So here we are at the halfway mark in the second month of the existence of the Asheville Film Society. So far we’ve run Blood Simple (1984), Rushmore (1998), The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Manhattan (1979), Twentieth Century (1934), Tetro (2009), Blue Velvet (1986) and The City of Lost Children (1995). This week we’ve got Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (2008). That’s a pretty solid list and the response has been generally gratifying.
We have a good line-up through August, which is available online at the AFS website—www.ashevillefilm.org/—all of which is open to the public and free. For members we have some special events on tap—a screening of the new Tilda Swinton movie I Am Love on July 21 and one of Neil Jordan’s Ondine on August 4—with more to come. There are also a couple of surprises in the works that I hope to announce very soon. Now, all that’s pretty swell, if I do say so, but the issue has been raised about the possibility of doing films in blocks of specific series—either by director, genre or star,
My objection to the concept at first was that the approach has the drawback of potentially shortchanging members. It’s one thing for someone to dislike a particular film selection in the course of a month. It’s quite another for someone to dislike an entire month of films. I find it personally unthinkable that anyone would dislike the prospect of a series of Josef von Sternberg movies, but I know that there are people who would. Even the suggestion that we run a series of a specific genre—screwball comedy was put forth at one point—has the same problem.
However, an alternative idea has been put forth—that we run a separate themed series in addition to the regular Tuesday screenings. That, of course, comes with its own issues—mostly based on the probability of people not wishing to set aside two nights a week for these screenings. (In many cases, it would mean three nights a week because of crossover with the Thursday Horror Picture Show screenings.) But this past week, we managed to draw a reasonable crowd for a Wednesday night showing of The City of Lost Children—one I think would have been larger had it been more widely known (it was added late in the schedule). So we’re giving serious consideration to this separate series idea—at least experimentally.
The reason I’m bringing this up here is that I’d like to open up a dialogue with the film community on the topic and this seems the best possible venue at my disposal to do such a thing. First of all, let’s look at this from a scheduling point of view. Obviously, Tuesday and Thusday nights are out. Not so obviously, Sunday night is difficult from my perspective because—well, movie reviews have to be written sometime. That leaves the rest of the week open. Wednesday worked OK once, but I’m not morbid about it being the answer.
I’d certainly consider Monday, Friday or Saturday. I suspect that Friday and Saturday might be off-putting to some of our members—especially younger ones—who view the weekend as the time for gadding about, though I’d argue that one could take in a movie at 8 p.m. and start gadding around 10 p.m.. And if that’s too late for you to gad, you folks aren’t the gadder-abouters that we were in my day. (Pardon me, while I stroke my beard in contemplation of the younger generation.) In any event, I’m opening the floor to suggestions on this matter.
The other considerations lie in the choice of material, which I wouldn’t limit to filmmakers—though that would be a focus—but would include genres and performers. Some of this seems obvious to me. I mentioned Sternberg above and his work would certainly be included at some point, but I’d also say that there are a plethora of choices that strike me as essential. Off the top of my head, I’ll throw out the ones that are undoubtedly anticipated by persons familiar with my cinematic household deities. Without thinking too deeply about it, I’d say (in no particular order) that Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, Charles Chaplin, James Whale, Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Preston Sturges, Akira Kurosawa, Richard Lester, Stanley Donen, Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau, Rene Clair, Federico Fellini, Woody Allen, Robert Altman, John Boorman, Pedro Almodovar and (yes, of course) Ken Russell are all pretty darn essential.
There are others—F.W. Murnau, Frank Borzage, Erich von Stroheim, Sergei Eistenstein, John Ford—who are in the inescapable realm. In some cases, these fellows are more essential than some of those I named in that first list. There are those who consider Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) to be simply the greatest film ever made, and that’s not a point I’d actually care to dispute, even if the idea of a single greatest film strikes me as hyperbolic.
I’d also make cases for lesser known filmmakers—like Mitchell Leisen and William Dieterle—who ought to be better known, and then there are filmmakers who, I believe, are in need of re-evaluation—Michael Winner and Peter Bogdanovich, come immediately to mind. When we ran Winner’s much-reviled The Sentinel (1977) for the Thursday Horror Picture Show, it was something of an eye-opener to see that it went over much better now than it did 33 years ago. Movies and the people who made them should, I believe, constantly be in a state of re-evaluation. These lists are not finite by any means—and I’m fully aware that I’ve included very few filmmakers who are working today. Once again, I’m opening the floor for suggestions.
And then there are genres. Screwball comedy has been suggested and I think it’s a good suggestion—and it’s also one that affords the possibility of showing something other than the usual suspects from most lists. Nearly everybody’s seen Bringing Up Baby (1938), but how many people have seen True Confession (1937), Easy Living (1937) or Murder, He Says (1945)? I could also see doing musicals—even possibly a “Musicals for People Who Don’t Like Musicals” program, since I often find that people’s idea of musicals is colored by bad experiences with musicals of a certain type. Any genre is possible, though horror might be gilding the lily since it’s pretty well represented on a weekly basis now. Still, even that if presented with less than usual choices might prove worthwhile.
Performers are another area to take into account. Comics and comedians come to mind here. People like Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Mae West, Laurely and Hardy, and Bob Hope (in his prime) certainly deserve a slot. But there are others to consider, too. I’d say Wheeler and Woolsey could do with a hearing, but I’m not sure there’s enough material available to pull that off. (I’ll work on it.) What about Will Hay? And to the chorus of “who?” I can hear in my mind’s ear, I’ll point out that Hay (no relation to the censor Will Hays—with an “s”) was the king of British comedy in the 1930s and 1940s. He might be likened to W.C. Fields (and often is), but that’s deceptive. Fortunately, most of his best work is available—at least on British imports.
There are other—not strictly comedic—choices. And there are other screen teams, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and William Powell and Myrna Loy. Iconic figures like Bogart and Edward G. Robinson are possitibilities. This goes on and on, and I’m doing this without putting in much in the way of research, knowing full well I am making major omissions that simply aren’t occurring to me. That’s partly why I want to encourage this column to be used as a springboard to an open dialogue with interested parties. So here it is—have at it.