Archive for the Academic Category

Milwaukee Cinema Graveyard

Posted in Academic with tags , , on May 24, 2010 by leclisse

Like most bustling urban centers at the turn of the twentieth century, Milwaukee, Wisconsin was home to some of the nation’s first neighborhood movie theatres and downtown cinema palaces.  When discussing or reading about local film history, I am always struck by the unity of experiences shared by theatres and moviegoers across the country which always reflect in some form or another the trajectory of film history itself.  From film projections on white canvas backdrops in the earliest claustrophic storefront theatres to the gilded exotic shrines of stone and electric lights that populated major urban thoroughfares, the city of Milwaukee is emblematic of all these landmarks in American moviegoing.

Matt of Pink Angora fame has created a web repository of Milwaukee’s moviegoing past for a graduate class project entitled Milwaukee Cinema Graveyard.  The Graveyard is a collection of photographs and information about the city’s population of theaters, most of which have been shuttered within the past thirty years and often times the victims of razing.  The site is divided into several sections, with the individual theater pages divided between Former Theatres and Featured Theatres.  Those theatres lucky enough to be Featured are treated within an essay-length history as well as a collection of historic and recent photographs (when applicable).  In addition to the wealth of information about the theatres themselves, there is also a section showcasing advertisements from the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel for films shown in the city from the 1910s through the x-rated days of the 1970s. 

While the Graveyard pulls  much from existing scholarship about Milwaukee’s cinematic past, it offers for the first time a navigable Google map of 130 theatre sites within the city’s limits.  Viewing this for the first time, I was astounded by the concentration of theatres within the downtown area, especially along the city’s main thoroughfare, Wisconsin Avenue.  Today, only three of Milwaukee’s original stand-alone theatres currently operate as such: Times CinemaOriental Theatre, and Downer Theatre.  While none of the downtown palaces remain, I am grateful that Milwaukeeans are able to experience at least part of the city’s rich theatre legacy.  The Oriental is perhaps the best preserved of these theatres, still offering patrons something of its gilded past as a neighborhood palace.

In addition to the Google map, many of the Featured Theatres offer contemporary photographs taken by Erin Dorbin, a current graduate student in the History program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Erin has an impressive resume as a freelance photographer, and uses only film cameras for her work.  The photographs taken by Erin that are included in the Graveyard are but a sampling of her portfolio, which runs the gamut of theatres, motels, diners, taverns, bowling alleys, laundromats, and various roadside signage across the country.  She has several digital repositories for her work, all of which are linked below:

Milwaukee Cinema Graveyard is more than merely an object of local interest.  It is a mirror through which any other urban area in America may view its own cinematic past, comparing and contrasting the elements of change that have irrevocably altered the landscape of moviegoing and ultimately our relationship with cinema itself.


Latino Images in Film – A consolidated post

Posted in Academic, Festivals with tags , , on June 11, 2009 by leclisse

I meant to keep up with this thread in order to parallel TCM’s programming, but schoolwork and laziness has gotten in the way.  Instead of separate posts about the Latino films I’ve been watching for class, I thought it would be more expedient to write one post in order to get caught up.

Camila (Argentina, 1984)

Susú Pecoraro and Imanol Arias in Camila (1984) Maria Luisa Bemberg immortalizes the story of Argentina’s doomed lovers, Camila O’Gorman (Susú Pecoraro) and Ladislao Gutierrez (Imanol Arias) in her 1984 production of Camila. The film is based on the true story of Camila, a beautiful young socialite, and Ladialao, a Jesuit priest assigned to a parish in Buenos Aires.  Camila and Ladislau (who is also her confessor) fall in love and resolve to run away together, inciting a furious manhunt until they are discovered and arrested several months later.  Camila follows the historical incident very closely, but it seems that Bemberg is more interested in weaving an interesting story than in making an overt political statement; the fury of the Rosas regime is only depicted a handful of times in contrast with the sweeping narrative of Camila and Ladislao’s love.

