Exercising my guesthood in Madison | Bleader

Exercising my guesthood in Madison


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Madisons Orpheum Theater, in better weather
  • Madison's Orpheum Theater, in better weather
At the gracious invitation of former Bank of America Cinema programmer (and my old critical compatriot) Mike King, I’m currently enjoying a visit to Madison as a guest of the Wisconsin Film Festival. I haven’t been here in several years, so I’m trying to take in plenty of local scenery in addition to the movies. Last night I walked down to the Capitol Building after seeing Goodbye First Love (one of my favorites of 2011) at the historic Orpheum Theater. The weather was cold and rainy, so I didn’t stay out too long; thankfully, the rain stopped this morning, so I plan to see more of the city.

Unlike the last few sessions of the Chicago International Film Festival, the screenings here are spread across the downtown area. That’s a pleasure for guests like me, since it provides an excuse to wind my way through town in between films, discovering restaurants, shops, and countless local weed dealers en route. The latter should be out in full force today, as even family-friendly storefronts are advertising their “holiday weekend sales.”

I’m biased when it comes to Mike’s programming, but he and the other organizers have put together an admirably diverse festival. There’s a strong emphasis on avant-garde films, with programs (and appearances) by Phil Solomon—whose work I’m checking out this afternoon, just before I see a rare film print of Andy Warhol’s Face (1966)—and the ever-entertaining Luther Price. There’s also an interesting sidebar of recent movies from Quebec, a regional cinema of which I know practically nothing. And then there’s the latest work by some of my favorite working filmmakers. I’m most excited for Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle, the great action director’s take on the investment banking industry, but I’m nearly as enthused to see Don Hertzfeldt introduce his latest short animation, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, as I missed his appearance at the Music Box in February.

Most of all, I’m eager to get back to the Orpheum, a beautiful old concert hall with a balcony that holds even more seats than the main floor. I learned last night that the theater’s used mainly for rock shows these days (which would explain why there are no seats within 100 feet of the stage), so it’s also a treat for Madisonians to watch movies there. In addition to the balcony, the Orpheum is distinguished by its old-school, cavernous acoustics that make every person onscreen sound a bit like the Wizard of Oz. Surprisingly, this only enhanced the transportive power of Goodbye First Love, a movie that evokes the exhilarating uncertainty of childhood’s end better than nearly any other I know.