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UW Cinematheque’s summer 2022 lineup offers stories both straight and strange

Clockwise from top left: the dark silhouette of a man riding a lawn mower against an open sky imbued with the yellow ochre of a residual sunset in The Straight Story (1999); Alain Delon, wearing a fedora and a trenchcoat, directs an icy stare toward the camera in Le Samouraï (1967); Jackie Chan practices the art of intoxicated fighting amid a verdant, mountainous landscape in Drunken Master (1978); Laura Dern and Eric Stoltz share a tender moment by the beach in Mask (1985).
Clockwise from top left: the dark silhouette of a man riding a lawn mower against an open sky imbued with the yellow ochre of a residual sunset in The Straight Story (1999); Alain Delon, wearing a fedora and a trenchcoat, directs an icy stare toward the camera in Le Samouraï (1967); Jackie Chan practices the art of intoxicated fighting amid a verdant, mountainous landscape in Drunken Master (1978); Laura Dern and Eric Stoltz share a tender moment by the beach in Mask (1985).

The cinematic haven on UW-Madison campus kicks off with a newly acquired (and retitled) cut of Peter Bogdanovich’s final feature on June 29.

A veritable feast awaits devoted moviegoers in Madison as the UW Cinematheque presents yet another adventurous, eclectic program of classic and contemporary films from around the world this summer. Catering to a broad range of cinematic tastes, as usual, the superbly curated 2022 lineup includes a trio of stylish French thrillers starring the impossibly cool Alain Delon; a 35mm print of Casablanca; six films in honor of the late great director Peter Bogdanovich (who died earlier this year); a double bill of Jackie Chan martial arts comedies; Poltergeist on 35mm; and David Lynch’s only G-rated feature to date, The Straight Story. All 20 screenings at the Cinematheque are free, open to the public, and take place at 4070 Vilas Hall every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evening from June 29 to August 5.

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Summer at the Cinematheque starts on Wednesday, June 29, with the Madison premiere of Peter Bogdanovich’s last feature, Squirrels To The Nuts. Released in 2014 under the title She’s Funny That Way and mutilated by its producers with the complicity of Bogdanovich himself, the dark screwball comedy was promptly consigned to oblivion. However, in 2020, film scholar James Kenney fortuitously discovered a high-definition video master of Bogdanovich’s full original cut on eBay. Thought to be lost forever, this version of the movie was prepared for release by the director shortly before he passed away and screened for the first time earlier this year at the Museum Of Modern Art. Madisonians are next in line to see the exceedingly rare film on the big screen. Senior Cinematheque programmer Mike King whetted viewers’ appetites as he revealed this first summer screening last month, saying, “We show rare stuff here, but this is about as rare as it gets. There is literally one copy of this thing in existence!” Kenney will also appear in person to discuss the process of recovering Bogdanovich’s edit.

In addition to Squirrels, the tribute to Bogdanovich showcases several alternate director’s cuts—Mask (1985), Nickelodeon (1975), and At Long Last Love (1976), plus two other films, Saint Jack (1979) and The Thing Called Love (1993). These screenings occur every Wednesday night of the season.

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One of the most iconic anti-heroes of the silver screen, Alain Delon imbued his many portrayals of unsavory characters throughout the 1960s and 1970s with a James Dean-esque magnetism accentuated by his striking appearance and purported real-life connections to organized crime.  

UW Cinematheque’s three-film retrospective of thrillers featuring Delon finds him at the peak of his career, while exemplifying the French actor’s carefully calibrated persona as the epitome of cinematic cool.

