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“And when she was bad, she was terrific.”

Gif from Baby Face showing Stanwyck pouring coffee on a man's hand
From “Baby Face”
From “The Big Valley”

“And starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck.” When I was growing up I would see this special announcement at the end of the opening credits for the television show, “The Big Valley.” I wondered why she was “Miss” and what the big deal was about having her on the show. But as my love for classic films grew, I started seeing Stanwyck in roles like “Baby Face” and “The Lady Eve.” It became clear that “The Big Valley” producers had landed one of the greatest actresses of all time to give their show some credibility. The gamble paid off and Stanwyck earned an Emmy for her work on the show.

Long before gracing the small screen, she was hailed by many as one of the greatest actresses. Legendary director Cecil B. DeMille said she was his favorite actress, director Billy Wilder said “she was the best,” and another director, Frank Capra, said, “Stanwyck doesn’t act a scene, she lives it.”

“When she was good, she was very, very good. And when she was bad, she was terrific.”

Film Critic Richard Corliss

We’ve put together a film series that tries to capture the essence of this person who beat the odds. Orphaned at age four, raised in a series of foster homes, and a “Ziegfeld girl” at 16, Stanwyck first became a Broadway star and then translated that success in over 80 movies. From there she went to television and won three Emmy awards. Selecting just four films proved to be a challenge, but we think we hit a good mix.

Stella Dallas, from 1937, opens on Nov. 25 and is simply too powerful to miss. Stanwyck’s portrayal of Dallas, a working-class woman who cannot navigate the wealthy world comes to a head when she has to decide what is best for her daughter. The final scene is one of the great moments in cinema. Her acting skills are on full display in this melodrama as she plays against the beauty that could have defined her career. Her performance also earned her an Academy Award nomination.

After this early dramatic role, we jump forward a few years to the 1941 screwball comedy, Ball of Fire on Dec. 2. With a wink toward Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Stanwyck teams up here with Gary Cooper. Heading up a secluded group of nerdy professors who share a house, Cooper brings nightclub entertainer “Sugarpuss” O’Shea (Stanwyck) into their lives as he researches her use of slang. Loaded with some great character actors, the film shows both sides learning from one another. And it is filled with great lines: ” I love him because he doesn’t know how to kiss, the jerk!” The audience loved the film and Stanwyck was again nominated for an Academy Award. Watch the trailer and learn what the slang “yum yum” means.

From comedy to one of the greatest film-noir movies of all time, we next see Stanwyck in the 1944 classic, Double Indemnity on Dec. 9. Here Stanwyck plays an ice-cold wife looking to collect insurance on her husband, who is inconveniently alive. Pulled into the mix is Fred MacMurray, who if you only know him from “My Three Sons,” will shock you. MacMurray, who often played less than stellar figures in film, trades lines fast and furiously with Stanwyck that drip with innuendo as they play cat and mouse with one another. Watch the trailer and find out the “murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle.”

And from this, we go to an all-out sweet Christmas romantic-comedy that even Hallmark can’t touch with Christmas in Connecticut on Dec. 16. The 1945 film shows Stanwyck trying to cover for the fact that she writes about cooking, being a mother, and living on a farm even though she lives in an NYC apartment by herself and has food delivered since she doesn’t cook. When the owner of her magazine wants to feature her welcoming a WWII hero into her home, she has to pull off some fast work. Before long she finds herself welcoming the handsome hero. On a farm. With a husband and child. Cooking in the kitchen. Yep — she is in a mess. And if I could ever create a film series featuring my favorite character actors, Sidney Greenstreet and S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, both in this film, would be on my list. A strong cast, a hilarious movie, and a Christmas love story to boot — what more could you ask for? Well, we are making this one free! Merry Christmas early. Watch the trailer for some happiness overload.

Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas

Watch all the films and you may just wonder, who is Stanwyck? A dramatic lead, a comedian, a femme fatale, or just “Mrs. Barkley.” Maybe we should just listen to the real-life Stanwyck. “I’m a tough old broad from Brooklyn,” she said. “Don’t try and make me into something I’m not.”

