Monthly Archives: March 2012

Liebelei — A Rare Film by Max Ophüls

This Wednesday at the Portage

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

April 4
Directed by Max Ophüls • 1933
Vienna, 1900. Love blossoms between young lieutenant Fritz (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) and violinist’s daughter Christine (Magda Schneider), but his past affairs threaten to destroy their union. Significantly anticipating the milieu and atmosphere of Ophüls’s American masterpiece, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Liebelei was the director’s greatest success in his native Germany. By the time it opened in March 1933, Hitler had ascended to power, the distributor had removed the names of both Ophüls and playwright Arthur Schnitzler (both Jews) from the credits, and Ophüls had fled the country, embarking on a fugitive career that never returned to normalcy. He would return to adapting Schnitzler’s work nearly two decades afterwards in La ronde with equally romantic and enchanting results. (KW)
In German with English subtitles
88 min • Elite-Tonfilm-Produktion • 16mm from private collections
Short: “Any Little Girl That’s a Nice Little Girl” (Fleischer Screen Song, 1931) – 16mm


And don’t forget our about truly epic screening of The Ten Commandments–so epic, in fact, that our regular Wednesday program cannot contain it.

Special Saturday Presentation
Saturday, April 7 @ 7:00
Directed Cecil B. DeMille • 1956
A wonderfully overblown remake of his 1923 film of the same name, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments (in VistaVision, Technicolor, and running nearly four hours long) was also the great director’s swan song to the silver screen (he retired shortly after suffering a heart attack on set atop a 107-foot ladder). DeMille died in 1959, but not before, as Variety put it, “throwing sex and sand at the eyes of his audience for twice as long as anyone in Hollywood had ever dared to.” The Ten Commandments’ merits as a piece of serious filmmaking may occasionally run dry, but nobody before or since has been able to achieve the level of ferocious terror and sensuality in a biblical epic seen here. Immensely popular on its release, it has also been screened on a Saturday in April on ABC since 1973, and re-released several times in 35 and 70mm (the latter billed as the totally bogus Super VistaVision, which cropped the top and bottom of the original negative to accommodate a wider 70mm frame). We’ll be presenting it as it was meant to be seen: in an original IB Technicolor print, with an intermission and DeMille’s impassioned introduction. With Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Sir Cedric Hardwicke—and Vincent Price! (JA)
220 min, with intermission • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from private collections

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This Wednesday at the Portage

Man of Lean Jaw and Hard Fist: Mann’s Man of the West

This Wednesday at the Portage in Cinemascope

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

Wednesday, March 28 @ 7:30
Directed by Anthony Mann • 1958
Set in 1874 Arizona, reformed ex-gunman Gary Cooper sets out to hire a schoolteacher for his small town with the savings of local residents. When his train is robbed, Cooper and fellow escapees Julie London and Arthur O´Connell end up stranded in the middle of nowhere and are held hostage by a gang of outlaws Cooper used to ride with. All the elements of an Anthony Mann western are present: mountains and landscapes as characters, quick, startling moments of violence, and tense, disjointed exchanges between characters with good intentions and those with bad ones. What makes Man of the West stand out among the rest of Mann’s work, however, is how exhausted and beaten down every gesture of the film looks and feels. Cooper’s portrayal of a man who can barely take another bad turn and simply wants a better life is among the greatest and most sympathetic in any western, and Anthony Mann’s last great film is also his saddest and darkest. (JA)
100 min • Ashton Productions • 35mm from MGM
Short: Betty Boop in “The Bum Bandit” (Dave Fleischer, 1931)

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This Wednesday at the Portage in Cinemascope

You Ain’t Done Nothing If You Ain’t Been Called a Red

When Reds was released in late 1981, its admirers tended to downplay its political dimension. It was a sweeping romance that happened to be about Communists—a perhaps necessary bluff (or a revealing delusion) after American politics had taken a sharp swing towards the right. “It is that personal, human John Reed that Warren Beatty’s ‘Reds’ takes as its subject,” Roger Ebert assured us, but not without cautioning that “there is a lot, and maybe too much, of the political John Reed as well.” Andrew Sarris, who had frequently used his Village Voice perch to mock routinely liberal movies, finally found one he could get behind. “Reds is more a love story than a revolutionary chronicle,” Sarris wrote, “and as it happens, I prefer love stories to revolutionary chronicles.”