The series begins on Thursday, June 30 with La Piscine (1969), a sexy, slow-burning, modernist suspense film by Jacques Deray, the director of Symphony For A Massacre (1963), a 2022 Wisconsin Film Festival selection. The following Thursday, Delon appears as the attorney of a rich femme fatale (Mireille Darc) with a disturbing past who attracts a hopelessly smitten writer (Claude Brasseur) in Georges Lautner’s Les Seins De Glace (1974)—which literally translates to Icy Breasts—an adaptation of American author Richard Matheson’s pulp novel Someone Is Bleeding. In Jean-Pierre Melville’s mesmerizing neo-noir gangster study Le Samouraï (1967), screening Thursday, July 14, Delon plays Jef Costello, a solitary, stylishly dressed professional assassin with a perfectionist bent who ritualistically adheres to a strict code of personal conduct reminiscent of Bushido—”the way of the warrior”—the feudal-military code of the Japanese samurai, stressing self-discipline, honor, and austerity, as well as unquestioning loyalty and obedience. This performance would come to dominate his public image, and Delon would play variations on the role in subsequent pictures.

Le Samouraï elegantly ties in with Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), screening Thursday, July 21, which also features a legendary actor, Toshiro Mifune, in a career-defining performance. The inimitable Mifune plays a drifting, lordless samurai who stumbles upon a terrorized village and becomes entangled in a turf war between two corrupt rival clans. This swashbuckling samurai epic became Kurosawa’s most successful movie in Japan and his most influential in the West. (Yojimbo was unofficially remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars (1964)—the first “spaghetti” Western—with Clint Eastwood in Mifune’s role. Apparently Leone copied Yojimbo almost shot-for-shot.)

Other gems of classic Asian cinema in the summer series include a double feature of Jackie Chan vehicles on Thursday, August 4. In Yuen Woo-Ping’s Drunken Master (1978), Chan stars as a mischievous young kung fu student who finds himself subjected to the harsh methods of the titular teacher of intoxicated martial arts. And the epic, spectacularly choreographed slapstick action comedy Police Story 2 (1988) offers a well-timed follow-up to the first Police Story (1985), which concluded the Wisconsin Film Festival in 2019. 

Showing on Friday, July 8, What We Left Unfinished (2019), a documentary from artist Mariam Ghani, contemplates five unfinished films produced during the Communist era in Afghanistan (1978-1991). The film weaves together newly rediscovered and restored scenes from these abandoned projects, new footage shot in the same locations, and present-day interviews with the filmmakers, actors, and crew members who risked their lives to make subversive cinema. While Ghani’s feature focuses on a specific place and time in history, it broadly examines the complex relationship between art and politics amid violence, war, censorship, and repression.

Near the end of the month on Thursday, July 28, Leos Carax’s Pola X (1999) stands out as one of the more obscure and provocative selections in the summer program. Loosely based on the 1852 Herman Melville novel Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities, the film concerns a young novelist who encounters an enigmatic woman at the edge of a dark forest claiming to be his half-sister. The two begin a romantic (possibly incestuous) relationship, while actors Guillaume Depardieu and Yekaterina Golubeva evidently engage in unsimulated sex scenes. This bizarre byproduct of the French New Extremity boasts an experimental soundtrack by teen pop icon-turned-avant-garde musician Scott Walker, with contributions from noise rock pioneers Sonic Youth and apocalyptic folk singer-songwriter Bill Callahan (a.k.a. Smog).

Perhaps the oddest Lynch film on account of its uncharacteristically linear narrative, as well as its absence of grotesque imagery and startling fluorishes of violence, The Straight Story (1999) remains the only Lynch film to be released by Walt Disney Pictures and given a G-rating by the MPAA. Based on the real-life journey of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), a 73-year-old man who traveled 240 miles on a riding lawn mower from Iowa to visit his ailing, estranged brother in Wisconsin, The Straight Story initially might seem like the work of an entirely different filmmaker. Nevertheless, in interviews, Lynch called it his “most experimental movie,” referring mostly to its documentary qualities. Attentive viewers may also notice hints of the artist’s preoccupations with consciousness, mortality, the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and the absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence. Despite its subtle Lynchian elements, The Straight Story stands out for being the only project in the director’s filmography in which he did not have any input in the script. Lynch’s longtime collaborator and UW-Madison alumna Mary Sweeney co-wrote the screenplay with John Roach, in addition to producing and editing the movie. Sweeney will honor audiences at 4070 Vilas Hall with her presence for a discussion following The Straight Story on Friday, July 15.

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