Derek Emerson
Hope College Director of Public Affairs and Events

For Us, Five Feet Apart is Personal

“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

Photo of Brenna outside
Brenna “Big Red” Digison

Shakespeare did not know Brenna Digison, but this is a great description for the office manager in our own Hope College Events and Conferences Office. And while we don’t call on her to be fierce too often in our office, her self-confidence does lead to points on the roller derby track. 

Granted, the small frame topped by fiery red hair is not the usual look for a “jammer” in roller derby. But Brenna is one of the people who actually score the points for the Lakeshore Roller Derby Team as her teammates block her way.  If you see her in action, you’ll see her cruising around the track, her shoulders dipped as she plows through opponents twice her size and, yes, you’ll even see her in the penalty box. She is fierce.

But it is not roller derby that brings Shakespeare’s quote to mind.

Brenna was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) when she was four-years-old and has never let the disease slow her down. Instead, she embraces life with a fierce faith that has let her redefine how someone with CF is supposed to live. She works full-time, plays roller derby, volunteers for the Park Theatre, is a member of Holland Young Professionals and gets involved in the community in many ways. 

“I see CF as a blessing. There is a reason God gave me CF,” says Brenna.

Brenna battling an opponent in roller derby.
Brenna claims she is not hitting her opponent, it is just the angle of the picture. We don’t believe her.

Her foray onto the roller rink was less out of a desire to be knocked to the ground and more about her love of roller skating. 

“I started derby because I needed a hobby” Brenna notes. “Plus it is a great workout and I get to be with people.”

Staying active is one of her main offerings of advice for other CF patients. 

“My doctor says the runners are their healthiest patients.” But, Brenna feels more at home skating than running, so roller derby it is. You’ll also see her at a lot of Hope College hockey games where her husband, Caleb, is an associate coach. Another way she stays active.

Staying active is just part of her work toward living with CF. She also takes medications every morning and evening, uses an inhaler and nose sprays, and completes a nebulizer treatment every day. She admits she should be doing the nebulizer and chest percussions up to four times a day, but she does not. Do her doctors care? 

“They take what they can get from us,” she says with a smile.

Brenna taking on an opponent in roller derby.
Brenna, wearing her faith on her helmet, never hesitates to engage!

But the most important part of how she addresses her CF is through her faith.

“I see CF as a blessing. There is a reason God gave me CF. I do struggle every day with anxiety and fear, but I rest in Him,” Brenna says.

Her work email signature includes her life verse:   “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

She encourages other CF patients to explore their faith and “to take opportunities to do things that might not come around again.” She is thankful that her parents raised her with this mindset.  It is a mindset that people outside of the CF community may not understand.  

If you meet Brenna, you cannot tell she deals with CF every day.

“There is a reason they call it an invisible disease because you can’t tell when someone is struggling,” Brenna notes. “It only shows when its really bad, but you are suffering long before that. And it can change day to day.”

Brenna Raising Arms in Victory

One way people can learn about CF is to visit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website, which has videos and clear written explanations of the disease and how it impacts people.

Five Feet Apart Movie Poster

You can also learn more by attending a special showing of the film “Five Feet Apart”  on Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Knickerbocker Theatre. The film was inspired by real-life couple Dalton Prager and Katie Donovan who both suffered from cystic fibrosis and try to have a relationship despite always being forced to stay a certain distance away from each other.

Brenna will be at the movie to talk about her experiences before the movie and then lead a discussion for anyone interested after the movie. All the Hope College proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Michigan Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The Classic Musical You May Not Know

Cabin in the SkyIf you look at the Knickerbocker Theatre lineup for classic musicals, don’t be alarmed if one of them does not ring a bell.  Sure, we’ve got Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, the big musical, Sound of Music, and even something fairly recent, Grease (“fairly recent” is defined as anything that I actually saw in the movie theatre). But, Cabin in the Sky?

