Saturday, April 04, 2009

Madison goes nuts about film: 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival

Thursday, March 2, 7:02 PM CST
The Orpheum Theater only looked deserted early Thursday evening because everyone was inside watching "500 Days of Summer." The film festival started off with great attendance, recession or no recession.

Thursday, March 2, 7:03 PM CSTMore typical festival crowd shot, taken across the street at the madison Museum of Contemporary Art -- the end of a long line for the German film "Jerichow." We had just come out of "The Beaches of Agnes," the amazing film by 80-year-old Agnes Varda, one of the richest, most moving (and beautiful) films I've seen in years. I'll post more about it when I get a minute -- but meanwhile, there's another showing Sunday at 1:00 PM at MMoCA. Don't miss it!

Voting for Agnes VardaThis is the Wisconsin Film Festival audience award ballot. Quick and easy -- you tear off the number you select and drop it in a ballot box on your way out of the theater. I used this one to give the highest rating to "The Beaches of Agnes" the other night.

Introductory Spot for  Wisconsin Film Festival ScreeningsEvery year, the Wisconsin Film Festival produces a short, arty introductory spot that welcomes the audience at each screening and acknowledges the sponsors of the event. This is a series of stills from this year's spot, an ironic pastiche of old, 1950s-era Wisconsin tourism and economic development video clips. Yeah, we like it here!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Spring flooding along the Rock River

Road to Blackhawk Island
This is Blackhawk Island Road the other day, at the point where it cuts under Highway 26 to reach the homes along the Rock River. This was the scene a couple days ago. It helped to have a truck. There's usually some flooding here this time of year as the river's level crests with the snow melt, and Blackhawk Island residents have learned to live with it.

So far, the flooding in southern Wisconsin is nothing like it was last year, when flood levels set modern records and there was a lot of damage. But that was later in the year, in late May and early June, mostly the result of torrential rains rather than melting snow. Meanwhile, the ground is saturated, and people are keeping an eye on the weather. The upcoming weekend is expected to be a wet one, possibly including quite a bit of snow.

For more photos, see my Rock River Flooding set on Flickr.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Vote Yes April 7 on the Garver Referendum

My Photo Helping Promote a Yes Vote on the Garver Referendum
When the Vote Yes for Garver Committee asked permission to use my photo of the old Garver Feed Mill behind Olbrich Gardens, I was happy to say yes, because I think the Common Wealth Development plan to develop the property as an arts incubator is a great idea. Vote yes on Tuesday! (Meanwhile, it's fun to see my photo sharing the page with Mayor Dave and Tammy Baldwin.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

UW Cinematheque screens Viridiana, the film that was banned in Spain for 16 years

Don't see this film if you're as easily shocked as the Vatican was in 1961. This is the infamous "Last Supper" scene from Luis Buñuel's Viridiana in which a drunken group of beggars poses for a "photograph" in imitation of Da Vinci's painting. The pose (and the nature of the "camera") were considered blasphemous back then.

Cinematheque-smViridiana was one of a number of Buñuel films shown over the weekend at my favorite Madison theater (free, but donations appreciated). It's the perfect intimate setting for watching the film treasures of the past the way they were intended, rather than on DVD (and in any case, many are not available on DVD, although Viridiana is). Some are masterpieces, while others are simply fascinating footnotes to film history. Bunuel's mordant satirical fable is much more than a footnote.

Prof-smJuan Egea, an associate professor of Spanish and Portugese at the UW, was on hand to introduce some of the political complexities and paradoxes that went into the making of the film -- the anti-Franco expatriate Buñuel's first and only film he ever shot in Franco's Spain. Although he had been promised freedom by the government, the Vatican's opposition led the film to be banned in Spain until after Franco died. Buñuel was also forbidden to enter Italy for a year. At the same time, a lot of his friends were angry at Buñuel for even working in Franco's Spain at all. The film shared the 1961 Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, giving a major boost to his later art house career after his many years working in Mexico. One irony: Buñuel did have to work with a censor during the making of the film. The censor didn't like Buñuel's ending and suggested one of his own. Buñuel accepted with alacrity. He liked it better than his own. I don't know what his original ending was, but this one is brilliant.

Viridiana is still a riveting film after all these years, at a time when it seems blasphemy has almost become a meaningless term in the West, where it's getting harder and harder to shock anyone about anything. Although the original outcry against Viridiana came from religious groups that definitely overreacted, you could say that the film really was -- and still is -- blasphemous in a different sense. It blasphemes against conventional political and moral pieties. The Cinematheque's film notes quote critic Michael Wood.
But the blasphemy is not against Christ and the Father. It is against the belief in progress—or at least the conventional sense of it—whether in the form of Jorge’s plans for improving the estate or of Viridiana’s project for improving the beggars’ lives. The beggars are not evil or the dark side of virtue. They are the unruliness of life itself, a reminder that pleasure and curiosity and appetite can always turn to destruction and violence. This is not an argument against pleasure and curiosity and appetite, or an appeal for law and order. It is a picture of a society that doesn’t understand its own needs. Buñuel’s skepticism and his sense of outrage concern the smallness of our vision of progress, our narrow attempts to achieve it through rational or moralistic planning, and our anxious disregard of the disruptive forces without which no society would be human.
After we got home, T turned to Google for more information about the filmmaker and came across this subtitled, 37-min. documentary about Buñuel made by French television in 1964. Now it's a sort of time capsule, capturing a real sense of the man and his work, as well as a time that now seems incredibly distant. Take a look.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tiptoeing through the tulips after Madison's brief spring snowstorm this weekend

Tiptoe Through the Tulips
He loves plants and sunlight. Snow, not so much. Not his thing. He was really depressed about the snow when it started yesterday afternoon. Who stole spring? Slept a lot with his paws curled up around his face. Perked up this morning, when he saw the sun was back. Came out today to check things out. Walked about gingerly, on tiptoe. Not wild about what he found.

White Blanket The snow started yesterday afternoon. It was just flurries at first, and then the pace picked up. It really looked like winter out there again. When we went to bed, the tulips were totally covered except for the very tips. By the time I took the photo this morning some had already blown away or melted.

Pretty Much Back Where We StartedAnd now, less than 24 hours after the snow started, things are almost back to normal. Up the block, there's still a five-foot snowman. But in flat areas open to the sun, the snow is all gone. Amazing what a little spring sun can do. This was taken less than three hours after the cat photo. He's a lot happier now.