The Pianist by Tim Lambrecht

In recent years, we have seen many moving films regarding the holocaust. Steven Spielberg's epic Schindter's List, and Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful certainly among the best of them. The Pianist, directed by Roman Polanski, can take a place among them. Based on the true story of Polish radio star Wladyslaw Szpilman. The Pianist is an unflinching document of one's man's struggle to survive against overwhelming odds.
        The film opens, set in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and his family are coping with the changes that the German occupation brings. They must give up their apartment, and be relocated to a Jewish ghetto. It is difficult for them, but as a family their combined strength holds them together.
        But later, when the Jews are being rounded up and sent out on trains to camps, Wladyslaw is separated from them. He escapes, to the underground, where he meets members of the Polish resistance. They figure if they can hold out long enough, the Americans or the Russians will come and free them from their situation.
        Life, as a Jew, in Warsaw, at this time, meant staying in hiding. Szpilman stay’s alone, at a sympathizer's apartment for days, waiting for news and food. While there, he must remain silent. His discovery would be certain death for all involved. From the window, he sees the brutality of the war just below him, watching as Nazi soldiers gun down rebel factions.
        In the second half of the film, we see a disheveled Szpilman, injured, limping, on the run, hiding out and scrounging for scraps of food. A dirty beard fills his face. His nerves frazzled, his face gaunt and his eyes empty.
        In him, we see a man, deprived of everything that made him human. Yet he bravely holds on.
        Like Benigni, for Life Is Beautiful, Adrien Brody, also won the Academy Award for Best Actor. And Polanski, he himself a survivor of a Krakow ghetto, won an Academy Award for Best Director. His use of a cityscape shot at different times of the film, establishes the total devastation of the city.
        This is an excellent, emotional film but is sometimes difficult to watch and not intended for younger audiences. The scenes of brutality are not sensationalized but are violent and disturbing. 
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Sincerely Yours

Life As A Video Producer by Peg Haubert

My name is Peg Haubert. I am a video producer. I am the maker of images, the recorder of sounds. I am the investigator. I am the information processor. I am the interpreter of visions. I am a magician. I will do what it takes to achieve the communication objectives of my clients. I received my BFA in Independent Filmmaking from UW Milwaukee. I enjoy creative problem solving. I have been decoding the wishes of others since I was three years old. It all started when my baby brother pointed up one day and said, "Ugh." Mom handed him an object and he tossed it aside. She tried several items but none of them were what he wanted. He continued to demand, "Ugh." Tired of his routine, she raised her voice and said, "What? Just tell me what you want?" He started to cry but continued to point at nothing and everything while repeating, "Ugh, Ugh!" I, perhaps sensing the frustration they were experiencing, offered my help, "I know what he wants, Momma. I know what he wants." I said. I handed him a towel. With this he was happy.
        The outcome of my intervention was twofold. My brother never said an actual word until he was three years old while I, on the other hand, developed extraordinary abilities listening, interpreting, and finding 'that' which serves the needs of others.
        Primarily, I extend my services to non-profit clients. I have worked extensively with health care providers, educators, volunteers, students, and artists. I am predisposed to humanitarian efforts. Whoever I am working with I follow this general procedure; we develop a basic game plan. First I listen. I listen to everyone involved in the project. I gather all the details. Then I do “nothing." I go home. From that moment on I am assimilating volumes of information. I take in all the details and push them to the back of my mind. I go about my routine chores and rituals while the project puts itself together. I wait. I go to bed. I try to go to sleep.
        Just about the time I fall asleep, Bingo! My brain is ready for action. It is mysterious to me how my brain works. I don't know how it happens. I'm glad it does this, however. I don't get much sleep until the project is finished. I research, write, write, write, get step-by-step feedback...write some more. After the script is approved, I shoot, capture audio, edit, mix, dub and deliver. It is good, hard, rewarding work. I am currently accepting new clients, offer honest and affordable production options and strive to help others achieve their communication objectives. I will work around the clock to meet a deadline. Those I have served appreciate my abilities. I have heard it said that I "rock." I've heard that I, "walk on water." I love to hear these things. In essence I simply do the best job t can possibly do with the resources that are available. I know that the most powerful resource available is good old "imagination."
        I own my equipment and have recently upgraded to the Casablanca Prestige. This non-linear edit deck allows me to burn DVDs. I am equipped with three video cameras, two edit decks and when I need additional equipment, I rent. When I need additional crew I hire crew. When I am not working on a video project I offer other services such as still photography, slide presentations, and poster design.
        I live in Milwaukee's East Village. It has been home to me for twenty plus years. It is a natural progression of growth around here. Thus, I am becoming more involved in the Astor Street Performing Arts Center project. I will be doing some grant writing to assist in the future development of this community resource. I hope to offer private tutoring to a few individuals.
        In addition, I am currently coordinating a community education workshop for kids and their parents. It has an environmental theme focusing on the future. I am looking for a church basement or classroom where we can hold this workshop. I am learning web design, computer animation, and streaming video techniques. Using Photoshop, I am creating digital images and am excited by the infinite potential in this new media.
        I have several personal projects I hope to complete that are on the back burner waiting for attention. There are more productions waiting to be developed. Everyday a new idea comes to light. You are invited to share your ideas with me. If I can help, I will.
        Sincerely, Peg
        Please, contact me at 414-225-9644 or e-mail  Back to topics

