Film: Pablo Kjolseth's IFS spring calendar picks

Deep in the midst of the digital age, International Film Series programmer Pablo Kjolseth makes no bones about his love of celluloid, the analog of film, especially, but not necessarily, in black and white. Because of that, the University of Colorado's IFS is arguably the region's last true vestige of repertory cinema, the kind that died twenty years ago or so with the rise of home video. IFS's spring calendar kicked off on Wednesday with the last film in the stunning Swedish Stieg Larsson trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest; tonight and tomorrow, you can still catch an IFS Sundance Shorts program. Great starting-off points, to be sure, but according to Pablo's TCM blog, here's where his heart really lies:

Over the years I've purchased a lot of my favorite films on DVD. Most of them are still wrapped in their cellophane. Why? Because by watching it on DVD I knew I'd be cheating myself of their reel magic. This Spring calendar I've decided to dedicate Sunday to some of these titles. The first half are film noirs, the second half are enigmatic, haunting, or somehow infused with the fantastic. All of these Sunday films make incredible use of black-and-white cinematography, and all of these Sunday films are on 35mm film.

You know where this is going. Get out your calendars, film buffs: Following are some of Pablo's IFS picks, with previews.

February 6: The Man from London (dir. by Bela Tarr, 2007)

As to The Man from London, this had to to with the fact that when I think of magical black-and-white films, Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies ranks there at my very top for pure celluloid bliss. This last film by the cantankerous Hungarian garnered mixed reviews, but the only way I would ever see a Tarr film is on 35mm, so given that it's both in black-and-white and billed as a modern noir I selfishly figured this was as good a chance as any to finally see it on film myself.

February 20: Dead Man (dir. by Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

On my fourth "noir" Sunday night I will admit to a cheat. Dead Man is certainly no film noir in any traditional sense and probably should have been squeezed into the second-half of my Black & White Magic on Sunday's program (what with it being haunting, enigmatic, and having fantasy elements). Still... so many of my favorite film noirs feature doomed characters and deadly gunslingers in an existential battle that puts their free will into question, and I feel Dead Man touches on all of those things -- and more. J. Hoberman referred to Dead Man as "the Western Andrei Tarkovsky always wanted to make." Here is a film that casts a spell. If you get it, you're mesmerized and carried somewhere transcendent. If you don't get it, well, you'll probably hate it and get sick, quickly, of Neil Young's repetitive (aka: hypnotic) score. Much like American Astronaut (another true, great, black-and-white original), it's one of those films where you can easily divide those who love it (these usually having seen it on film, on the big screen, with a receptive crowd), versus those who don't (which, from my personal experience, means those who saw it on DVD, on a small screen, with a distracted friend or two). When programming a series of resplendent films whose black-and-white cinematography shine on celluloid, I had to sneak Dead Man in. Perhaps this excerpt by Jonathan Rosenbaum for his BFI Modern Classics on Dead Man will explain why:

Robby Müller's stunningly beautiful and exquisitely composed black-and-white cinematography, which includes a wide range of intermediate greys, is punctuated by fade-outs and black-outs between scenes, as if giving us forecasts of Blake's death even before he's wounded. Playing against the rhythms of the westbound train at the very beginning of the film, these interludes of unconsciousness or something resembling dream time create a form of of suspension that continues periodically throughout the film, and are an essential part of Neil Young's haunting score, one of the greatest in contemporary movies.

April 3: Woman in the Dunes (dir. by Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964).

Ah! Now we begin the second-part of my black-and-white celluloid series. The first half was film noirs, while this, the second half, tilts itself toward different terrain. It boils down to showcasing films with black-and-white cinematography that gives me goosebumps -- and Hiroshi Segawa's work in Woman in the Dunes most certainly does exactly that. It's surreal premise involves a bug collector who gets tossed into a sandy pit by the sea, trapped as a mate to a mysterious woman. I first saw it as a college student, whacked-out on no sleep and after several days of cramming for exams. It's haunted me ever since. This is a film I like to bring back every few years for my own repeat enjoyment.
April 10: The Incredible Shrinking Man (dir. by Jack Arnold, 1957).
Heck, yeahs! A personal favorite? Must be Sunday night! This amazing film never ceases to make me laugh, giggle, cringe and gape slack-jawed with childish awe and wonder. I don't even know how many times I've seen it, but it's not enough. I'd always fantasized about being on the set to this film, with its oversized blocks of cheese and coffee cans - but watching it on the big screen is the closest I'll get. And I'll take it! Also: this is the ONLY 35mm print Universal has in their archive. (Thanks to Paul Ginsburg at Universal for trusting me with the print -- we will take good care of it, I promise.)

April 16: We Live in Public (dir. by Ondi Timoner, 2009).

