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Now Playing at the Packard Campus Theater (April 8-11, 2015)

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I am guest programmer for April, and this week features the most recent film by my favorite director working today, another representing the great flowering of American cinema in the 1970s when I really fell in love with the movies, and the first silent film I ever saw, the one that set me on my (admittedly winding) career path.

Thursday, April 9 (7:30 pm)
Amour (Los Films du Losange, 2012)
A beautiful, emotionally wrenching tale of retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and their struggle to cope in the aftermath of a stroke that leaves Anne partially paralyzed. Sensitively directed by the ever-brilliant Michael Haneke, Amour won the 2012 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival as well as the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2013. Haneke is certainly not to everyone’s taste; his alternatively aggressively bold and meditative style can be provocative and discomfiting; none of his films can be considered “easy” viewing, but they are always rewarding. Amour is, in my estimation, his most accessible and humane film, certainly deserving of its critical acclaim.

M*A*S*H (20th Century-Fox, 1970)

Friday, April 10 (7:30 pm)
M*A*S*H (20th Century-Fox, 1970, *R-rated)
The Seventies were truly a Golden Age of Hollywood films, featuring the rise of such talents as Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, and many more, but one iconoclast stands out: Robert Altman. At age 45, Altman was something of an old hand with a great deal of TV experience by the time he came to direct Ring Lardner Jr.’s adaptation of Richard Hooker’s novel about a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea. This uproariously anarchic black comedy won the 1970 Palm d’Or at Cannes and was named to the National Film Registry in 1996.

* No one under the age of 17 will be admitted without a parent or guardian.

Saturday, April 11 (7:30 pm)
Orphans of the Storm (D.W. Griffith Productions, 1921)
Two sisters (Lillian and Dorothy Gish) are swept up in the tumult of the French Revolution in this D.W. Griffith-directed epic, the last commercially successful film in his long and influential career. It also marked the final collaboration between Griffith and Lillian Gish, who subsequently cemented her reputation as one of the silent screen’s most accomplished actresses when she signed with MGM. Tonight’s print comes to us courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art. Andrew Simpson provides musical accompaniment.

Orphans of the Storm (D.W. Griffith Productions, 1921)

When I was eleven, the local PBS station in Little Rock, Arkansas, broadcast a series hosted by Orson Welles called “The Silent Years.” I knew nothing about Orson Welles beyond him being a large man who did magic tricks on The Dean Martin Show, and even less about silent films. But one Saturday night I happened to stumble across Orphans of the Storm, and for whatever reason, something inside me lit up with curiosity. Maybe it was the idea of telling a story without dialogue, maybe it was the French Revolution setting (A Tale of Two Cities was a favorite book), or maybe it was the ethereal beauty of Lillian Gish, whom I found as enchanting as an eleven-year-old boy can find anything enchanting. Regardless, I was hooked and hardly ever missed any of the other films in the series, thus beginning my love for silent movies.

I’ve never been interested in collecting autographs, but a few years later I somehow got Lillian Gish’s address in New York City–she was in her 80s by this point–and sent her a picture of the Gish sisters in Orphans of the Storm I cut out from my copy of Daniel Blum’s A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen, now available online through the Media History Digital Library. Much to my delight, she responded very sweetly (on Strawberry Shortcake stationary!) and included my picture, which she also signed on behalf of Dorothy, who had passed away in 1968. It’s one of my treasures.

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