The tone of the film acknowledges the heavy hand of political oppression in everyday life, but this does not suffocate the narrative. It is for this reason that I would argue for Bemberg’s preoccupation with relating an intriguing story rather than creating a politically cautionary tale.  The final scene in which Ladialao and Camila are executed is particularly effective. The firing squad efficiently carries out the order to extinguish Ladislao’s life, but hesistates several times before taking Camila’s. A handful of the officers even cross themselves (probably asking God for forgiveness) before firing upon her. The reluctance of the guards to assassinate Camila reflects the horror and indignation felt by the Argentinian people at the time of this event in 1848.

Miss Mary (Argentina, 1986)

Miss Mary is another film written and directed by Bemberg, this time concerning a wealthy landowning family in Theatrical poster for Miss Mary (1986)1930s Argentina.  The bulk of the action takes place before the Peronist revolution of 1945, but the story is propelled by the inevitability of this change in government.  Miss Mary stars one of my favorite actresses, Julie Christie, as the title character, a prim governess from Great Britain who arrives in Argentina under the employ of this family in order to teach the two daughters all the things that women “should be taught.”  It seems that Bemberg likes to use her films as commentaries on the social constrictions of patriarchy, and this one is no exception.  Alfredo (Eduardo Pavlovsky), the family patriarch, rules his family with an iron hand while conducting brazen affairs (most obviously with his sister-in-law) in plain view of his wife, Mecha (Nacha Guevara).  The women of the family regress into madness (I assume) because of the sexual repression that constricts them, as well as the suffocating system of behavioral double-standards. 

Not even my love for Julie Christie could do much to redeem this film in my opinion.  The dialogue was halting, which makes me wonder if Bember was just unused to directing in English rather than her native Spanish.  The direction was wooden, with the actors rarely exhibiting any semblance of emotion beyond the sort of stock reactions that the scene may have required.

For more about Maria Luisa Bemberg, The Untold Story is an excellent look at her films and private life, including a welath of information gleaned from interviews with the director herself.

Memorias del subdesarrollo (Cuba, 1968)

Sergio Corrieri in Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968)   Memorias del subdesarrollo is a classic, complicated story that follows the life of a middle-aged writer, Sergio (Sergio Corrieri), as he grapples with the meaning of the recent communist revolution in Cuba.  Memorias is clearly influenced by some of the techniques and attitudes of the French New Wave and the films of Federico Fellini (I am particularly reminded of Marcello Mastroianni’s Guideo in 8 1/2). Havana is comparable to the swinging urban centers of cinema; it is portrayed as a young city, one that is still in the “inconstant” stages of adolescence. Sergio’s inability to maintain a stable sexual relationship is perhaps one outgrowth of Havana’s environment. His relationship with Elena (Daisy Granados) is the manifestation of his aimless pursuit of pleasure and his inability to find some measure of constancy in his life.

Sergio is a passive player within revolutionary Cuba – he does not initiate substantial change in his life, beyond the fleeting dalliances he has with various women. He lets Laura (his ex-wife), Pablo (a friendly professional rival, played by Omar Valdés), and his family leave while he stays behind in Havana, unsure of what he wants to do with his life.  It is clear that Sergio has some measure of attachment to his country, just as the revolutionary writers (Castro, Guevara, Yglesias, etc.) expound upon in their prose. His most constant relationship is the one he shares with his country – he faithfully refuses to leave her shores for the United States, even though he is a lukewarm revolutionary at best. The revolution is placed in a secondary role throughout the film – we see its effects on the behavior of those around Sergio, but not so much on Sergio himself. He is aware of the change in Cuba, but he seems to roll with the punches and adapts himself to her as she evolves into the Communist nation that remains in power to the present day. 

This film really deserves its own post, and a much more in-depth analysis and commentary, so perhaps I will return to it sometime in the future.  For now, you can watch the complete film here, courtesy of Google Video:

The Mafia Mystique – The Godfather (1972) and Goodfellas (1990)

Posted in Academic with tags , , on May 22, 2009 by leclisse

The course project for one of my classes this past semester was an examination of devices and themes used by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese in their presentations of the Mafia as seen in The Godfather (1972) and Goodfellas (1990).  This project was not for a film class, but rather for Criminological Reasearch Methods – I felt that this sort of analysis would be a perfect fusion of the methdological research component with my love of classic film.  And it would also aid me in remaining at least somewhat interested in the class.

