2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, now-October 12, various venues (mkefilm.org)
For the past several months, Milwaukee has had a parade of festivals that make the city’s summer special. But now the calendar has turned to autumn (although the thermometer would make one think otherwise), and the festival going has moved indoors with the 9th Milwaukee Film Festival. This event has the same scope of the aforementioned summer fests, with five historic movie venues hosting screenings of nearly 300 films over two weeks. Since this blog focuses mainly on music-oriented events in the area, the following is a list of personal recommendations of festival offerings that feature music in one form or another. The website link above provides information on all the films and events included in this year’s fest. So without further ado, here are my choices for films that are “must-see”…
The Lost World, October 3, Oriental Theater
In what has become a festival tradition, this year’s special silent film classic is the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale of the prehistoric world, featuring the pioneering special effects work of Willis O’Brien (preceding his Hall of Fame work on King Kong in 1933). And once again, Alloy Orchestra will be on hand to provide the musical accompaniment for the film, and it’s certain the results will again be stunning. When you’re aware that all this sound is generated by just three musicians who perform non-stop during the entire movie, it’s easy to see why this is a one-time only screening that’s not to be missed!
Score: A Film Music Documentary, October 4, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill
And speaking of movie music, here’s a fascinating look at the composers whose work has provided the accompaniment to films since the beginning of talkies. And speaking of King Kong, director Matt Schrader’s film acknowledges Max Steiner’s pioneering work that made King Kong an all-time classic. Scores (pun intended) of composers including giants John Williams and Hans Zimmer appear onscreen along with many of their contemporaries to offer their thoughts on their own work, along with comments on their fellow composers and the great predecessors (ie, Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North) that influenced them. Of course there are plenty of classic clips to complement the comments, making Score “nothing short of nirvana for cinephiles,” according to the festival’s program notes.
Stop Making Sense, October 7, Oriental Theater
In memory of late director Jonathan Demme, the Film Festival once again presents a Saturday night screening of his 1984 Talking Heads concert film, arguably the greatest rock music film ever made. Band member David Byrne and Demme set out to construct a movie that was a film first, not just a filmed concert performance, and in the process set the template by which all succeeding concert films are measured. And it’s a good thing it’s being screened in the historic Oriental, whose wide aisles provide plenty of room for dancing, which this film makes impossible to resist!
Aladdin, October 8, Oriental Theater
It’s Family Sunday at the Film Festival, and rest assured there will be another full house at the Oriental for this one-time 25th anniversary screening of the Disney classic. It’s one of the quartet of films comprising the Second Golden Era of Disney Animation which also includes The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. But it’s the only one featuring the manic voice performance of the late Robin Williams as the Genie. It’s jaw-dropping to see how the Disney artists took the challenge of Williams’ work to create animation that’s totally complementary. It’s also the final work of the great songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Seeing it again on the Oriental’s big screen is a treat for kids of all ages!
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, October 9, Oriental Theater
In what might be the festival’s most revealing music film, directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana do a stellar job in demonstrating the pervasive influence of Native Americans in American Pop music. The film’s title comes from the Link Wray guitar shredding classic which had its roots in tribal music, and is the only instrumental record ever banned by radio stations which feared it would incite their young audiences. Others who get their due are Jimi Hendrix, jazz singing pioneer Mildred Bailey, blues pioneer Charlie Patton, guitar wizard Jesse Ed Davis (whose story will move you to tears), 70’s rock band Redbone (“Come and Get Your Love”), folk legend Buffy Sainte-Marie, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Robbie Robertson (Bob Dylan, the Band) and rock drumming greats Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne) and Robert Trujillo (Metallica). Among those providing commentary are Tony Bennett, Taj Mahal (repeating his performance from the recent TV music documentary series American Epic), and legendary director Martin Scorsese (The Band’s classic concert film The Last Waltz and Bob Dylan: No Direction Home). If that sounds like there’s a lot jammed into this film’s 103 minutes, you’re right! For any pop music fan, this is a film that is not to be missed.
Well, that should get you started…Remember, this is just a small sampling of the vast array of movies on the festival program, embracing a plethora of genres. Program guides are available at the festival venues (Oriental Theater, Downer Theater, Avalon Atmospheric Theater, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill and Times Cinema) and all Milwaukee Public Libraries, or as I mentioned before at the festival website mkefilm.org.
See you at the movies!