Spring Into Cinema: Your Retro Primer to the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 20th, 2015 By:

AFFlogoBy Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Alongside the first appearance of flip-flops and the musk of Bradford Pears, the arrival of the Atlanta Film Festival at the Plaza Theatre (and other venues) is becoming a new annual rite of Spring. Starting Friday, the AFF is bringing another year of offbeat and engrossing titles, and you can bet that ATL Retro is going to be all over it, providing coverage, features, and reviews of the best of what the festival has to offer.

For Retro-inclined readers out there, we’ve taken the liberty of targeting a few productions that may be relevant to your interests. Every screening at the AFF is likely to be a great time at the theater, but consider this your retro primer. In fact, let’s make that official:

OLD SOUTH

OLD SOUTH

Kick off your AFF experience with a little crowd participation by visiting the folks from Lips Down on Dixie as they present their extremely popular performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Although a Plaza staple for years, the show gets even better when seen with a festival crowd of fervent movie fanatics. You could even decide to see the show twice during your festival-going, if you just can’t get enough of the good Doctor Frank-N-Furter’s “hospitality.” There’s another midnight screening the following Friday. (THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW plays at midnight, March 20 & 27, at the Plaza).:

Retro is a broad category, and it can sometimes mean a state of mind. In OLD SOUTH (dir. Danielle Beverly) contemporary values collide with a damaging stereotype from the past as a college fraternity in Athens “known to fly the Confederate flag” attempts to mount an antebellum-style parade in a historically black neighborhood. The film plays with PEN UP THE PIGS (dir. Kelly Gallagher), a film described as “handcrafted, collage animation” that explores connections between old slavery and present-day racism. (OLD SOUTH plays 3/21 at 12:45 @ the Plaza)

Meanwhile, HOLBROOK/TWAIN: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY (dir. Scott Teems) explores a more positive representation of the old south. Hollywood legend Hal Holbrook’s most famous role is that of Mark Twain, who he’s performed on stage in a one-man show for most of his life. This new documentary looks into the special relationship Holbrook has with his version of Twain, and features new interviews from stars like Sean Penn and Martin Sheen discussing Holbrook’s life and legacy. (HOLBROOK/TWAIN plays 3/21 at 8:00pm @ The Inn at Serenbe Pavilion, with an encore screening on 3/29 at 4:30pm @ 7 Stages)

ThEditor

THE EDITOR

Finally, for retro horror lovers, don’t miss THE EDITOR (dir. Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy). In this Canadian comedy-horror film, a shlock film editor with wooden fingers is accused of a string of murders and must clear his name. The production comes from the demented minds of Brooks and Kennedy, two members of the ensemble who brought the world MANBORG (2011), and features genre mainstays Udo Kier (SUSPIRIA) and Paz de la Huerta (NURSE). (THE EDITOR plays 3/21 at 9:45pm @ The Plaza)

Musician Frank Morgan’s life can be used as a cautionary tale about how great talent is no defense against the traps of the world which, in Morgan’s case, manifested as a drug addiction that sent his life and career spiraling into bankruptcy and incarceration. SOUND OF REDEMPTION: THE FRANK MORGAN STORY (dir. N.C. Heikin) chronicles Morgan’s struggles beginning with the ups (when the saxophonist was considered a successor to Charlie Parker) all the way to the downs and the back again. The documentary features extensive concert footage featuring the likes of saxophonist Grace Kelly and pianist George Cables, both of whom will appear in a live performance preceding the film. (SOUND OF REDEMPTION screens 3/25 at 7:30pm @ The Rialto Theater at Georgia State University)

THE KEEPING ROOM

THE KEEPING ROOM

THE KEEPING ROOM (dir. Daniel Barber) is a Civil War drama that places the spotlight squarely on a trio of strong, Southern women in a tough situation. When their father and brother go off to fight for the Confederacy, two sisters and their slave must defend the homestead from marauding Union soldiers who are in advance of Sherman’s infamous march. THE KEEPING ROOM is a tense, claustrophobic drama that features known stars Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT), Brit Marling (ANOTHER EARTH), and Sam Worthington (AVATAR). (THE KEEPING ROOM screens 3/26 at 9:30 @ The Plaza).

