Thursday, January 19, 2017

Susan Greenbaum. Live. One song.

Notice: To open The Bijou's mini-fest – “Facing Fascism: Time Capsules” – Susan Greenbaum is going to perform live. Before the 6:20 p.m. January 19th screening of “The Great Dictator,” to resonate with the moment, we're delighted to say Susan will sing a most apt song, less than 18 hours before the inauguration of the USA's 45th president. A new president who seems hellbent on shaking things up, to say the least. 

The song? 

Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land.”
Susan says, “Music has a way of reaching people in ways that no political speech can. People internalize music, and when the lyrics resonate with the times we're facing, the song becomes more powerful than the most raucous political speech, more believable than the most enticing political promise.”

So film buffs coping with inauguration day blues, here's your chance to help create a moment we'll remember. Show up. Sing along with Susan and make Pete Seeger's ghost proud.

If you're so inclined we'll be happy to sell you a glass of wine or a cold beer. The popcorn is free. 

For more about this timely little film festival, click here to read Karen Newton's preview piece for STYLE Weekly. To see the event's Facebook page click here


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Carole Kass Remembrance

Alan Rubin (one of the Biograph’s owners) and
Carole Kass in the Biograph lobby at the theater’s
second anniversary party (Feb. 11, 1974).
Photo by Gary Fisher.
This morning I thought of Carole Kass, longtime movie critic at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who died at the age of 73 in 2000. She loved the term "mini-fest," which I've dusted off to promote The Bijou's upcoming four-film festival.

During my nearly 12-year stint as the manager of the Biograph Theatre (1972-83) I spoke with Carole nearly every week, sometimes more than once. She came to the theater regularly to review first-run pictures. She came to see movies she liked on her own time. Plus she was there for various social occasions and a publicity stunt, or two.

In the process, over the years, we got to be friends and learned to trust one another. The genuine enthusiasm and warmth Carole brought to her work as a movie critic/entertainment columnist was uncommon. Those same traits were seen in other things she touched. Whether she was helping out a little independent movie theater with her words in ink, or teaching cinema history to undergraduates at Virginia Commonwealth University, or teaching film production to inmates at the Virginia State Penitentiary, Carole always cared and it showed.

Carole understood the power motion pictures have to lift people from the grips of their melancholia and pesky vexations, if only for a few sweet moments.

My last show-biz encounter with Carole took place in 1998, when she was part of the Jewish Community Center’s presentation of a live Joan Rivers show at the then-Carpenter Center. My job, as a freelance videographer, was to record the performance for the sponsors with two cameras; one for closeups and the other for a static wide shot of the stage.

Rivers’ topic was surviving tragedy; in spite of the subject she was quite funny. After her prepared remarks, Joan answered questions submitted by members of the audience and then asked of her onstage by Carole. Their impromptu performance together was nearly as good as what had gone before.

At that time, it was public knowledge that Carole was battling cancer. She joked with me that night about her fretting over whether she would live long enough to do the show for the JCC. A few days after that performance I went out to her home in the West End for a visit. I wanted to shoot some stills of old photographs of her to insert into the video, to play over the sound of her introduction in the show. And, I was still searching for a way to tell her how much she had always meant to the Biograph’s survival and to the film-loving community in Richmond.

Typically, Carole was her modest self. In her view, she had only been a background artist, helping out. Then there had been the retirement Media General had imposed on her a few years before, which had never set all that well with Carole.

A week or so later, I delivered a video tape to her. It included Rivers’ talk to the audience and what followed. At the end of the tape there was a tribute to Carole that I had staged, shot and edited without her knowledge; I didn’t let on about the surprise.

Here’s what Carole didn’t know as she began watching the tape: The R-TD’s then-executive editor, Bill Millsaps, had helped me out with a stunt by asking all the writers to come outside for about 20 minutes to be the performers in a tribute to Carole. Others from the local film buff community, including former staff members at the Biograph, were also asked to be on hand.

The cast was directed to walk around for a while, then stand applauding in front of 333 W. Grace St., an entrance to the newspaper’s building that no longer exists. I had help shooting the scene from Jerry Williams and Ted Salins, who manned two of three cameras I used.

Later I edited the footage from the three tapes into a short piece, using music from the movie “8½” for sound; the imagery also imitated it, somewhat. That particular Fellini flick was one of her favorites. No one had told Carole a word about it; it had been beautiful teamwork.

When she saw the added tribute footage, watching it with pain as her only companion, Carole couldn’t fathom that all those people had actually been assembled, just to give her a standing ovation. When she called, she told me she had assumed I found the footage, somewhere, and spliced it onto end of the tape. Where had I found it? she asked.

With a measure of satisfaction I chuckled and informed her how the scene was actually set up. She didn’t buy it! Carole thanked me warmly, but added a gentle scolding for my trying to fool her about the mysterious scene, shot in front of the old entrance to 333. She reminded me of my reputation as a trickster. Not wanting to argue with her, I let it go.

Later Carole telephoned then-television critic Douglas Durden, only to hear from her old friend (they sat at desks next to one another for years) that it all had been just as I said.

After talking with others at the newspaper, Carole called me back to laugh, to cry and to apologize for not believing me. She went on to say that what had started out as a rather “bad day” for her — coping with the indignities of her situation — had been changed into a “good day.”

