Seventies Slackers, Bikers & Psychedelic Japanese Animation: All That and Much More in Our Retro Guide to the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2016 By:

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nCinephiles rejoice! Now in its 40th year, the Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) is back in bloom from Friday April 1 through Sunday April 10. ATLFF has long been known for a huge line-up of more than 200 diverse and offbeat features, shorts and documentaries from local to international filmmakers, and this year has one of its most exciting line-ups to date with some gems to warm our Retro heart.

Because it can be challenging to wade through such a wide-ranging schedule, we’ve taken the time to sort out some productions that you, our Retro readers, might particularly find of interest including a number of cult and classic revival films screening for free. We’ll also be running social media coverage and reviews of some of our favorites, so be sure to check back. And because we can’t mention everything, be sure also to check out the full festival schedule because there are lots more great films you won’t want to miss.

All screenings below are at the festival HQ at the Plaza Theatre, unless otherwise indicated. 

dazed-and-confused-movie-poster-1993-1010327275 Friday April 1

Opening night brings a red carpet of stars at the Atlanta premiere of THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING directed by Rob Burnett and starring Paul Rudd, but we know our readers will be more ready to get back to the 70s with a rare chance to see Richard Linklater‘s hilarious comedy DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) at 9:30 p.m., followed by Lips Down on Dixie as they present their extremely popular midnight 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.

DudeDesigns_FCB_WEBSaturday April 2

Things get badass crazy with the world premiere of FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (2016) at 9:30 p.m., which kicks off the MORPHINE DREAMS horror/weird series. The homegrown 1970s-style neo-exploitation feature promises to be even more over-the-top than its precursor DEAR GOD! NO! (2011) (Read our Retro Review here).  Just about everyone involved with this feature is a dear friend to ATLRetro and lots of the cast and crew will be there, including star Lawrence R. Harvey (HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 & 3), so we wouldn’t miss it even if we might have to cover our eyes once or twice. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with Director James Bickert for a pretaste of the ultraviolent insanity (WARNING: not for everyone!). Just $10 but buy in advance as we betcha it’ll sell out. Facebook event page here.

Gwilliam_Poster_11x17_v03Also on Saturday: Get your bizarro horror fix started early at Noon with THE WOOL shorts segment which includes the award-winning GWILLIAM by Kool Kat Brian Lonano and more of what the ATLFF describes as “other-worldly fibers.” 1979 (do we detect a theme here?) is the setting for GOOD OL’ BOY (12:30 p.m.), about the challenges of assimilating into a new culture for a 10-year-old boy who moves with his Indian family to an American small town and has a crush on the girl-next-door. everybody-wants-some-posterThen EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016), Richard Linklater’s new “spiritual sequel” to DAZED AND CONFUSED set in the world of 1980s college life, screens at 7 p.m. Actors Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin and Blake Jenner are scheduled to attend. Also at 7 p.m. and free with RSVP at the Hill Auditorium at The HighRUBY IN PARADISE (1993), Ashley Judd‘s film debut as a Florida girl struggling to escape her working class life and achieve her dreams during Pensacola spring break, gets a rare return to the big screen as part of a retrospective of director Victor Nunez‘s career. A PECULIAR NOISE (2015) at 7:30 p.m. (7 Stages), is a sentimental documentary of the DIY underground music scene in the college town that spawned such alt-favorites as The B-52s, R.E.M. and Pylon. Director Jorge Torres-Torres is scheduled to attend.

CcufcVTW8AER7JQSunday April 3

Festivities kick off at noon with a 25th anniversary screening of Southern foodie comedy classic FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991) (free with RSVP). If you’re hungry afterwards, for just $20, there’s a Food on Film after-party at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center from 2-4:30 p.m. CONCERTO, at 5:15 pm (7 Stages), is a documentary about brothers Christopher Rex (Principal Cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since 1979) and Charles Rex (a first violinist with the New York Philharmonic since 1981) who struggle to overcome a childhood at the hands of a disturbed but brilliant composer father. At 6 p.m., head to the Rialto Center for the Arts to revisit the explosive 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings where Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment in HBO Films’ docu-drama CONFIRMATION, filmed in Atlanta.

