Buffalo Film Seminars Announces Spring Lineup

Epic biographical film "Napoleon" to kick off 12th edition of popular film series

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: January 9, 2006

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A nearly four-hour cut of the ambitious biopic "Napoleon" will open the 12th edition of the Buffalo Film Seminars, a semester-long series of screenings and discussions sponsored by the University at Buffalo and the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center.

The series will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, beginning Jan. 17, in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, 639 Main St., in downtown Buffalo. Hosting the series are Diane Christian, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of English, UB College of Arts and Sciences, and Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture in the departments of American studies and English.

Christian and Jackson will introduce each film and, following a short break at the end of the screening, lead a discussion of the film.

This semester the series will feature a screening of the silent film "The Goddess," available only in restored DVD format. The film's presentation is possible due to a grant from The Margaret L. Wendt and Baird foundations, whose contribution enabled the installation of a theater-quality, digital-projection system at the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center. In general, films are shown in 16-mm or 35-mm format.

Pianist Philip Carli will perform accompaniment to "The Goddess."

Buffalo Film Seminars is part of Contemporary Cinema, an undergraduate course taught by Jackson and Christian. The screenings also are open to the public at a cost of $8 for regular admission, $6 for students and $5.50 for those 62 and over. Season tickets are available any time at a 15 percent reduction for the cost of the remaining films.

Non-student participation in the series runs at about 300 people per screening, with about half remaining for the discussion.

Free parking is available in the M&T fenced lot opposite the theater's Washington Street entrance. The ticket clerk in the theater will reimburse patrons the $2 parking fee.

The schedule, with descriptions culled from the IMDb online movie database, http://www.filmsite.org and http://www.greatfilms.com:

• Jan. 17: "Napoleon," 1927, directed by Abel Gance. Follows the life of Napoleon Bonaparte from childhood, through his flight from Corsica, the French Revolution and the Terror, and cumulates in his triumphant invasion of Italy in 1797. With a full run time of six hours, the silent film was to be one of six installments. However, Gance was unable to raise the funds to complete the project. "Napoleon" has a legendary reputation due to the large range of techniques the director employs, including a 20-minute "triptych" sequence, which alternates widescreen panoramas with complex, multiple-image montages. (The film series features a 235-minute version with a musical soundtrack.)

• Jan. 24: "The Goddess," 1934, directed by Wu Yonggang. A silent film created during the golden age of Chinese cinema and the freshman work of acclaimed director Wu Yonggang. The heroine (Ruan Ling-yu) is a Shanghai woman forced into prostitution to support and educate her son. The film captures the misery and hopelessness in China at the time and was remarkable for its compassionate portrayal of a prostitute. The film uses montage to capture Shanghai at night.

• Jan. 31: "The Murderers are Among Us," 1946, Wolfgang Staudte. In one of the first films produced in Germany dealing with Nazi atrocities, a women returns to the ruins of post-WWII Berlin from a concentration camp and becomes involved with a doctor who was employed in the death camps. She persuades him to blow the whistle on a Nazi official who was involved in mass executions committed at the camps.

• Feb. 7: "The Seven Samurai," 1954, Akira Kurosawa. In chaotic 16th-century Japan, a village hires seven samurai as protection from marauders. The samurai fight invaders and train the people to protect themselves. The film cumulates in a giant battle scene, but is known for skillful characterization and artistry, as well as action. It had significant influence on the Western and action-film genres.

• Feb. 14: "Inherit the Wind," 1960, Stanley Kramer. Based on the famous 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial," the film centers on two fictionalized prosecutors -- modeled after Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant -- and the trial of a high-school biology teacher charged with teaching evolution in a state-funded school in Tennessee. Courtroom-debate dialogue was based on transcripts from the actual trial. The film was honored with four Academy Award nominations.

• Feb. 21: "The Battle of Algiers," 1965, Gillo Pontecorvo. The Algerian government commissioned this film about the nation's struggle for independence in which French Foreign Legion troops, still reeling after Vietnam, clashed violently with Algerian revolutionaries. The director is careful to depict both sides of the conflict and does not elevate one side over the other. A scorching and unblinking depiction of the horrors of war, the film won wide acclaim and numerous international awards.

• Feb. 28: "Point Blank," 1967, John Boorman. Considered a minor genre release in the 1960s, time has revealed this film as a gangster movie elevated through a complex narrative structure -- involving flashbacks and jumps in time -- with pulsing tension and unusual depth. The director succeeds at capturing the glossy, depersonalized feel of 1960s Los Angeles. The film is based on Richard Stark's novel "The Hunter," and centers on a loner gunman out for revenge against a large, impersonal organization that left him for dead.

• March 7: "A Man for All Seasons," 1966, Fred Zinnemann. The story of Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, who stood up to King Henry VIII after he rejected the Roman Catholic Church to obtain a divorce and remarriage. More is depicted as a man of principle who refuses to bend to the demands of the monarch. Paul Scofield -- who played More in the stage version upon which the film is based -- reprises his role in an award-winning performance. Also featured is an appearance by Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey.

• March 21: "Au Hasard Balthazar," 1966, Robert Bresson. A French film that follows the life and death of a mistreated donkey named Balthazar. His life is paralleled with that of the girl who names him. She endures humiliation from her cruel lover, just as he does punishment from his master.

• March 28: "In Cold Blood," 1967, Richard Brooks. Based on actual events from Truman Capote's account of the same name, "In Cold Blood" is about two men -- Perry Smith and Dick Hickock -- who are convicted of murdering the Clutter family in a farmhouse in Kansas. The film details the search, trial and execution of the two men. The character of Jensen, a reporter, is based on Capote, who is the subject of a recent acclaimed film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film earned its director an Academy Award nomination.

• April 4: "Xala," 1974, Ousmana Sembene. A humorous satire and scathing critique of corruption and hypocrisy set at the dawn of Senegal's independence from France. "El Hadji," a government official, claims to be against colonialism and a supporter of African independence, but continues to speak French, consume imported goods and distain the less fortunate. However, after he marries his third wife -- to the chagrin of his other wives and nationalist daughter -- he is unable to consummate the marriage because he is stuck with a "xala," a curse of impotence, and must go to comic lengths to find the cause of, and remove, the curse.

• April 11: "Wings of Desire," 1987, Wim Wenders. An imaginative and romantic fantasy from a German-born director in which two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, wander Berlin comforting lonely souls. When Damiel falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist, the angel no longer is content to be an immortal that humans cannot see or feel. Damiel finds the fulfillment of his mortal desires in love and learns that he is not the only angel to cross over, discontent with a purely spiritual existence. The film evokes a slow, meditative mood and features beautiful cinematography.

• April 18: "Runaway Train," 1985, Andre Konchalovsky. A taut, classic action-thriller based on a screenplay from Japanese director Akira Kurosawa about two escaped inmates (Jon Voight and Eric Roberts) from an Alaskan maximum-security prison who board a runaway train speeding along at high velocity with no brakes. Joined by a female railway worker and pursued by a vengeful head of security, the men are trapped on a collision course down wintry tracks in the Alaskan wilderness.

• April 25: "The French Lieutenant's Woman," 1981, Karel Reisz. A romance set in Victorian England about a forbidden affair between a respectable biologist, who's engaged to be married, who falls in love with a woman whose reputation has been tarnished through an affair with a foreign soldier. The plot is framed within a tale of two actors (Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep) filming a version of the story whose experiences parallel those of their characters. Based on John Fowles' novel, with a screenplay from Harold Pinter.

For further information, go to http://buffalofilmseminars.com.