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Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (April 16-18, 2015)

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Les Blank, Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz, and me. Photograph courtesy Mike Mashon.

Thursday, April 16 (7:30 pm)
Les Blank Double Feature: Hot Pepper (1973) / Always for Pleasure (1978)
Documentarian Les Blank (1935-2013) might have been born in Florida, but he had a Louisiana soul. Tonight’s double feature is all the evidence you need. Hot Pepper celebrates the music of Clifton Chenier, the “King of Zydeco,” while Always for Pleasure is Blank’s love letter to the City the Care Forgot, New Orleans. Beautifully composed and joyous to the core (which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of Blank himself), both films are pure Americana and representative of the kind of movies he made over the course of a celebrated fifty year career.

The pleasures of music and food were central to a lot of Les Blank’s films–surely one reason why my home state of Louisiana held such an attraction for him–and so it was one of the best nights of my life when he cooked my 50th birthday dinner at his home in Berkeley, California, a few years ago. The evening was arranged by my good friend Dan Streible when we were both on the west coast to attend the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and what a present it was: great company, good music, and some excellent dishes. My thank you gift to Les was a bag of Community Coffee and two pounds of Camellia Brand red beans, which he knew well as the superior choice for red beans and rice. His gift to me–to all of us–is an incomparable legacy of wonderful movies.

Rashomon (Daiei Film, 1951)

Friday, April 17 (7:30 pm)
Rashomon (Daiei Film, 1951)
A samurai is murdered and his wife sexually assaulted, but the circumstances remain elusive in this monumental classic of world cinema directed by Japan’s most celebrated director, Akira Kurosawa. Starring Toshiro Mifune–Kurosawa’s favorite actor–Rashomon questions the very nature of “truth” by recounting the incident through four disparate, conflicting perspectives. Tonight’s print was restored by the Academy Film Archive with funding from The Film Foundation.

Saturday, April 18 (7:30 pm)
Zaza (Paramount, 1923)
Gloria Swanson stars as a French music hall entertainer in the first of her eight collaborations with director Allan Dwan. Swanson was Paramount’s most consistently bankable star for most of the 1920s, having skyrocketed to popularity via a series of sexual innuendo-laden films directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Zaza is prototypical Swanson, resplendent in one eye-popping costume after another, the center of attention in every frame she occupies. Jeff Rapsis provides the musical accompaniment.

One of the best volunteer jobs I ever had was working on the Gloria Swanson papers at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center. I was a graduate student in Microbiology then, but eager to get some experience working in an archive. Several years later after I had returned to school to pursue a Masters in Radio-Television-Film at UT, I came back to Gloria, writing my thesis on her tenure outside the studio system at United Artists. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that her experience making films like Zaza for Paramount was more enjoyable than when she was on her own.

For more information on our programs, please visit the web site at

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