Thursday, February 12, 2009

Barry Kryshka of Take-Up Productions talks Universal Noir

If you have been an active movie-goer in the Twin Cities the past two years, chances are you have attended a film programed by Barry Kryshka of Take-Up Productions. Those screenings include such diverse offerings as Fantastic Voyage at the Bell Museum, Dolemite at the Riverview and the classic Sunset Boulevard at the Parkway. Take-Up has filled a void for those craving repertory screenings in the Twin Cities. The void-filling continues next week as Take-Up begins a 7-film, 5 week series at the Heights Theater, "From the Vaults of Universal: Seven Classic Film Noirs." The series kicks off this Monday, February 16 with This Gun for Hire (1942) and continues for the next five Mondays, which includes two double features.

In an attempt to liven up the natter I provide, I decided to ask Barry a few questions about the upcoming Universal Noir series, the state of rep cinema n the Twin Cities, and why drinking at home is never as much fun as drinking at a bar:

How long have you been programing as Take-Up Productions?

Take-Up started in 2006 when MN Film Arts ended the full time repertory programming they'd done so well. At first we worked on festivals (like Sound Unseen and the Bicycle Film Festival) to raise the money we'd need to start producing series programming. The first series we did was at the Parkway in October 2007. The Killing, Kiss Me Deadly, Gilda, Pickup on South Street and The Big Sleep.

I was a pretty big fan of the Richard Widmark series at the Parkway this summer, mostly because it was a handful of films I knew very little about. How hard is it to dig up some of these films?

Widmark was actually one of the easier series to arrange, because he was under contract to Fox for much of the 40s and 50s, so we could get all 5 films from a single studio. The hard part comes when you're renting the theater, like we do, and you need to make sure that compatible equipment is in place to show older films in various formats. We're putting a Hitchcock series together now, and Hitchcock shot in pretty much every format and worked with just about every studio, so that's more difficult to piece together.

You mean like different 35mm formats?

Modern films come in two sizes. 1.85:1 is roughly the same as a widescreen television, and 2.35:1, which is Cinemascope, the super wide format. Think Star Wars or Lawrence of Arabia, which play back with black bars even on a widescreen TV.

Originally, movies were 1.33:1, the same shape as the 35mm film itself. As a reaction to television, Hollywood went wider and wider, first to 1:66:1, and then to the formats we have today. So all together, there are four common formats, and most of today's theaters are set up to handle only the two modern ones. We needed to install lenses when we first ran film noir at the Parkway, to handle 1.66 and 1.33. Lenses are pretty expensive, and it can be tough convincing a theater to invest in running old formats.

What was the impetus for the Film Noir series coming up at the Heights?

I've been wanted to do this series from the start, Universal holds some of the all time classic noir titles, but they're very careful about the equipment they allow to project their prints. That's good, because it means their collection is in great shape, but we couldn't get approval to show the films we wanted at the Parkway or most other Twin Cities theaters. When Tom Letness took over at The Heights in 1998, he installed the dual projector system needed for archive film prints, so when the chance came to do a series there, I knew right away what we were going to run.

They all look great. Can you give us some of your personal highlights of the series?

My favorites are the double features. I've been dying to show some Veronica Lake films, and we have three in this series, including a double of The Blue Dahlia and The Glass Key; neither is available on DVD. Our other double feature is a pair of Burt Lancaster films directed by Robert Siodmak: Criss Cross and The Killers.

Both pairs make great double features, they're quick, sharp films, about 90 minutes each. And like a real double feature, one ticket gets you two.

Also, I'm just a huge fan of The Big Clock. Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, and Harry Morgan as a heavy.

It was starting to look very bad for repertory cinema there for a while with Minnesota Film Arts falling apart and seemingly no one there to pick up the pieces. But there has been a pretty nice balance of rep screenings in the past year between the series you have been doing and the occasional rep screenings at the Heights and the Walker. What do you think is a realistic future for rep cinema in the Twin Cities?

I got a peek at Tom's plans for rep programming at the Heights this year, which includes some great stuff, and the 3D series at the Parkway looks very interesting. What I want back is a dedicated repertory cinema venue. For ten years, Oak St screened five or six different films each week and because of the McKnight Foundation and the State Arts Board and a committed community of audience members, the theater thrived. I think the Twin Cities can support that kind of theater, and I want to see that happen.

The death of cinema has been talked about since the invention of the television. There is certainly evidence here and everywhere else that getting people out to the movies is becoming harder and harder. But is it all that dire?

