Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Film Screening: Everything Before Us

The Winona State University Asian American Club is sponsoring a screening of Everything Before Us at 5pm on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 in Stark Hall room 120.

Everything Before Us takes place in the near future, where the government oversees all romantic relationships. The film follows the stories of an older couple who must revisit their past and a younger couple entering their first registered relationship. 

Here is the trailer:

The screening will be followed by a conversation about the lack of representation of Asians in American films.

The event is free and open to the public.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Gene Wilder Retrospective

Actor, writer, and filmmaker Gene Wilder passed away on August 29, 2016. He had a unique career and was a singular figure in American cinema. Wilder, whose birth name was Jerome Silberman, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1933. Allegedly, he adopted his stage name from dramatist Thorton Wilder, who wrote the play Our Town. Wilder got his start in show business on Broadway in the early 1960s and he acted in made-for-television specials of stage dramas including a supporting role in the 1966 version of Death of a Salesman. Upon breaking into motion pictures, Wilder established himself as a major figure in American comedy with roles in movies like The Producers, The Frisco Kid, Silver Streak, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He was also active behind the camera with writing credits on films such as Young Frankenstein and See No Evil, Hear No Evil and he directed a handful of titles in the 1970s and 80s including The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, The World’s Greatest Lover, The Woman in Red, and Haunted Honeymoon. In his later years Wilder wrote several books including three novels, a collection of short stories, and the memoir Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art, which was published in 2005.

Here is a look back at the highlights of Wilder’s career:

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Gene Wilder’s first role in motion pictures was the part of Eugene Grizzard in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. He played a mortician who is taken hostage for a short while by the Barrow gang. The role was small but important to the movie and it demonstrated Wilder’s offbeat comic style.

The Producers (1967)
Gene Wilder’s first lead role in a motion picture was in Mel Brooks’ 1967 film The Producers. Released the same year as Bonnie and Clyde, the film was a farce about a pair of Broadway producers who plot to defraud their investors by deliberately putting on a show that is guaranteed to flop. For its time, The Producers was a very crude and transgressive movie and when it was released the film received a mixed critical response. Over time The Producers has gained respectable status and in 2001 it was adapted into a successful stage musical. 1967’s The Producers was the first of several collaborations between Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, a partnership that would prove quite fruitful to both of them. The Producers was recognized at the Academy Awards with Brooks winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Wilder getting a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Blazing Saddles (1974)
Following The Producers, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder collaborated again on 1974’s Blazing Saddles. In this film an African American assumes the post of sheriff in a western frontier town. Blazing Saddles was a spoof of the western genre and especially the racism of Hollywood movies. The picture is very silly but the absurd humor is combined with a provocatively honest and very funny take on racism. The movie was especially potent at the time and after an in-studio screening some Warner Bros. executives debated whether Blazing Saddles should even be released. Even today the film’s racial humor is challenging and Mel Brooks has doubted that he’d be able to get Blazing Saddles made in today’s Hollywood system. Gene Wilder was cast in a supporting role as a deputy and he had an easy and enjoyable rapport with Cleavon Little as the sheriff. The screenplay for Blazing Saddles was co-written by comedian Richard Pryor who would collaborate with Gene Wilder on several later movies.

Young Frankenstein (1974)
During the making of Blazing Saddles Gene Wilder shared with Mel Brooks a treatment he had written for Young Frankenstein and it was their next collaboration. Like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein was a spoof, in this case a send up of the classic Universal monster movies. Wilder co-wrote the screenplay with Brooks and played the lead role as the grandson of the mad scientist from James Whale’s Frankenstein films. Wilder asserted a degree of control over Young Frankenstein that makes it distinctly different from either The Producers or Blazing Saddles. The humor of Young Frankenstein isn’t quite as loony as those titles. It’s more deadpan and it maintains a tighter control over its tone. Mel Brooks has said that although Blazing Saddles was his funniest movie, Young Frankenstein was his best made film. The quality of Young Frankenstein was due to a variety of factors but Gene Wilder’s creative influence was certainly one of them. Released in 1974, Young Frankenstein was a hit and like Blazing Saddles it is frequently cited as one of the greatest comedies ever made.

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor (1976 - 1991)
Another of Gene Wilder’s frequent collaborators was Richard Pryor. The comedian had a writing credit on Blazing Saddles and was known for his edgy stand up work. Pryor’s transition to movies was rocky but much of his best film work came in his partnership with Gene Wilder. Their first film together was 1976’s Silver Streak directed by Arthur Hiller. This movie channeled the filmography of Alfred Hitchcock in the story of an everyday guy, played by Wilder, who is caught in a murder plot while aboard a passenger train. He’s aided in his struggle by a petty criminal played by Richard Pryor. The tone of Silver Streak is all over the place with some parts madcap comedy and other parts serious action film. The radical shifts in tone shouldn’t work but they do and Wilder’s performance is the glue that holds Silver Streak together.

The actors would reteam in 1980’s Stir Crazy, 1989’s See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and 1991’s Another You. The movies Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor made together were uneven but there was something quite special about the on-screen pairing of these two performers. Like Blazing Saddles a lot their films featured some risqué racial humor. In lesser hands this would have been simply cringe-inducing but Wilder and Pryor make it cringe worthy and funny. They brought out the best in each other and their comedic whole was bigger than the sum of Wilder and Pryor’s parts.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
In today’s movie marketplace there are a lot of fantasy titles from superhero movies to animated features to adaptations of young adult novels. And although a lot of these movies benefit from today’s advanced filmmaking technology it is rare to see a fantasy that charms the audience in the same way as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The design of Wonka’s factory has such unusual spaces and features that it is an absurd and surreal place that plays to the cinematic form in a way more literal fantasy films don’t. This is enhanced. by the wonderful music score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley that includes numbers such as “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” as well as the many Oompa Loompa skits. And at the center of the movie's charm this movie is Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. Wilder always had a dark and mischievous way about him and Willy Wonka is one of the classic matches of an actor and a role. There’s nothing quite like him in other fantasy movies. Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is actually a sinister figure whose wickedness is belied by his confections and goofy outfit. In fact, the movie has a mean spiritedness to it but that’s matched by a sense of justice.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sounds of Cinema LIVE from Minnesota State Fair

This Sunday, September 4th, 2016, Sounds of Cinema will be broadcasting live from the Minnesota State Fair for the 11am broadcast on 89.7 KMSU FM. The station is broadcasting from the fair all weekend.

The show will still play as normal at 9am 89.5 KQAL FM.

Both broadcasts will include reviews of Don't Breathe and Pete' Dragon as well as a retrospective of Gene Wilder's career and include music from Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.