The often-repertory movie house on campus expands its horizons with a dozen premiere films every Thursday from September 1 through November 17.
With the approach of fall comes the return of students to campus and downtown Madison, when townies and cinephilic hangers-on can look forward to a local fixture: free screenings at good ol’ UW Cinematheque at 4070 Vilas Hall. While once again offering their typically wide and adventurous slate of movies that often miss the half-dozen commercial theaters in the greater Madison area, this season is also presenting something new by expanding upon their commitment to the occasional local premiere.
Director Of Programming Jim Healy explains both the reasoning behind the decision to start a Thursday evening series that runs from September 1 through November 17, and how it became possible: “It seems pretty clear to us that since movie theaters resumed regular programming after pandemic shutdowns, there are no more commercial arthouse venues in Madison beyond the multiplexes that will occasionally book a Sony Pictures Classics, NEON, or A24 title,” he says—quickly pointing out UW Cinematheque’s premiere slate that includes titles from A24 and NEON. “These are all distributors with enough clout to break into commercial cinemas,” Healy adds.
As for the how, Healy says the series “was made possible through the generous contributions of a cinephile who prefers to remain anonymous. We hope the series encourages future donors to keep cinema culture alive and well in Madison.” Lamenting the loss of opportunities to view indie or mid-budget films, Healy reasons that “unless local audiences start turning up for things beyond the big studio blockbusters at local movie theaters, we might remain the only venue for alternative programming.”
The opening two films—Fire Of Love (2022) and Lost Highway (1997)—provide sterling examples of UW Cinematheque’s selections compared to their more numbers-driven competition. Kick-off day is Thursday, September 1 at 7 p.m., with the former Fire Of Love, a new documentary about Katia and Maurice Krafft, a pair of lava-crossed lovers and geologists whose romance led them to daredevil, up-close observations of active volcanoes. The following night, September 2, Cinematheque will show a new 4K restoration of David Lynch’s surrealist thriller Lost Highway, just over one month before The Criterion Collection releases the Lynch-supervised restoration on physical media (including 4K UHD disc).
Lost Highway is a great representation of UW Cinematheque’s main focus: screening repertory films either in new digital restorations or 35mm prints (UW campus has the only venues in the area that exhibit film prints to the general public). Fire Of Love establishes the other emphasis of Cinematheque’s programming: showing new arthouse, indie, and world cinema that isn’t typically brought to Madison. It’s always been part of Cinematheque’s programming (as anyone who was at this past January’s one-time, at-capacity screening of Drive My Car—well before it belatedly hit other theaters—will tell you); but this fall, they have doubled the number of premieres and moved them to a new night that traditionally hasn’t been part of spring and fall programming: Thursdays.
UW Cinematheque’s schedule boasts the same number of screenings overall, with some slight rearrangement. Familiar Sunday afternoon screenings at the Chazen Museum won’t happen until the month of October (and only that month) with a continuation of the UW alum Stuart Gordon 35mm showcase. That ongoing series, which started early this year, featured some of his cult classics and overlooked fare alike with screenings in the Wisconsin Film Festival as well. This fall, the series picks up with Stuck (2007) on October 9. Then the selections get progressively spookier as Halloween approaches with Poe and Lovecraft adaptations The Pit And The Pendulum (1991), Dagon (2001), and From Beyond (1986), which will be shown on October 16, 23, and 30, respectively. This also feels like an appropriate moment to point out Cinematheque’s October 29 screening of Dario Argento’s original witches-in-a-ballet-academy fever dream Suspiria (1977).
But the biggest buzz is still the Thursday premiere showcase, which follows Fire Of Love in September with François Ozon’s gender-swapped Fassbinder adaptation Peter Von Kant (2022) on September 8, and then Funny Pages (2022), the directorial debut of Owen Kline (son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) on September 15. Korean bad-cop actioner The Roundup (2022) screens September 22, followed by the latest from French surrealist and electronic musician Quentin Dupieux, Incredible But True (2022), on September 29.
October’s first Thursday starts with a documentary that’s neatly entwined with other programming—Jeff Daniels’ (but not that Jeff Daniels) Television Event (2020), about the contemporary response to The Day After (1983), a TV movie depicting the lead-up and aftermath to a fictionalized Soviet nuclear attack on a small Kansas town. That film will appropriately screen, uh, the day after, on October 2, with director Nicholas Meyer (who also happened to direct the two best Star Trek movies) visiting for the weekend.
Meyer’s Madison appearance will also coincide with a Saturday double feature of Time After Time (1979), his time travel adventure with Trek alums Malcolm MacDowell and the late David Warner as H.G. Wells and Jack The Ripper. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) follows just a few hours later, a Meyer-penned Sherlock Holmes story that boasts an impressive cast including Robert Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, and Alan Arkin—but sadly no Brent Spiner in a deerstalker. Arkin also directed another fall season highlight, the depressingly contemporary comedy Little Murders from 1971, which screens September 10 and features Elliott Gould as an apathetic New York photographer who drifts into a romance almost against his will, slowly drawn into his fiancée’s family and the American way of life.
On October 27, Decision To Leave (2022), Park Chan-wook’s first film since The Handmaiden (2016), provides yet another later season premiere highlight. The Oldboy director’s mountainside neo-noir won the Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Its plot concerns a detective falling in love with a woman who may have pushed her husband off the side of a mountain. It’s already been submitted as South Korea’s entry for next year’s Oscars; and, given the renewed attention on Korean cinema since Parasite‘s 2020 Best Picture win, it’s likely to be a popular screening. So, get there early before the 7 p.m. show.
Closing out the extensive premiere calendar on November 17 is The Plains (2022) from first-time director David Easteal. The Melbourne-set indie takes place entirely within a car, promising to be closer to Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (2015) or Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste Of Cherry (1997) than Locke (2013). The docudrama follows a middle-aged lawyer on his drives to and from work, where he sometimes has philosophical conversations with a younger coworker played by the director himself.
UW Cinematheque’s season continues into the holiday season in December on Fridays and Saturdays, with the last screening before the Communications Arts Showcase being the bizarre Christmas action movie Dial Code Santa Claus a.k.a. Deadly Games a.k.a. 36.15 Code Pére Noël (1989) on December 17. In René Manzor’s film, a mall Santa decides to track down the son of a mall manager through a localized proto-Internet network called Minitel (beating many other ’90s movies to the punch in depicting computer networks). The son isn’t unprepared, setting booby traps all over the dimly lit mansion he inhabits. Enough similarities to the later Home Alone (1990) provoked the director Manzor and producers to later sue, but Dial Code Santa Claus gets decidedly more gruesome than the PG-rated Hughes Christmas classic.