Chances are, you’ve never seen Cabin in the Sky. But if you do go to the July 29 performance you’ll see why we picked a film that includes music performances by Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Even Louis Armstrong is in it, but he only plays that trumpet for around 10 seconds — the rest of the time he is a junior devil. (He did play a solo version of “Ain’t it the Truth,” but the number was cut from the final production!)

Main Cast for Cabin in the Sky
Main Cast

The film was released in 1943, but because of its all black cast, the film was not shown in parts of the country. Then the movie disappeared from rotation and it wasn’t until 2006 that Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment finally released it on DVD. The film was recently highlighted on Turner Classic Movies when guest host, director  Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time) selected it as an “essential” film.

I’ve now seen the film several times and can list it among my favorites (which, admittedly, is a long list). Waters is incredible and her rendition of “Happiness is a Thing Called Joy” (which was nominated for an Academy Award) is how a love song should be sung. Horne is a temptress who uses her beauty and voice to go after Joe. But not too much of her beauty since a scene featuring her in a bubble bath was cut from the film because, according to Horne, a black woman singing in the bath was not morally acceptable in 1943.

And then there is the dancing. One amazing scene shows people entering a nightclub, but they do not just walk in — they dance in and every one of them is great. Inside, the dancing is no less amazing and John Bubbles, the “father of rhythm tap” tears up the number “Shine.”

Bill Bailey doing the "back slide"
Bill Bailey doing the “back slide”

And, just in case you think Michael Jackson invented the moonwalk, watch closely when Waters sings “Taking A Chance on Love” and you’ll see Bill Bailey do a short “slide back” in what is considered the first recording of what is later called the Moonwalk.

If you want a fuller version, click here to see Bailey at the Apollo Theatre in 1955. [Even more trivia — Bill Bailey’s sister is the singer/actress Pearl Bailey.]

So, we have a musical with great singing, great dancing, and great songs. What more could you want? How about Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, best know as Jack Benny’s sidekick (“Oh, Rochester”) and a great actor in his own right. He even belts out a song (and I mean belts out!) with that gravelly voice and shows off some subtle dance moves.

The film is based on a hit 1940 Broadway play. Anderson plays Little Joe Jackson, a gambler who tries to reform for his incredibly patient and loving wife, Petunia (Waters). But when he is shot over a gambling death and is near death, Petunia prays for him to get to heaven. An angel appears as devils are ready to take him to hell and they make a deal — if Joe can live a good life for six months, he goes to heaven. The catch is that Joe does not know about the deal. While the angel counts on Petunia’s faith to save Joe, the devils use Sweet Georgia Brown (Lena Horne) to draw Joe back to his evil ways. It is a classic morality tale which does not veer away from Christian themes.

Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, and Vincente Minnelli
Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, and Vincente Minnelli

Cabin in the Sky was the first movie directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli who went on to direct hits such as “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Gigi,” “Brigadoon,” “Father of the Bride,” and “An American in Paris.” He married Judy Garland after “Meet Me in St. Louis” and is the father of Liza Minnelli. He was concerned enough about being a white man directing a black film that he submitted the script to the NAACP prior to its release to make sure he was avoiding stereotypes. A letter from the NAACP sent a note to the writers  “congratulating [them] on the treatment of this black fable, which avoided cliches and racial stereotypes.”

So, come and see the classic film you’ve probably never seen. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events
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The 2019 One Night Only Classic Musical Film Lineup
July 22 — Jailhouse Rock
July 29 — Cabin in the Sky
August 5 — The Sound of Music
August 12 — Grease

All shows begin at 7:30 p.m and tickets are $5 for everyone at the door.

 

Spring 2019 Film Series

The Hope College Knickerbocker Theatre in downtown Holland will continue to bring independent and international films to the West Michigan community through its 2019 Spring Film Series opening on Monday, May 13.

