78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene @ The Ross

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I am sure you have a story to tell of the first time you saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I am sure you have a story to tell of your response to the notorious shower scene in that film. My own experience is that it messed with my sense of safety in private spaces. Hitchcock warned me that no matter how secure is a door’s lock, privacy can be invaded and there would be nothing I could do about it.

Well, Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene takes us behind the scenes of Marion Crane’s murder by Mother as she takes a shower before turning in for the evening at the infamous Bates Motel. Philippe has an impressive line-up of talking heads to facilitate the telling of his story: Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Torro, Ilyanna Douglas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Lee’s daughter, and Osgood Perkins, the son of Tony Perkins. Archival footage of Janet Leigh, the star of Psycho, as well as Alfred Hitchcock generates insight on the man behind the curtain.

One striking element to 78/52 is Philippe’s contextualization of the film. Points of reference include the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, the in cold blood murder of the Clutter family in 1959, and how the outbreak of juvenile delinquency cast an exhaustive eye on mothers. Even more important, Philippe notes a tear in the seams of 1950s idealism, in particular the changing roles of women. Something was about to give; it had to, and Philippe delivers a remarkable and incisive analysis of Hitchcock’s move into the space of that breach.

Hitchcock announced to the world of filmmaking: It is time for a change and here it is 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts later: Psycho, the murder of the movie’s female star early in the film by a cross-dresser. Enter the era of the modern film. Filmmaker Karyn Kusama notes that Marion Crane’s brutal murder is “the first modern expression of the female body under assault”, and Alfred Hitchcock left no stone unturned to render shock to the assault.

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Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double

As did Hitchcock dismember the body of Marion Crane, so do the interviewees cut apart the shower scene in the film. The shot-by-shot analysis by each of them feeds audience hunger to know more about its composition. Each analysis is remarkable, and this documentary will serve as an informative introduction to film analysis and film review. The attention to detail is astonishing. Did you know that Hitchcock ordered a horde of melons—yes, as in watermelon, honeydew, casaba, crenshaw, cantaloupe–to get the perfect sound of a knife stabbing flesh? The casaba won! Bernard Hermann, the motion picture conductor who composed the unforgettable shrieks, appears in raw footage. Yet, one of the delights in the documentary is the interview with Marli Renfro, Janet Lee’s body double. Now 79 years old, Renfro gently claims her historical significant in playing Lee’s body double. It is a joy to hear her behind-the-scenes story.

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Brigsby Bear @ The Ross

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Kyle Mooney as Brigsby Bear (James Pope)

Kidnapped as a baby from the hospital by a two science kooks, James Pope, played by Saturday Night Live regular Kyle Mooney, has lived in isolation underground somewhere USA since then. His parents, Ted, played by Mark Hamil, and April, played by Jane Adams, have assembled an animated outside world where animals and foliage appear real. Installed in the compound are secret codes that open and close doors; they wear gas masks when going outside. James’s only means of entertainment is a television show called the Brigsby Bear Adventures, and new episodes are delivered on VHS tape to him by his parents. Do you remember the 1970s television series called Spectreman and more recent Smallville? Well, add Teletubbies, Barney, and Power Rangers into the mix, hoist the moon from George Milies’s 1902 film Trip to the Moon, and you have Brigsby Bear.

Directed by Dave McCrary and written by Kevin Costello and Mooney, Brigsby Bear is a quirky offbeat film, and it envisions a world of acceptance no matter your circumstance. The FBI locate Ted and April, rescue James, and return him to his birth parents. The adventures begin as James, now 25 years old, finds friends who have an emotional and psychological investment in his project to turn Brigsby Bear into a film. For him, it is his only means of closing out his former world in isolation and embracing his new life.

Costello’s and Mooney’s story really is about using what you have in your own house to create happiness. James has memorized every Brigsby Bear episode, but with his return to his birth family, no more episodes are delivered to him. Since Brigsby Bear’s world is all James has known, Brigsby Bear is the dross material he utilizes to keep him from the brink of insanity. Strangely enough, we can credit James’s steady emotional and psychological course to the advice from his kidnapper father.

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All of Brigsby Bear’s adventures rest inside of James. This element in the story works, and sidesteps our expectation for a complete nervous breakdown by James after his capture and entry into his new life. Mooney is perfect in Brigsby Bear, playing him walking a very fine line between sanity and complete madness.

 

 

Maudie @ The Ross

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Sally Hawkins as Maudie

What is YOUR version of happiness?

Ushling Walsh’s newest film Maudie for certain will inspire you ask that question. Sally Hawkins plays Maud Lewis, the reclusive Canadian folk artist who rose to fame for her paintings of everyday ordinary life in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. Ethan Hawke plays her husband, Everett Lewis, a fish peddler. Everett meets Maud after she arrives at his place in answer to a handwritten ad he placed in the local grocery store for a live-in housekeeper. She keeps the 9 ft by 10 ft 6 house in spite of her debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and her grump of her employer, Everett.

