Many, many thanks to Susan Moneypenny and everyone at B98 for a sensational trip to Wichita and the Tallgrass Film Festival. I had a blast!
Opening night was the work-in-progress screening of What’s the Matter with Kansas, a documentary from Laura Cohen and Joe Winston that they say is a “sequel” to the best-selling book by Thomas Frank that shares its title. Both explore Kansas as the the heart of Middle America, which twice helped elect George W. Bush. The documentary includes a range of fascinating and stereotype-busting characters, several of whom were in the theater. There was what we in Washington call a “free and frank exchange of ideas” with the film-makers following the screening.
I spent Friday morning in the studio with my beloved Brett, Tracy, and Kathy. I had a tour of the stunning Warren Theater, an art deco masterpiece with white-gloved ushers and a balcony with heated Tempur-pedic loveseats to cuddle in and a full-service menu delivered to you as you watch. And then we had lunch at the best place in town, the Old Mill Tasty Shop. Trust me, it’s worth the trip to Kansas to taste the tomato bisque, chicken salad, and hot fudge sundae brownie.
We saw the documentary shorts:
* Springed Migration (a six-mile portage of a trampoline through the streets of Austin)
* For Tomorrow, The Toms Shoes Story (TOMS shoes gives away a pair of shoes to a poor child for every pair purchased — 65,000 given away so far)
* From My Hands (Fulbright scholar Jessica Tibbits shows us a school for the deaf in Yemen)
* If a Body Meet a Body (the LA coroner’s office has to identify a dead body)
* I See the Music: Baron Wolman The Rolling Stone Years (interview with the man who photographed Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and others for the then-new Rolling Stone)
I got to host the family film screenings, which included <a href="http://www.jumpmovie.com
It all went by too fast!
“Kit Kittredge” is remarkable for what it is and just as remarkable for what it is not. It is wholesome but it is not sugary. It is family-friendly but it does not gloss over economic realities and family stress. It is true to the spirit of the 1930’s but respectful of all we have learned since that era about respect and tolerance for differences of race and gender. And it is a good movie with important lessons but it is not one bit dull or preachy. Three cheers for Kit and for producer Julia Roberts for making this movie everything the devoted fans of the American Girls series hope for.
Abigail Breslin (of Little Miss Sunshine) plays Kit, a 1930’s heroine very much in the spirit of spunky 1930’s and 40’s female journalists like Dorothy Thomson and those portrayed in films by Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday) and Jean Arthur (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). In a nod to those classic movies, this one begins with Kit striding into a Cincinnati newspaper office to ask the editor to print her story. And the editor (Wallace Shawn) is every bit as choleric as newspaper editors in 1930’s movies always are.
But Kit will soon have bigger challenges than being underestimated by a grumpy newspaper editor. All around her, families are struggling because of the economic problems. Fathers are losing their jobs and her friends are losing their homes. Kit’s own beloved daddy (Chris O’Donnell) has to leave to try to find work in Chicago. And she and her mother (Julia Ormond) have to open up their home to boarders to make ends meet.
Some of the people around her become fearful and suspicious but Kit and her mother maintain their sense of optimism and generosity, sharing what little they have. A courageous pair of young hobos insist on working for the food they get from Kit’s mother and they introduce Kit to a community of homeless people who help each other any way they can.
Kit enjoys the boarders, especially a lively dancer (“30 Rock’s” Jane Krakowski), and a friendly magician (Stanley Tucci). She takes comfort in some small distinctions — unlike her friends, she has not lost her house or had to sell eggs or wear dresses made from a flour sack. And her father has promised to keep writing. But then things get tougher. And they get toughest of all when every penny her family has is stolen and it looks like the thief is her friend.
Disney’s new Tinkerbell DVD will let us hear Tinkerbell’s voice for the first time in her first-ever feature film. Get a sneak peek behind the scenes from this clip.
Hundreds of news articles are referring to our current economic crisis as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Movies were just coming of age in that decade. The first talkie was “The Jazz Singer” in 1927 and the first three-strip Technicolor film was “Becky Sharp” in 1935. So the first big contemporary story told in movies was about the Depression and films as varied as Meet John Doe, Swing Time, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, The Grapes of Wrath, Sullivan’s Travels, Gold Diggers of 1933, Modern Times, and The Poor Little Rich Girl with Shirley Temple, the Depression era’s top box office star, both reflected and influenced their time.
In The Guardian, David Thomson writes about the classic films of the 30’s and his pessimism that the current economic struggles will produce anything as enduring.
In 1930, the talent in American pictures was from literature, the theatre and journalism, with educated backgrounds and a shared sense of the moral identity in being American. Today’s talent consists of absurdly rich young people who have made the hits of the past dozen years. They know very little about life, except what they have to lose. Those people and much of the audience have lost the habit, or even the memory, of hard times.
While we might not see anything like Ginger Rogers singing “We’re in the Money” in pig latin during the recovery from this economic upheaval, history has shown that the toughest times most often produce the greatest art. Furthermore, just as technology transformed the movies of the 1930’s, changes that it possible for people to create and distribute movies outside the studio system are opening up the chance to share stories and ideas to a much broader range of people from a much broader range of backgrounds than was possible 80 years ago. I look forward to seeing what hardship inspires. And in the meantime, we can still enjoy Ginger singing about how she’s in-way the oney-may.