The series will feature “Ramen Shop” on May 13-18, “3 Faces” on May 28-June 1, “Yomeddine” on June 3-8 and “All is True” on June 10-15. All films begin at 7:30 p.m.

poster“Ramen Shop,” showing Monday-Saturday, May 13-18, is a Singaporean-Japanese drama that tells the story of Masato, a ramen chef who lives in the city of Takasaki in Japan. After the sudden death of his distant father and the finding of a notebook that belonged to his mother, who died when he was 10, Masato decides to travel to Singapore to piece together the story of his life and the past of his family. The Hollywood Reporter has described “Ramen Shop” as “mouth-watering.” The film is not rated and is in Japanese, English and Mandarin with English subtitles. Watch the trailer.

The series will continue with the Iranian drama “3 Faces” on Tuesday-Saturday, May poster28-June 1. After she comes across a young girl’s video plea for help after her family prevents her from taking up her studies at the Tehran drama conservatory, actress Behnaz Jafari abandons her shoot and, with filmmaker Jafar Panahi, decides to help the girl. The two friends travel to the rural Northwest, where they have amusing encounters with the charming and generous people of the girl’s mountain village, but Behnaz and Jafar also discover that old traditions die hard. “An immersive, pleasurably intelligent movie,” said The New York Times. The film is not rated and is in Persian, Azerbaijani and Turkish with English subtitles. Watch the trailer.

poster“Yomeddine” will be showing on Monday-Saturday, June 3-8. The Egyptian comedy-adventure film follows Beshay, a leper who recently lost his wife, and an orphaned boy, Obama, as they leave their leper colony for the first time. The two embark on a journey across Egypt, in search of what remains of their families.  Variety Magazine has called “Yomeddine” a “lovingly-made, character-driven road movie.” The film is not rated and is in Arabic with English subtitles. Watch the trailer.

Ending the Spring Film Series, “All is True” will be showing on Monday-Saturday, posterJune 10-15. The film takes place in 1613 and imagines the later life of William Shakespeare. After his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family. Haunted by the death of his only son, Hamnet, he struggles to mend the broken relationship with his wife and daughters. The film stars Kenneth Branagh, Judith Dench and Ian McKellen. The Guardian has called “All is True” a “convincing and elegant imagining of Shakespeare’s final years.” The film is rated PG-13. Watch the trailer.

Tickets for the individual films are $7 for regular admission and $6 for senior citizens, Hope College faculty and children. Tickets will be sold at the door.

The Knickerbocker Theatre is located in downtown Holland at 86 E. Eighth St.

Our 2019 Winter Film Series

The start of a new year brings along exciting things — resolutions to conquer, a fresh start with a new semester, awesome sales at your favorite stores — but (in our biased opinion), the best thing to come out of 2019 yet is our Winter Film Series, opening at the Knickerbocker Theatre on Monday, Jan. 14.

Becoming Astrid, running Monday-Saturday, Jan. 14-19, depicts the early years of Becoming Astrid movie posterSwedish author Astrid Lindren (Alba August), the author of over 100 children’s books, including the Pipi Longstocking series. Teenage Astrid breaks free of the confines of her conservative upbringing in rural Sweden, accepting an internship at a local newspaper, and later becoming pregnant after attracting the attention of the newspaper’s editor, Blomberg (Henrik Rafaelsen). Astrid leaves her childhood home and goes to Copehagen to secretly give birth to a son, Lasse, whom she reluctantly leaves in the care of a foster mother, Marie (Trine Dryholm) as she goes into self-imposed exile in Stockholm. When Marie mother falls ill, Astrid uses her imagination and flair for storytelling to reconnect with her son, establishing a newfound courage that will later form the foundation of her work. This film is in Swedish with English subtitles and is not rated. It has a running time of two hours and three minutes.