Everett and Maud, nevertheless, dwell in the house without the usual amenities … uhm … no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity – none of these — out in the middle of nowhere where the winters are ferocious. Uh uh … there is no heat. The couple live in these conditions until Maud’s death in 1970.

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Ethan Hawke as Everett

Painting gives Maude solace, and no wall, door, cabinet, window, appliance nor activity escapes the stroke of her brush.

Walsh’s interpretation of Maud brings to audiences a woman, who, in spite of her circumstances, yearns only for her paint, paintbrushes, and a seat by the window to create.

The fame her artistry brings is of no consequence to her.  Sally Hawkins plays Maud as an artist who just happens to sell her work. Fame is nothing she seeks but Ethan Hawke’s Everett finds the discovery of Maud’s work by the outside world discomfiting. The couple, nevertheless, endure each other. Hawkins and Hawke interpret Maud and Everett as a couple wrapped up in a blanket of a rugged and weathered primitive kind of love. If either one of us could have asked Maud, or Everett for that matter, how could they have lived in such a way. Maud would have answered this is MY version of happiness.

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Brittani Minnieweather McElveen ~ The Interview

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Brittani Minnieweather McElveen. Her name stirs up the rhythm of a hip hop dance step, and a sense of distinction travels through its sound. Indeed, Brittani or “Britt” as she is called affectionately, is movingmovingmoving to the beat of her own drum—a beat that has led her from the basketball court to the center stage of the theatre.

It’s a curious progression for two reasons. First, Brittani enjoyed the thrill of the game of basketball for eight years. As an athlete, she learned strategy and how to be a team player. Curious also because as did I, Brittani comes from the same über-supportive southern community in Columbia, South Carolina. Youth were expected to excel in the vocational arts and/or go to college and, thereafter, expected to get the job with medical and dental insurance, one-week vacation (two after five years) – you know those tried and true benefits. Theatre and/or entertainment? Pshaw! No communal Elder anointed that occupation. Too unstable. Where are the benefits? Her mother, Sharon, even admitted, “All jokes aside, I was hoping she would see the light and go find a real job, and start building something of a future.”

These are tough sentiments but Brittani, with her mother’s support, managed her life stages well through discipline, focus, and training to step into her passion for theatre with a confidence grounded in her faith and, more important, love.

Want to know more about Brittani Minnieweather McElveen? Read The Interview.

What drew you to the game of basketball?

My height! Really, it all started when I was about nine years old. I played at the park, and my friends would tell me I should play basketball because of my height. So, in seventh grade, I tried out for and made the team. I played basketball year round from then until high school. When I played — from about when I was 10 years old to 18 —basketball was part of my identity as a person.

What do you like the most about the sport?

Whenever I watch a game, I always enjoy the competitive nature of it. I really appreciate how the players work as a team.The cheers, the applause, and just feeling the energy on the court … I think all of these tie into me being a team player. Plus, I see the game as a performance. Coaches push their team as a theatre director would teach me during rehearsal.

How did you grow into your own as an athlete?

As I developed on the court, I came to realize that I was a very good team player. I also felt comfortable in my own lane playing defense; I did not need to be the star because I matured into a good solid player—not a great one–but I honed my strength in the game. It worked out well.

Did you have any aspirations to play professional basketball?

No. I never thought I would play professional. By the time of my junior year in high school, I was through with basketball. In all honesty, I grew weary of it. We won some games; we lost a lot.

What were your plans after basketball?

I knew I was going to college; my mother made sure of it. I strategized how to earn a scholarship. In eighth grade, I took a couple of high school courses to get credit. Those advanced classes created in me the desire to be smart—to really go for the academics. I understood that a high GPA resulted in being in a certain percentage of your class. Also, at graduation, with a high GPA, I could wear a chord signaling academic excellence. I wanted all of those for me. So, I just did my work. I studied. My hard work paid off. I graduated from high school with a 4.1 GPA and earned a full scholarship at Wofford College [in Spartanburg, South Carolina].

Why Wofford College?

I applied to some out-of-state art schools but they offered no scholarships to cover tuition. I was happy to be accepted to Wofford because out of all of the schools I applied, Wofford stood out as one of the best schools in the southeast for academics.

Briefly sketch your first experiences/thoughts on being a college student.

I chose marketing because I wanted a practical major I believed could ensure employment after college. I have to admit, though, academics at Wofford were tough for me. I am a wiz at memorizing facts but writing papers were a challenge—it was very difficult for me my freshman year. In fact, I was put on probation and had to bring up my grades in order to keep my scholarship.

How did you turn that around?

I became good friends with Derek McElveen, a very studious guy whom I met during freshman orientation. He did not play around. We would meet and talk to each other about our dreams and goals—you know, the serious stuff. We helped each other to hone in on what we wanted to do. Sophomore year he started helping me with my papers; we studied and did homework together. College became a little easier for me because we were a focused pair.

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Brittani in Red Noses

At Wofford, you won the James R. Gross Award for Excellence in Theatre. When did theatre become your primary focus of study?