Atlanta director and ATLRetro Kool Kat Eddie Ray follows up his 2011 short film SATANIC PANIC: BAND OUT OF HELL with the in-demand sequel, SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS. The sequel finds our heroes, electronic dance band who pretend to be Satan worshippers for marketing reasons, preparing for a huge band battle while their manager plots to sacrifice them to the Dark One himself. In their new adventure, the band must contend with “secret government spy missions, band rivalries, and growing egos.” Look for an exclusive interview with Eddie Ray here at ATLRetro.com next week. (SATANIC PANIC 2 screens 3/27 at 6:30pm @ 7 Stages)

BLACK SUNDAY

BLACK SUNDAY

The folks from Splatter Cinema join the festival this year with a special presentation of the Italian horror classic BLACK SUNDAY (dir. Mario Bava). Banned in the UK for years—a true badge of honor in the horror world—the film stars the immortal Barbara Steele as a witch burned at the stake who returns 200 years later for bloody revenge. Featuring memorably grotesque and frightening scenes, BLACK SUNDAY is a slam-dunk classic of the genre that is well worth the effort to see on the big screen. (BLACK SUNDAY screens 3/27 at 10:00 pm @ 7 Stages)

LOVE AND MERCY (dir. Bill Pohlad) is an unconventional biography film about the life and career of singer/songwriter Brian Wilson. The film chronicles the young Wilson’s struggles with his musical ambitions, as he seeks to throw off the “surf music” label he had become known for as part of the Beach Boys, and with his overuse of psychedelic drugs. Paul Dano (LOOPER) plays Wilson as a young man, while John Cusack (GROSSE POINTE BLANK) plays Wilson as an adult, on the other side of experiences that left him a broken man. (LOVE AND MERCY plays 3/29 at 12:15pm @ The Plaza)

LOVE AND MERCY

LOVE AND MERCY

And finally, there’s a documentary that has sadly gone retro, as one of our favorite downtown eateries is sadly no longer with us. DANTE’S DOWN THE HATCH (dir. Jef Bredemeier) is a profile of the famed restaurant and its owner, Dante Stephensen. Far more than a place you could eat fondue while watching the alligators lounge in their pool, Dante’s became a landmark for many of us an integral part of the Atlanta landscape, and this documentary ensures that legacy is not forgotten. If you missed ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with Dante about his unique decor, you can find it here(DANTE’S DOWN THE HATCH plays 3.29 at 4:30pm @ The Plaza)

Of course, these films represent just a tiny portion of the events, shorts, seminars, and screenings taking place as part of the festival. For a complete list, you need to check out the official Atlanta Film Festival Schedule. And keep an eye on ATLRetro throughout the fest for coverage on all the fun and films. Enjoy this year’s AFF, movie lovers!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Retro Review: Darkness in Daylight: The Plaza Theatre Descends into Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO

Posted on: Nov 19th, 2012 By:

VERTIGO (1958); Dir: Alfred Hitchcock; Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes; Fri. Nov. 23 – Sun. Nov. 25; Plaza Theatre (visit Plaza Theatre Website for showtimes and ticket prices); Trailer here.

If the film noir is defined by its most typical set-up—that of a doomed man swept up in events outside his control, often by a manipulative female figure—then Alfred Hitchcock’s towering VERTIGO is that most rare of films noir. It trades the genre’s high-contrast black-and-white for rich Technicolor. It places its characters not in the dimly-lit nightshade world of seedy bars, backrooms and private dicks’ offices; but in art museums, redwoods forests and the sunny streets of San Francisco. In the world of VERTIGO, the shadows of night may still hold mysterious threats, but the stark light of day reveals their constant presence all too clearly. There is, truly, no escape.

In this film, James Stewart paired with Hitchcock for their final collaboration. Stewart had long been one of Hitch’s archetypal actors. Whereas Cary Grant represented the Idealized Man in his cinematic world, Stewart was the Everyman. Grant was the go-to guy when Hitch needed a lead that viewers would either want to be or want to bed. Stewart was the guy next door, bringing a down-to-earth sensibility to his roles, and much of the attraction of him as a lead in Hitch’s films was in seeing this average Joe rise above his limitations to triumph at the end.

In VERTIGO, however, Stewart’s average Joe is taken far away from next door; his obsessions and fears exposed as he is broken beyond repair.