Showing on Monday-Saturday, Jan. 28 – Feb.2, Far From the Tree follows families through the eyes of parents journeying towards acceptance of their one-of-a-kind Far From the Tree movie posterkids that society has deemed “abnormal.” The documentary is based on Andrew Solomon’s New York Times best-selling book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity and offers a look at how families are meeting extraordinary challenges through love, empathy and understanding. The Huffington Post said, “the film shines a bright light not just on these different families: it also portrays a more universal vision offers a map for all of us seeking to discover the wonder of others.” The film is not rated and has a running time of one hour and 33 minutes.

The series will feature Day of the Western Sunrise , a documentary produced by Zeeland-native Keith Reimink, on Monday-Saturday, Mar. 11-16. The film follows three survivors from a Japanese tuna trawler Daigo Fukuryu Mary, or the Lucky Dragon No. 5, who were fishing off the coast of the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954, when the US detonated Castle Bravo, the first in a series of hydrogen weapon tests. The film adapted a Japanese storytelling method known as “kamishibai,” which means “paper drama,” to intimately retell the fishermen’s story, and the devastation still felt in Japan almost 65 years later. Paying homage to this Japanese art form, all the film’s scenes consist of individual drawings with paper texture being animated in a 3-D environment. The film is in Japanese with English subtitles and is not rated.

The Icelandic comedy-drama Woman at War will close out the series on Monday-Saturday, Apr. 1-6. The film tells the story of Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), an independent woman in her late 40s, who declares a one-woman-war on the local aluminum industry to stop its operations in the Icelandic highlands. In the midst of her dangerous and bold activism, a long-forgotten application to adopt a child from Ukraine is approved, and she learns there is a little girl waiting for her. As Halla prepares to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother, she comes up with one last plan to support her cause. The film is in Icelandic, English, Spanish, and Norwegian with English subtitles. It is not rated and has a running time of one hour and 41 minutes.

Tickets for the individual films are $7 for regular admission and $6 for senior citizens, Hope College faculty and children. Tickets will be sold at the door but are also available in advance at the Events and Conferences Office located downtown in the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center (100 E. Eighth St.). The office is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be called at (616) 395-7890.

The Knickerbocker Theatre is located in downtown Holland at 86 E. Eighth St.

Selecting Films and the 2018 Fall Film Series

 

Gif of myrna loyThe question is asked often: How do you select the films for your series?

And there is no easy answer. I would like to tell you that we spend hours watching 30-40 films, having passionate arguments about the artistic qualifications of each film, dissect plot and character development, and then negotiate for weeks with each distributor.

In reality, the process is usually fast and furious! The film world moves quickly and with the advent of streaming services, it moves faster than ever. Back in the day (as in, 5 years ago) we wanted to make sure we showed films that were not yet released on DVD. Today’s college students don’t know what a DVD is as films now hit Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or any number of streaming services quickly. In fact, many films are made to bypass theatres completely and go straight to a streaming service.

As a result, our efforts to show you the latest independent and international films before you can see them anywhere else has become harder. Sometimes we see a film we would love to show, but we can see that it will be released for streaming and DVD (if they still use them) before we can show them. So, that film goes off the list!

Our list gets created through a variety of ways. Some of our staff have strong connections with different distributors who suggest films for us. In addition, we watch what is happening at major film festivals (Sundance, Toronto, etc), check in with other independent theatres, take suggestions from patrons, and see what major news outlets are reviewing. We then look to create a balanced list that includes international fare as well as films from the U.S., documentaries as well as dramas as well as comedies as well as artistic entries. Once we get a list of films, we check with distributors for their input, check IMDB online, search for reviews, and watch various trailers. If we are really on the fence, a distributor might get us a “screener” that allows us to the see the film, but usually with some watermark over it so we cannot show it for free!

In the end, several of us in the office review the different films and give our input. It is a good group as we approach the films with a variety of tastes, backgrounds, and expectations. Honestly alert: we are not all thrilled with every film we choose! But with some gentle arguments we usually come to find a well-rounded series.

This fall series is now set and is a good example of our selection process.