A professor by the name of Dr. Mark Ferguson, the director of Wofford Theatre, from whom I credit gaining a lot of my confidence, suggested that I double major in Theatre and Business. When I told Derek of my aspirations for acting, he encouraged me to go for them. I listened. At the end of my freshman year I joined the theatre department after audition. Needless to say, I enjoyed my time at Wofford after my freshman year. I am so fond of my junior and senior years because of my decision to change my major. My relationship with Derek was a plus. We have been married now for 5 years!

I’d rather be known as a great team player than to be known as the best one on the stage. The best one can always get a job but I want a lifetime of jobs.

You were very popular at Wofford so much that your peers voted you Homecoming Queen in 2010. What accounted for your popularity?

Well, not so much as ‘popular’ but more an acknowledgement of what I stood for. I participated in the Association for Multi-Cultural Students and Wofford Women of Color. I joined the gospel choir. I was one of twelve black young women in a class of 300. My classmates came to know me through my activist work in those groups I joined, and I joined them to address on-campus racism.

Talk more about your on-campus activism.

It was not activism in the sense of organizing protests, but activism in terms of being part of an ongoing dialogue about current issues students of color faced at Wofford. General Robert E. Lee’s portrait hangs high in a campus frat house. My freshman year, someone or a group of people hung a noose outside of a dorm. I lived in a residence hall managed by a resident assistant who is Jewish; someone painted a swastika in the hallway. Certain fraternities didn’t allow black people to come into their frat houses—stuff like that. I engaged these issues with my classmates.

What did Homecoming Queen mean for you?

I earned my crown from the student body. After my crowning, I took the crown off and thrust it at the student section. In the past, young women who belonged to a sorority or who were president of a thousand clubs won the homecoming crown. I was none of those; so my win was an important one because it signaled that the student body of Wofford voted for me. Also, being the only black young woman on the field … I represented women of color at Wofford! I cried. It meant so much to me.

When did you become interested in theatre?

It all goes back to middle school. In the eighth grade, I auditioned for and won entry into the theatre program in the Palmetto Center for the Arts, a program for gifted students. In ninth grade, I played Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie. I loved the theatre. I wanted it to be my focus at the time but had to put it to the side for sundry reasons.

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Brittani and Derek McElveen after being crowned Miss Homecoming at Wofford College 2010

Sports and Theatre carry equal weight in terms of discipline and focus for a middle/high schooler. How did you balance the two?

Well, the first year Annie ran into basketball season. I had to sit on the bench because I missed a couple of practices. After that, I worked theatre around basketball so neither one would interrupt the other. At the same time, I made sure that theatre and sports would not interfere with my studies.

What is it that you enjoy about performing?

I love the storytelling aspect. I find pleasure in moving people while I tell a story through a character who can inspire an audience as she sings and/or dances. I enjoy seeing the immediate reaction from the audience to what is being told onstage. I love the applause. Every aspect about theatre is powerful—very powerful.

How do you get into character?

I have a process. I research my character—even the play–then I determine who I’m basing the character off of. I give them mannerisms and a voice. Then I’ll conduct some research if it pertains to a show, especially a musical because musicals have to do with past performances and shows.

Is there a time when you don’t want to go onstage?

Of course. Just recently I was so tired and worn out during a performance. An actor can even get tired of doing the same show for weeks at a time—sometimes twice in one day.

Do you have a ritual or habit for taking care of your body or instrument?

Dance class is my go to for exercise; I’m trying to pick up yoga. I like to power walk on my days off. I make sure I get my rest—to not party so much. I go home.

A person aspiring for the arts does not have to go to college but I am a firm believer in education; it is vital. … Training teaches you the real world of this business.

The industry is rife with competition. How do you handle that aspect of it?

I try to go into any audition or rehearsal being very kind. I do not backstab. I do my best to not make anything negative so I have to check myself when I feel negative vibrations coming from a group or even in an audition. I don’t throw shade at other actors. I strongly believe good experiences and behaviors reap good relationships with theatres and other actors. My attitude towards my chosen profession is this: I’d rather be known as a great team player than to be known as the best one on the stage. The best one can always get a job but I want a lifetime of jobs.

Every actor has to deal with rejection no matter how talented or even well-connected she is. What are your strategies for managing rejection?

When I have what I believe to be a bad audition, I have to check myself. So one Monday, for example, I had submitted for an audition. I was sent all of this stuff having to do with the play; I felt overwhelmed because I had to find time to read it all even though I was performing and working. I didn’t get a callback and was not asked to read anything else. I was disappointed. That next day, though, I had to get it back together because I had another performance. I prayed the whole afternoon because I knew I had to keep pushing forward or I would not have been able to give my best to Tuesday night’s performance.

What keeps you motivated? Grounded?

My faith. In this field a good number of people do not believe in God but I want people to see me as a Christian. I want God’s light to shine through me and in my performances. I attend church and Bible study to strengthen my spiritual life. I listen to my gospel music; it encourages me. In life there are so many disappointments. I call on my faith and Christian principles when I experience those times.

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Brittani in ‘Thought’

What have you learned about the business of theatre?

