Flavorful 'Duck Soup' at the Charles

Marx Brothers' 1933 classic about war and nationalism comes to the Charles

November 20, 2009|By Michael Sragow | michael.sragow@baltsun.com

A Marx Brothers revival has long been overdue. Let's hope the Charles' presentation of their masterpiece "Duck Soup" helps kicks one off. It's a good thing that the Charles plays old movies more than once a week. The punning effrontery of Groucho and the dialect comedy of Chico come so fast and mock-furious that even their target audiences in the 1930s had to attend the films several times to catch all the jokes. Each brother of the brothers (except game, banal Zeppo) could also be a sight gag unto himself. And each had his comic force multiplied when he played off another Marx or two. Chico's piano-playing, for example, could be a drag, but the group knew how to mine it for laughs.

They had already annihilated college life in their 1932 burlesque "Horse Feathers," and the next year, in "Duck Soup," they took on an even larger institution than academia - statehood - as Groucho (here the president of the struggling nation of Freedonia) and Chico and Harpo (as secret agents) aim fusillades at every aspect of war with an abandon unmatched until Kubrick made "Dr. Strangelove" 40 years later. And even Kubrick backed off from ending his film with a custard-pie fight, while the Marx Brothers merrily sling slimy fruit at Freedonia's patroness while celebrating a meaningless victory over the country of Sylvania. It makes most other parodies of nationalism taste like thin broth, indeed.

The Charles, 1711 N. Charles St., presents "Duck Soup" noon Saturday and 7 p.m. Monday. Go to thecharles.com or call 410 -727-FILM.

AFI Silver salutes the French Hitchcock: Henri-Georges Clouzot was a French master craftsman who made many thrilling, expert movies that Americans never tired of remaking, including two of the biggest international hits of the 1950s: "The Wages of Fear," the nitro-on-trucks film remade by William Friedkin as "Sorcerer," and "Diabolique," the dankest and creepiest of school-set chillers, remade for American TV twice and on the big screen once (as a vehicle for Sharon Stone). Although Clouzot became known as the French Hitchcock, his range was far wider than Hitchcock's. "The Wages of Fear" was actually a precursor to "The Wild Bunch" as an existential adventure story. Clouzot's "The Mystery of Picasso" was a unique art documentary that followed Picasso as he worked on a transparent "canvas" designed to give Clouzot's camera a unique perspective on his creative process.

Clouzot's appetites for emotional and psychological extremes and aesthetic innovation were supposed to come together in his projected 1964 "L'enfer," a tale of erotic possessiveness and envy revolving around a lakeside hotelier (Serge Reggiani) who becomes obsessed with the idea that his luminous young wife (Romy Schneider) is unfaithful. The director eventually aborted the film, but his footage becomes the core of Serge Bromberg's documentary "Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno," a movie that might have been called "The Mystery of Clouzot." Variety's Todd McCarthy reported from Cannes that the tests the director shot with Schneider are "amazing; hallucinatory and trippy in a disciplined, pre-psychedelic way, they split the screen into countless identical images, use whirling light to alter the impassively posed actress' moods with dizzying speed, employ glittering color and makeup effects to unknown eventual ends, and at one point aim to create 'optical coitus' with a zoom lens."

"Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno" plays at 4 p.m. Saturday and 7:45 p.m. Sunday at the AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. Check AFI.com/Silver for updates; call 301-495-6720 for general information or 301-495-6700 for program information.

The Poe Perplex Revisited: Nevermore 2009 has dubbed its Saturday night presentation "The Last Poe Picture Show." Surely they jest. After all, on two successive Fridays mere weeks from now, Dec. 4 and 11, the Baltimore Museum of Art will present "The 48 Hour Film Project: A Cinematic Celebration of Poe." This weekend's salute should be an exceptionally jolly and possibly even scary one. It includes "House of Usher" (1960), next to "The Masque of the Red Death" the most acclaimed entry in low-budget producer-director Roger Corman's Poe cycle, and Mario Cavalli's little-seen 1998 British version of "The Cask of Amontillado." The high point, though, is sure to be a panel discussion with experts including Gregory William Mank and the The Baltimore Sun's own Chris Kaltenbach, moderated by filmmaker Mark Redfield.

"The Last Poe Picture Show" takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday at Westminster Hall, 519 E. Fayette St. To reserve tickets, go to westminsterhall.com or poebicentennial.com. For more information, call 410-706-2072.

Revenge of the Nerds at MICA: "Nerdcore Rising" caused Salon's Andrew O'Hehir to ask, "Is this the year when Internet fanboy-geek culture (or choose your own insulting epithet) comes out of the shadows to reveal the full flower of its variety?" He answered his own question with a resounding "maybe so, but whatever about that." O'Hehir went on to dub Negin Farsad's documentary "Nerdcore Rising" about MC Frontalot, pioneer of the "nerdcore hip-hop" movement, "Funny, inspiring, authentic, sympathetic and never, ever mean. (Or at least not in a bad way.)"

"Nerdcore Rising" screens at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Maryland Institute College of Art, 1301 W. Mount Royal Ave. For more information, go to www.nerdcorerisingmovie.com.

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