2012110720180322562_artikelThe second installment of the MORPHINE DREAMS series at 7:15 pm at 7 Stages, THE FORBIDDEN WORLD (2015), directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, is seriously crazed with a side of William Hope Hodgson : “A never-before-seen woodsman mysteriously appears aboard a submarine that’s been trapped deep under water for months with an unstable cargo. As the terrified crew make their way through the corridors of the doomed vessel, they find themselves on a voyage into the origins of their darkest fears.” Then rush back to the Plaza if you like crazy Japanese trippy Weird animated horror for MD#3, Eiichi Yamamoto‘s legendary BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973), a real event being that it was previous unreleased in the USA. Based on SATANISM AND WITCHCRAFT by Jules Michelet, young and innocent Jeanne is ravaged by the local lord and makes a pact with the Devil. According to the description: “The Devil appears in phallic forms and, through Jeanne, incites the village into a sexual frenzy. In a new restoration using the original camera negatives, this erotic and psychedelic trip of a film springs to life.”

CHEERLEADER

CHEERLEADER

Monday April 4

Get your dose of bubblegum, side ponytails, ’80s music and revenge in the 7 p.m. world premiere of CHEERLEADER, a witty satire of an all-American pastime.  Director Irving Franco and Producer Nathan Marcus are scheduled to attend. Then at 9:15 p.m., THE FOUNDERS goes back to the 1950s and the 13 women who fought male chauvinism to found the Ladies Pro Golf Association (LPGA). Co-Directors Charlene Fisk and Carrie Schrader, Producer Phoebe Brown and Actor Caleb Messer are scheduled to attend.

HandmadeVol6final_medTuesday April 5

At 7 p.m., the COTTON documentary shorts series at 7 Stages includes HOTEL CLERMONT, about residents of the notorious seedy and recently closed Atlanta landmark (yes, we said landmark), and THE NEW ORLEANS SAZERAC, about the quintessential Big Easy cocktail. Released first in 2005, HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS (also 7 Stages, 9:15 p.m.) doesn’t date back to the 20th century in itself, but puppetry is a Retro art, right? This handpicked selection of puppet film shorts has received tons of international acclaim and just looks friggin’ cool, plus it’s introduced by Jim Henson‘s daughter Heather Henson. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with her here.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Wednesday April 6

At 7 p.m., THE WITNESS reopens the famous Kitty Genovese murder, which 38 witnesses watched from nearby apartments and did nothing. Forty years later, her brother Bill Genovese, who was 16 at the time of his sister’s death, digs into the case and “uncovers a lie that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era.” Bill Genovese, Director James D. Solomon and Producer Melissa Jacobson are scheduled to attend.

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MANOMAN, directed by Simon Cartwright, UK

Thursday April 7

Head to the Center for Puppetry Arts at 7 p.m. for WOOD, a screening of international puppetry shorts, followed by a reception in the Atrium and free entry into the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum featuring the Jim Henson and Global Collections, which includes rare artifacts from Henson-related films such as THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982) and LABYRINTH (1986) and a selfie opportunity with Muppets Kermit and Miss Piggy.

LOA

LOA

Friday April 8

During COPPER, a special presentation by the always intriguing Contraband Cinema at 7 Stages at 7 p.m., see contemporary and classic avant garde and experimental shorts with some of the filmmakers in attendance. At 9:15 p.m. also at 7 Stages, director George Koszulinski and other members of his creative team will be on hand for a screening of the “mystical, experimental” Haitian documentary LOA about the life of the Extanta Aoleé, a local houngan or ‘Vodou man.” And ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screens again at midnight with Lips Down on Dixie audience participation floor show (see Fri. April 1).

MV5BOTA3Mjg2NDQ3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjExNTU3NzE@._V1_UY1200_CR73,0,630,1200_AL_Saturday April 9

In HUNKY DORY, at 12:30 p.m., “Sidney—an artist of many things but an extraordinaire of nothing at all—struggles to live up to the expectations of his glam rock dream.” Director Michael Curtis Johnson, Producers Tomas Pais and Jacqueline Johnson and Actor Chad Hartigan (who also directed “closing night feature” MORRIS FROM AMERICA which screens Sat. at 7:30 p.m.) are scheduled to attendAt 2:30, the GOLD documentary shorts series includes SAULTOPAL, in which Atlanta-based artist Susan Cofer invites Georgia-born filmmaker John Henry Summerour (SAHKANAGA) to spend a year documenting Saultopal, an 1100-acre farm in northwest Georgia populated by Longhorn cattle, gigantic rock sculptures and Carl, her husband in his 80th year, and TOURIST about a Vietnam vet revisiting the nation where he once fought.

41cIba3SqsL._SY355_Sunday April 10

The last day of the ATLFF is pretty Retro-kickass, we have to admit. See David Bowie live again on the big screen as the iconic Goblin King in a 30th anniversary screening of LABYRINTH (1986). Then in the much-anticipated MILES AHEAD at 2:45 p.m., Don Cheadle directs and stars as legendary jazz man Miles Davis. Not a full biopic, it centers on the period of five years in the late 1970s when Davis was holed up in his home with chronic hip pain and a fictional encounter with a music reporter which leads to a quest for a stolen tape of his most recent compositions. There’ll also be some Encore screenings yet to be announced, so keep checking the schedule if you miss a screening and/or it sells out.

Of course, these films represent just a tiny portion of the events, shorts, seminars, screenings and receptions/parties taking place. For a complete list, again 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 ATLFF, movie lovers!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Growing Up in a World of Pure Imagination: Heather Henson Talks About Her Jim Henson Connection and Sings Along with The MUPPET MOVIE to Celebrate The Center for Puppetry Arts’ 35th Anniversary

Posted on: Sep 19th, 2013 By:

Kermit, Jim Henson and daughter Heather Henson at the grand opening of the Center for Puppetry Arts, 1978. Photo credit: Center for Puppetry Arts.

When Kool Kat of the Week Heather Henson was just seven, she accompanied her famous father, Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets, to the 1978 ribbon-cutting of The Center for Puppetry Arts. Today the Center is world-renowned, and the youngest of the five Henson children is coming back this Saturday September 21 at 4 p.m. to lead an audience singalong with the original THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979), just one highlight of the Center’s 35th Anniversary Celebration (Sept. 21-23).

A puppeteer extraordinaire in her own right, Heather founded and directs Ibex Puppetry, an Orlando, Florida-based entertainment company which among other activities, produces the annual Orlando Puppet Festival, the HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS film series, the Puppet Slam Network and original environmental theatre spectacles. In that role, she’ll be teaching a Community Building Through Puppetry Workshop at the Center, too, on Mon. Sept. 23 from 7-9 p.m. She serves on the boards of the Jim Henson Foundation, the Jim Henson Legacy and the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

We caught up with Heather to find out what it was like growing up with such a creative dad, her own road to puppetry, why she’s so jazzed about her recent environmental projects and why to really feel that Rainbow Connection, you and your family should consider costuming as Muppets when you come to the Center on Saturday!

ATLRetro: Being the baby of the Henson family sounds like it has to have been a magical experience. Was your father as imaginative in playing with you as he has been in his public creative life, and do you have a favorite memory of that?

Heather Henson: Yes, he was very imaginative as a dad. We grew up in a house with a ton of crafts projects. You know, today you can get just go to Michael’s and find all these crafts projects out of a box, Michael’s didn’t exist when we were kids. We just had all these craft supplies. We had the little rock tumblers, a silk screen, an enameling oven, a weaving station and an animation station so we could do stop-motion animation. The whole basement was like a crafts project laboratory. So that was really, really, really fun.

That playpen downstairs was amazing. I do a little PowerPoint presentation called “A Daughter Remembers,” and I show some pictures from that basement. We had a set of wooden boxes that were numbered one through 10. I think he must have done them around the same time as SESAME STREET because I look at the counting films and they look so much like that. He painted them in this beautiful limited color palate of the ‘60s—I think it was pink, orange and yellow. On one side, it would have a number, and on the other side us kids got to paint whatever they wanted—animals or insects of that number. It was like one elephant, two butterflies, three horses, four cats. They were so cute. I love those boxes. Again no Michael’s, no Hobby Lobby, no IKEA.

