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Review by practicing zoologist Thorn Chen

Here’s something better and a bit more terrifying than CGI monsters: the screen flashes red when Marnie, the female lead played by Tippi Hedren, sees a bouquet of red flowers in a vase. From there on, your muscles tighten every time you see a something red in the shot. It’s like hypnosis. You brace yourself for Marnie to have another panic episode. When she doesn’t you’re relieved. When she does, and the screen flashes red again, the trigger is reinforced. It’s worked. At least for the next two hours, Hitchcock has reduced us to animals, Pavlov’s dogs in particular. At the color red, we cringe with suspense.

It’s okay, though, since Mark Rutland (Sean Connery, fresh off the sets of Dr. No) is a practicing zoologist, at least he was before he took over his father’s failing business. The first time he met Margaret “Marnie” Reynolds was when she worked secretary of one of his business associates. Back then she went by the alias Marion Holland. The film begins with her cleaning out the company safe and fleeing with a yellow alligator bag tucked under her arm. She changes her name and gets ready to do it again, except that unbeknownst to her, the owner of her next target, Rutland & Co., already knows who she is. A zoologist by training, however, Mark is more curious than threatened. He is fascinated with predators, which he considers “the criminal class of the animal world.” This he tells her in his study shortly before their questionable first kiss. So he hires her and then proceeds to fall in love. Catching her red handed in larceny, he blackmails her into marrying him, only to discover that she’s cold to the caresses of men. Obviously, for James Bon–I mean for Connery’s character, this means that there’s something wrong with her, and he switches roles from lover/animal-trapper to detective/psychoanalyst. After this, the story can only get more twisted.

Marnie is a movie with manifold layers and unpredictable swerves; underneath it all lies something very traumatic. Hitchcock will show us at the end what has made Marnie a compulsive liar and thief, but the details of the mystery’s unraveling are what make the film sometimes grueling, other times touching, and more often than not unseemly in its gender politics. Connery’s character is a charming but sadistic man determined to possess Marnie and set her right. As the French critics of Cahier du Cinema once pointed out, the film is indeed all about men possessing women, something that can be gleaned from the very beginning when we see the title cards printed ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MARNIE. But Hedren’s character is perhaps more than an enigma to be solved and a case to be cured by the former zoologist. Besides for being afraid of lightning and the color red she has a strong attachment to animals and to her mother. As in The Birds (1963), mothers and animals seem to represent the same uncontrollable force. What do Marnies’ attachments mean? No doubt it’s up to the viewer to decide. In any case, Hitchcock’s characteristic precision with repeating image and rhythmic cues do bring us along for the ride. As with the other Hitchcock films, Marnie ends with the restoration of the heterosexual union, but what transpires in the middle is quite worth watching. — Thorn Chen

Thorn Chen is from New York, now in Minneapolis pursuing a PhD at the U, where he writes about Chinese educational films, reads continental philosophy, and scrounges for funds to support his coffee addiction.

MARNIE screens Monday, May 4 at 7:00 at the Riverview.  Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

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Review  by Trylon volunteer Peter Schilling

How I wish that viewers new to Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Citizen Kane, could see it without ever having heard that it was “the Greatest Film Ever Made”, as I had in my youth. In a story I’ve undoubtedly shared way too many times, I was roughly ten years old when I first saw Citizen Kane. My father hauled my brother and me to the enormous Temple Theater in downtown Saginaw, Michigan, and with a crowd of maybe two hundred (which seemed miniscule in a theater that held nearly ten times as many souls), we watched a scratchy print of Kane. It has probably been my favorite movie ever since.

This was 1978, and seeing great films meant hoping that the networks or local TV stations would set aside The Love Boat and The Six Million Dollar Man now and again to broadcast a great movie (if you were lucky you knew someone with a dynamite 16mm collection.) Unless you lived in a city that had a theater like the Temple, you just didn’t see a classic picture.

My Dad took us to see Kane after a year of watching in horror as his two children went berserk over Star Wars. In an act I’m sure he instantly regretted, he painted a pair of yardsticks green and red with black electrical tape around the handles for us to use as lightsabers (and which were great to beat each other with total impunity), and had to listen to our endless Star Wars chatter and that damned soundtrack for a whole year. Sick, no doubt, of that one and Close Encounters he finally hauled us to see Kane. As I think about this now, I honestly don’t know if he’d seen it at that point. (Considering he wasn’t born when it came out, and was undoubtedly not a staple of regular television programming, there was a good chance this was his first screening, too.)

