I am always surprised at the films the festival brings to our wonderful city. Each year I am amazed and this time is no exception. Last night I watched an incredible 35mm restored print of Taxi Driver and was blown away at how organically true the print was. When watching a digitally restored film print, you always hope it stays honest to the film’s original intention. I am not a super geek for Taxi Driver, but the lights of New York City do not get any better than Michael Chapman’s rendering of the colored street lamps. Even the end credits of the film kept me mesmerized. One better make sure that he or she has a well marked calendar because there are several events just like the Taxi Driver screening – they are a must see!
5. Peggy Ahwesh Part I and II
One of the aspects of the James River Film Festival that I love is the interaction with independent film artists. This year we have the distinguished Peggy Ahwesh whose work explores the role of female subjects and gender identity. I just returned from her first show and was really charmed by her film “A Scary Movie” which she made with two young girls while babysitting back in the 1990s.
I was very impressed when I first saw the Spanish “Dracula” on the Universal Horror Legacy Collection DVD. The longer takes and fluid camera movement really showcased the caliber of talent that worked the night shift at Universal Studios. The Spanish crew would watch the dailies for Todd Browning’s version (which was shot during the day) and try to top his team’s work. Gary Lucas’ live music will be a real treat!
Chaplin’s Modern Times with its beautiful set pieces and well choreographed sequences always puts a smile on my face. The roller skating scene is just plain brilliant.
A wonderfully strange and beautifully photographed black and white film that should not be missed on the big screen. Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter outwardly tackles the themes of religion, greed, and loss of innocence in a stylish presentation. Stanley Cortez’s stunning chiaroscuro cinematography emphasizes the conflicting duality of Robert Mitchum’s sinister and zealous character, Harry Powell. This is one of the few films that truly tells a story with all the visual tools working in unison.
Joan Strommer left a wonderful legacy as a filmmaker and teacher in the VCU Photography and Film Department. From 16mm cameras to former students, her threads are woven into the fabric of our current film program. I only wish she had been around long enough so that I could have been one of her pupils. This will be a real treat to finally meet her through her art.