steve martin nakedThe Trylon is proud to present the two finest collaborations between auteur Carl Reiner and his muse, actor Steve Martin. We present The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid this weekend only, a rare cinematic event that will be remembered with fondness for years to come…

Review of The Jerk by would-be Trylon regular Aaron Vehling.

You remember the one about the white man who was born a poor black child? In the 1979 Carl Reiner film The Jerk, Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, is a white man in his 30s who learns on his birthday that he is in fact not the biological child of his black sharecropper parents. He lives with a huge family in a shack in rural Mississippi. They are happy—the film opens with the family singing the folk song “Pick a Bale of Cotton” on Navin’s birthday, all full of vivaciousness on their decrepit porch. Navin, however, has no rhythm. To boot, his birthday dinner is made up of his favorites: a sandwich heavy with mayonnaise and a Tab cola. Yet Navin does not see himself as white; just as a black man with a skin color different from that of his family.

The Jerk is race humor, but it never mines controversy for laughs. There’s no Richard Pryoresque stereotype challenges here: no thugs, no drugs, and no quips in the vein of “Where the white women at?” And there’s also no blackface. Martin plays Navin simply as a naive man-child who identifies as black because he knows nothing else. (Unfortunately, Martin would take on a sort-of-blackface in the execrable Bringing Down the House in 2003, co-starring with Queen Latifah, but let’s not hold that against him.) The Jerk is more of the classic ugly-duckling circumstance.

When Navin learns of his true provenance—that a white family left his infant self on the Johnsons’ doorstep—he is saddened. He asks his mother, “You mean I’m gonna stay this color?” His mother hugs him and replies, “I’d love you even if you were the color of a baboon’s ass!” But it also makes sense to him: Navin has never fit in fully with his family. And when he hears on the radio some particularly whitebread jazz broadcasted from St. Louis, he learns that he does have rhythm, which he takes as a sign that he needs to leave the nest and become “somebody.” His family has two pieces of advice for him: “The Lord loves a working man,” and “Don’t trust Whitey!”

This turns the ugly-duckling story into a fish-out-of-water tale that takes Navin from living at a gas station run by Jackie Mason to being a carny, all while finding the love of a Joan Jett-style stunt motorcyclist, and finally marrying Marie, played by the eminently adorable and profoundly talented Bernadette Peters.

During this time, an invention he had shared with a gas station customer—a device that rests on the nose and holds glasses on one’s face—becomes nationally popular, providing Navin with millions of dollars of income. He gets his woman, an opulent lifestyle, and national fame. It appears that leaving the farm was worth it.

But this was a rags-to-riches experience built on a house of cards, like so much of what we would consider the American Dream. Soon enough, Navin loses a $10 million class-action lawsuit brought by Carl Reiner (playing himself), who alleges that Navin’s ingenious device leaves one cross-eyed. A cross-eyed judge and jury agree, and Navin loses everything, including his wife.

So The Jerk seems to end as it began: with the homeless Navin telling his story from a stoop somewhere in Los Angeles. I won’t spoil it, but it would not shock anyone to say that the film ties up the story in a heartwarming way.

The takeaway from Martin’s debut should be that The Jerk is downright hilarious, but it is also a fascinating, and surprisingly contemporary, look at race relations and economic mobility in the United States.

Aaron Vehling is a former journalist and current communications professional who loves the music of Johnny Jewel and the films of Lars von Trier. Though he’s from Longfellow, Minneapolis, he now lives in Harlem, New York, on the same block as the mansion from The Royal Tenenbaums.

The Jerk screens Friday at 7:00, Saturday at 9:00, and Sunday at 7:00. Purchase tickets here. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid shows Friday at 9:00, Saturday at 7:00, and Sunday at 5:00. Purchase tickets here.

