It's back-to-school time for those of you who like to take advantage of all the free-admission, open-to-the-public movie screenings offered on the UW campus. The Cinematheque kicked off its spring semester at 4070 Vilas Hall last weekend with Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark, one of the most choreographically complex films in cinema history, and Budd Boetticher's Seven Men from Now, a classic Western that, like the rest of Boetticher's oeuvre, doesn't get near the attention it deserves. If, like me, you missed both screenings, don't worry: There's more where that came from, lots more.
Boetticher, who died a little over a year ago, gets a retrospective of the Westerns he made with Randolph Scott in the late '50s and early '60s, along with his somewhat autobiographical 1951 film, The Bullfighter and the Lady (April 26). That's right, Boetticher was a bullfighter for a while, down Mexico way, and some critics have detected a bullfighting rhythm in his starkly efficient Westerns, the hero entering the arena like a matador, then deftly avoiding the villain's horns before delivering the fatal blow. Scott, who was well into middle age when he played the lone rider in movies like Ride Lonesome (Feb. 22), may have given Clint Eastwood an idea or two about how to act without appearing to.
Perhaps because they were low-budget quickies made for the bottom of the bill, Boetticher's films don't tend to get written up in the history books. Nor do they tend to show up on video. But they helped invent the revisionist Western, blurring the line between hero and villain. And they take place in a psychological territory all their own: Existentialand. Now here's your chance to visit these boulder-strewn landscapes, where a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. The Tall T, which features Richard Boone as a villain who might have turned out a hero if he'd encountered Scott's craggy visage a few years earlier, screens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 4070 Vilas Hall.
A series devoted to contemporary French cinema offers works from both veterans and rookies. Claire Denis starts things off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 31, with Trouble Every Day, her follow-up to Beau Travail. Starring Buffalo '66's Vincent Gallo as an American in Paris who has a vampiric lust for life, Trouble comes with a warning: "Gory sex scenes, frequent nudity." Thanks for the tip! On future Fridays, there's Anne-Sophie Birot's coming-of-age film Girls Can't Swim (Feb. 7), Michael Haneke's Code Unknown (Feb. 21), Olivier Assayas' Sentimental Destinies (April 4) and Jean-Luc Godard's latest, In Praise of Love (April 25).
On Valentine's Day, you can say I ª New York by attending a program called "NYC: New York Celluloid," which consists of short films culled from the Big Apple's cinematic scrapbook. And April 10 and 13 are devoted to African-American films, stretching from 1920's Within Our Gates, Oscar Micheaux's response to Birth of a Nation, to 1943's Stormy Weather, a veritable thunderstorm of talent featuring (among others) Fats Waller, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway and the amazing Nicholas Brothers. Meanwhile, the Madison Film Forum will continue to bring us films we might not otherwise get to see, including Abbas Kiarostami's ABC Africa (March 14).
I'm running out of space, but I must mention Starlight Cinema's series of films from beyond the fringe (Thursday nights, 9 p.m., at the Memorial Union's Fredric March Play Circle), including Mushroom Hunting with John Cage (Feb. 20) and Circus Redickuless (Feb. 27). And that great Orgone box of Yugoslavian...whatever, 1971's WR: Mysteries of the Organism, which will screen at Union South, Room 109, March 9 at 2 p.m.