The free film series honors Charles Burnett, Almodóvar, and Jonathan Demme, among other highlights.
Summer is officially on its way out and the students are on their way back in. I know this because free campus film program UW Cinematheque released its schedule of films for the fall late last week, which heralds the cooling of temperatures and the turning of leaves as much as it does a thankful return to sometimes “standing”-room-only screenings at 4070 Vilas Hall and the Chazen Museum of Art. Absent this season are the Marquee Mondays screenings that Cinematheque puts on at Union South in partnership with WUD Film.
As always, the lineup pulls in features from a refreshingly broad range of genres, countries of origin, and eras of cinema. Here's our first look at this ever-unwieldy beast. We'll also have more previews of many of the individual films in our calendar as the season gets underway.
UW-Madison alum, Oscar winner, and all-around national treasure Errol Morris' breezy new documentary, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, explores the life and art of his friend the legendary portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman. It opens the fall season on Sept. 2. Also slated for Wisconsin premiers are Columbus (Oct. 14), the debut from director Kogonada, which casts John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson as strangers who become entangled amid the surprisingly rich modern architecture of Columbus, Indiana. Tying the premiere showcase to some other sections of the calendar, we get Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, Ex Libris (Nov. 3), which tackles the New York Public Library, and Dawson City: Frozen Time (Oct. 7), which presents fascinating newly rediscovered silent films from over a century ago. The full list can be found here.
Almodóvar at the Chazen
Fans of Antonio Banderas and/or Penelope Cruz: rejoice! The series of Sunday afternoon screenings at the Chazen will feature an eclectic sampling of screwball dramedies from prodigious Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. With over a dozen films ranging from his best (All About My Mother on Dec. 17, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown on Sept. 3, and Talk To Her on Dec. 3) to arguably one of his worst (I’m So Excited on Sept. 17), this is about as thorough a look as you’re likely to get at this indie auteur’s colorful career. The full list can be found here.
One of the high points of the Cinematheque’s calendar this year to look forward to will certainly be Charles Burnett visiting in person on Sept. 22 to introduce his film To Sleep With Anger. Co-presented with the support of Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Distinguished Lecture Series, that screening will follow screenings of Burnett’s debut, Killer Of Sheep (Sept. 8), and Billy Woodberry’s Burnett-scripted Bless Their Little Hearts (Sept. 15).
With only two entries, Terminal Island on Oct. 21 and Student Nurses on Oct. 22, the corner of the Cinematheque’s schedule dedicated to Stephanie Rothman’s subversive drive-in fare feels a little slight, but these are new restorations from the American Genre Film Archive, so that’s where my petty complaints will end. Rothman, a Roger Corman acolyte whose films used the Trojan horse of exploitation tropes to push a feminist agenda, is ripe for a reassessment and we can only hope that this will be the beginning of more of her films getting new transfers.
Of all the excellent stuff on the docket this fall, the collection of Frederick Wiseman films takes the top spot for most anticipated. For anyone who caught his debut, the 1967 documentary Titicut Follies, at the Wisconsin Film Festival this past spring and wanted to see more of his work, consider this is your lucky day since a bunch of his films are set to take over your Fridays this fall. Along with early features that capture life on the margins, High School (Oct. 6), Hospital (also Oct 6), and Welfare (Oct. 13), we get Central Park (Oct. 20), and La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (Oct. 27), as well as the Wisconsin premiere of his most recent film, Ex Libris (Nov. 3), which walks the audience through the halls of the New York Public Library.
Jonathan Demme and George A. Romero
Last year saw the deaths of more artists than we’d like to think back on, including Jonathan Demme and George Romero, who get an all too brief memorial here in the form of two films from each. Demme’s entries lead off with the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense (Sept. 23), a high-concept Brew & View staple, followed the following week by the underrated manic pixie nightmare of Something Wild (Sept. 30). Romero’s one-two punch starts strong with a spiffy new 4K restoration of Night Of The Living Dead (Nov. 18), and follows that up with 1973's The Crazies (Dec. 2), which is a fast-paced mixed bag of a “zombie” movie in comparison to Night, or either of that film’s far superior followups for that matter. I personally would have loved to have gotten a taste of the early grindhouse work from these two, like a double feature of Romero’s Hungry Wives and Demme’s Caged Heat, but the Rothman selections more than round out that scuzzy scene. The full list can be found here.
Six silent films, including off-the-beaten-path titles from names you know (Sergei Eisenstein, Cecil B Demille, and Yasujirô Ozu), all curated by UW-Madison film professor David Bordwell from prints that come to us courtesy of the Library of Congress collections. As a special treat for silent era cinephiles, four of the films, October (Ten Days That Shook The World) (Nov. 10), Alias Jimmy Valentine, The Bargain, and The Man From Home (those last three all on Nov. 11), will be presented with live piano accompaniment by David Drazin. Check out the full list of films here.
Two lesser known treasures from eminent song-and-dance man Gene Kelly will wrap the season up. With students finalizing their, er, finals and preparing to head home for Christmas, we’ll thrill to an original 35mm print of It’s Always Fair Weather on Dec. 8 (“One of my favorite all-time feel-bad musicals. A real crowd displeaser. [five stars],” wrote Nathan Rabin) and a new 4K restoration of Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl (Dec. 15).
The catch-all “Special Presentations” section this season is especially broad in its coverage. The latest and long-waylaid season of Twin Peaks has been captivating adventurous culture vultures for a few months now, and they’ll get a chance to see Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Sept. 29) on the big screen just a few weeks after the finale for this current season airs, as well as some “special pre-show material assembled by Daniel Knox,” whatever that means. As an appendix to the Cinematheque’s series on writer Donald E. Westlake that screened this summer, we get John Boorman’s Point Blank (Sept. 9), which stars Lee Marvin in an adaptation of the novelist’s character, Parker. And finally, with Russia in the news for so long now, we might as well get to know the country in more detail and what better way to do that than with The Russian Ark (Nov. 17), Alexander Sokurov’s impressively uninterrupted hour and a half long single take 2002 film that takes the audience all over St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum? Check out the full list of films here.