After a 15-month-plus hiatus during the pandemic, campus screenings resume at 4070 Vilas Hall, with some precautionary measures.
In the past few weeks, traditional movie theaters have seen a soft reopening thanks to a modest slate of blockbuster holdovers from 2020. However, some of the theater chains in Dane County and beyond have also had their doors open for quite a few months now for those willing to venture out, and they’ve built lineups of some repertory and modern favorites in big digital presentations in lieu of much-hyped commercial releases. On the other hand, UW Cinematheque, the beating theatrical heart of Downtown Madison at 4070 Vilas Hall, has been shuttered to the public since the second week of March 2020. This free screening series makes its return on Wednesday, June 30, with a full six-week repertory scheduling announcement all the more exciting, and it begins with Leo McCarey’s 1937 drama Make Way For Tomorrow (1937) (a film “that would make a stone cry,” as Orson Welles once touted).
Cinematheque’s temporary seating accommodations include doubled-up screening times at 5 and 7 p.m. (for all features that do not exceed 105 minutes), and a social distancing enforcement to ease any worries audiences may be understandably clinging to about safety. Cinematheque will be following UW-Madison policy (last updated June 2), which states: “The size of the event will be limited to the maximum allowable to ensure that 6 feet of physical distancing can be maintained by all those attending (vaccinated and unvaccinated) who are not members of the same household/living unit.” Capacity at the 4070 Vilas screening room, then, will always be slightly variable based on attending groups, and an official limit has not been designated at this time. As the summer weeks roll on, though, look for potential adjustments and updates from staff.
As for the films themselves, regular curators Jim Healy, Mike King, and Ben Reiser have tapped into the nostalgia that has gestated in our quarantines, choosing a slate of 18 films all on 35mm projection. We’ve been shut in smaller rooms to consume digital media on discs and streaming services. The analog sounds of celluloid in a proper space are sure to be a beacon in that foggy, over-saturated virtual expanse and even a reprieve for all of us indulging in diverse outlets. The Cinematheque selections further reflect that classic programming decision with a majority of features primarily from the 1930s through the 1980s. A number of notable classics immortalized in the international conversation are here, including Paul Verhoeven’s The 4th Man (1983) and Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) (originally set to conclude Cinematheque’s spring 2020 calendar). But the schedule leaves ample room throughout for American-made features, including Cinematheque’s season finale on August 6 of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), three Stateside films with French star Jean Gabin (Wednesdays from July 21 through August 4), including Pépé Le Moko (1937), and a presumably over-the-top trio of Charles Bronson films through the last few Fridays in July—Mr. Majestyk (1973), Hard Times (1975), and From Noon Till Three (1976).
Perhaps most exciting for me is the July 8 screening of Ann Hui’s Song Of The Exile (1990), which can serve to complement the recent virtual Wisconsin Film Festival’s spotlighting of Hui’s life and work in Man Lim-chung’s documentary Keep Rolling (2020). One of Hui’s most acclaimed and semi-autobiographical features and one of the finest of the Hong Kong New Wave in general, Song Of The Exile stars the always-compelling Maggie Cheung (of Irma Vep and In The Mood For Love) as a woman in her mid-20s returning to Hong Kong from study abroad in London only to clash with her Japanese mother (Lu Hsiao-fen). A period film that takes place in 1973, it stands as a well-observed and poignant portrait of fraying of familial ties and changing cultural identity.
For the complete list of screenings and showtimes, please visit cinema.wisc.edu.