The detractors tended to agree with the brunt of this assessment, but understandably saw this as a liability. Pauline Kael called it “the least radical, the least innovative epic you can imagine” and the Soho News corrected the record with “What Reds Won’t Tell You About Louise Bryant.” It was a movie about John Reed that even Reagan could love—and indeed, he did. One can easily imagine him nodding along with Beatty’s Reed as he denounces Zinoviev for his individual-annihilating, freedom-denying brand of Communism.

Paramount’s 2006 small-scale reissue of Reds clearly addressed a shift in the political landscape. The trailer for the DVD positioned Reds as a blockbuster rendition of a prototypical Daily Kos diary, fired up with indignation over an illegal war and a dissent-crushing mainstream. Implicitly, Reds inaugurated a tradition that now included such softly provocative left-wing cinema-events as The Constant Gardener and Syriana.

Do we yet have the tools and sobriety to reckon with Reds? Its technical achievement is unimpeachable. There’s a moment early on in Reds when Bryant buttonholes Reed for an interview after his very brief speech at Portland’s Liberal Club. When can we talk? “Now,” and editors Dede Allen and Craig McKay cut on that word, that syllable to a scene in her apartment. The whole movie has this clipped quality, all tumbling out and jammed up together in a rush of decisions and judgments. In a sense, Reds feels like the culmination of the Resnais-influenced, half-glance New Hollywood editing style that Allen herself initiated in Bonnie and Clyde. Reds is the movie that fashions a working and supple grammar out of it. Nothing carries the appearance of classical cross-cutting here, even when that description is perfectly apt—the shots seem to hover, always looking stitched together and brittle, as if the whole edifice will atrophy when the music stops. Continue reading

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Workers of the World Unite and Fight–at the Portage!

Warren Beatty’s Reds in 35mm — This Wednesday at 7

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:00 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

March 21
Directed by Warren Beatty • 1981
In the midst of the Reagan Revolution, Paramount courageously released a truly epic film chronicling the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, ostensibly because star-director-producer-cowriter Warren Beatty had delivered a pearly blockbuster for the studio in Heaven Can Wait. It’s difficult to imagine a more discordant (and superior) sophomore effort. Beatty plays American expat journalist John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World and key player in the internecine struggles over which American leftist faction would become the anointed Soviet satellite. (The attention to such ideological arcana is as bracing as the movie’s overall political commitment.) As history, Reds offers neither saints nor scoundrels: Reed’s complicated marriage to Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton, never better) receives as much scrutiny as the finer points of revolutionary strategy. Everything is a continuum, with political and sexual freedom naturally commingling with developments in photography and American popular song (the latter expertly arranged by Stephen Sondheim). This enormous canvas is flanked by other historical figures, both enacted (Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill, Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman) and actual (George Jessel, Will Durant, Henry Miller, Adela Rogers St. Johns, and a host of other ‘witnesses’ who offer interstitial testimony). Masterfully crafted, with Dede Allen’s fleet editing a particular standout. (KW)
Please note early start time.
194 min, with intermission • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Paramount
Cartoon: Porky Pig in “Old Glory” (1939, Chuck Jones) – 35mm

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Is a Film More than the Sum of Its Reels?

Sometimes even I wish that the digital conversion would just hurry itself up, if only so that we could forever forsake the journalistic convention of punning on matters of real and reel. You know, or could make up, the headlines: Professor examines reel history, Local woman finds reel love, Reel inflation fears send real a-reeling.

What this ubiquitous usage tends to do is lay down a bright line between movies and everything else, as if even eight-figure corporate deals are a bit precious and fantastic because they touch the movie business. (If only I could quit my real job and get a reel one…) We’re still living in the dream factory, even when those dreams are increasingly violent and downbeat.

