Two personal passions in one: Buster Keaton and Pecha Kucha Night – Milwaukee

Buster KeatonA few years ago I participated in the newly-launched Pecha Kucha Night – Milwaukee. It was only the second time that one of these amazing nights took place in Milwaukee. In fact, back then it was still at its first home, the Hi Hat Lounge, on Milwaukee’s Brady Street. I wanted to talk about something so quirky for an audience of mostly 20-somethings that they’d take notice. I succeeded, and had a ball. I chose to talk about an early film genius. The quality of this audio (and my slides!) isn’t great, but I think it still gets my message across.

I hope you enjoy it.

My passion for niche film styles and pioneering directors has recently been rekindled. If you think you’d enjoy reading about more of my favorite, I encourage you to check out a list of films I think my friends should see and probably haven’t.

Yes, one of them is by Buster Keaton, circa 1927.

By the way, if you’re curious about the stunts I reference in the presentation, here’s a terrific 2-minute tribute to him that features all of them, including “catching” a moving car and nearly getting crushed by a falling house facade. At the time of this posting I see that less than 200 people have watched this video. I encourage you to give it a look and uo that number. It’s the least we could do to reward its creator for this outstanding introduction to Keaton.

Films you may have missed and really shouldn’t

Do you love films? I mean, as an art form that can transcend mere entertainment? I do.

My experience has been that when I’m talking to someone about this film or that, I can’t point that person to some sort of documentation. If you’ve witnessed me at a cocktail party or other social event, you’ll recognize this list as the usual suspects — the films I’ll typically rave about when I find an interested (or at least charitable) ear.

I could not have compiled such a rich and fact-filled list without a deep bow at the waist to my ex-wife and fellow film worshiper, Julie Duchaine. She definitely expanded my horizons over our long and film-filled marriage. In fact, we fell in love over our shared passion for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Good times.

Besieged

Did you enjoy The Dreamers? Or Stealing Beauty? Or perhaps that scandal of 1970′s cinema, Last Tango in Paris? This is by the same director, Bernardo Bertolucci, and is far better than any of those. It’s almost a perfection of what he was trying to accomplish in in his past films about relationships. This one is about unrequited love and selfless sacrifice. It’s a British / Italian production, starring two extremely talented actors. First there’s Thandie Newton before she got a ton of plastic surgery and dropped a ton of weight (can you tell how I feel about typical, artificial starlet “beauty”?). It co-stars the brilliant David Thewlis (see Life Is Sweet, below).

Curse of the Demon

A charming 1950′s thriller that weave in witchcraft, Druids and demon monsters. It’s a fun ride I can’t resist. More ghost story than monster movie, it’s worth tracking down.

Doctor Strangelove

What can I say? Kubrick is a genius. I could also have included A Clockwork Orange.

Holy Smoke

Primarily I like this film for Kate Winslet’s performance. I could have just as easily included Little Children, which is another, more recent Kate Winslet showcase. Her intelligence and free spirit make her the unsinkable id to Meryl Streep’s equally masterful super-ego (yes, I used “unsinkable” intentionally … May Titanic remain deep in its watery grave). Holy Smoke is directed by Jane Campion, who won well-deserved acclaim for The Piano. This is right up there with The Piano in its unblinking examination of sexual power and politics.

Life Is Sweet

The link in the title points you to a trailer on IMDB.com. I hadn’t realized until I linked to that trailer video that Life Is Sweet had been so highly acclaimed by film critics at the time. I certainly did not know anyone else who had seen it when it came out. This is an early breakthrough example of Mike Leigh’s style of finding great actors, doing a mixture of rehearsal and improv with them surrounding a loose story line, and filming the results. With some much incredible acting it’s hard to single anyone out, but both Jane Horrocks and David Thewlis are amazing.

Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

How could I not include a Preston Sturges film in my list? Betty Hutton was astounding.

My Man Godfrey

I can’t resist this very early screwball comedy. William Powell and Carole Lombard were wonderfully matched and both were briliant comedic actors. This does get a tad preachy, about the simple dignity of the working man and the debauched inferiority of the pampered class, but this doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of this. It’s on many other top 10 lists, so I’m not alone apparently.

Ma femme est une actrice (My Wife Is An Actress)

This is my favorite French comedy (others I love: Too Beautiful for You and The Closet). This film is sparkling. It is written and directed by Yan Attal, who is the real-life husband (or perhaps long-term boyfriend — I know they have kids together) of Charlotte Gainsboug. Terence Stamp is also wonderful in this.

North By Northwest

I made a pact to myself not to repeat directors in my list, so this is my Hitchcock. Although inevitably dated (it was shot the year I was born), it still enthralls. Cary Grant is, of course Cary Grant. But Eva Marie Saint is no slouch either. During rescreenings I’ve been surprised at how the dialog was often quite racey. At least of the time. Do you know about the sly last shot of the film? It’s an intentional reference to … well, you’ll just have to see.

Private Lives

This Noel Coward comedy is razer sharp. What a jolt it still is!

Sideways

This was all but tied with Juno for my favorite comedy of the last decade. It won because of its slightly more savage teeth, and the other brilliant films by the same director. I was wowed by Alexander Payne when he directed Election in 1999. About Schmidt and Sideways followed in the same vein of pitch black comedy, watching flawed characters deal with the consequences of their desires and neuroses. Riveting!

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

I had to include this Buster Keaton classic. This guy was way ahead of his time. And his talent was all instinctive. What a brilliant, inspiring man.

The Man In the White Suit

This is one of a handful of classic Ealing Comedies (named after the post-WWII studio that produced them). Alec Guinness’s quite artistry in these films reminds me a lot of Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy films and shorts.

So that’s my list. At least as of now. What’s yours?