Fall Film Series PosterWe open with “What Will People Say” which is a dramatic film focusing on the clash of cultures as a young Pakistani woman wrestles with her birth culture and her upbringing. From there we go to the documentary, “Love, Gilda” about Gilda Radner who was a driving force on the original Saturday Night Live. As many of you know, Radner battled an eating disorder and then died from ovarian cancer when she was just 42. Next, we go to the heart of the U.S. with “Neither Wolf, Nor Dog,” a film based on a popular novel about a white writer called by a Lakota Elder to help him write a book. We end with a Norwegian film, “Gavagai,” about a widower seeking to finish his wife’s work of translating the poetry of Tarjei Vessas, which is featured in the film.

As you can see, there is a little bit of everything in there. What we love most is when we go to a film expecting to be underwhelmed, and instead walk away moved. The Knick films are not blockbusters, which certainly have their place. Instead, we seek films that challenge the viewer and make you walk away entertained and thinking.

Read about all our films in our release and sign up for the free, weekly Arts Update for all the latest news. Or, visit the Knickerbocker Film Series page for trailers and information about the films.

As always, thank you for supporting our series.

Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events

“One Night Only” Series Features Four Iconic Brando Films

Marlon Brando pictureIn an era where we watch stars self-destruct on too regular of a basis, the career of Marlon Brando can offer these people both lessons and hope. After bursting onto the scene in the 1950s (and our series focuses on four films released between 1952-1954), Brando’s personal life and career went off the track in the 1960s. He went ten years without making a successful film and it looked like his legacy would rest on his solid early work. Then came his second Academy Award for The Godfather in 1972 followed by another nomination for his work in the controversial Last Tango in Paris. My introduction to Brando was at the Holland Theatre (now the Knickerbocker) in 1979 when my oldest brother took me to see Apocalypse Now since he felt all 15-year-olds should see that film. It was a memorable experience as Brando slowly leans forward in the light, rubbing that bald head and mumbling.

A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire

Little did I know that the mumbling was a Brando trademark. After his explosive performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando was nicknamed “the mumbler” by some in Hollywood. His body language in the movie matches his speech, as he moves from slouch to taut, from mumble to rapid-fire shouting in a heartbeat. It was just his second movie appearance and he had played Stanley Kowalski in the Broadway version just prior to the movie. He understood his character and it is seen in nuances of the film. Brando is the perfect match for all the subtexts found in all of Tennessee Williams’ work because you can see the internal conflicts in his every gesture.

Brando in Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

While Streetcar brought him fame, Brando wanted to show he could do more than just mumble so he took on the Mark Antony role in a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar so he could show his acting skills up against the likes of John Gielgud, James Mason, Deborah Kerr, and Greer Garson. The critics agreed that he could more than hold his own, so he then went back to mumbling.

He went from Julius Caesar to The Wild One where we get the iconic Brando on the motorcycle photo. The film has great lines and Lee Marvin is good, as always, but the motorcycle gang that orders cups of coffee appears a little dated. Still, it is Brando in rare form showing a man conflicted between emotions. The tough guy falling for the nice girl, a man who wants to be more than he is but is not sure how to get there.

On the Waterfront
ON THE WATERFRONT

In our final film, On the Waterfront, Brando plays another tough guy struggling with where to go in life. If I was forced to choose a favorite film, this is easily my all-time favorite. Eva Marie Saint, who took home the Academy Award for her debut performance here, matches Brando’s intensity. Brando is the punk who could have been a great boxer (think “I coulda been a contender”) but takes a dive for his brother and his Mafia-like union group. Now he has the chance to do something right and you see the conflict in his face and body — he wants to better than he is but he lacks the courage. And then you have Karl Malden pulling off the role of a priest that is the anti-Bing Crosby version. He is pushed out from his safe church to bring Christ to the docks and his speech over the dead body of a dock worker in the belly of a ship may be the best sermon ever preached, on or off stage. The fact that his character is based on a real-life priest may have helped cement his character. The film was a huge success, winning eight Academy awards including Brando and Marie Saint for their acting, Eli Kazan for his directing, and the film itself won the best picture award.