It is the hardest of businesses because an audition and performance requires the actor to be so open and vulnerable. I am so sensitive – like super sensitive — so I have to take care of that part of myself.

Your job requires you to be there at certain hours. Does this pose a problem when it comes to auditions?

I have made so many sacrifices for my art because I had jobs that had nothing to do with my art. Now, any job I take needs to be one where personnel understands that I am a performer first and everything else second. Right now I work with other aspiring actors; so, when I have an audition, they can cover for me as can I for them.

Does your profession interfere with your marriage and vice versa?

No. Not at all. Derek and I uplifted each other during college, and we continue to do the same during this journey. I am so blessed to have him on my team. I have to say he is satisfied in his own career as a pharmacist so he’s not like ‘you’re not paying attention to me’. Some people assume that I just can do what I want to without responsibility because of Derek’s profession. That is so not true. I make sure to make my own contributions to our household; I work. After the death of my father, my mother raised me as a single parent. I witnessed her strong work ethic; I take after her. I am not one to depend on anyone to provide for me no matter the situation. We had planned to move to Atlanta after graduation because Derek had been admitted to Mercer University. Our plans changed after his early admission into the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. So, I worked in a bridal shop in Charleston while he finished up his studies. Derek and I desire for the both of us to achieve and to meet our goals.

In your opinion, is it necessary for one who aspires to work in the entertainment industry to have a formal degree in theatre? Should she enroll in a theatre program?

A person aspiring for the arts does not have to go to college but I am a firm believer in education; it is vital. It doesn’t necessarily have to be college but you need some kind of training in the field. Training teaches you the real world of this business. There is a time commitment and a way to think about your participation in theatre. Then, an aspiring artist must realize that Broadway or film may not come as soon as s/he gets out there in the field; you may find you are practicing your craft in regional theatre or as a guest on television here and there.

You are forging a theatrical career in Atlanta and not Los Angeles or New York. Why?

We moved to Los Angeles for about a month and found out we are southern babies! We love the south. Atlanta always was on our radar. By the time we moved here, Atlanta had grown into a vibrant artistic hub for theatre and film. The Alliance Theatre originated The Color Purple, and Bring It On went to Broadway. Other theatres stepped up their game.

It has been the last few years that I understand. She is an artist; this is her passion. I have to support her. I do.

~ Sharon Dreher Minnieweather, mother

What advice would you give to someone who wants to venture into a career in theatre?

Well, I look to Taraji P. Henson as a role model … as a light … She got started in the late 1990s and had her break out role in 2001 in the film Baby Boy at the age of 31. If you keep at it and you keep trying it will come to you. Stick with it. Go through the ups and downs. My advice goes for anyone at any age who wants to venture into this territory. You have to really want it because it is not a pretty business. It has more downs than up so have to really want to do it.

What is the first step?

Your first step is to go to the audition of a show you don’t really know that well but have a character where you think you can relate. The second step is to take classes and learn all you can about your craft.

 How are you feeling now … right now?

Well today I feel good because I had a good audition and I had so much going on. I had workshop of new play and web series. I feel good and accomplished next week might be different but today, right now, is a good day.

 Brittani lives in Atlanta with her husband Derek. She is currently in rehearsals for play Little Shop of Horrors with Actor’s Express to open July 15. She just wrapped Thought, a film short about a woman who becomes disillusioned after the 2016 presidential election. Thought is directed by Alfred Robbins of Bottom of the Net Filmworks. Brittani also wrote Sundays at 4, a play about the dynamics of Sunday dinner with her family after church.

 

A Quiet Passion @ The Ross

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Cynthia Nixon as poet Emily Dickinson

Miss Emily Dickinson composed almost 2000 poems from her room with a view of Amherst, Massachusetts. Her mother, Mrs. Emily Norcross Dickinson, inspired in her a love for gardening, and Miss Emily, along with her sister Lavinia, tended a host of plants in the conservatory her father Edward had built on the Homestead. She avidly read newspapers and periodicals; she waited with anticipation for the newest publications of poetry and fiction. Her favorite women writers were, among others, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Brontës, and the writings by her best friend Helen Hunt Jackson. The poems she wrote she enfolded into letters written to relatives and friends along with pressed flowers from her garden. As for her health, she experienced visual difficulties that required two six month trips to see Henry V. Williams a well-respected ophthalmic surgeon and Harvard professor. It is believed by some scholars her eye problems accounted for her desire to stay home until her death in 1886.

 

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Emily Dickinson and her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle)

None of these activities, however, are dramatized in A Quiet Passion, Terence Davies’s bio-pic on the life of American poet Emily Dickinson. Played with exquisite self-possession by Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame, Davies imagines Miss Emily as a woman encased within the boundaries of the Dickinson family Homestead—a kind of self-inflicted imprisonment. Keith Carradine plays her father Edward who grants Emily’s request to write at night. From that moment on, Emily wrote her poetry between the hours of 3 a.m. and noon, times she believed the world itself was still and silent.

