Thursday, June 21, 2012
Malcom Weintraub loves seeing, studying, reading and talking about film. For the next four weeks, he will indulge in showing them for the latest round of the Carl Cherry’s Backstory series, this one focused on late, great director Robert Altman.
“I have been a film aficionado my whole life,” Weintraub says.
It began with film classes. An early one was a film survey course he took at UC Berkeley in which the instructor called film the “only original art form of the 20th century.”
“That fudges a little bit,” Weintraub says, “because the forerunners [of film] came in the 1890s, with Griffith, the Lumiere brothers, and Melies. I consider cinema to be an art form, just like opera, literature, ballet. But it started in 20th century. That’s fascinating to me.”
Cherry Center executive director Robert Reese started Backstory four years ago to tap former film industry players who live here. Great idea. In 2008, Peter Baldwin, who directed TV shows in the ’70s and ’80s, spoke at a screening of Stalag 17 (which he acted in). Belinda Vidor Holliday spoke at a screening of silent classic Show People, directed by her father, King Vidor.
Weintraub’s previous series have shown The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang’s M, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and 2006’s The Lives of Others; most recently, Orson Welles and the dramatic films of Woody Allen.
“Now we come to my Altman series,” Weintraub says. “Four later films. His career was so long and he was really a very illustrious director.”
Altman’s reputation was golden in Tinsel Town. A former soldier, Altman had a Catholic working man sensibility that coalesced brilliantly with the independent spirit of 1970s filmmaking: complex but breezy dialogue, seemingly stray camera movements, big ensemble casts and multiple storylines. He made three films in the ’70s that were selected for preservation by the U.S. National Film Registry – MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville – and he earned an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Honorary Award.
“In the ’80s he [made] no film that was critically acclaimed or commercially successful,” Weintraub says. “But in the ’90s he came roaring back.”
Backstory gathers that substantial second phase, starting this Thursday with A Prairie Home Companion, a fictional account of the backstage shenanigans of the public radio show. In the coming weeks: The Player (Jan. 28), the 1992 star-studded satire of Hollywood that revived Altman’s career; Kansas City (July 5), a 1930s gangster period piece set in his boyhood town and scored with enviable jazz music; and Gosford Park (July 12), a 2001 British manor-murder-mystery that was showered with praise.
After the screenings come discussions with the audience about the themes of the films, the artistry… the backstory.
“The last one, the Woody Allen series, was smashing,” Weintraub says. “It went over time. People just wanted to talk.”
Music to a film lover’s ear.
BACKSTORY: AN ALTMAN SAMPLER runs 7pm Thursdays, June 21 and 28, July 5 and 12, at Carl Cherry Center, Fourth and Guadalupe, Carmel. $10/film; $30/all four films. 624-7491, www.carlcherrycenter.org