Imagine a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old watching Citizen Kane (and I think my brother John was there—maybe not). The broken narrative, the melancholy adults that the reporter Thompson hunts down, Rosebud, the opera, the lines of beautiful women that enthralled me in the party scene—it was a lot for a kid to take in. From the weird “News on the March” newsreel at the beginning (what the hell is a newsreel?) to it’s dour ending, I tried my best to keep up. I failed… but Kane made me excited about complex films, and it was certainly the first movie that I didn’t understand but wanted to know more.

Naturally, at the time I tried to frame it around something I understood, and that was Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. Like the eponymous boy in The Little Prince (which Welles at one point adapted into an unfilmed screenplay), Charles Foster Kane is less William Randolph Hearst and so much more the young Orson, bouncing from experience to experience in his fruitless quest for true love. Here was a curious and melancholy figure, trying desperately to hold on to his childhood as he grew older. And reporter Thompson’s wandering from person to person—from Susan Alexander Kane to Thatcher’s empty marble library to the wheelchair bound Leyland—these were like the sad adults that occupied the asteroids in Saint-Exupery’s classic novel that I loved more than anything.

It wasn’t until high school and then a few times in college that I was truly able to deepen my understanding of the man Orson Welles and his incredible first feature (as a ten-year-old I checked out Pauline Kael’s The Citizen Kane Book, which didn’t help one iota). As you should know by now, Kane a strangely autobiographical film, one that examines its creator’s longing for his “lost” childhood (which included the early death of his mother and the strange caretaking by his distant father and someone who may have been his mother’s lover), but also accurately predicts his own fate—lost and nearly broke in his later years, Welles sadly came to resemble, to a degree, the old Charles Foster Kane.

Sadly, an every-ten-year poll in the British magazine Sight & Sound, ranking the great movies of history, has saddled Citizen Kane with the title of “The Greatest Film Ever Made” for almost fifty years until Vertigo (screening May 14 at the Heights Theater as part of our Hitchcock Film Festival) upended it three years ago. But really, if I were one of the critics polled, I’d include Kane on my top ten, which amounts as a vote for Best of All-Time. You can argue all you want about Kane’s status in the cinematic firmament, for me Kane is the best because of my personal connection with it… and the fact that, to this day, and after probably two dozen viewings, it remains tremendously entertaining.

So I beg you: Watch the movie, friends. Just watch the movie.

For Kane is a wonderful movie, in that it is a rollicking entertainment, not just a serious examination of loneliness and wealth, nor a collection of magnificent setpieces and daring cinematography and great, audacious performances. It is all that, the serious examination and technical hoo-hah and ACTING, but I don’t think Welles intended us to be anything but wildly entertained. That’s what he was, when he told stories on the radio, on stage, as a magician, or a director—an entertainer. Kane is by turns crazy and fascinating, hilarious and bumbling, circus-like and borrowing from the great vaudevillians, and boasts remarkable camerawork and cinematic storytelling that continue to influence movies today. It’s just a great fucking picture.

So if you plan on seeing Citizen Kane this weekend at the Trylon, try as best you can to experience the same fun you’d have if you were going to Singin’ in the Rain, His Girl Friday, or, hell, maybe even Star Wars. Citizen Kane is meant to be a great time at the movies, and you’ll get that, especially in a theater. And bring your ten-year-old—who knows, maybe one day she’ll remember it as being her favorite as well. — Peter Schilling

 

Peter Schilling is a Trylon volunteer and the author of Carl Bark’s Duck

 

CITIZEN KANE screens Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, May 3 at 5:00 and 7:15 at the Trylon.  Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

 

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Review by Trylon volunteer Dave Berglund

In the movies, first impressions are sacrosanct. Young lovers can throw their entire lives into turmoil to pursue with abandon someone they just met and we as viewers are so accustomed to this that we many times approvingly nod along without a second thought. This familiarity with the shorthand of character types, I think, is why Shadow of a Doubt is so powerful – in a cinematic age when mere appearances defined who was good and bad, loveable and loathsome, Hitchcock’s subversive masterpiece dared to present Joseph Cotten, an actor’s actor and utterly sympathetic figure, as Uncle Charlie, a manipulative, widow-killing sociopath.

The film centers on Charlie (Teresa Wright), a naïve and precocious teen with great affections for her namesake, the venerable Uncle Charlie. When she learns of an unexpected visit from her uncle, she anticipates his arrival with joy. Yet, when his suspicious behavior begins, she must decide before it is too late if her worries about him are warranted or if her imaginative inclinations are getting the best of her.