In A Quiet Passion, Emily eventually avoided the social life of Amherst—that of picnics, church socials, weddings and funerals, among other social activities; instead, the poet turned to a solitary reclusive existence. She enjoyed the company of her family, and, on occasion, witty exchange of banter with her friend Vryling Buffam, played with uncompromising joie de vivre by Catherine Bailey. The bio-pic, however, fails to portray Emily’s joy for nature nor is there an impression of any pleasure emanating from Emily’s writing of her poetry nor a portrayal of her excitement over receiving the latest news.

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Catherine Bailey, Emily’s best friend played by Vryling Buffam

Nixon, nevertheless, brings forth the strength of Emily’s independent spirit as well as her drive to nurture her own sense of self.

She doesn’t unravel Miss Emily; rather, Nixon delivers with a quiet passion how the poet navigates the socio-cultural restrictions of women living in the nineteenth century in the United States. Carradine interprets Mr. Dickinson as a father who didn’t see his daughter coming. Always a bit surprised by his daughter’s display of her intellect but, underneath, Carradine’s Mr. Dickinson curries a sliver of pride for his daughter’s courage. And Jennifer Ehle is delightful as Emily’s constant and loyal sister Lavinia.

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A Quiet Passion plays through Sunday, June 4 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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My Life as a Zucchini @ The Ross

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“No one is coming to your rescue!” an acquaintance said to me once in a strident tone. This, after a personal lament over a situation that I believed held me under a spell. Needless to say, over time that acquaintance and I have uhm … ahem … lost touch, but if we still were in contact, I would gift her with Claude Barras’s film My Life as a Zucchini as soon as it was available on DVD or to stream. I’d scribble a note: Dear Acquaintance, View & Weep! There are those who do come to our rescue!”

Based on the young adult novel by Gilles Paris, My Life as a Zucchini is filmed in stop-motion animation. It is a darling of a film, and Barris breathes life into the poignant stories of round-headed owl-eyed orphaned children living in a group home.

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Raymond visits Zucchini

The main character 9-year-old Icare voiced by Erick Abbate, is called Zucchini by his mother. She deals with the abandonment of Zucchini’s father by drinking beer and watching television day in and day out. Zucchini busies himself in the attic building towers with his mother’s beer cans. One day in a drunken rage, his mother climbs the stairs to give the boy the spanking of his life after she hears noises. Then. The accident. Raymond, voiced by Nick Offerman, is a compassionate policeman who processes Icare into the foster care system.

Zucchini’s answers to Raymond’s questions uncover a boy who, in spite of his circumstances, still finds a kernel of something happy. Even though her broken family has depressed his mother, Icare loves her mashed potatoes. Sometimes, he reveals, they even have fun.

Puppeteer Gregory Beaussart and his crew have fashioned a most adorable ensemble of kids, and Barras allows them to grieve, smile & laugh, question, and even fall in love.

We all have heard horror stories about the foster care system but My Life as a Zucchini makes plain that in spite of personal trauma and no matter the chaos, some adults keep their promises; some adults really care; some friends keep watch over us; and, if we find ourselves dangling over the pit of despair, some friends will even come to our rescue.

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My Life as a Zucchini plays through March 30th at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also playing through April 6 at the Ross is A Sense of an Ending, Ruh-tesch Batra’s film about reconnecting with a lost love.

Toni Erdmann @ The Ross

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Meet Toni Erdmann (Peter Simonischek)

The lengths a father will go just to spend time with his daughter are explored in German director Mauren Ade’s film Toni Erdmann. The title of the film is not about a person by the name of Toni Erdmann and all of her or his adventures. Toni Erdmann is an alias. Winfried Conradi, a music teacher with no students, assumes the personality Toni Erdmann with the sole purpose of crashing in on the world of his daughter, Ines. After the death of his dog, Winfried, played by Peter Simonischek, longs to be more present in his daughter’s life. So, he shows up unannounced at her home in Bucharest.

Ines, played by Sandra Hahlur, has no patience for nor the inclination to grant her father’s wishes. She is a young strategist who successfully has climbed the corporate ladder; of course she is busy—always taking calls, going to meetings, giving presentations – sigh – to her father’s disappointment. What is worse she complains to her friends during lunch about how her father’s visit made for the worst weekend. So Winfried, feeling unwelcomed and unappreciated, packs up and returns home–or so Ines thinks.

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Toni Erdmann in costume

As soon as Ines turns around in a restaurant in the company of her girlfriends or looks around on the rooftop talking to her superior or at her naked-only birthday party, there he is – Toni Erdmann, bumbling around as an ex-con, a style consultant, or a German Ambassador made up with buck teeth and a shabby wig or in a bizarre costume that would scare bigfoot back to its cave. Where will Toni Erdmann appear next?

Peter Simonischek brings Toni Erdmann to a kind of crazy loopy peculiar life, and you can’t get mad at him. Every person in Ines’s life takes to him. Simonischek deftly manages his unpredictable character, and you can’t help but give over your heart to him. In fact, he is a kind of insufferable huggable lovable poppa.

