Some people watch movies for entertainment. Others watch them because they are fans of the industry, filmmakers, actors, locations, themes, etc., and want to know all the details about everything involved with the motion picture.
Enter Movie Madness University, one of the Hollywood Theatre's newest programs in which students go to class — online these days — and learn from local film experts. In conjunction with Movie Madness, the Hollywood's store at 4320 S.E. Belmont St., classes were supposed to take place live and in-person, but the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions have forced the program online at hollywoodtheatre.org/mmu.
"Unfortunately, we chose to launch our education program immediately before the outbreak of a global pandemic (oops!)," said Alison Hallett, Hollywood Theatre education director. "We've taken the opportunity to develop a new series of virtual seminars that are actually more accessible and more affordable than our regular classes were.
"This is very much an experiment, but if these courses go well, we'll likely continue this model even once we're able to reopen for in-person programming."
MMU Online kicks off 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21, with Dan Halsted, Hollywood Theatre head programmer, presenting a seminar on the 1970 Hong Kong action film "The Chinese Boxer." Halsted will discuss filmmaker Jimmy Wang Yu's career and influences, trends in Hong Kong cinema at the time, stylistic innovations in the movie and more.
Other scheduled courses involve "Suspira," hosted by Anthony Hudson, community programmer, on June 4 and "A Hard Day's Night," hosted by local film critic and author Shawn Levy on June 18.
Tickets are $10 and include a lecture and discussion; participants must watch the movie on their own, through renting on major video-on-demand services (usually for less than $5).
Hallett said dozens of people have signed up for the first class.
"What I'm looking forward to with the MMU concept is hearing people's reactions to the film, and what they personally got out of it," Halsted said. "Movies are a window into other cultures, time periods and ourselves. Sometimes a response to a movie tells us more about ourselves than it does about the movie itself."
"The Chinese Boxer" was the first "modern" kung fu film; earlier movies had been about sword play, but "Chinese Boxer" introduced hand-to-hand fighting. Wang Yu starred in and directed the film, and Halsted personally picked the movie in large part because of Wang Yu's costume during the last act of the movie — a surgical mask and white gloves. How symbolic for the current time.
"The look and style of the film is incredibly unique," Halsted said. "It was heavily influenced by Japanese cinema and Sergio Leone's films.
"Also, the massive fight scene that takes place two-thirds of the way through the movie was completely groundbreaking and trendsetting. Jimmy Wang Yu takes on a roomful of opponents, in a sequence that would be imitated in innumerable films afterward, including Bruce Lee's movies, and Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill.'"
Hudson will be teaching about "Suspira" by Luca Guadagnino, a remake of Dario Argento/Daria Nicolodi "time-honored masterpiece." Hudson said the original, set in 1977 Germany at a dance school, uses neither its setting nor dance to tell the story, while the remake, still set in 1977, is entirely about the political upheaval of the German Autumn and the Baader-Meinhof Gang — or Red Army Faction — and the fight against Nazi holdovers in the German government. Dance becomes a means for witches and artists to cast spells.
"It's a queer love story with an all-women cast set against the specters of war and fascism, all a metaphor for our own increasingly precarious political moment," Hudson said. "David Kajganich's screenplay is one of the most complex and meticulously researched horror screenplays ever written, and it asks the all-too-timely question: 'Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?'"
Levy is a prolific author who formerly wrote movie reviews for The Oregonian. He is very much a movie buff, and The Beatles' movie, directed by Richard Lester, "pretty much invented the mockumentary and the music video with the film."
"'A Hard Day's Night' is a perfect movie — buoyant, bouncy, funny, human-scale, and, at 87 minutes, blessedly brief. It was shot and released in a white-hot hurry by a movie studio convinced that The Beatles were a passing fad, and it is filled with sunny, positive energy and humor that make it a perfect antidote for our woeful times," Levy said.
"It's an offhand snapshot of a bygone world, but it has all the craft — the filmmaking, the music, even the performances — of the most robustly made studio epic. Mainly, though, it's joyous. You simply cannot come away from it and not feel better."
Hallett said Hollywood Theatre attracts casual movie-goers and rabid fans.
"We certainly have a dedicated audience of movie lovers who are really knowledgeable, and who really geek out on the special guests we bring to town and on the fact that we show movies on 35mm and 70mm film," she said. Movies are best enjoyed in the theater, she adds, but online makes for a good alternative.
"We can't replicate that experience with a virtual class, of course, but maybe we can capture a little bit of the magic of seeing a movie at the Hollywood, listening to a great introduction that helps you understand the film better, and talking about it afterward in the lobby with your friends," Hallett said.
Hudson said any "film nerd" enjoys the culture around a movie, not just the production, but everything to do with it.
"With home video releases, I love audio commentaries and 'Making Of' features and reading screenplays for myself, almost like a kid taking apart a radio to see how it works," he said. "And as a film programmer, I love glimpsing back at films as historical documents to see what they're expressing about the culture they came from and the zeitgeist around it — and what that says about who we are today."
Added Levy: "The beauty of the Movie Madness University concept is that you can more or less do it at your own pace, in your own home, at your own time, and then tune in for the live conversation at a reasonable hour and without putting on shoes or having to find parking. It should be a great series."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.