Heather Henson promises a carnival sense of fun at THE MUPPET MOVIE singalongs. Photo credit: Ibex Puppetry.

Did you always know that you’d go into puppetry, too? Or did you ever rebel, and say, no, I’m going to be a fill-in-the-blank?!

Well, I went to college for animation. I guess in high school, I wanted to get into politics, not to become a politician but I liked international relations. I actually still do. A big love of mine is the way that different countries, different cultures come together. In high school, I thought that fell under a political science major. That was the only thing I could think of that would allow me to study other cultures other than anthropology. Right now, I do puppet shows internationally, and that’s still my favorite thing—to go into other cultures and see those relationships.

But then I guess I started college studying art. I thought for a while I could be a political cartoonist. Then I went into, no, I’ll do animation and illustrations, and I wound up right back at puppetry. It took a little bit of a roundabout way, but it’s a total circle. My final project I did in college was in animation, and then when I got out of college, I re-told the story with puppets. I actually found it was a much more satisfying process—the build process and especially delivering it to an audience. Having the live feedback of an audience and the communication between performer and audience was much more satisfying. But it came about from a very personal process. It was not like I’m the daughter of a puppeteer, I have to be a puppeteer.

Photo credit: Ibex Puppetry.

You’ve got your hands on the strings of a lot of projects from IBEX Puppetry to the boards of various Henson-related foundations. What’s one thing you’re especially excited about that you’re doing right now?

The environmental spectacle shows and trying to do them internationally. I do shows without words. We just came back from a puppet festival in Indonesia where we performed CELEBRATION OF FLIGHT, and I’m most excited to do this for an international audience in ways that are also helpful and are of benefit for the community that we go into. I try to make our shows informative about the environment but not going into someone else’s culture and being preachy.

I like to do that for my own community, too. Right now I am in Milwaukee because we are going to be presenting CELEBRATION OF FLIGHT at the International Crane Foundation gala next week. This group does a lot of education about cranes and wetlands. Crane education is really about habitat restoration because cranes need wetlands and the wetlands are being destroyed. They are advocates for the cranes, but they are really advocates for the environment. So I am presenting this show to them and to a school. That’s the work I’m really excited about—trying to do stuff that is being an advocate for the environment. If it’s at all possible that I can use my energies in that direction, that’s exciting to me.

As a child, you attended the ribbon-cutting of the Center for Puppetry Arts.

I know!

Jim, Heather and Jane Henson at the Center for Puppetry Arts opening, 1978. Photo credit: Center for Puppetry Arts.

What do you recall about that day and how does the Center fit into preserving your father’s legacy today and into the future?

I cannot recall anything about that day. I look at that photograph, and I remember the Snoopy sweatshirt that I was wearing. It was one of my favorite sweatshirts. I look at that picture, and I can see that I am wearing SESAME STREET Big Bird corduroy pants, and I remember those pants. I look at that picture and I can remember my clothes.

September 24 was my dad’s birthday. What was amazing about this story was that my dad was in the middle of shooting THE MUPPET MOVIE in LA, which was the first movie that they had. This was like his company’s ultimate creative success at this point. My dad had worked so hard pitching the Muppets to an adult audience for so long, and [THE MUPPET SHOW (1976-81)] was finally picked up in London, and as soon as it was on the air, it became a huge hit. Now he got that opportunity to make THE MUPPET MOVIE. The movie is not about THE MUPPET SHOW, which was based on vaudeville theater in London; it is about the Muppets coming together to make millions of people happy. They all find each other, and they say we’re going to work together, and at the end, they make it to Hollywood. It’s so beautiful.

So my dad was in the middle of making that movie, and that’s when the Center for Puppetry Arts opened. My dad left that movie to come to the opening on his birthday. He didn’t even tell Vince [Anthony, founding executive director of the Center for Puppetry Arts] it was his birthday.

So he thought the Center was pretty cool; it was a sure sign that he thought that something special was happening here?