Looking at these four films together, it is incredible what he put together in such a short time. Although he derailed his own career, nearly 20 years after these films he was back and still amazing people with his skills. As another great actor, Paul Newman, said: “I’m angry at Marlon because he does everything so easily. I have to break my [fill in the blank] to do what he can do with eyes closed.”

Make sure to catch all the films:

April 16 — A Streetcar Named Desire
April 23 — Julius Caesar
April 30 — The Wild One
May 7 — On the Waterfront

–Derek Emerson
Hope College Director of Public Affairs and Events

Sidney Poitier Films featured at the Knick

If Sidney Poitier was a wine, 1967 would be his best vintage.

He was already a household name and had broken many “firsts,” but in 1967 he starred in three major films and was the top movie star of the year. To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are all classic films in their own right. When you realize this is one year’s work, well, it was clearly an incredible feat.

Poitier in Blackboard Jungle

Not bad for an actor who was at first rejected because he couldn’t sing, only learned to read well when he was in his late teens, and worked at erasing his Bahamian accent so he could land acting roles (his parents were from the Bahamas but were visiting in Miami when he was born prematurely). He was on Broadway early and at age 22 was already showing up in films. His 1955 appearance in Blackboard Jungle caught people’s attention, and his Academy-nominated performance in The Defiant Ones, with Tony Curtis, put him in the spotlight. He returned to Broadway to star in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959 and reprised his role in the 1961 film version. Then he became the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963,’s Lilies of the Field.

At the 1963 March on Washington

Being a black actor in the 1960s meant that whatever Poitier did was interpreted through the civil rights lens. While he used his prominence to further the civil rights movement, he resisted some activism, which angered some of his friends. As his biographer, Aram Goudsouzian says, “Poitier’s rhetoric balanced between progressive politics and public appeal. He recognized his position as a spokesman and fundraiser, which suited his philosophical, nonconfrontational nature. He thus typically refrained from overt activism.”

 But Poitier was aware that every role he chose would be interpreted through a racial lens, and many of his roles address racial issues head on. While he received some criticism for being “too acceptable” in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, his role in In the Heat of the Night shows him facing down overt racism while struggling with his own sense of self. The film’s simple story exposes the complexity of racism.

Poitier featured in the Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun

As always, when we select these films, we struggle over which ones to select. It was a struggle to pass on The Defiant Ones, while it seems like we had to choose Lilies of the Field since he won the Oscar for that performance. We open with A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s incredible play that Poitier starred in both on stage and film. Personally, In the Heat of the Night is one of my all-time favorite films, so I was fighting for that one at the outset. And while it is starting to feel dated, it is hard to pass up Poitier, Hepburn, and Tracy (all Oscar winners) together in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Having conquered the acting world, he became a successful director (Stir Crazy) and continues to receive honors. He was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, and President Obama presented him with the highest civilian award in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Most recently, in 2016, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).

We hope you join us as these classics return to the big screen as part of our One Night Only series. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and cost just $5.

November 20

Nov. 27

December 4

December 11

A film for the mystery connoisseur

Nothing pulls at me like a good mystery.

You can easily catch me binge watching “Criminal Minds,” googling the facts behind the latest “Dateline NBC” or staying up all night reading the latest thriller, which is why I’m looking forward to the last film in our fall film series, The Unknown Girl.

The Belgian-French drama follows Jenny (Adele Haenel), a young doctor who leaves the clinic door unanswered, only to find out that the African woman found dead shortly after was the one ringing the bell. Driven by guilt and redemption, Jenny sets out to find out who the woman is and see to it that she is not forgotten.

Are you not intrigued? I sure hope so, because, in my humble, suspense-loving opinion, The Unknown Girl possesses at least three characteristics that make for a quality mystery.

It’s attention-grabbing. Great thrillers make it impossible to walk away right from the get-go. Fellow bookworms, it’s those books that invoke a high page-turning pace and healthy dose of obsession to know what happens next. In this case, the Dardenne brothers keep at their gripping undercurrents, begging audience members to go along on Jenny’s journey to find out who this woman is, what happened to her and why she was ringing the clinic’s bell in the first place.