Whale Rider by Tim Lambrecht

In the Maori culture, in New Zealand, there is a fable passed down of the boy prophet sent from God who rides on the back of a whale and leads his people to prosperity. Because of this fable, and a harsh paternalistic culture, boy babies are cherished and spoiled, while girl babies are not. When Pai is born, she is considered bad luck. Her twin brother and mother both die during the childbirth, and she grows up feeling the shame, sadness and stigma of her situation.
        After her birth, her father leaves her in the care of his parents while he travels to Europe to pursue his artistic career. She is raised by her grandparents the best they can. There are some sweet scenes between the stubborn grandfather and Pai. For all his pain and shame, he cannot help but love his granddaughter. And we see her trying her best to please him.
        Later, the prodigal son returns home and wants to take his daughter home to Germany with him, she reluctantly agrees. She never goes through with it, but the fact that she was going to go unsettles and hurts the grandfather greatly.
        Being an elder of the clan, he teaches a class in Maori traditions and martial arts for the town's boys. He is looking for the next male leader, since there will be none from his family. Pai listens in and trains in secret. She would like to compete with the boys but is not allowed. Slowly, through her determination, she makes progress until even her grandfather must admit that Pai is not someone he should be ashamed of, but someone he can feel proud of.
        This is a wonderful family film. It is a great story of a girl's strength and determination, but it's also a beautiful-looking film with shots of the New Zealand shoreline and underwater shots of the whales.
        Niki Caro has done a beautiful job of bringing this Wite Ihimaera's novel to life, and Keisha Castle-Hughes, only 11 at the time of the filming, is wonderful as Pai. You can't help but be moved when you look into her eyes. Back to topics

This We All Once Believed: Seabiscuit by Peter Fraser

When we see families in Gary Ross' nostalgic Seabiscuit, the parents care about one another, the children seem happy, and conflicts revolve around the cosmic tragedies – death, disability, financial loss. The main narrative line of the story follows four individuals stripped of the security and love of their families, by real tragedy, which work together to form a new family – for mutual comfort and encouragement and to preserve and uphold core values
For our world, and, more particularly, our culture gone mad, Seabiscuit offers a glimmer of hope. It is not a flawless film, but most Americans who mourn the passing of the "old days" when ordinary life seemed more ordinary, will find it to be a great film, simply because the values affirmed in Seabiscuit have now become so rare.
        At the end of a summer which brought American film goers a sordid stream of comic bookish grotesqueries, capped off by Freddie versus Jason, comes a film with the kind of story many of us grew up on, and one that will certainly become a part of the cultural vocabulary, and better it.
        Seabiscuit brings to mind two other films – The Natural and A River Runs Through It. Seabiscuit is a sports genre film with the inevitable build up toward the big race when the underdog will triumph; and, like The Natural, it conveys an appreciation for the sport of horseracing in the idealothe love of green grass and graceful animals and kids leaning against a rail chomping on pieces of grass. Like A River Runs Through It, it tells a moving human story before a beautifully photographed backdrop of a time and place in American history that have become mythic.
        Based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand, the story is about the psychological impact of the Depression and how one undersized and temperamental racehorse came to represent the hopes of so many Americans whose lives were shattered in those times.
        Jeff Bridges plays Charles Howard, a bicycle repairman who became a pioneer in the automobile industry, only to have tragedy hit the nation and his own family. Partly as therapy, he gets interested in thoroughbreds and takes on a trainer, Tom Smith, whose special gift is with injured or difficult animals. Smith, played brilliantly by Chris Cooper, detects greatness in a mismanaged horse, which has shown little in its career – of course, "the Biscuit." He determines he can pull out of the horse its true nature, with the help of a young jockey, who has likewise endured his own set of disillusionments, Red Pollard, played by Tobey Maguire.
        To tell any more would be to spoil a movie which gives away its punches, as all genre films tend to do, but which still has the power to move us, because it tells a true story – the characters seem real, not plastic; the themes are life-affirming; the art is sincere, not self-congratulatory.
        In an age when marketing determines product, when companies poll teenagers to decide what is hip and then create product around that perception, Seabiscuit is completely out of step. This is a movie that assumes that a good story told well will sell itself.
        When the horse first appears a third of the way through the movie, and the trainer, Tom Smith first sees him, we are told in a voice-over that Smith thought the horse looked right through him, as if to say, "What the hell are you looking at." It's the kind of great line that you would expect John Wayne to utter.
        The movie says as much – know who I am and what I believe – what about you?
        Peter Fraser is Professor of English and Chair of the Department of Modem Languages at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee. He has authored two books and numerous articles on film and popular culture.  Also see Books by Author Peter Fraser.