Yes, he thought it was worth coming to. It’s like, oh, my God, he’s in the culmination, in such a peak in his creative career, and he stops what he’s doing and comes to Atlantato open the Center. It means he really believe the Center was an important place.

The grande finale of THE MUPPET MOVIE. Photo credit: Jim Henson Company/Walt Disney.

Coming back to THE MUPPET MOVIE, what’s your favorite part or scene and why?

It’s such a beautiful movie, by far my favorite of the lot of them. All of them have a special place in my heart, but that one I love just because how pure the message is, how clean the story is. It’s just all these amazing, idealistic people that came together, such as Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher who wrote some amazing music.

My favorite part is the ending, “The Rainbow Connection.” [The Muppets] are so excited, they’ve made it to Hollywood and they’re finally getting a chance to their movie. It all crashes down and then the rainbow comes through. It’s so beautiful.

Can you share a little bit about what’s happening on Saturday and why folks who grew up with the Muppets should attend and bring their children?

And dress up! We’ve got to tell people that they can dress up! Come dressed up as Muppets, and we’ll bring you up on stage.

We’ve found the show works so well for all audiences because the kids like it, the adults like it. We’re getting a lot of kids that are seeing it for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times people say they loved the movie as kids, and now they are bringing their kids. Sometimes the kids know SESAME STREET but don’t really know the rest of the Muppet gang. Or sometimes the parents will show the kids the movie before coming, so the kids will already know all the movie and the lyrics. It’s really funny. The parents and kids can enjoy it together. It’s a big party. It’s a big laugh. We have a really good time. We’re really loud. It’s just like a big carnival for a couple of hours. We sing and dance and just revel in the joy.

You’re also doing a workshop on Monday.

Yeah, it’s a webinar, and it’s on community engagement. Megan Boye and I are doing it together. I don’t just like making shows that are one-sided. I like doing things that are interactive. We are giving audiences things to do, to dance and sing and play. It all started with THE MUPPET MOVIE singalong, and then the LABYRINTH singalong. We’ve added this interactive element to a lot of our [IBEX’s] shows.

We have this whole show called ENDANGERED SPECIES PARADE. We book it like a show, but it’s more like we bring a whole presence to your event. We set up a musical station where kids can play instruments. We set up a tableau of all of our puppets, a display where you can walk around and see them. We set up workshops where you can make puppets. And every hour or couple of hours, depending on how often the venue wants us to do it, we do a parade where we pick up a puppet and we parade around. That type of engagement is something we now do in a lot of our shows, so we’ll talk about how we do that.

Finally, in a world of CGI, where do you see the future of puppetry as an art form? Do you have concerns or do you think it has a special quality that will keep it vibrant and sought-after?

I deal with some film and video, but right now only in my HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS film series, which is another project of mine that I bring to Atlanta to the Center for Puppetry Arts every year. In my personal work, I don’t do much film work, but when I do film it’s all about practical objects. CGI has been beautiful in a lot of areas, and my brother Brian [Henson] is really into it. I know the Jim Henson Company has invested a lot of time and money and energy into it.

I’m not that scared of [CGI] because I think also the pendulums will always swing. People are interested in new technology, but at the same time, they’re interested in real things, too. Lately I’ve been into live things, so I guess CGI has a place there, too—I guess I have seen live events with CGI creatures—but it really hasn’t come into my world that much yet. But no, I don’t have concerns. I think people are always going to want the craftsmanship of the built physical thing. There’s always a place for that because you want something real in front of you.

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Take Us Away, Oh, Goblin King, Mon Cherie Throws a LABYRINTH-themed Masquerade Ball at The Masquerade

Posted on: Jun 8th, 2012 By:
When a young Jennifer Connelly wishes that the goblins would take away her baby brother, she conjures up David Bowie in blonde ’80s mane, blue cape and exquisite pointy eye liner. “Go back to your room, play with your toys and costumes, forget about the baby ,” bids The Goblin King and then offers her a crystal, “not an ordinary gift for an ordinary girl that takes care of a screaming baby.” Thus starts LABYRINTH  (1986), Jim Henson’s second foray into fantasy with puppetry after THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982). The film, which now as an affectionate cult following fueled by lust for Bowie, is the inspiration for the Labyrinth Masquerade Ball Sat. June 9 in Heaven at The Masquerade by event planner extraordinaire Mon Cherie, grand mistress of  legendary Atlanta night club The Chamber, the Rockabilly Lounge, Va-Va-Voom Burlesque Show and lately Mad Lib-Ations Thursday nights at The Little Five Points Corner Tavern.
Mon Cherie kindly agreed to share a sneak preview of the fantastical festivities and also what else she has planned for the near future.
Why a Labyrinth Ball? 