The document weighs in at 19 pages in Microsoft Word, so feel free to skim some of the more technical methodological terms if they become too insufferable.  All in all, I can say that I enjoyed working on this project because it allowed me to probe two of the greatest films ever made, as well as learn a little background information about the birth and evolution of the gangster film genre.  The infamous Hays Production Code, for instance, had a heavy hand to play in the ethnic (or lack thereof) portrayal of gangsters from the 1930’s onward, until the Code’s demise in the late 1960’s.  Even by 1972, when Coppola was preparing to film The Godfather, he was under substantial pressure from Mafia interests to tailor his depictions to their liking.

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Latino Images in Film – Yo, La Peor de Todas (1990)

Posted in Academic, Festivals with tags , on May 21, 2009 by leclisse

When TCM announced their upcoming series of Latino Images in Film, I didn’t pay much attention to the schedule because I knew I’d be busy with summer classes.  Little did I know that my Latin American History class would be based largely in film studies.  While these films will not be the same as those shown on TCM throughout the month, I thought it would still be a nice complement to the festival.  The first week has begun with the colonial period in Latin American history, and the film would chronicle the life of the revolutionary Mexican poetess, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz (1651-1695).

Maria Luisa Bemberg ’s Yo, La Peor de Todas approaches the life of Sor Juana with both an eye for historical accuracy as well as a modern feminist interpretation of convent life in New Spain (Mexico).  Bemberg’s Juana operates within a world that does not greet female brilliance with kindness or toleration, but she moves beyond this handicap as well as she can within the confines of the convent.  She finds favor with the Viceroy and his wife, which shields her somewhat from political and religious persecution, but it cannot shield her indefinitely.  Sor Juana vacillates between impertinence and self-denying humility during the film, and at times it can be rather difficult to decifer whether or not she is truly dedicated to a life of religious devotion. 

The real Sor Juana was a prolific writer and one of the most brilliant minds of her time.  This did not bode well for her life in the church, however, and she came under increasing censorship and punishment from Church officials.  It is debateable whether the Church truly broke her spirit as is portrayed in the film, but there is evidence that she continued until the time of her death during a Plague epidemic.  One of her most well-known works, “Letter to Sor Filotea,” begins, continues, and ends on a note of supreme contrition.  Sor Juana pleads, “I want to trouble with the Holy Office, for I am but ignorant and tremble lest I utter some ill-sounding proposition or twist the true meaning of some passage” (209).  She makes plain her simple desire to “become less ignorant” and displays no pretensions about her intellectual abilities.  Bemberg’s Juana assumes this position of supplication when under threat of punishment from the Church, but once free of this looming persecution she returns to her life of study.  Juana privately rages against the patriarchal strictures of the Church, and finally lashes out against the Archbishop himself.

Bemberg’s decision to interweave undercurrents of lesbianism between Sor Juana and La Virreina seems to be an attempt to clarify the intent of some of Juana’s poetry that expresses love for another woman.  The film does not explicitly portray such a relationship, but several scenes can only leave little doubt of their mutual attraction, especially when La Virreina asks Juana to remove her layered veil.  The creation of such a relationship is not beyond the realm of possibility for such a woman as Juana, who puts pen to paper with her feminism in “On Men’s Hypocrisy.”  She makes no effort to conceal her disgust with sexual double–standards, and produces an irrefutable treatise with which to combat such inequality.

The principal performances are stellar, and Assumpta Serna ‘s Juana is an engaging mixture of spiritual confusion and proto-feminist indignation at the misogyny of the Church.  The production itself is incredibly dark – I imagine this was meant to recreate not only the filth of daily colonial life, but also to lend to the mood of spiritual ambiguity.  I was struck by how Godless the Church officials appear to be – embodied in the character of the Archbishop – when compared to the spiritual simplicity of those lower on the spiritual totem pole (nuns, confessors, etc.)