Forging ahead with the film crew

How Tone Madison writers stayed engaged during a scrambled year.

How Tone Madison writers stayed engaged during a scrambled year.

January 2021 feels like a different era. And, in terms of movie-going, it really was. At Tone Madison, we started the year just as the last ended—with laser-focus on the depth of streaming options in the 2020 year largely without theatrical exhibition. From features available through UW Cinematheque like A Glitch In The Matrix, to coverage of more experimental short films on a curated service like MUBI, to a recurring “Lucid Streaming” column, we were still trying to make sense of it all and keep the perspectives distinctive to not only our site but Madison in general amidst the lack of ability to meet in communal spaces. We’re still here and still engaged.

Along the way, we acknowledged and met those challenges, covering a few stories that didn’t get the same emphasis anywhere else in Madison media. The year in film stories spans niche curiosity to items of broader historical interest for those who live here and once called Madison “home,” from the history of Jim Horwitz’s obscure indie film Grodmin shot in the early 2000s (newly restored), to the Public History Project’s discovery and virtual PBS presentation of a short 1961 documentary on Madison housing discrimination, to a personal reflection on the demolition of the Westgate Mall and its cherished cinema that had been shuttered since 2008.

As an early summer scorched us, the prospect of properly returning to the cool, darkened glow of the movies surged, even for a short spell unmasked. We plunged right back in surveying ’70s American repertory fun and steamy international art house selections alike at campus heart, UW Cinematheque, while also taking a look at a few of the more interesting exclusive theatrical premieres (Zola, The Green Knight, Candyman, The Card Counter) and spreading the word about the reopening of beloved budget theater, Market Square (now known as Silver Cinemas), that ended up booking a couple of those very films in the fall.

Like in more conventional years past, Tone Madison also boasted the most extensive Wisconsin Film Festival coverage anywhere. We published previews of Wisconsin-produced and international documentaries, an extravaganza of local short films, and much more leading up to and during the wholly virtual edition of the festival itself. Lately, that level of interest has morphed into deep dives into the art house mindfulness of the Madison Museum Of Contemporary Art’s Spotlight Cinema, as we covered five of its eight films (The Velvet Underground, Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy, Days, Fabian: Going To The Dogs, and Identifying Features) in the series that concluded last week.

But perhaps the most ambitious thing we’ve done is move beyond the written word and into formally reviving what we hope to be fully-transcribed podcasts, setting up shop at Madison’s only remaining in-store video rental, Four Star. From a new, off-the-wall experimental animated anthology, Circumstantial Pleasures, to one of the more renowned psychological horror films of the 1980s, Possession, we kept the conversations and possibilities open to provide primers for some of the most audacious cinema out there. Special thanks to audio engineer Sarah Jennings Evans for helping make that possible.

Even regarding all this in the past 11 months, a complete assessment of the year feels a bit premature for us, which is a good thing. Expect a couple more reviews packed with detail and personality that characterize our commitment to the well-recognized and obscure alike. And, most significantly, we are reserving a vital thread for writers to voice their thrills and frustrations about their year in movies from the perspective of watching them in the mercurial state of distribution that’s juggling a panoply of setbacks and distractions with the push for instant home viewing.

No other Madison online or print publication is capturing film in quite the same way—an array of intelligent critical voices on the wide world of cinema who also stop to acknowledge and value each other’s takes in the now and what may lay ahead. And we are doing that with longtime writers who not only appreciate what Tone Madison has to offer but are equally welcoming of new and passionate colleagues in the community, like Alisyn Amant, a key part of Gen Z Critics, who recently offered an astute reading of one of the best films of the year. Those who know us and read us really are essential to amplifying our publication’s collective strengths and overall reach. Help us keep going by donating today, and NewsMatch will match your contributions up to $13,000.

Be seeing you,

Grant Phipps, film editor-to-the-stars

Tone Madison‘s independent, in-depth coverage of culture in Madison depends on reader donations. And through December 31, 2021, your donations will go twice as far. Donate today and help us meet our $13,000 match goal!

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