Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: Buster!

As much as I’ve enjoyed trying put together a weekly film page that looks for what’s interesting rather than what’s getting the biggest promotion, commitments have forced me to scale back contribution. So I’ll continue to offer a few notes and point you in the direction of other local coverage, but hopefully I can introduce you to some events you might not have known about.

Buster Keaton in ‘Steamboat Bill Jr.’

Into the Vaults: Celebrating the Library of Congress screens 10 classic films on archival 35mm prints over four days at The Uptown and the SIFF Film Center. Kicking off the series on Thursday, July 26, at The Uptown, are a pair of silent Buster Keaton classics with live accompaniment by Donald Sosin (a long time SIFF regular at festival silent screenings). Seven Chances (1925) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) are absolutely delightful silent comedies from my favorite silent comic of them all and they don’t come around on the big screen very often. I reviewed Seven Chances for Turner Classic Movies when it debuted on Blu-ray and Steamboat Bill, Jr. just may be my favorite of his film. I’m charmed by the heart and soul of it. Keaton transforms from a foppish college dandy into a mechanical genius with a Rube Goldberg bent while battling the elements in the funniest hurricane scene ever put to film.  The series moves to the Film Center for the final three days. Full schedule at SIFF Cinema here.


Apart from The Dark Knight Rises, which apparently is such a sacred text that negative reviews are treated as offenses against the faith by some, a couple of festival films return for a regular run.

Trishna, featured at SIFF 2012, is Michael Winterbottom’s take on “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” relocated to India, with Frida Pinto in the title role. John Hartl at The Seattle Times: “Winterbottom has taken a boldly feminist approach to the story of a tragic heroine whose inherent intelligence and sense of fate is misunderstood.” Opens at the Harvard Exit.

And The Well-Digger’s Daughter, which played the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series in March, is Daniel Auteuil’s adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s novel, and a return of sorts to the author who helped kick off his career via the films Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. Richard Jameson reviewed the film back in March for Straight Shooting: “The tale is both elemental and rich, and in addition to giving a masterclass in screen acting as a patriarch at most one generation removed from peasantry, Auteuil is generous with opportunities for his fellow players….” Opens at the Varsity in the U-District.

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Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Silent Nights: Keaton and DeMille – DVDs of the Week

Chicago (1927) (Flicker Alley)

This is the first screen incarnation of the story of jazz baby murderess Roxie Hart, first created in a play by former crime reporter Maurine Watkins that hit Broadway in 1926. Ginger Rogers played her in the William Wellman-directed Roxie Hart, which took the sex and cynicism right out of it, and of course it was turned into the Broadway musical that was brought to the screen in the 2002 Oscar winner. This version, produced (and in part directed) by Cecil B. DeMille, had been all but forgotten in the meantime, at least until a print was found in Cecil B. DeMille’s private collection, but even after select festival showings it’s still largely unknown. Hopefully this Flicker Alley DVD release will help take care of that.

Phyllis Haver: Nobody jilts Roxie Hart
Phyllis Haver: Nobody jilts Roxie Hart

Former Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty Phyllis Haver is Roxie, the bleached blond jazz baby of an unfaithful wife who plugs her wealthy lover (Eugene Palette) and tells her blindly adoring hubby Amos (Victor Varconi, an all-American type in the Joel McCrea mode) that it was burglar. Unlike future incarnations, this Amos is no sap, merely deluded by love, but his illusions are quickly shattered when he recognizes the dead man and finds one of her garters in his pocket. And as the press turns it into a front page scandal turned salacious soap opera, with Roxie as the willing star, the femme fatale playing the victimized innocent with all the subtlety of a second rate stage diva playing Victorian melodrama, Amos is the hero of the piece if only for his loyalty and sacrifice. Everyone else—from Roxie to the press to the assistant D.A.—simply uses the murder for their own notoriety with mercenary focus.

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