A generation from now, the reel might lose its currency as an imaginative symbol. Right now, though, it still stands in for the broader idea of the movies: look no further than the logos of your local film festival, film commission, or indie video store. All this despite the fact that most people have never handled a reel of film. Walk around a theater lobby with a 16mm Castle Film before the show and see just how many people think you hold an entire feature in the palm of your hand. More realistically, a two-hour feature would encompass six or seven 35mm reels about 14 inches in diameter apiece. Continue reading

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In Love In Vain: Centennial Summer

This Wednesday at the Portage

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

March 14
Directed by Otto Preminger • 1946
This bizarre, somewhat mean-spirited (but highly endearing) Otto Preminger musical stars Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell as two sisters pining after Cornel Wilde at the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. Walter Brennan is the father of the family, who hopes to escape his lout of a boss and railroad job by selling a giant clock to the head of the company, and Dorothy Gish (!) is his wife, who is naturally very concerned about the whole affair. The film was met with mixed critical reception, mostly because of its obvious attempt to recreate MGM’s Meet Me In St. Louis for 20th Century-Fox—but there’s a lot to enjoy here: Jerome Kern’s last score (he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage shortly before the film’s release while walking the streets of New York), Preminger’s swift direction, some shockingly unsubtle gynecological references, a wonderful drunken Walter Brennan sequence, and (for this screening at least) a gorgeous original Technicolor print. (JA)
102 min • 20th Century-Fox • 16mm from the Radio Cinema Film Archive
Short: “Musical Memories” (Fleischer Color Classic, 1935) – 16mm

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This Wednesday at the Portage

Closed City: Give Us This Day

What do they call this place we are going to?
No, I mean, other people.
Oh, they call it Brooklyn.

What to do with a picture like Give Us This Day?

For one thing, it stands up very well as a domestic drama, a successor in certain ways to King Vidor’s The Crowd. It’s about how the everyday luxuries that constitute the fabric of American culture are not, contra magazine spreads and stump speeches, simply the logical reward of hard work and individual initiative. Give Us This Day shows, in scene after painstaking scene, how a family with the best of intentions may well never achieve its dream. That this obvious fact of sociology nevertheless sounds radical and unexpected in entertainment terms makes a film like Give Us This Day quite bracing, especially today. Indeed, to watch Give Us This Day now invites a certain wistful nostalgia for a moment when a family headed by a sporadically-employed immigrant bricklayer could even contemplate owning a home, an unspeakable ambition for a generation’s worth of college graduates and advanced degree holders these days.

But Give Us This Day is notable for far more than its rarely-fashionable grimness. Like Salt of the Earth, its more storied successor, Give Us This Day is a movie made by blacklisted talent exiled from Hollywood and unusually committed to feeling out what a socially-implicated narrative feature might look and sound like. Inarguably, the answer offered by Give Us This Day is curiously circumspect: aside from an errant ‘CP’ scrawled innocently on a beam in the background of an early scene, there’s next to no acknowledgement of the radical political ideas that halted the careers of actor Sam Wanamaker, writer Ben Barzman, and director Edward Dmytryk. Though such issues as workplace safety and incentive structures that pit workers against each other form important plot points, the possibility of unionization is hardly broached. A ‘union meeting’ is cited once—as the half-assed alibi that Wanamaker supplies when visiting his mistress (Kathleen Ryan). Continue reading

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From the Submerged: Give Us This Day

35mm Archival Print This Wednesday at the Portage

The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket
For the full schedule of classic film screenings at the Portage, please click here.

March 7
Directed by Edward Dmytryk • 1949
Originally pitched as the American debut of director Roberto Rossellini (!), this moving adaptation of Pietro di Donato’s experimental proletarian novel Christ in Concrete was finally made in England’s Denham Studios by top-line talent recently blacklisted in America: actor Sam Wanamaker, screenwriter Ben Barzman, and director Edward Dmytryk. Pressure from the American Legion kept the film from playing more than a handful of engagements, but the show is hardly hardline Communist propaganda. Instead, Give Us This Day simply sketches the nearly insurmountable odds of succeeding in America for bricklayer Geremio (Wanamaker) and his wife Annuziata (Lea Padovani). Their modest dream (a house of their own) is always just out of reach, even when Geremio becomes a foreman and must weigh cost-costing and unsafe work practices against mounting domestic tension. Dour but never less than gripping, the gulf between Give Us This Day and the rest of Dmytryk’s work is skyscraper-sized. Alas, Dmytryk’s subsequent recanting of his hostile HUAC testimony and unforgivable decision to name names has buried this one-of-a-kind experience. (KW)
120 min • Eagle-Lion • 35mm preserved by the Library of Congress
Short: “What’s Your IQ?” (Pete Smith, 1940) – 35mm Technicolor

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35mm Archival Print This Wednesday at the Portage