The Labyrinth Masquerade Ball concept came from a conversation I had with Magenta Costly of The Modified Dolls.  When we met, we hit it off so well that we knew we wanted to “do something” together. Ever since I founded The Chamber, I enjoyed making people’s dreams come true and watching them beam with delight.  When I watched Magenta talk of her love of the movie and her dream of wanting to hold a masquerade ball, I said, “Let’s do it.”

Can you tell us a little more about what will be going on in terms of performers, decor, etc?
You can expect to see Flying Fairies, Goblin Kings and a Masquerade of debauchery. The performances will amaze – fire fans, aerial artists and sparks will fly with a grinder show. Belly dancers and a bit of burlesque to cap off the night.
How should attendees dress? Is it strictly fairy tale or all types of fantasy?
Since it is very important to me that everyone feels welcome at my events, I will never insist that people dress to theme, meaning nobody will be turned away at the door, if you are not in costume. That said, I hear the costuming that the guests are wearing will exceed all expectations of a true Masquerade Ball.

David Bowie as The Goblin King in LABYRINTH; Sony Pictures, 1986.

What types of masks are acceptable and what happens if someone shows up without a mask?

Also, in case guests have not found that perfect mask, I will have several mask vendors on hand, selling their wares – even have a few in the raffle.  So, I have decided to split the raffle and give away the masks early in the evening, so they can wear their prized masks for the event.
Will there be vendors and the usual Mon Cherie raffle? In other words, how much cash should we stash?
I have twice as many sponsors than I have ever had for this event.  So the prizes are twice as amazing, including Lux Deville handbags, Sacred Heart Tattoo, Jezebel Blue Hand-Crafted Jewelry and so much more.  To see the entire sponsor list follow this link to the event page:
What’s next for Mon Cherie Presents that you’d like to share?

There are a lot of changes in the Mon Cherie Camp.  I’m planning another Rockabilly Lounge for Sat. July 21, with Ghost Riders Car Club, and we are planning the next Chamber Reunion, as we speak. My most favorite new thing is Mad Lib-Ations, which we hold EVERY THURSDAY night at L5P Corner Tavern.  Where all my potty mouth friends get to mingle, network, play games and win fabulous prizes. To keep “A” Breast with my shenanigans,  feel free to visit my website at www.moncheriepresents.com.

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Retro Review: THE DARK CRYSTAL: Returning to “Another World, Another Time – in the Age of Wonder” at the Plaza

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2011 By:

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Blogger

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Conceptual Designer: Brian Froud; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Jim Henson was at his creative peak when THE DARK CRYSTAL first hit theaters the week before Christmas in 1982. His Muppets were already firmly established cultural icons thanks to over a decade on SESAME STREET, five seasons of THE MUPPET SHOW, numerous television specials and two feature films. The song “Rubber Duckie” (sung by Henson as Ernie from SESAME STREET) had spent seven weeks in the Billboard Top 40 in 1970. Kermit the Frog had even filled in for Johnny Carson as guest host of THE TONIGHT SHOW in 1979, for God’s sake. And despite the mass-market, multigenerational appeal of the Muppets, Henson’s bearded genius was still, and always would be, artistically sound. This is likely because he never considered what he did as an entertainment exclusively for children. The original producers of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE agreed and featured “adult” Muppets in their own skits during the show’s inaugural season.

