New! Friday Film Blogging

EDITOR'S NOTE: We are pleased to welcome David Fellerath, one of our favorite movie critics who is based at our fabulous local Independent Weekly. Below is his first installment of what we hope is a regular feature at Facing South: "Friday Film Blogging." Take it away David ...

In most cultures, even ours, Friday nights mean new movies. Thanks to a half-dozen art houses, several universities and more multiplexes than you can shake a fist at, there are always alternatives to the Blockbuster of the Week. At the invitation of the Institute for Southern Studies, I'll be posting on Fridays about movies worth catching, and I'll try to draw attention to films that lack the marketing budget of say, Revenge of the Sith.

Still, Revenge of the Sith is a good place to start. I'm no fan of the series - like a lot of people, I blame George Lucas (and Steven Spielberg) for the demise of the New Hollywood of the late 1960s and early 1970s. With the release of Jaws and Star Wars, the era of Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and The Godfather came to a crashing halt.

The aesthetic influence of Jaws and Star Wars is obvious, of course, but they were also revolutionary in the marketplace. Jaws was the first movie to get open nationwide on a single date, in an effort to create a National Event and to make the advertising dollars operate as efficiently as possible. And now, opening weekend box office numbers - once the sole province of the green eyeshade men - are the stuff of common conversation and hype-building.

But, enough of the ritual breastbeating of the purist.

I'm interested in seeing Revenge of the Sith because of the apparently obvious allusions to the regime that currently rules the known universe from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. George Lucas may write the deadliest dialogue in the galaxy, but I rather admire the oft-quoted line by Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman): "This is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause." (Read Neil Morris's review for the Independent Weekly here)

Lucas premiered the film last week at Cannes, always a good place to start a political controversy (cf. Fahrenheit 9/11 last year). While cynics wondered just when Lucas poked his head out from his edit console to even notice who was in the White House, there's actually strong evidence of Lucas' lefty leanings from way back.

One of the best movie books I've read in recent years is Michael Ondaatje's The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. Murch is the most celebrated and thoughtful editor in the world today, and he is a member of the great filmmaking generation of Coppola, Scorsese, Altman, and yes, Lucas and Spielberg.

In Ondaatje's book, Murch has the following extraordinary recollection about the genesis of Star Wars and Apocalypse Now:

Originally, George Lucas was going to direct [Apocalypse Now]. ... That was back in 1969. After the success of American Graffiti in 1973, George wanted to revive it, but it was still too hot a topic, the war was still on, and nobody wanted to finance something like that. So George considered his options: What did he really want to say in Apocalypse Now? The message boiled down to the ability of a small group of people to defeat a gigantic power simply by the force of their convictions. And he decided, All right, if it's politically too hot as a contemporary subject, I'll put the essence of the story in outer space and make it happen in a galaxy long ago and far away. The rebel group were the North Vietnamese, and the Empire was the United States. And if you have the force, no matter how small you are, you can defeat the overwhelmingly big power. Star Wars is George's transubstantiated version of Apocalypse Now. (Ondaatje, p. 70)

May the Force be with all of us.

And finally, two quick items for those based in the North Carolina Triangle area: Be sure to catch Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which opens in the Carolina Theatres of Chapel Hill and Durham, and the Colony Theater in Raleigh. You'll find Star Wars references of a decidedly sinister sort in this film. My Indy review is here.

And, tonight at the Community Church of Chapel Hill, UNC film prof Hap Kindem will present Beyond the Wall, his hour-long documentary about the Speaker Ban Law on UNC campuses and the celebrated act of defiance that occurred on March 9, 1966. The list of surviving witnesses who appear in the film is quite long, including Dan Pollitt, Jerry Carr, Gary Waller, Bill Friday and Bill Aycock. Two surviving witnesses who declined to be in the film are former Senators Robert Morgan and Jesse Helms. Showtime is and a panel discussion about the contemporary parallels of the PATRIOT Act will follow. My Indy piece on the film is here.