When you see the film Toni Erdmann, be sure to pack a lunch or dinner; it is a long movie—almost 3 hours. And don’t count on a music score to guide your feelings—no—no violins or drum rolls here. Peter Orth, the cinematographer, lingers his camera on people; the camera outwears its welcome at parties and business meetings–even the goodbye between father and daughter is long in the tooth. Ade, however, refuses to pick up the cinematic pace; she makes you wait. The wait is well worth it.

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Erdmann with daughter, Ines

Winfried’s own reflection to his daughter on life uncovers the bright and shining gem in Toni Erdmann. What is worth living in life? Ines asked her father during one of his personality performances. In the backyard of his late mother’s house, father, without costume and daughter with no cellphone come together and alone and without distractions. Winfried finally gets the chance to answer her question. He begins, “The problem is it’s so much about getting things done … you do this or that but in the meanwhile life is just passing by. How are we supposed to The Ross logohang on to moments?  Now I just sit sometimes and remember how you learned to ride your bike. … but you only realize that afterwards … in the moment itself … it’s not possible.”

Toni Erdmann in German with English subtitles.

Jackie @ The Ross

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Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy

Funny thing about death. When it calls for a loved one be it human or pet, grief accompanies the grim reaper. You choose the casket and write the obituary and plan the services and decide on the outfit for the deceased. Everyone acquainted with the family offers their sincerest condolences at the wake. Mailboxes are overstuffed with Hallmark cards or … in today’s technological saturated world, ‘Likes’ and ‘Hearts’, and ‘Teary Man’ are checked on your Facebook page. Then. [sigh] It is all over as the last mound of earth slides from the shovel.

Let me rewind to the planning of funeral services for it is the kernel of Pablo Larrain’s film Jackie, starring Natalie Portman. There is so much to say and feel about the iconic Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. She allowed the world to mourn with her as she exhibited poise during the funeral procession of her slain husband, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963.

But have you ever wondered, exactly, what went into the fashioning of President Kennedy’s funeral? Was there any resistance to Mrs. Kennedy from the white house? If so, how did she handle it?

 

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Jackie with her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard)

Let me rewind again: Have you ever thought about the atmosphere aboard Air Force One when Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as the 36th President of the United States as Mrs Johnson and Mrs Kennedy stand-by? Moreover, aside from shock and dismay, how do the people aboard Air Force One and, later, those within the White House react to and interact with Mrs. Kennedy after the national tragedy? Does the new widow keep it together? More to the point, how does the transition take place when the Johnsons move into the White House as Mrs. Kennedy still moves about the national home planning and packing and tending to her children John John and Caroline? Pablo Larrain superbly interprets these intimate occurrences. I have studied Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy right down to the style of shoes and the brand of stockings she wore, and I can tell you this movie gets her. It is obvious – maybe too obvious — that Portman studied each jot and tittle of Mrs. Kennedy’s voice and mannerisms. At times, though, I grew weary of her feathered ‘R’s and the open ‘A’s, spoken like ‘Ah’ in her well-known breathy voice.

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Jackie with Pablo Casal (Roland Pidoux)

Larrain remarkably imagines the Kennedy-Johnson transition as one of obvious discomfort and, surprisingly, irritation. Yes. irritation. In Jackie, Larrain plays up the tenuous situation between Mrs. Kennedy, the white house staff, and the Johnsons – the majority of these scenes shot in close and tight spaces. Some want to get on with matters of the state, as does President Johnson’s confidant, Jack Valenti, played by Max Casella. He has no patience for a discussion with the former first lady about her change of funeral plans. Others seem to … tolerate … the First Lady as does Lady Bird Johnson, played by Beth Grant. Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography and Mica Levi’s soundtrack pull together the necessary cinematic accents to amplify each prickly yet sensitive state of affair. Also, the behind the scenes details of private moments whereby public events meticulously are organized evoke sheer honor and respect for place and ceremony.

Yes. There is something about death and what it requires. Pablo Larrain’s Jackie dramatizes the necessity for its closure from the point of view of a former First Lady whose children, John John & Caroline, had to plan their mother’s memorial upon her death in 1994.

 

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Jackie plays through January 26th at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also playing at The Ross through January 12 is the French film Things to Come.

Listen to the podcast:

http://netnebraska.org/interactive-multimedia/other/friday-live-extra-jackie

 

 

The Eagle Huntress @ The Ross

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 1.59.42 PM.pngWhen have you defied tradition against all odds to answer a fervent call to move into the unknown? When have you taken a leap into the abyss on a string of faith?

Documentary Filmmaker Otto Bell has made a breathtaking documentary called The Eagle Huntress. In this film, Bell focuses on a young girl named Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a 13-year-old Kazakh, who hails from generations of eagle hunters, a centuries old custom dominated by men. As she finds honor in her father’s own talents in capturing and training his eagle, she aspires to take a leap into the culture. If she is successful, she will become the first eagle huntress in her family’s 12 generations; and second in the modern history of Kazakhstan.