Jen the Gelfling pauses in a beautiful place on his quest to restore THE DARK CRYSTAL. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

There would be additional triumphs on television and in film before his unexpected death in 1991, but THE DARK CRYSTAL stands as Henson’s greatest achievement. The movie tells the story of Jen, the world’s last hope to end a thousand-year reign of evil and bring harmony back to the universe by returning a lost shard to the cracked Dark Crystal. “Of all projects that I’ve ever worked on, it’s the one that I’m the most proud of,” he said at the time.  Sure, he probably said something similar at LABYRINTH press junkets four years later, but THE DARK CRYSTAL achieves more without the benefit of a single human performance on-screen. Not to mention the charisma of David Bowie.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rediscovering the Magic of THE DARK CRYSTAL at the Plaza Theatre with Atlanta Comics Artist Heidi Arnhold

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2011 By:

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Cover art for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL: TRIAL BY FIRE, the series' second volume written by Barbara Randall Kesel, illustrated by Heidi Arnhold and toned by Jessica Feinberg. (Tokyopop, 2007)

With the popularity of Yoda and the success of stop-motion movies like NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, it may be hard to imagine how revolutionary THE DARK CRYSTAL actually was when it came out in 1982. Long before CGI, Muppets creators Jim Henson and Franz Oz wanted to show the celluloid potential of puppetry—they even billed it as the first live-action movie with no humans on screen—and take fantasy. So they came up with a mythic tale that provocatively took place in “in the age of wonder,” in which two noble, elf-like Gelflings set out on a quest to a fulfill a prophecy that will free their world from the grip of the evil Skeksis. For the imaginative character designs, they turned to fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, with whom they would collaborate again on LABYRINTH (1986). The project was highly anticipated by science fiction and fantasy fans and won some critical acclaim, but sadly tanked at the box office.

Like BLADE RUNNER (also 1982), DARK CRYSTAL was perhaps ahead of its time and destined to gain more appreciation with age. The fantasy film is the latest in a parade of under-appreciated and cult features which the Plaza Theatre has brought back to the big screen. If you’ve only seen it on a TV screen or haven’t seen it at all, here’s a rare chance. Afterwards, be sure and visit The Center for Puppetry Arts’ museum to appreciate all the craftsmanship and detailed costuming that went into an actual Skeksis which appeared in the film.

The screening is part of the Plaza’s Art Opening and a Movie series, featuring an opening reception for the exhibit “The Small Game of Revilo,” a collection of surprising sculptures featuring whimsical and fearsome small forest animals by Brian Colin which will be on display in the lobby through July 3. Also on hand will be Heidi Arnhold, the artist of two volumes of LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (THE GARTHIM WARS and TRIAL BY FIRE), a manga graphic novel prequel published by Tokyopop and set hundreds of years before the film. She’s also drawn a manga version of STAR TREK and is one of the artists for Archaia Entertainment’s upcoming FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II anthology, out July 2011. ATLRetro caught up with Heidi to find out how an unknown artist won a professional debut as cool as DARK CRYSTAL, why she thinks the movie has such staying power, and a little bit about her affection for rabbits.

How did you get the opportunity to be the artist for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL?

When I was a senior at the Savannah College of Art (SCAD), I met Tim Beedle [former Tokyopop editor] at Editor’s Day. The Sequential Art Department hosts the event once a year and invites editors from various publishers to visit and give portfolio reviews. I made [Tim] my top priority because my style seemed best suited for them. Much to my surprise and excitement, he liked my stuff and gave me his card! I walked out of the review room clutching it in my hands like he’d just given me the golden ticket.

The evil Skesis, as drawn by Heidi Arnhold in LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

I kept in touch with Tim after I graduated in hopes that a project in need of an artist would open up. Little did I know that he was working on LEGENDS at the time, and the first artist had decided to walk. Initially Tim had intended for me to work on something else, but he needed someone to take over the book fairly quickly. One day he asked me if I was a fan of THE DARK CRYSTAL, and I thought he was just making small talk and didn’t respond right away. Shortly afterward he hinted that there was a reason he was asking me that, and I got it through my thick skull that this could be my chance to move forward in the career of my dreams. After sending him sketches and several test pages over the next couple months, I was approved! Tim told me over the phone, and I did an awkward victory dance in the back room at my workplace—thank goodness nobody was looking! And that’s how it all began.

Were you a big fan of the film already, and if yes, when did you first see it and what impact did it have on your art?

