Hess expands Art’s canvas

Yet another topic that we let slip here at C-U Blogfidential is the ownership change from Greg Boardman to Sanford Hess at downtown Champaign’s venerable Art Theater. When last discussed, Boardman had just finished his run at 126 W. Church St. with international chestnut THE BICYCLE THIEF, making way for Hess to start his tenure with Richard Linklater’s underrated ME AND ORSON WELLES on New Year’s Day. We still plan to editorialize on the before vs. the after in a future post, along with conducting a fresh interview with Hess a few months on, but we’d like to hold up the current programming frame as a glimmer of hope that the new guard will finally broaden the content projected onto the Art’s silver screen in ways that the old guard stubbornly avoided.

After two weeks of ORSON WELLES, Hess brought in the lauded war drama THE MESSENGER, directed by Oren Moverman and starring Ben Foster, Jena Malone, and Woody Harrelson, for two additional weeks, accented by a private screening early on Sunday, January 10, of the locally-shot LEADING LADIES and a late-night reprisal of Harrelson’s fall hit ZOMBIELAND during MESSENGER’s weekends. The Art followed this with one week each of Tom Ford’s A SINGLE MAN and Pedro Almodóvar’s BROKEN EMBRACES paired with late shows of FERRIS BUELER’S DAY OFF and DONNIE DARKO, respectively, along with a Bollywood matinee of MAYABAZAAR (1957) on Saturday, February 13. So far, so good; the marquee choices ran the gamut one would expect from a movie house called “the Art” while the revivals catered expectantly towards World Cinema fans as well as college audiences up for revisiting youth culture favorites and cult classics-via-home video exposure.

Now we have the stretch starting yesterday, Friday, February 19, for which Hess has packed away the kid gloves in lieu of throwing curve balls. To start, the Art inadvertently referenced its own past by playing a program called “The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010,” distributed by Magnolia Pictures. As of this writing, only two chances remain to see each half of the alternating bill – tonight, Saturday, February 20, 7:30 p.m., and tomorrow, Sunday, February 21, 5 p.m., for the animated set (featuring perennial Academy Award favorites Wallace & Gromit in A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH) and tomorrow at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. for the live-action set. It’s uncommon to see omnibus features of this nature play theatrically in Champaign-Urbana; gone are the days when compilations such as Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation and the classier International Tournée of Animation regularly made the art-house rounds, including the Art. A welcome return of the format, this is.

One show also remains at 10 p.m. tonight for this weekend’s late-night feature, the sci-fi/horror hybrid DAYBREAKERS starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill. After Sunday, the Art breaks even further from a normal schedule by slotting a short run of the documentary TAKEDOWNS AND FALLS. Co-directed by Todd Hickey and Kirk Ledger, the film follows a high school wrestling squad from Harrisburg, PA, in their quest to win the state championship. According to the official Weblog, the film “explores themes of positive psychology, family, friendship, and team work.” Both Hickey and featured wrestler Tony Dallago, currently a collegiate grappler with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be attending all FALLS screenings at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, February 22, through Thursday, February 25, as well as the bonus “discussion group” show on Tuesday, February 23, 2:30 p.m.

Hess has already tipped CUBlog on what’s in store after this week and the next, which will feature the Oscar-nominated drama THE LAST STATION with James McAvoy, Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, and Paul Giametti. We’ll allow him the pleasure of announcing the selections, which relate to a favorite American director whose most recent feature just opened nationwide. As for our favorite local theater not playing SHUTTER ISLAND, we hope this trend of experimentation continues and the Champaign-Urbana community will support Hess’ efforts to broaden the cinematic reach of the Art.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. Not 24 hours after posting the above, your humble editor stumbled upon full-color Art Theater handbills at a downtown eatery which revealed the mystery movies. Guess that means we can freely discuss them with you, dearest readers…

It will become apparent that Hess loves himself a good rock documentary, and what better excuse is there to sample the Art’s lauded audio system than with a film heavy on the soundtrack music? One of our distinct memories of the Boardman era took place during a short run of Jonathan Demme’s concert film, NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD, which for our money exuded the warmest tones to ever waft from any set of six-channel speakers hanging above our heads.

The gear at the Art will receive a more vigorous workout during the late shows promoted in said handbills. Hess has chosen to test the waters with THE LAST WALTZ on Friday, February 26, and Saturday, February 27, followed by SHINE A LIGHT on Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6, starting at 10 p.m. All the kids finally know of their director, Martin Scorsese, due to the recent box office success of SHUTTER ISLAND and THE DEPARTED if not for his iconic work including MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER, and RAGING BULL, although they might be hard pressed to place a finger on WALTZ and the group at its epicenter, The Band with Robbie Robertson. On the flip side, cultural and generational disconnect will probably not be an issue with SHINE and The Rolling Stones.

[Updated 2/22/10, 9:30 p.m. CST]

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