The Eagle Huntress is brilliant, and Daisy Ridley wonderfully introduces the true story of a young girl’s discipline and perseverance. Simon Niblett’s cinematography captures some of the most breathtaking scenes of nature in Kazakhstan, a transcontinental area in central Asia; Bell, too, gives the audience intimate access to the socio-cultural objections made by the men in Aisholpan’s community:

“This is not good”, laments one eagle hunter.

“They don’t know how to properly approach the eagle”, says another.

“Anyway, she will have to get married at one point or another”, predicts another. …

… you know, the usual suspects of doubt and protest.

But when dad and granddad consult with each other and agree to allow Aisholpan to compete in the Golden Eagle competition, the young girl hits the ground running to learn every skill necessary to realize her dream—and here is where Niblett’s genius unfolds.

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Aisholpan with her father Rys observing her captured eagle

Aisholpan’s father, Rys, instructs his daughter on the process for developing trust between her and the eagle as he prepares her for the Golden Eagle Festival. Once trust is established, the avian learns to listen to her call. One of the most heart-felt scenes is Aisholpan conversations with her Eagle after she has fed it. They must compete the next day, and amidst its cries for more food, she cautions her ward, “You might not be able to fly if you eat too much”. It calms down. I could not help but to feel a bit melancholy, however, when the eagle protests its capture from its nest but all subsides as Aisholpan meticulously cares for it.

Visions of courage abound as Bell makes sure to translate Aisholpan’s training into an adventure of reverence to a time honored tradition. You will absorb the grandeur of Aisholpan on horseback riding proudly with her eagle holding strong on her arm in the company of men.

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As I close my review, I leave you with the words of Aisholpan’s mother: “She decided on her own to become an Eagle Hunter; and I believe it is a woman’s right to choose.”

The Eagle Huntress comes back February 3 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

 

 

Booker T. Mattison ~ The Interview

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Booker T. Mattison. Filmmaker. Novelist. Screenwriter. Professor. Want to know more about Mattison? Read The Interview.

TDR:    Who named you “Booker T.” and why?

BM:     My father’s best friend is named Booker T., and dad and his friends called him “BT”. They were very close. BT was killed in a car wreck; so, when I was born, he and mom gave me the name to honor his memory.

TDR:    Your parents are from South Carolina. You spent summers there. A summer’s vacation with southern relatives is a common right-of-passage for many African American children. What were your summer experiences like in contrast to living in the big city?

I am a hyper-sensory person, so I am really plugged into how things feel, taste, and smell.

BM:     Actually being on the family land in Williamston—which is considered “the country”—well, my grandfather owned a huge amount of land there. I know the history of the people to whom he sold the land … just knowing that the entire area was all owned by my grandfather—just knowing my history and having a street named for the Mattison family name gave me an incredible sense of self. The people who came before me did incredible things—even my family. It is an awesome feeling.

TDR:    Your writerly voice is impressive. Let me read the opening lines from your novels, published by Revell in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Unsigned Hype:

Somebody’s banging on my front door and it’s rocking the house harder than the beat I’m laying down in my bedroom.

 Now, from your novel Snitch:

It’s cold tonight. So cold that if you listen hard enough, you can hear the ice that’s wedged in the cracks in the street expand and make greater fissures.

These are very visual openings. They sound. They move.

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BM:     I’m a hyper-sensory person, so I am really plugged into how things feel, taste, and smell. It gives life to my voice as an artist. You mentioned “hearing” sound in those lines, well sound is so important in how I describe experiences. While at Tisch [School of the Arts], I lived in the metropolis of New York, so I listened and watched how the city functions in the seasons.

TDR:    What contributed to your hyper-sensory perception?

BM:     It comes from being an artist and wanting to communicate with the world in any way that I can. Most of the artists I know are in tune with the senses and what is going on around them. We are aware of the affect our experiences have/had on us.

TDR:    How do you move into telling your story on the white page? What does literature do for you as a storyteller?

BM:     The dilemma of the blank page is terrifying. I do not enjoy writing—the process to get to a draft is not pleasant. This is a recent development for me that happened last spring in a creative writing class. I learned in that class, however, that it does not matter what you write, you can’t even make it great until you write it first; it doesn’t matter if it is bad … horrible.

Directing is probably … the easiest for me to do because as a director, it enables me to traffic in all of my gifts …

TDR:    As a creative writer myself, I’d like to know how do you manage the writer’s fear as you move to write on the white page?

BM:     Literature for me is fuel—knowing that when I write a product from my efforts will emerge. Really, writers have to remove the critical brain because it has no place until there is something on the white page to criticize. The rewriting … the editing … these are where and when the gems appear.

TDR:    When did stories matter to you?

BM:     I’ve always had stories in my head and worlds I wanted to shape, mold, and create. I wrote a novel when I was 9 but I did not realize it. I had characters but it was only later I was able to articulate exactly what I was doing.

TDR:    You are a novelist as well as a screenwriter as well as a filmmaker — three different media. Discuss the challenges you meet when approaching each genre. You’ve touched upon literature in the last question. Let’s continue with screenwriting …

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BM:     The goal is the same for all genres: to tell a story. The novel is a complete art form. I write, edit, and publish—there it is … it is complete–done. Notice I said “I write” because in the strictest sense it is not collaborative until you interact with an editor. As for screenwriting, it is the blueprint for the film … it’s collaborative … a team usually is involved to get that story on the screen. The story will move and morph in very different ways. Personally, it is far more difficult writing for screen than writing a novel because it is the form of writing that I have done for the least amount of time. As I keep writing screenplays, however, I am finding that I am getting better at it.

TDR:    Film …

BM:     It’s incredible to create and watch a film I have made. Directing is probably out of the three — author/screenwriter/director — the easiest for me to do because as a director, it enables me to traffic in all of my gifts: storytelling, visual, creating characters and worlds, and it gives me tools that I do not have when writing a novel or screenplay …

TDR:    Specifically, what tools?

BM:     If I want to show intimacy or a tense situation, I can use the film form called the close-up. If I want to give the audience a full range of the environment wherein my story takes place, I can pull my camera back and show depth of field which gives the expanse of a setting. I can use lighting, color, and other visual effects to enhance the images onscreen. And sound … sound is fifty percent of the movie. I can use sound to horrify and to excite; to augment and intensify the sense of sight. In other words, I can direct the audience’s emotions through sound … Being able to capture tone, mood … it’s amazing!

My work encourages and uplifts by examining dark and disturbing aspects of who we are but providing triumphant and uplifting endings that builds people up … that offers hope at the end of the day.

TDR:    The Gilded Six Bits is a short story written by Harlem Renaissance novelist Zora Neale Hurston in 1933. In 2001, you produced a film short of the same name. What drew you to Hurston?

 BM:     An African American lit course at Norfolk State; it is a rare love story from the Harlem Renaissance. I found it refreshing to read something that wasn’t dealing exclusively with racism. Had she done what all of the other Harlem Renaissance writers were doing, a degree of her uniqueness would have been lost …

TDR:    In your opinion, what made Hurston stand apart from her Harlem Renaissance contemporaries or contributed to her “degree of uniqueness” you have mentioned?

BM:     The Gilded Six Bits is a love story set in the 1930s. Typically literature from that period … the focus is on the struggle against racism and oppression in the United States; but that was not Hurston’s voice. She tells us that racism was not the only concern among African American people. Hurston was very interested in the day-to-day life of African Americans—how they lived and interacted with each other. The story, in particular, has an emphasis on the relationship between a young married African American couple living in the south. She specifically focuses on how one couple would enact forgiveness after a betrayal.

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Joe (Chad Coleman) and Missy Mae (T’Keyah Crystal Keyman) in The Gilded Six Bits

TDR:    … and what had to be forgiven … who could do it …

BM:    Exactly. Hurston takes on the power of forgiveness. People told me post-screening that a whole lot of midwives saved a whole lot of marriages. It’s Zora’s genius, really. I went back and forth through the story with calendars to figure out who fathered that baby but I realized Hurston regards love and family to be more important than betrayal.

TDR:    Were you guarded in your interpretation of the story for the screen?

BM:    I did not want to offend her fans! I plaid close attention to Zora’s voice as I read her. I wanted to “hear” her voice on the screen. At the film’s screening, I was holding my breath. Judging from the audience’s reactions, I gathered that I was true to her vision of the story and the message she wanted the audiences to take away from it.

… it doesn’t matter where you go to film school just learn the business. Learn the craft. Learn the culture–that’s equally important.

TDR:    National Black Child Development Institute recognized Unsigned Hype. To that recognition you stated, “I am called to uplift, encourage and challenge readers, but to do it in a way that is morally and ethically responsible. As a media professional, I am acutely aware of the power that media has to introduce and nurture ideas in the minds of young people. And it is these ideas that ultimately shape their worldview.” How do you see your work encouraging and uplifting your readers and viewers?

BM:     My work encourages and uplifts by examining dark and disturbing aspects of who we are but providing a triumphant and uplifting ending that builds people up … that offers up hope at the end of day …

TDR:    You earned an M.F.A. from the Tisch School of the Arts, after earning your Bachelor’s from Norfolk State University in Virginia. So you are credentialed in filmmaking. There are plenty filmmakers – successful filmmakers — who are making films without the formal college degree. How important do you deem formal education in the visual arts? Is it necessary?

BM:     No. it is not necessary. There are far too many people who are successful without the formal degree but it is helpful. Tisch has a conservatory environment, and I absolutely needed to be in a culture and setting that catered strictly to people who aspired to become filmmakers and/or already were working in the field. Formal education, I do believe, is beneficial but it is expensive! You can be so starry-eyed about a school but the financial debt has to be weighed in the decision. If you decide to go, it doesn’t matter where you go to film school just learn the business. Learn the craft. Learn the culture–that’s equally important.

Booker T. Mattison currently is Associate Professor of Film Studies at Hampton University in Virginia. For more information on Mattison visit http://www.bookertmattison.com.  

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