When the prospect of illustrating LEGENDS was placed on the table, I’m embarrassed to say I had yet to see THE DARK CRYSTAL at all. I missed out on many awesome things when I was younger, mostly because VHS tapes were pretty costly—or so my parents tell me—and my family wasn’t doing so great financially. I never saw LABYRINTH or FRAGGLE ROCK as a kid either. I’m very glad I was able to grow up watching shows like SESAME STREET and MUPPET BABIES at least!

Another page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

However, once I had seen the movie, I was enchanted by the characters and backgrounds. I’ve always had a connection to the fantasy genre, its whimsical elements in particular. Even before I was green lit as the artist, I could tell the world of THE DARK CRYSTAL was going to give me the opportunity to cut loose and have some fun.

Your artwork is very detailed and really makes the movie come to life in the graphic medium. How did you prepare, any funny stories and how many times did you visit the actual skeksis at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum?

Back then I was working at the UPS store, and on my slow days I used their printer to fill a binder full of Dark Crystal reference material—shhh, don’t tell them. I watched the movie over and over. I sketched from screenshots. I referenced Brian Froud’s art book [THE WORLD OF THE DARK CRYSTAL]. I coveted the days when it was quiet at work because I’d get to practice drawing Gelflings and Skeksis to my heart’s content. Skeksis anatomy turned out to be a source of frustration for me. I could not draw the Chamberlain with the correct

Artist Heidi Arnhold.

proportions to save my life. Tim was being so patient as he repeatedly tried to help me visualize how Skeksis were supposed to look. Before too long I began to have dreams about drawing the Chamberlain constantly, and I think that made something inside me die a little—I stopped sending revised drawings for a brief period after that. Tim graciously allowed me to send several test pages containing Gelflings only, claiming that I’d be able to draw Skeksis in my sleep the more I worked on the comic. Luckily, he was right!

And yes, I did visit the Center of Puppetry Arts in 2008. I remember how exasperated I was, because I wish I had gone sooner! I could actually examine the Garthim Master up close, and I understood certain details in his robes much better in person than I ever would have from a screenshot. I was kicking myself that I’d never even considered going down there earlier to use such a valuable resource.

DARK CRYSTAL was really groundbreaking in its use of puppetry in a feature film. How do you feel it holds up today and why should people come see it?

The Dark Crystal has always been such a unique film to me. It gives a fascinating insight into the scope of Jim Henson’s vision, and it redefined the boundaries of puppetry, both technologically and in subject matter. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. I think the movie sits in a specific category all its own, and for that reason it has earned a special place in cinematic history. Everyone should see it at least once!

The cover of Archaia's FRAGGLE ROCK Vol. 2, coming July 2011.

You’ve also drawn FRAGGLE ROCK for Archaia’s anthology. Is that out yet and what was that like and are those stories from the TV series or original ones?

I illustrated a lead story for Volume 2 , Issue 2—that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?—titled “The Meaning of Life,” written by Joe LeFavi, which came out in January of this year. It’s part of a three-issue run that will be collected into a hardback book in the coming months. Volume 1 is already available, and I highly recommend it! All the stories in the anthology are original, and they really hold true to the feel of the show. I think they’ll hit home with a lot of longstanding FRAGGLE fans and give newcomers a chance to fall in love with them as well.

A page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II (Archaia Entertainment)

What are you working on right now?

Currently I’m in a holding pattern to see if a project I’ve been visually conceptualizing will be picked up. The story is really fantastic, and I hope that we’ll be able to share it with everyone soon! In the meantime, I’m working on a short-term project that I’m also not allowed to talk about. I know, it’s super interesting, right? Being sworn to secrecy doesn’t make for fun interview responses.

Finally, how many rabbits do you have and have you played with them today?

I have three bunnies! Two boys, a Netherlands Dwarf and a Rex, and one girl, a Mini Rex. The boys are roommates and haven’t bonded with the girl yet, so playtime is sectioned off to different areas of the house. The boys have a room all to themselves, and my little lady is downstairs with me right now! She keeps nudging my feet while I’m sitting in my office chair, because she knows it will make me turn around and pet her. Bunnies are the BEST.

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