Tag Archives: Movies

Cinema and BBQ Updates from Summer 2016

It’s been a while since I blogged last. Which is fine. Because energy has been devoted to many, many other constructive things (like a very important capital campaign, overseeing a heritage riverboat, working with National Heritage Area folks, and so on). So this evening, while doing dishes after another exceptional lump charcoal grilling session (we used a baharat dry rub from Turkey on some chicken drum sticks from the Bis-Man Food Co-Op), I started piecing together a theme I caught in the latest couple movies I watched. These movies both took place in the periphery — either time or space — of the First World War, or WWI, or the Great War (since that was supposed to be the war to end all wars). So that’s the theme.

The movies themselves are good: they situate the viewer in the complex web of nation-state geo-politic, and also the internal struggles that individual empires experienced as nation-state making really grabbed at the grass roots level — or with radicals — just after the turn of the 19th century. One was a movie called Water Diviner, and the other was a Sundance series, Rebellion.

I liked Water Diviner. Russell Crowe is the lead in it, and he appropriately plays an Aussie. An Aussie who, after receiving word that his sons all perished in the ANZAC amphibious assault on Gallipoli, and after his wife so sadly takes her own life after learning that her sons perished, decides to visit the nation state of Turkey. I won’t spoil the film for you. But I will say that I sent the movie title to a Turkish friend, and he responded with something like, “That was a great flick.”

The series Rebellion also walked a tightrope in explaining the complexities inherent in trying to narrate the attempts of Irish groups who desired to overthrow the British yoke during the First World War. It indeed is a very, very nuanced, and complex story. Something that only extended literature or cinema can — if done right — accomplish.

The take away from these two films is not my flimsy review (if we want to call them even that). It’s that cinema is revisiting the First World War and the immediate aftermath quite seriously. And that’s a good thing. Because understanding it still illuminates today, the 21st century. And why things are the way they are. This, in turn, opens up conversations to ways in which we might consider changing them. For the better.

Historic Movie Theaters: Restoring the Walla Walla

The Roxy Movie Theater in Langdon, North Dakota. Photo from February 2014.

The Roxy Movie Theater in Langdon, North Dakota. Photo from February 2014.

Today in the Forum News Service, Ryan Bakken reported on the rehabilitated movie theater in Mayville, North Dakota. It got me thinking a bit about how we are witnessing numerous historic movie theaters get an updated restart in communities across the northern Great Plains (and elsewhere).

The movie theater is an important place, allowing a community of movie goers to engage, as we say, in a collective experience. This gives us points of reference in conversation — “Hey, you remember that line from ‘Walter Mitty’?” — and it also allows us to explore and ponder our own humanity. It is different, of course, from live theater, where there is always a direct interaction between actresses/actors and the audience. But the theater idea is the same: bringing together a group of people to take in a performance, or a spectacle. Life is a stage, after all.

Beyond Mayville, here are a couple more theaters in smaller North Dakota communities, to add to Bakken’s great write-up of Mayville. The Roxy theater is located in Langdon, North Dakota, just north-northwest of the long-since abandoned Nekoma ICBM missile defense concrete pyramid (it would be good to watch “Dr. Strangelove” at the Roxy some day). I snapped a photo of this Roxy in February 2014. It is up and running, having been brought back to life by the community in and around Langdon.

The historic 1949 Walla Walla Theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and the regional arts community is crowd-sourcing funds for its 21st century rehabilitation.

The historic 1949 Walla Walla Theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and the regional arts community is crowd-sourcing funds for its 21st century rehabilitation.

And here is the Walla Walla theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. Built shortly after the end of WWII in 1949, this theater was justly placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The Gorge Arts & Heritage Council (Facebook page here) is in the midst of crowd-sourcing funds to bring this theater back to life. This is a good idea. If you want to take pocket-book action, click on this link here for more information.

I was thinking today how much I enjoy these old time movie houses, and how the smaller the town, the more I enjoy them. I like the way that old time movie marquee stretches way out over the pedestrian sidewalk, acting as both a visual lure and a way to bring passersby under its influence. It is a much different feeling than when driving by more modern suburban theaters in our hermetically sealed automobiles. In addition to this, the old time theater is added value to any town, at least so the evening outing option isn’t always a default to the local tavern (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you know what I mean). Yes, theater regularly plays out in local taverns. But it’s good to have the option to spend an evening in a defined theater proper.

Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota, with the Walla Walla Theater to the left.

Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota, with the Walla Walla Theater to the left.

Thoughts on Nebraska

NebraskaMolly and I caught the late matinee Nebraska at the downtown Fargo Theater this Sunday afternoon. It’s a story about an older man (Bruce Dern) who is starting to enter the earliest phases of senility. He and his wife made a life in Billings, Montana, having relocated there years prior from their small home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska. This old timer received a standard sweepstakes letter that said he was a “winner” of $1 million. He only had to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to check his winning number to see if he did in fact win. Through this he becomes possessed with getting to Lincoln: he finally felt he had something to live for. And without spoiling any more of it, I’ll just type a couple ideas below and recommend that you check out the film yourself.

The first idea is how small town agrarian life can come to a crawl in the absence of, well, anything beyond industrial farming. In many ways this reminded me of life in western North Dakota in, say, the 80s and 90s. In the movie, Hawthorne was not experiencing a robust Bakken oil boom. Folks kept busy, but it was at a level rather than an unrestricted economic pace.

The second thing impressed upon me was how well the cameras captured the northern Great Plains. The film is shot in black and white, possibly to convey a greater sense of gloom. But the Great Plains look glorious in either full color or black and white (and when we say “black and white,” what we really mean is shades of grey).

The old timer and his family also visited the abandoned family farmstead, one of those homes that we pass thousands of times on rural and main roads throughout the Great Plains. Whenever I’m out on assignment, recording one of these rural structures (I’m in the profession of historic preservation), I can’t help but think about what kind of lives were made and carried on day in and day out. A kind of “these walls can talk” feeling. It’s a squishy feeling, yes. But we’re human. That means we feel — sensory and perception — and we’re supposed to describe that. So anyhow go to this movie. It is good. I think we’ve earmarked Inside Llewyan Davis for our next cinema outing.