After all, this is a charming and generous fellow, and in the movies, this means he is one of us, one of the good guys. The film, thus, toys with our expectations and the doubts it casts early and often land with the dizzying force of heavyweight punches. These punches come in quick succession and by the time the film shifts to its horrifying second act, which serves as an early precursor to many slasher films to follow, we are fully off-kilter and unprepared for what is to come. This imbues the film with a timelessness that makes it exciting and disturbing to this day.

What is perhaps most striking about this film is that while it mirrors other Hitchcock classics in misdirection, it also reveals most of its secrets relatively early. In this way, the film allows its themes or faulty perception to gestate within its plot and pushes its audience to introspection. First impressions, it is clear, are not to be trusted, and life is far more complicated that we hope it to be.

Yet, the film’s most ingenious move is that while justice is in some sense found in the end, the power and significance of first impressions is allowed to survive unscathed. It is a convicting concession that the force of public consensus will silence truth. And in this is found the film’s most terrifying notion. — Dave Berglund

 

SHADOW OF A DOUBT screens Thursday, April 30 at 7:30 pm at the Heights.  Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them in advance here.

 

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Our Wachowski series wraps up Monday and Tuesday with the filmmaking duo’s most controversial effort, 2008’s Speed Racer. Audiences and critics alike waved the black flag at it on its initial release, but over the years it’s gained a small but vocal group of defenders.

To understand Speed Racer it’s important to look first to the source material: the wiggy 60’s-era Japanese import cartoon that is best known today as America’s first exposure to anime.  If you close your eyes and remember the cartoon your mind is most likely to paint it in broad strokes, because that’s all it was: big eyes, bold colors, exciting races, characters with names like Racer X and Inspector Detector.

The cartoon featured a stark world of good guys and bad guys, and that’s replicated in the Wachowski version, as Speed and his family are first aggressively courted and then menaced by the slimy Royalton racing empire. While filmed with a live-action cast (including Racer family mascot Chim Chim!), the movie keeps one foot solidly in the realm of animation. From the first moments of the film we’re immersed in an an eye-popping palette of CGI backdrops: interiors and costumes sport bold primary colors, while exterior details — trees, grass, sky — are rendered in neon bubble-gum hues.

The result is a stylized, dream-like world in which there’s no love greater than the love of auto racing, and where simple values like family and friendship can trump even the most sinister agendas.  In the hands of any other director, the temptation to give in to high camp would have been too strong. Fortunately, the Wachowskis play it absolutely straight, making this a strange and delightful cinematic homage. — Michael Popham

 

SPEED RACER screens Monday and Tuesday, April 27 and 28, at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon.  Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

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Back in the 1990s a VHS copy of  Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum kicked around the foreign film section of my local video store, but for the longest time I didn’t rent it.  The picture on the box showed the film’s protagonist Oskar (David Bennant) banging on a drum and looking demented.  I knew that you shouldn’t judge a videotape by its cover; all the same, I never seemed to be in the mood to see a movie in which a kid banged on a drum while looking demented, and so I avoided it.

The joke was on me, of course. Volker Schlondorff didn’t suffer from my rejection, I did. The truth is, no cover art could capture the mood of this brilliant and vaguely surreal film.

The Tin Drum takes place in Danzig in the years leading up to World War II. Young Oskar is born with an unnatural gift: from the moment of his birth he is keenly intelligent and self-aware.  On his third birthday he is given a tin drum as a gift, which he greatly treasures. On that same day, baffled by the chaotic world of adults, he decides to stop growing (a feat he accomplishes by throwing himself down a flight of stairs).  Oskar’s mother Agnes (Angela Winkler)  is married, but carries on an affair with her cousin Jan Bronski (Daniel Olbrychski); she later commits suicide by eating too many fish.  Meanwhile, the Nazi movement grows from a few ridiculous characters parading around town to a sinister, unstoppable force that drags all of Europe into a devastating war.

Like the VHS box in that long-gone video store, the above description doesn’t do the film justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. Harrowing and enigmatic, brutal and mordantly funny, The Tin Drum won the Palm D’Or at Cannes as well as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1979.  This is a beautifully restored DCP version that puts any VHS copy in your possession to shame. — Michael Popham

THE TIN DRUM screens Friday and Saturday, April 24 and 25 at 7:00, and Sunday, April 26 at 5:00 and 8:15, at the Trylon. You can purchase advance tickets here.