The free film program returns to campus on September 1. (Image: “August At Akiko’s.”)
The opening of UW Cinematheque‘s fall 2018 calendar makes a strong case for spending Labor Day weekend indoors. Should you favor a cozy movie-filled staycation rather than cramming in one last camping trip, the programmers at Cinematheque will kick off the free film program’s season with the September 1 local premiere of Damsel (2018), a co-direction by David and Nathan Zellner (whose Fargo homage/postscript, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, was among the most popular at the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival). The zany post-modern Western stars Robert Pattinson as 1870s pioneer Samuel Alabaster pushing his way across the perilous American frontier to wed his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska). And it’s just the first of six new films premiering at Cinematheque’s regular 4070 Vilas Hall venue in September and October.
On September 29, Cinematheque is hosting two back-to-back screenings of the new Nic Cage vehicle, Mandy (2018), by Italian director Panos Cosmatos, whose prior feature, Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010), was a Technicolor synthwave spectacle and tribute to a myriad of ’80s cult horror titles. Perhaps channeling the extravagant energy of Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009), Cosmatos’ latest looks to achieve a similarly trippy aesthetic with cryptic lore and shocking brutality in a remote mountain area in 1983 as Red Miller (Cage) and his titular belle (Andrea Riseborough) duel savaging entities not of this world. In addition to its pulse-pounding synth score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (one of the late composer‘s last), Mandy seems destined to be paired with a nightly Dark Souls grind and some colorfully outré avant-garde metal on the Finnish Blood Music label.
Along those lines, for the particularly musically attentive, the “Premiere Showcase” series concludes on October 6 with Christopher Makoto Yogi’s August At Akiko’s (2018), which features a starring acting (and composing) role for Tawaianese lo-fi experimentalist Alex Zhang Hungtai, formerly of Canadian project Dirty Beaches. The film’s meditative narrative examines a jazz musician’s return home to Hawai’i, where he develops an unusually strong bond with the titular character, an older Buddhist woman (Akiko Masuda). The synopsis promises something akin to last year’s meditative gem, Columbus, which also premiered at Cinematheque in the month of October as part of the Asian-American Media Spotlight.
The calendar’s most sweeping and extensive inclusion is a sizable chunk (15 weeks’ worth) of the filmography of prolific New German Cinema co-founder Rainer Werner Fassbinder every Sunday afternoon at the Chazen Museum of Art, all on 35mm. Beginning on September 2 with one of his biggest international successes and enduring piece of queer cinema, Fox And His Friends (1976), the series will trace many of the director’s subversive takes on classic dramas. That includes the interracial romance in Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1973) on September 16, which interprets Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955); the sexual power dynamics in Lola (1981) on December 9, which borrows from Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930); and the pursuit of fame in Veronika Voss (1982) on December 16, an even shadowier recalibration of Sunset Boulevard (1950).
However, the Fassbinder series also captures his utter ingenuity and the indelible mark he left on international cinema with the harrowing domestic drama-turned-political chronicle, Mother Küsters’ Trip To Heaven (1975), screening on October 7. That’s in addition to the progressive and singular The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant (1972) on September 23, which intelligently and humorously explores BDSM between the titular fashion designer and her submissive personal assistant. The tonal approach to the subject matter of the latter are known to have influenced Peter Strickland’s lovely Duke Of Burgundy (2014), which you may remember screened in Madison in 2015 as part of WUD Film’s Reel Love Film Festival lineup.
While smaller in scope, the four-film/two-day (September 6-7) series “Spotlight on Documentary” not only expands upon the University’s dedication to the documentary form and its ideology in the tradition of last fall’s Frederick Wiseman series, but also boasts work with production connections to UW-Madison alumni. The first of those, on Thursday, September 6, is Typeface (2009), directed by Justine Nagan, former executive director of Kartemquin Films, who will also be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. As much of a look at the preservation efforts at Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, as the art of printmaking, the 60-minute feature will be preceded by a short Nagan made the following year, Sacred Transformations (2010). This 10-minute film was shot over the course of a single night on Chicago’s South Side and follows tattoo artist Eric Dean Spruth’s efforts to reshape customers’ undesirable body art into imagery that’s more reflective of their current identities.
Most notable of the documentaries, though, is likely the September 7 presentation of Documenting Hate: Charlottesville (2018), a 60-minute account, analysis, and rebuke of the white supremacist rally in the small Virginia city in August 2017. Co-directed by Richard Rowley and A.C. Thompson, the confrontational feature recently aired on PBS’ Frontline program (helmed by executive producer/UW-Madison alumna Raney Aronson-Rath). Both Rowley and Thompson’s investigative reporting justifiably goes after those involved the Unite the Right rally and how their violently racist provocations went unpunished and have reverberated nationwide.
The remainder of the calendar is rounded out by the Cinematheque’s ongoing look at undersung silent films of the 1910s and 1920s, “Silents Please!”‘ including a 35-minute fragment of Marion E. Wong’s The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916), once thought to be entirely lost and now considered to be the first feature directed by a Chinese-American. It’s coupled with the full restored version of Dorothy Davenport and Walter Lang’s The Red Kimona (1925) on October 13. Duelle (1976), a surrealist rarity and forerunner to David Lynch’s M.O. from Jacques Rivette will appear in a new DCP restoration as the finale to “New French Restorations” on December 8.
If you’re especially interested in the widespread impact of the melodrama All That Heaven Allows (1955), in addition to the aforementioned ’70s Fassbinder remake, a special 35mm presentation of Todd Haynes’ American version, Far From Heaven (2002), will screen the same week as the other two, on September 21. Cinematheque’s year closes out with a pair of features that star Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer-dancer Carmen Miranda, including the lavishly vibrant musical The Gang’s All Here (1943) on December 14. The screening will be preceded by an expository lecture from UW-Madison professor Kathryn Sanchez, author of Creating Carmen Miranda: Race, Camp, And Transnational Stardom (2016).
To browse the full schedule, please visit Cinematheque’s official page.