Film

CinemaDope: Double Take

Finding hidden gems

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Thursday, April 28, 2011
Photo Courtesy of Cinema Guild
A still from Marwencol

Growing up in a small town, I learned early on not to be picky about where I found my art. Great paintings—at least, I thought they were great—could be found in local banks and doctors' offices, and my first artistic hero was a guy who did caricatures down on the boardwalk. To be too choosy about things meant waiting for months until our little art museum could get a new painting on loan from a better-funded organization. Film, though, was harder (this, of course, was before the advent of the home video player). We did have a beautiful old theater that specialized in smaller films, but it was a single-screen venue, and a hit movie would often monopolize the place for months, paying for the films that lost money the rest of the year.

So it's nice, now, to live in a place with so many options for film-going. And even nicer to be in a place that takes the mission to heart—where even our neighborhood multiplex defies stereotype by hosting operas and other special events (this week, it's a Broadway musical; more on that below). Still, I'm glad for those lean times, which taught me to always be ready for an unexpected pleasure. Here are a few that are slipping into the area this week.

At Amherst Cinema, the lauded but largely unknown Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is screening now. A beautifully mysterious contemplation of death, spirituality, and the richness of a life, the film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Its title character is a rural farmer who, in his dying days, is visited by the spirits of loved ones lost earlier—his dead wife and a son who takes the form of a large monkey. As Boonmee makes a final journey into the forest, he watches as his past lives parade across his path.

The quiet strength of director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's storytelling is that he treats the fantastic as a natural part of living. Boonmee's final days are not merely about his reflecting on the past, but about his past and present becoming one. It's an idea of death that's less about finality and more about transition, and in Weerasethakul's hands it becomes a calming and wondrous passage.

Screening on Monday at Amherst is Marwencol, a documentary about the homespun art therapy of Mark Hogancamp. An ex-Navy man who was beaten into a coma during a bar brawl, Hogancamp emerged from the darkness unable to talk or walk and with massive memory loss. Unable to face the wider world, Hogancamp devised—perhaps intuited is a better word—his own unusual therapy: building a one-sixth scale model of a World War II-era village.

Peopled with the action figures Hogancamp loved in his youth (and centering on his alter-ego, a Nazi-hunter named Hogie), "Marwencol"—the name is a mash-up of the names of Mark's friends—gives Hogancamp a chance to recreate the friendships and family ties torn apart in his memory. As he sets up his small-scale scenes, he photographs the action, creating a record that reads like a series of film stills, or a graphic novel. It's a two-fold therapy: as the stories help him rebuild his mind, the detailed work of creating the scenery helps Hogancamp rebuild his hand-eye coordination.

But Mark's rehab is interrupted when his photographs are discovered by the larger world. Embraced by the New York art world—or co-opted, depending on one's point of view—Mark faces a crossroads when a prestigious gallery mounts a show of his work. After spending so long in solitude, Hogancamp is forced by the show to face the living world he has avoided since the attack.

Finally this week, two special events come to area theaters. On Thursday, April 28, Hadley's Cinemark Theaters present the Broadway hit musical Memphis via broadcast from the New York stage. Inspired by actual events, the story is one of civil rights and the birth of rock 'n' roll.

A bit further up the road, Brattleboro's Latchis Theater presents a screening of the classic Metropolis on April 29. An absolutely seminal work from Fritz Lang, this early sci-fi story has inspired many followers with its tale of class warfare in a dystopian future. Along for the ride is cellist Gideon Freudmann, providing a live score with his unique approach, which makes use of an electric cello and live looping.

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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