IU Cinema Fall Preview
● by Craig J. Clark
The Indiana University Cinema’s Fall 2014 program book will be out within the next few weeks, but in the meantime, The Ryder has been given a sneak peek at what’s on the docket for the next four months, courtesy of director Jon Vickers.
“We are very excited about the IU Cinema’s fall program this year,” Vickers says. “There is definitely plenty from everyone, from the casual movie-lover to the most discerning cinephile. We will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary some of the most iconic films of 1984, like Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles, and This Is Spinal Tap, the 40th anniversary of one of the scariest movies of all time, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the 10th anniversary of the film Kinsey.”
Vickers promises that the entire season will be online before the first of September, but visitors to the Cinema the weekend before Labor Day will witness the kickoff of three of its regular film series – Underground, City Lights, and Midnight Movies.
The Underground series gets off to a chilling start on Friday, August 29, with 1973’s Ganja & Hess, which doubles as the first of three films in a series entitled “Blaxploitation Horror of the 1970s.” A most unusual vampire film, in the sense that the v-word is never once spoken in it, Ganja & Hess was written and directed by Bill Gunn, who had previously scripted Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, and gave Duane Jones his only starring role outside of Night of the Living Dead. He plays a renowned anthropologist who takes on a neurotic assistant (played by Gunn) who stabs him with a ceremonial dagger and kills himself. Jones is far from dead, though, and he now has a taste for blood which he satiates by raiding blood banks (prefiguring Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive by four decades) and killing prostitutes. Then Gunn’s wife (Marlene Clark) comes looking for him and eventually marries Jones, who turns her and initiates her in the fine art of body disposal. Only then does he seriously contemplate what “till death do you part” means.
As envisioned by Gunn, Ganja & Hess has a very strong religious component, represented by bookend scenes at the church of a firebrand reverend (Sam Waymon) who’s also Jones’s part-time chauffeur. Faced with such an idiosyncratic film, distributors responded by cutting it to ribbons and releasing it under more exploitable titles like Black Vampire, Blood Couple and Double Possession, but the print being screened by the Cinema is a 35mm restoration of Gunn’s director’s cut, which makes it a veritable must-see. Incidentally, the two other films in the Blaxploitation Horror series, which picks back up in October, are 1976’s J.D.’s Revenge, and 1972’s Blacula, the film that set the cycle in motion and which will, appropriately enough, be shown on Halloween.
Other screenings in the Underground Film Series include the experimental documentaries The Great Flood and All Vows, which filmmaker Bill Morrison will be present for, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s controversial final film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, Belgian filmmaker Harry Kümel’s Malpertius, made the same year as his cult vampire film Daughters of Darkness, and an evening of shorts by experimental filmmaker Warren Sonbert. Those looking for something a little more accessible, though, will want to keep an eye on its companion series, City Lights.
First up is the Jacques Demy musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which is being screened on Saturday, August 30. Made in 1964, it’s a frothy concoction in which every line of dialogue is sung, and the performances by Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as two young lovers kept apart by circumstances beyond their control are totally endearing. (To go with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the Cinema is screening another Demy musical, 1967’s The Young Girls of Roquefort, along with 1961’s West Side Story as part of a two-film tribute to triple-threat George Chakiris.)
The remainder of the City Lights series includes the work of such notable director/star pairings as Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich (1930’s Morocco), Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas (1957’s Paths of Glory), Alfred Hitchock and Joseph Cotten (1943’s Shadow of a Doubt), and Arthur Penn and Dustin Hoffman (1970’s Little Big Man). Then there’s the post-Halloween double feature of Mad Love and The Raven, both from 1935, featuring horror icons Peter Lorre, Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. One of the highlights of the semester, though, is likely going to be November’s twin screenings of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent The General, presented in collaboration with the Jacobs School of Music, with a newly commissioned score by IU alumnus Andrew Simpson and live orchestral accompaniment.
The Midnight Movies series only pops up in the fall, but it tends to feature some of the most adventurous films that the Cinema screens all year. First out of the gate, on Friday, August 29, is Prince’s film debut Purple Rain. Co-written, directed and edited by Albert Magnoli, the 1984 film stars His Purpleness as Prince-like musician The Kid, who fronts a band called The Revolution and is in direct competition with Morris Day, lead singer for The Time, for supremacy in the Minneapolis music scene. They also come into conflict over aspiring singer/dancer Apollonia Kotero, who hooks up with The Kid first but is actively wooed by Day to be in his new girl group. Meanwhile, The Kid has what could charitably be called a difficult home life and a strained relationship with his abusive father, who is nevertheless a brilliant pianist/composer. How much of this correlates to Prince’s actual biography I couldn’t say, but the film’s main saving grace is, of course, the soundtrack, which opens strong with the one-two punch of “Let’s Go Crazy” and The Time’s “Jungle Love,” and closes with blistering live performances of the title song and “I Would Die 4 U.”
Also getting the midnight-screening treatment is 1976’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven, which continues the Cinema’s tradition of showing at least one X-rated film a semester. This one, a “porno chic” updating of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, is the work of director Radley Metzger, who also made 1974’s Score, which was screened in the spring as part of the “Queer Disorientations” series. Other films in the series include Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (their second giallo homage following 2009’s Amer), and Alex Cox’s Repo Man, which – like Purple Rain – is pulling double duty as part of a film series entitled “1984 Revisited.” (Look for a more in-depth article about that next month.)
“Many more filmmakers will be presenting their work in the Cinema,” Vickers says, “including Josephine Decker, Natalia Almada, and Polish master Krzysztof Zanussi, to name a few. There are also additional, very exciting guests that will be announced before September 1.” Sounds like the makings of a cinephile’s dream to me.