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The Good Thief and The Lucky Lady by Tim Lambrecht

Neil Jordan, (The Crying Game), has crafted a moody, gritty story of Bob Montagnet, an anti-hero of sorts. A con man. A gentleman. A good thief.
Based loosely on a 1950's French film, (Bob Ie Flambeur), The Good Thief (2003) lets us in on the life of Bob, played by Nick Nolte. Nolte is in rare form here. He plays an expatriate of sorts, an American living in southern France. An educated, small-time hood and addict, he has two addictions, gambling and drugs.
        And we see both addictions in play as the film opens, Bob playing cards at a club, which also doubles as a brothel. He takes a break to shoot up in the bathroom only to be disturbed by a new girl at the club. The Lolita-esque Anne introduces herself, then leaves him alone with his needle.
        Nutsa Kukhianidze plays Anne, a soft-spoken yet insightful 17-year old girl, lured to the West with promises of wealth. Now she is a prostitute and into drugs.
        Bob's reputation precedes him and Tcheky Karyo plays a cop assigned to keep tabs on him. The two have an interesting "co-dependent relationship" as Bob describes it.
        When a shipment of valuable paintings come to the Monaco Casinos, a friend from Bob's past pitches him an idea of a heist. However, in order for him to be at his best, Bob will need to clean up his act and give up heroin.
        When next Bob and Anne meet in the club, he rescues her from her abusive pimp. The living arrangements are temporary though. She stays long enough to see him through a brutal heroin withdrawal, but then he makes her leave.
        The art heist plan becomes Bob's main concern. He needs to assemble a crew that will be able to pull off the caper. This is where the movie comes up short. The peripheral players in the crew are stereotypes and comical, far less interesting than the relationship between Bob and Anne or even Bob and his cop friend.
        Of the remainder of the cast, Ralph Fiennes, does a good job as a tough intense art dealer, but someone we know little else about.
        Eventually, of course, Bob and Anne find themselves back together. Playing the part of knight in shining armor/father figure/protector as opposed to a romantic suitor, makes Bob even more appealing to Anne. Where other men have let her down in the past, Bob has been there for her.
        And she has been there for him. Since meeting her, she has helped him through his heroin addiction and now he is on a winning streak of his own.
        There are a lot of good things in this film. The cinemaphotography and editing in the film are excellent. The walkthrough of the Casino is shot in a slightly disorienting 360-degree pan, the way we might feel if we were there for the first time.
        The central characters in this film are interesting and best when they interact with each other. Nolte has good screen chemistry with both Karyo and Kukhianidze. They play intriguing characters, all very well acted. Unfortunately, the film tries to be both a thriller and a film-noir piece and in the end, we are left wishing we could've seen these characters in a different movie.  Back to topics

Warshaw Collection of Business Americana: Motion Pictures, 1896-1963

Motion pictures were first publicly exhibited in the United States at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois in 1893. While the films exhibited there were technically crude with little to no plot or story and far from the polished product of today, they immediately caught the public's attention.
Within a short time the motion picture industry (creation, distribution, and marketing) had grown into a lucrative business. Those first motion pictures were often short serial films run in a series to keep customers coming back to follow the story's plot line to its conclusion. Gradually, films became longer and a number of performers developed legions of fans guaranteeing a certain amount of box office business from name recognition of the star alone.
        Initially, the film industry consisted of many small companies, but competition cleared the field and fewer, larger corporations cornered the market in both production and distribution. Independent theatre owners, who were at first almost wholly independent of the production companies, also became rare as the major theatre chains developed their own movie studios to ensure a steady stream of films to be shown at their theaters.
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