This film by the director of DIG! made a big splash at Sundance and is already out on DVD. But when a poker buddy told me that he made the acquaintance of the director and floated out the idea of bringing her out, I jumped at the chance. With the help of another poker buddy (who controls the strings to the Lea and Nick Aronson Visiting Documentary Filmmakers Series) and one grant (from the Roser Visiting Artist Program) I can now fly Timoner out for a free event. Much like DIG!, which benefited from many years of footage that Timoner had slowly accumulated and which chronicles the very different outcomes of two bands, here she once again puts together an incredibly insightful film that benefits from her Zelig-like ability to have been smack-in-the-middle of craziness spanning several years, and with footage to back it all up. In this case it's the various social experiments conducted by internet pioneer Josh Harris in the early nineties. As I recently wrote to the director: "WE LIVE IN PUBLIC really blew me away -- I thought it was way better than THE SOCIAL NETWORK, especially in terms of its insights into how technologies morph our behavior." No lie.

April 17: They Live (dir. by John Carpenter, 1988).

I'd like to make this the subject of a longer and separate post in the near future. Some people might squawk at my decision to drop this in on my Sunday night programming with it's focus on magical black-and-white films, and I'm well aware that the film has many detractors who dismiss it as a bumbling bit of cheesiness, but I'm a genuinely big fan of what Carpenter did here. Although most of it is in color, the key sequences that really blow me away are the ones in black-and-white: when Roddy Piper dons the glasses that let him see the world for what it really is. I'm not the only one who finds this film interesting and worth revisiting; author Jonathan Lethem recently picked They Live as worthy of in-depth analysis (check out his entry into the Deep Focus series of film books by Soft Skull Press).

April 21: Brazil (dir. by Terry Gilliam, 1985).

Brazil is my all-time favorite film for several reasons. I just screened it two short years ago, so I'm not even giving the poor thing time to breathe. But here's what happens: as I make new friends and they ask me what my favorite film is, I'll reply "Brazil," and then I'll ask them if they've seen it. To my shock and horror, the answer is often "no." Then they ask me to show it at my house since I have a nice digital projection system and a big screen. But unless it's on Blu-Ray, I don't want to do this. And why the heck is Brazil STILL not out on Blu-Ray? That's not just appalling, it's weird! Disaster Movie gets the Blu-Ray treatment but Brazil does not? This makes no sense. Anyway, yeah; I'm bringing this in specifically for a couple friends who need to see it on the big screen. Even so, it'd be optimistic to think we'll have the theater to ourselves as Brazil always packs the auditorium with other fans who feel the same way as I do.

Having been the first person to import the European version of Brazil as a college student back in 1991 I feel a bizarre kinship to this film. Last year, at Sundance, I ran into Gary Meyer (of Landmark Theatres and Telluride Film Festival fame) and he told me something that was news to me: back in the early nineties he'd referred to me as "The Brazil Kid," and the print that I'd imported (and which Landmark later borrowed for a national tour) was almost confiscated by the MPAA because it hadn't been given a proper U.S. rating at that time. Meyer hid the print and, despite orders not to screen it, showed it at Landmark Theatres anyway, thus setting a new precedent allowing unrated films to be shown in chain theaters in the U.S. I'm sure there's more to it than that but, hey, it was a long time ago, and why pop my bubble? I sleep better at night thinking I may have played a small role in helping unrated films get wider exhibition.

April 23: IFS celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Yup, it's a party. We're not quite as old as Manoel de Oliveira, but we're working on it. My plan is to have a couple of my favorite bands come out for a concert and add a whole bunch of other festivities for a big shebang. Of course, various films will also be screened... but the details are all still being worked out. I'd like to say that it'll be a fundraiser, but the last time I threw a huge fundraiser with bands, circus freaks, movies, beer, etc., well... I seem to recall spending four thousand dollars and only netting two thou at the door. I'm really bad at making money, so it's probably a good thing I'm programming a non-profit.

What? What he said: It's a party.

April 24: The American Astronaut (Cory McAbee, 2001).

I have, admittedly, lost track of how many times I've brought this film to my film series. But there's no way I can screen a bunch of films with beautiful black-and-white cinematography and not include this sci-fi, western and musical -- it's right up there with Brazil as one of my all time faves. Another reason for repeat screenings: we brought our own 35mm print, a new one - struck right from the lab. We first screened that new print last year, with Cory in attendance, but he was a bit unhappy with how the blacks came out. They seemed a bit washed out. So he told us he'd have another new print struck for us, one with deeper blacks. And that's what we'll screen tonight. Cory's band, The Billy Nayer Show, also has a new album out and -- hey! -- wouldn't it be great if they showed up the day before to be part of our 70th Anniversary Party? I'm crossing my fingers...

There's way more where that comes from: Go to the IFS website for a complete schedule.

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