"King of Jazz"
Some people find history boring, but at the Wisconsin Film Festival, history hits like a switchblade knife, to paraphrase the poster for Larry Peerce’s The Incident. That 1967 film is one of many worth seeking out in the festival’s Restorations and Rediscoveries series.
Since the hunt for the next commercial crossover has been co-opted by studios and distributors, festival circuit programmers have a chance to directly affect film culture by looking into the past. The thrill of the hunt for archival films provides as many highs and lows as seeking the Next New Thing.
Sometimes audiences rediscover overlooked films; last year the social drama The Well (1951) delivered a surprisingly frank and still-provocative discussion of race relations. Other times we rediscover why films were overlooked; last year’s Nothing Lasts Forever (1984) remains as comically flat as critics suggested. Thankfully, this year’s offerings provide a respite from the festival circuit fad for so-bad-they’re-good films (Roar, The Astrologer, Death Wish Club). We can scratch that itch with the return of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix in April.
"Gold of Naples"
This year’s festival offers familiar classic-era directors like Ernst Lubitsch, King Vidor, Lewis Milestone and Vittorio De Sica, but sometimes showcasing their less-familiar films — neorealist De Sica’s return to his Commedia dell’Arte roots, The Gold of Naples, for example. Academy Film Archive preservationist Heather Linville will present several screenings, including the raunchy 1932 comedy Cock of the Air, produced by Howard Hughes (already rush ticket only).
Another hot restoration ticket, on pace to sell out advance tickets, will be the visually dazzling early Technicolor musical revue, King of Jazz (1932). This will be rush-line worthy.
Festival programmers want more people to recognize the name of director Larry Peerce. The 86-year-old Peerce, best known for the thriller Two-Minute Warning (1976), will present The Incident along with the interracial relationship drama One Potato, Two Potato (1964).
"Cock of the Air"
The Incident (which screens at 3:15 p.m. on April 1 at the Chazen) shows how sensationalism can convey the emotional truth behind social issues more vividly than “serious drama.” The first half follows eight storylines across an evening in New York City (with vibrant on-location night cinematography). The hard-hitting stories explore juvenile delinquency, class divisions, marital strife, teen sex, peer pressure, race relations and gay subculture. The storylines converge in one subway car as two delinquents (a young Martin Sheen and an unhinged Tony Musante) terrorize the passengers.
The second half of the film dishes out an almost unbearably physical demonstration of the “first they came for [insert group], and I said nothing” arguments reprised in recent months. The delinquents first assault a gay man, and no one responds. But everyone in the subway car learns the consequences of not responding.
The Q&A session with Peerce should be lively, not only for the social issues raised but for stories about the amazing cast, which includes Beau Bridges, Thelma Ritter, Brock Peters and Ed McMahon. History will bore no one in that auditorium.
Note: This article was updated to reflect that The T.N.T. Show is not screening at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival.