Musicians Reunite for Soviet Silent Film

Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein is best known for his pioneering use of montage, a technique of editing together seemingly disparate images to create new connections in viewers’ minds–and in Eisenstein’s case, to drive home political messages. His groundbreaking approach in the 1920s still influences countless music videos, commercials, and films today. The weekend of July 24-26, 2015, the Trylon Microcinema will showcase Eisenstein’s 1925 debut feature film, “Strike,” the dramatic story of a strike in pre-Revolution Russia and its brutal aftermath. Select showings will feature live musical accompaniment by The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra. “Strike” showings this weekend are a reunion gig for many of the musicians playing, according to Rats and People violinist Beth Dill. Continue Reading

The Great Dictator: A movie born from Charlie Chaplin’s 1930s trip around the world

In this summer of landmark Supreme Court decisions and presidential candidates throwing their hats in the ring, it’s fitting that this July, the Heights Theater is sponsoring “The Political Circus,” a series of six classic, politically-oriented comedies. One of the comedies on the schedule holds special interest for silent film fans: silent icon Charlie Chaplin’s first excursion into sound, the 1940 film The Great Dictator. In the film, Chaplin portrays two characters: a ruthless but ridiculous dictator named Adenoid Hynkel, and a gentle Jewish barber who looks just like Hynkel. Hynkel was, of course, a thinly veiled parody of Hitler, and Chaplin’s decision to make a satire criticizing the Nazis was highly controversial, given that the United States was still trying to maintain a truce with Germany and not get embroiled in the war sweeping Europe. To gain some insight into the history behind The Great Dictator, I called up renowned Chaplin scholar Dr. Lisa Stein Haven. Continue Reading

Silent Mary Pickford Classic Brings Thrills to Heights Theater

In the mood for some good old-fashioned melodrama, with snapping alligators, quicksand, and the kind of villains you can’t help but boo and hiss? Then be sure to head to the Heights Theater on Sunday, June 14, at 7:30 pm, when the theater will screen Mary Pickford’s 1926 silent classic Sparrows from a Library of Congress 35mm print. The film tells the story of a young girl named Molly trapped at a backwoods Louisiana “baby farm,” where orphans are held captive by the merciless Mr. and Mrs. Grimes, played by Gustav von Seyffertitz and Charlotte Mineau. After Molly stands up to Mr. Grimes and threatens to run him through with a pitchfork, he drives her and the other children into the swamp, assuming they’ll die there. But led by Molly, the orphans embark on a harrowing quest for survival and maybe, if they ever make it out of the swamp, a better life. Continue Reading

Beyond Bars Reading Brings to Light Writing from American Prisons

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration on earth, with 2.3 million people imprisoned in 2013—one in every 100 adults. Yet in spite of the prevalence of imprisonment in our country, many Americans see prison inmates as very separate, an Other they find easy to vilify or at the very least forget about and ignore. On Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 7 PM at Minneapolis Central Library, writers who teach creative writing in prisons will share some of their students’ work at Beyond Bars: Voices of Incarceration, a free, public reading offering a rare chance to see past stereotypes into the hearts and minds of imprisoned writers. The Beyond Bars reading is one of a dizzying array of readings and other programs taking place in Minneapolis April 8-11 as part of AWP, the annual gathering of writers and creative writing teachers sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The AWP conference is happening in Minnesota for the first time ever this year. According to event co-organizer Peter Pearson, the Beyond Bars reading will feature student work from the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop; Hennepin County Library Outreach Services; the Women’s Writing Project in Ramsey County, the North Carolina-based program Revised Sentences; Literature on Lockdown, a regular feature from The Missouri Review literary journal, and Words Without Walls, a program based at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Other participants may be added closer to the event. Readers will include Patrick Jones, a librarian with Hennepin County, Sarah Shotland with Words Without Walls, Cody Leutgens of Revised Sentences, and Diego Vazquez, Jr. with the Women’s Writing Project. Jennifer Bowen Hicks, the founder of the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, will also read, along with writers Kate Shuknecht and Mike Alberti. It was an encounter at another AWP conference years ago that planted the seed for Bowen Hicks to start the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. Continue Reading

Chaplin’s ‘The Gold Rush’ to show as part of Walker Art Center Birthday Bash

Many of the most defining moments of Charlie Chaplin’s career come from his 1925 film The Gold Rush: Chaplin’s Tramp, hollow-eyed from hunger, eating his own shoe. The Tramp transforming into a giant chicken as his starving friend Big Jim hallucinates. The Tramp and Big Jim, scrambling to stay alive as their shack teeters on the edge of a cliff. Chaplin transforming two rolls speared on forks into a pair of nimble, dancing feet. The Gold Rush is one of Chaplin’s most fully realized expressions of lightness and darkness, comedy and tragedy—and a great introduction to Chaplin and silent comedy, too. Continue Reading

Three ways to celebrate Buster Keaton’s birthday this October

If the late, great comedy star Buster Keaton were still alive, he’d be turning a very distinguished 119 years old on October 4, 2014. In the photo above, he’s shown celebrating his birthday at the Cirque Medrano in Paris. Besides busting out some birthday cake, here are three ways to celebrate Keaton’s birthday in October, both in the Twin Cities and further afield. Be sure to see the end of this blog post for a note about a giveaway of the book Buster Keaton Interviews, published by the University Press of Mississippi. Continue Reading