Stewart stars as former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, whose vertigo and fear of heights manifest in a rooftop police chase and result in the death of a fellow officer. Stricken by depression, he has retired from the force and struggles to overcome his fears. He is enlisted by an old college acquaintance, Gavin Elster, to trail his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), whom he claims has been possessed by the spirit of the long-dead suicide victim Carlotta Valdes. Scottie witnesses Madeleine attempt to kill herself by jumping into San Francisco Bay and rescues her. They then become ensnared in an obsessive and doomed romance that can only result in death, a break with sanity, or both…

James Stewart and Kim Novak in VERTIGO. Paramount Pictures, 1958.

Kim Novak perfectly essays the role of a most unusual femme fatale: manipulative without being forceful, cool and reserved yet with a barely-concealed sexuality, strong yet fragile. However, Barbara Bel Geddes (whom viewers would later come to know as “Miss Ellie” Ewing on the TV series DALLAS) is perhaps the most overlooked character in the film: Scottie’s long-suffering ex-girlfriend Midge, a bohemian clothing designer, who represents the polar opposite of Madeleine. Where Madeleine is cool, Midge is warm. Where Madeleine is perfectly poised and elegant, Midge is natural and almost frumpily grounded. And where Madeleine represents everything that will tear down Scottie, Midge represents that lost potential for true happiness. Madeleine may be an impossible ideal, but Midge is real, there, now. And her love and devotion to Scottie may be the only path for his salvation, but how can he see that path with the dream that is Madeleine beckoning him from just beyond his reach?

The film was a critical and commercial failure upon release. Some felt it was too long and too complicated for a simple psychological mystery. Hitchcock believed that James Stewart’s age was a factor in the film’s failure, and replaced him with Cary Grant in the following year’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST (four years older than Stewart, true, but eternally youthful). Many, however, were disappointed that this movie was not another romantic mystery along the lines of 1956’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. In fact, the mystery is practically subservient to the film’s depiction of obsession—it’s solved two thirds of the way through the movie. Hitchcock often referenced the term “MacGuffin”: the mechanical element that sets a story into motion, yet which is ultimately unimportant to the plot’s progression. In John Huston’s 1941 film THE MALTESE FALCON, for instance, it’s the titular sculpture. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST, it’s a cache of microfilm. In the case of VERTIGO, it’s the mystery itself. The whys and wherefores of how Scottie has become obsessed with Madeleine are not important; his fears and obsessions are, instead, the focal point, and how they emerge and re-emerge during the course of the story are what carries us along the inevitable path to the film’s particularly noir conclusion.

However it was dismissed in the past, in more recent years VERTIGO has been reevaluated. Beginning with Robin Wood’s seminal 1965 work HITCHCOCK’S FILMS, critics have paid closer attention to the film and what it attempts to accomplish. Many have come to regard the film in retrospect as Hitch’s most personal work: a fully-realized exploration of his own obsession with a particular “type” of woman, embodied in Grace Kelly, and his need to craft the images of his actresses to fit this particular model. This was an obsession, as depicted in Donald Spoto’s THE DARK SIDE OF GENIUS and the HBO original film THE GIRL, which would be ultimately destructive to his professional relationships with women. But despite the speculative personal aspect of VERTIGO, most have come to realize that as a film on its own merits, that it stands as a masterpiece. Indeed, it has topped the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll as the greatest film ever made.

VERTIGO’s relative failure at the time meant that preservation wasn’t as much of an issue. Thankfully, the film was meticulously restored by film historian Robert A. Harris and his team, using materials ranging from the original camera negatives (which Harris notes “looked hideous”), to damaged black-and-white color separation masters, to fuzzy film prints as many as eight generations removed from the original negatives. Using all of the materials at their disposal (including a preserved green paint sample from a model of car featured in the film which was utilized for color timing), Harris and company worked miracles, producing an almost immaculate presentation of what many consider Hitchcock’s true masterpiece.

To see such an important film, preserved and restored so well, presented on the big screen is a treat to be savored by any film fan, whether casual or hardcore. And this treat is available at the Plaza Theatre for one weekend only. Some things simply should not be missed. Don’t let this one pass you by.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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