focusing on a pair of young women from Lisbon who are living a slacker lifestyle in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. One begins to feel the tug of her homeland, and the other is caught in a conflict between her friendship and a desire for new horizons of her own. This minutely observed, leisurely film does what so many of the best Cine films do, it transports us to a milieu we may not have even been familiar with. It gives us new faces, new streets and new rhythms, as it tells a story that is old as time itself.

These are just two of the many films that will screen at Cine Las Americas this year. See as many as you can and join us in what has become one of our favorite spring pastimes.

Friday, April 28, 2017

From Texas Archive Of The Moving Image: Championship Bowling from Austin's Dart Bowl 1961

For some reason, probably because it was cheap and not weather-dependent, televised bowling was one of the staples of local, and even national, broadcasting for many years. Most people of a certain age probably have memories of thrilling to these weekend afternoon telecasts. Many more probably have memories of feeling glum and depressed because televised bowling is really boring.

At least that's how it seemed at the time. In fact, this 1961 bowling show, while not as exciting as a hot date, is at least an interesting look at how different things were a mere 56 years ago. For those of us who are familiar with the Dart Bowl - which was then called Capitol Bowling Center - it's shocking to see how little the place has changed.

Thanks to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image for once again preserving our heritage and deepening our appreciation for the people and places around us.

Here it is. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Watch This: Jonathan Demme's 11-Minute Video for New Order's "The Perfect Kiss"

As we remember Jonathan Demme, who died today at the age of 73, we will of course remember all of those films he directed that have changed the vocabulary of the cinema. As a craftsman he was, of course, a great master of angles and shots and all the technical aspects of film. His unique gift though, was perhaps his great empathy, a novelist's empathy. We know that he was a caring, good person in real life, but even if we did not have that from factual evidence, we would get it from his work.

This is not the place for a full remembrance of the man, who was so helpful to filmmakers as a member of our advisory board, and was one of our great shining stars of film, but we will be remembering him and appreciating him through his work soon.

Speaking of his work, which so often jumped to the beat of popular music, here is a characteristically excellent long form music video he made for the British band New Order in 1985. Demme's cinematographer here, by the way, is Henri Alekan, who also shot Cocteau's BEAUTY & THE BEAST and Wenders' WINGS OF DESIRE. Demme always traveled in interesting company.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Best AFS Trailers of the Past Year

Recently I was asking a distributor for a downloadable version of his film so we could cut an in-house trailer. This is an unusual request, but one we make frequently. The reason for this is that most trailers are cut for a very general market, and one that may not be as savvy or, well, steeped in good taste as ours.

So, we cut our own trailers for most of our shows and series. Every semester we have a pair of Senior Interns whose job is editing video. They apply to do this, and are selected and guided by the marketing and programming departments here. They come in with talent and, hopefully, at the end of their semesters, have learned a lot from their time at AFS. This is one of the many programs that AFS members and donors are supporting.

And each time I ask a distributor for permission I usually append a few of these trailers so the distributors can see what kind of high quality work we are turning out. It occurs to me that this process may interest some AFS members and theater-goers as well, so I am going to present a few trailers that I believe are among the absolute best of the past year.

There will be more NEW trailers soon, but for now, please savor these.

This haunting trailer for Polanski's MACBETH was cut by Graham Young.

Trinidy Patterson cut this omnibus trailer for the SURREALIST LOVE GODDESSES series. The series was a big audience success and the trailer went a long way towards that.

Isaac Marquez cut this one, for the bizarre Art/Horror film MESSIAH OF EVIL.

It would be hard to choose a favorite of Tricia Torley's many trailers, but I think this one for MOONTIDE, in the Ida Lupino series, is pretty representative of the quality standards she brought to the job.

Nick Kline accepted the challenge of editing a trailer for Chantal Akerman's JEANNE DIELMAN. 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES and did a knockout job at it.

When Colin Rothamel turned in this draft of the ONE EYED JACKS trailer, I think I watched it six times in a row. It's so good.

Craziest Career Ever? The Amazing Life of Olga Karlatos

Has any performer ever had a weirder and more diverse resume than Olga Karlatos, born on this day in 1947?

Her first credited acting role is in the Greek New Wave landmark THANOS & DESPINA (1967), directed by her first husband Nikos Papatakis. Also known as SHEPHERDS OF DISASTER, this is the favorite film of THE LOBSTER and DOGTOOTH. AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater presented a screening of the film at the Alamo Drafthouse last year.

A military coup sent her into exile where she worked with such fine directors as Wolfgang Peterson, Enzo Castellari (in the freak-folk Spaghetti Western masterpiece KEOMA), Fernando Di Leo, and Mario Monicelli.

She also became a regular in such international schlock as Rene Cardona Jr.'s reprehensible JAWS rip-off CYCLONE and Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE. Along the way, she naturally appeared in one of the only two films directed by cult Japanese artist/novelist Masuo Ikeda (OFFERING IN THE AEGEAN).

After a number of small roles in American TV movies, and in Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, she capped her career in the only logical way, by playing Prince's mother in PURPLE RAIN.

After that, what can you do? How about going back to school. She did so, and graduated summa cum laude in 2003 from NYU with a Bachelor's in International Studies and a Masters the following year. Then, onto law school in England, and back in her adopted home of Bermuda, where she lived with her husband Arthur Rankin, Jr. of Rankin-Bass Productions fame. There, she became a barrister of the court at age 65. Whew.

Here is a picture of Karlatos on the day she was admitted to the bar in 2010.

If there is a more unusual career trajectory in movie history, we'd like to hear it.

"If your faith in humanity needs a little boost..." Austin Chronicle on New French Cinema Week

For the past two years, New French Cinema Week has taken over the AFS home theater for some of the best contemporary French-language cinema programming you will find anywhere, in collaboration with Premiers Plans, one of AFS' sister organizations in Angers, France (appropriately enough, Austin's sister city). This year, the AFS Cinema is under renovation and the Contemporary Austin and Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum have stepped in to help us bring these programs to you.

The Austin Chronicle's Josh Kupecki has a full writeup of the series here with excellent descriptions of each film.

Remaining screenings are as follows:

RAGING ROSE with director Julia Kowalski in attendance
@The Contemporary Austin at the Jones Center, Thursday (4/20/17), 8:30pm.
@The Contemporary Austin at the Jones Center, Saturday, 8:30pm.
@Texas Spirit Theater, Sunday, 5:30pm