As my mother died of cancer in 1984, I could grasp what Carole might have meant by “good days” and “bad days.” Carole thanked me for that good day. I told her I’d had a lot of help. Click here to read the obituary I wrote for Carole Kass in 2000.

Twelve years ago it began with an idea for a gesture to lift an old friend’s spirits and let her know how much her colleagues and the rest of us appreciated her. The finished product, with Carole’s double-take reaction actually turned out better than I had envisioned.

Back in the summer of 1998, I gave a print of the tape to Saps, to say, “Thanks.” Naturally, the JCC got a tape. Note: what is shown in the YouTube video linked to above is just the 90-minute tape’s last two minutes and 39 seconds. (Sorry about the low quality of the transfer from video to digital; one day I'll have the entire tape transferred properly.)

And, dear reader, a good day is wished to you and yours.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Press Release: Facing Fascism: Time Capsules

Date: Jan. 13, 2017
To: All media for immediate release
Re: Facing Fascism: Time Capsules
From: The Bijou Film Center

"Facing Fascism: Time Capsules" is what The Bijou is calling its mini-fest (small festival) of time-honored art-house films to be presented in its screening room at 304 E. Broad St. They will run Thursday through Sunday over two weekends.

The first pair of classics will be presented January 19-22: Two easy-to-love, uplifting films. Both chuckle in the face of the brutality and pomposity of fascist dictatorships. Both show how life goes on: Charlie Chaplin's “The Great Dictator” and Federico Fellini's “Amarcord.”

Show Times:

Thur. Jan 19: “The Great Dictator” at 6:20 p.m. and “Amarcord” at 9 p.m.
Fri., Jan 20: “The Great Dictator” at 6:20 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.
Sat., Jan 21: “Amarcord” at 6:20 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.
Sun., Jan 22: “Amarcord” at 3:40 p.m. “The Great Dictator” at 6:20 p.m.

*

The second pair of films will be presented January 26-29: One, a story that reveals the special lure fascism can have for a rube on-the-make looking to improve his station, quickly. The other, a film that pulls back the curtain to reveal the methods of control of a brutal authoritarian regime: Louis Malle's “Lacombe, Lucien” and Costa-Gavras' “Z.”

Show Times:

Thur., Jan. 26: “Z” at 6:20 p.m. and Lacombe, Lucien at 9 p.m.
Fri., Jan. 27: “Z” at 6:20 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 28: “Lacombe, Lucien” at 6:05 p.m and again at 9 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 29: “Lacombe, Lucien” at 3:20 p.m. and “Z” at 6:20 p.m.

Admission to all shows: $7 at the door; $5 with student ID.

*

Why: Time will tell how historians will look back on the USA's 45th president. While some Americans are cheering the arrival of what they hope will be the Trump administration's fresh approach to governing, others fear that approach will be anything but fresh, especially if it turns out to be patterned after blood-soaked authoritarian regimes of the past. Dare we say fascist regimes?

So cinephiles who don't plan to celebrate Inauguration Day can opt to come together to watch some top shelf film classics for their edification, or perhaps just a welcomed distraction. These four movies, all distributed by Janus Films, were quite popular in the their day. Today they have messages from the 20th century about understanding fascism that should be considered by old and young film lovers, alike. Especially the young.

Sponsorship Note: To make this special quartet of bookings happen four keen-witted sponsors are pitching in to help defray expenses associated with renting and promoting the mini-fest. Accordingly, our thanks go out to: Christopher's Runaway GourmayCrossroads Coffee & Ice Cream, EAF Custom Communication and Once Upon A Vine. Without their participation these timely presentations wouldn't be happening.

Film Notes

The Great Dictator” (1940): B&W. 125 minutes. Directed by Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977). Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Henry Daniell. Note: In what was Chaplin's first real talkie, he plays two roles – the fascist dictator of a make-believe country and a kindly Jewish barber, who is mistaken for the dictator. This cinematic mocking of Adolph Hitler was released nine months before the USA entered WWII. Chaplin won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his performance, which culminates with his famous speech.

Amarcord” (1974): Color. 123 Minutes. Directed by Federico Fellini (1920-93). Cast: Bruno Zanin, Magali Noël. Note: A whimsical glance at what it was like to grow up in a small Italian port during the era of fascist rule in Italy leading up to WWII. With its parade of eccentric townsfolk, Amarcord is a true masterpiece, directed by the master himself. This may be Fellini's most accessible film; it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1975 (Italian). The trailer is here.

Z” (1969): Color. 127 minutes. Directed by Costa-Gavras (1933). Cast: Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Irene Papas. Note: The cover-up of an assassination, modeled after a political murder in Greece in 1963, spawns a compelling whodunit, with sudden plot twists ... all told at a furious pace. The tumultuous action is supported by Mikis Theodorakis’s haunting score. Thinking about suppression of the media and maybe too many generals in government? See this film. By the way, it won the 1970 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (French). The trailer is here.

Lacombe, Lucien” (1974): Color. 138 minutes. Directed by Louis Malle (1932-95). Cast: Pierre Blaise, Auroe Clement, Holger Lowenadler. Note: How does a naive, nihilistic French teenage boy wind up running around with the Nazi invaders? In this case, why not? This film reveals how seductive fascism was in Europe during the 1920s and '30s to the ignorant and angry – the folks who saw themselves as looked down upon by their countrymen who were better educated and more well off. This beautiful film won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for Best Picture in 1975. The trailer is here.