 

narco_cultura

Sound Unseen returns to the Trylon with a hard hitting documentary about the music of narcocorridos: the extremely popular odes to the exploits of narco traffickers and drug lords of Mexico that openly glorify violence, narcotics and money. Like gangsta rap in the nineties, “Narco” is a movement threatening to burst into the mainstream. Featuring powerful and shocking footage from the front lines of the drug wars and performances from some of the hottest Narcocorrido artists (including El Komander and Buknas de Culiacan) Narco Cultura takes viewers behind the scenes of the most explosive and violent music subculture in America.

 

 

Narco Cultura plays tonight, January 8 at 7:00pm. Advanced tickets available at trylon.org.

pierrrelhomme

Considered a key film about the French reaction to the Algerian war, Le Joli Mai, or literally “Lovely May,” is also a tone poem for the French New Wave and many of its concerns, both philosophical and formal. The film’s impetus was the ceasefire between France and Algeria in 1962, ushering in a moment considered by some as “the first spring of peace”—the first time since 1939 that France was not involved in any war. The essay film Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme produced, one of the first to be shot portable 16mm camera with direct sound, is a very personal treatise on the lingering discontent and complexities as reflected in Parisian society at that moment. Although Marker was still alive when the restoration on Le Joli Mai began, he sadly passed away before it was complete. His co-director on the film, Lhomme (one of France’s most renowned cinematographers), supervised the work and the re-edit to bring the documentary closer to what Marker had originally wanted—a lasting tribute that premiered at Cannes in 2013 and is now here in the Twin Cities.

Le Joli Mai screens only twice: Monday and Tuesday, January 6 and 7, 7:00pm both nights.

It’s cold. We know. Come see a movie!

 

lavventura1Review by Trylon volunteer Patrick Vehling.

It’s been well over a decade since I last watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura, so hearing the news that the Trylon was screening a 35mm print was an exciting discovery and an increasingly rare treat due to the ongoing push for DCP (Digital Cinema Projection.)

Gorgeous black and white photography just doesn’t translate that well to digital. Those sweeping Italian vistas and beautiful people deserve to be seen in the analog realm, as originally intended.

After ten years, my recollection of the film as a whole has waned a bit. This was during a period where I’d watch at least one movie a day, something which causes me to only recall certain aspects of a certain title, similar to the Netflix TV series marathon mentality where it’s possible to watch five episodes of a series in one day and only remember certain plot points and forget the minutia. It doesn’t help that I only own L’Avventura on LaserDisc, broken up into six parts on three discs.

On a particularly cold and calm night, with lazy snowflakes drifting slowly through the air, I sat back with a nice whiskey, put side A on and watched. I was immediately enthralled and nostalgic, as if seeing an old friend. As I got up to switch to side D, something was amiss–namely, the plot, or should I say the lack of one.

Suddenly, my old friends were one-dimensional, exuding base emotions, lacking depth. I quickly realized that for these past ten years I wasn’t remembering the characters but the locations and characters’ situations, the architecture, the empty spaces, the cliffs of a rocky island, the trains, the pantyhose, dresses, suits, and the wind blowing through hair during emotional outbursts.

But that’s the point. These characters exist to explore the banal life of the bourgeoisie. They lack consequence because they don’t need to worry about money or time and can basically do whatever they want. Throughout the film, this concept is best explored by Monica Vitti’s character Claudia, to me the one person showing the most multi-faceted emotion–viewers can relate to her because she has real depth with the ability to realize consequence as opposed to Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) who seemingly exists solely to woo women.

This film, the first of Antonioni’s “space as character” period is a master class of filmmaking with amazing photography, editing, pacing and set design. The amount of effort and resolve put into each scene to match architecture, weather and clothes to the mood of the scene is breathtaking. Although the term is loosely thrown around, L’Avventura is a masterpiece and a must-see.

Patrick Vehling was raised in Minneapolis, weaned by Kurosawa, Tarkovsky and Herzog, interested in travel, linguistics, coffee, whiskey and sometimes has been known to make a film on Super 8.

L’Avventura screens Friday and Saturday at 7:00 & 9:45, Sunday at 5:00 & 7:45. Purchase tickets here.