I don't think it's dire at all. We've seen the progression of TV, VHS, DVD, NetFlix, iTunes and so on...but people will always enjoy being in a room with an audience that shares their interests. You can buy liquor and drink at home alone, but that doesn't mean bars are going away.

Excellent point. What's coming up for you after the Universal Noir series?

We've got the Hitchcock series nearly pinned down. If it all comes together, we'll open with a Thursday night screening at the Heights, then move to the Riverview for five Mondays. The Riverview is our largest venue yet, with 700 seats, so it's a bit of a gamble, but people love that theater so much that I'm expecting we'll see our largest audiences ever.

The Riverview is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year, and I think it's appropriate to celebrate by bringing back a series of films that probably screened during the theater's first decade.

I'm excited already! What Hitchcock titles have you confirmed?

Not quite confirmed, but the titles that are nearly certain include North by Northwest, Rear Window, Rope, To Catch A Thief and Vertigo.

We're still working on Strangers on a Train (I think we'll get it), and trying to find a way to include The Trouble With Harry and The Lady Vanishes.

If someone gave you a theater decked out with everything you might need and a boatload of money, what would you program?

Last year we passed on a huge series commemorating the 90 year history of United Artists. There were brand new prints of films from Martin Scorsese, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Blake Edwards, John Huston, Richard Lester, John Sturges, Robert Altman. And some James Bond films, too.

It was a fantastic series, and would have run for 3 weeks solid! That's the kind of programming I want back in the Twin Cities.

Full schedule for the Heights Film Noir series:

February 16 7:30 This Gun For Hire (1942)
dir Frank Tuttle, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake
Hit man Philip Raven, who's kind to children and cats, kills a blackmailer and is paid off by traitor Willard Gates in "hot" money. Meanwhile, pert entertainer Ellen Graham, girlfriend of police Lieut. Crane (who's after Raven) is enlisted by a Senate committee to help investigate Gates. Raven, seeking Gates for revenge, meets Ellen on the train; their relationship gradually evolves from that of killer and potential victim to an uneasy alliance against a common enemy.

*February 23 BURT LANCASTER DOUBLE FEATURE (2 films for 1 $8 ticket)*
7:30 Criss Cross (1949)
dir Robert Siodmak, starring Burt Lancaster and Yvone De Carlo
Romantic, obsessive Steve Thompson is drawn back to L.A. to make another try for Anna, his former wife. However, Anna belongs now to the L.A. underworld. Steve believes he can rescue her, ignoring the advice and warnings of people who would try to save him.
9:15 The Killers (1946)
dir Robert Siodmak, starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner
Two professional killers invade a small town and kill a gas station attendant, "the Swede," who's expecting them. Insurance investigator Reardon pursues the case against the orders of his boss, who considers it trivial. Weaving together threads of the Swede's life, Reardon uncovers a complex tale of treachery and crime, all linked with gorgeous, mysterious Kitty Collins.

March 2 7:30 The Big Clock (1948)
dir John Farrow, starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton
Crime magazine editor Richard Stroud (Ray Milland) is framed for murder when the owner of his magazine's syndicate (Charles Laughton) kills his mistress in this classic "New York Noir" suspense film.

*March 9 ALAN LADD / VERONICA LAKE DOUBLE FEATURE (2 films for 1 $8 ticket)*
7:30 The Blue Dahlia (1946)
dir George Marshall, starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and William Bendix
Ex-bomber pilot Johnny Morrison and his buddies George and Buzz return from the war to their home town of Hollywood, for what turns out to be a fairly rude homecoming.
9:15 The Glass Key (1942)
dir Stuart Heisler, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake
Paul Madvig, a crooked politician has decided to give up his corrupted past to team up with the respectable candidate Ralph Henry for the ongoing election. This is the film remade by the Coen Brothers in 1990 as Miller's Crossing.

March 16 7:30 The Phantom Lady (1944)
dir Robert Siodmak, starring Franchot Tone, Ella Raines and Elisha Cook
Unhappily married Scott Henderson spends the evening on a no-name basis with a hat-wearing woman he picked up in a bar. Returning home, he finds his wife strangled and becomes the prime suspect in her murder.

Take-Up's website.
The Heights Theater website.
Secrets of the City on Take-Up.
MnDialog on "Ready for Our Close-Up: 50 Years of L.A. Noir."
Star Tribune on "Playing the Villian: The Films of Richard Widmark."

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