There’s a stellar plot twist. I’m bothered when I figure things out early on and there are no “OMG!” moments. Please, throw me for a loop; give me a dose of humility when I think I know what comes next. Sure, we don’t know the plot twist in this film yet, but the preview alone begs for one. You have a doctor who, moments before the bell rings, tells her intern that “a doctor has to control his emotions,” and yet, days later, she’s making house calls, wondering into places she’d never dreamed of before, her emotions deeply driving her quest for the truth. That’s a solid start in my plot twist requirements.

You forget Adèle Haenel is acting. She’s too busy seeing the world as Jenny would.

You get a sense of purpose and closure. Not just as the viewer-turned investigator, but you want to see the characters reach a closing point. At the heart of this film is a dilemma for even the most dedicated do-gooder – at what point do you pull back to keep yourself from falling too deep? You see Jenny take on different hats to give this girl a voice, consumed by the thought she is to blame. You can only hope to see a closure to that. Plus, you’ll see the directors’ belief in humanity’s freedom to choose to do good, even as outside pressures say otherwise.

Ultimately, I want to be part of a mystery that stays with me even after it’s long done. Something that pulls at my heart and mind, which is something we hope to give you with all the Knick films we show. Something I’m confident The Unknown Girl has to offer.

The Unknown Girl is showing on Monday – Saturday, Nov. 6-11 at 7:30 p.m. Check out the trailer.

Tickets are $7 for regular admission and $6 for senior citizens, Hope College faculty/staff and children. Tickets will be sold at the door but are also available in advance at the Events and Conferences Office located downtown in the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center (100 E. Eighth St.). The office is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached at (616) 395-7890.

The Knickerbocker Theatre is located downtown Holland at 86 E. Eighth St.

Odille Parker
Hope College Events and Conferences Manager

Our 2017 Fall Film Series

Fall brings colors to the leaves, a chill in the air, and films to the Knick! Yes, the fall film series is off and running.

The Knickerbocker Theatre at Hope College is showing four films through November 11.

Maudi posterThe series opens with Maudie, an Irish-Canadian biographical romantic drama, through Saturday, Sept. 16. In Nova Scotia, Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins), who suffers from severe arthritis, is hired as a housekeeper by reclusive local fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). Despite her crippled hands, Maud yearns to be independent and to live away from her overprotective family, but most of all she wants to create art. An unlikely romance blossoms between Maude and Everett as she hones her skills despite her pain and overcomes the physical challenge of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Eventually, she rises to become one of Canada’s premier folk artists, with paintings hanging in the White House. The film is in English. It has a running time of one hour and 55 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Past Life posterThe series will feature Past Life on Monday-Saturday, Sept. 18-23. The drama/thriller depicts the pilgrimage of two sisters — Sephi Milch (Joy Rieger), an introverted talented classical musician, and Nana (Nelly Tagar), a boisterous journalist — in the late 1970s as they unwind the shocking revelation of their father’s past during the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Selphi not only must struggle with the unraveling of her family history and its possible consequences but also must compete in a male-dominated profession as she seeks to be a classical composer. The film is in English, German, Hebrew and Polish with English subtitles. It has a running time of one hour and 49 minutes and is not rated.

The series will continue with The Trip to Spain on Monday-Saturday, Oct. 9-14. The comedy depicts the many changes and challenges faced in middle age. British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan once again come onto the big screen, touring their way through a variety of European cities during a week-long drive filled with sightseeing and taste-bud adventures leading them to epiphanies regarding history, fame, and fatherhood. This film is in English. It has a running time of one hour and 48 minutes and is not rated.

The series will end with The Unknown Girl on Monday-Saturday, Nov. 6-11. The Belgian-French drama is a searing saga of guilt and redemption. Young doctor Jenny (Adele Haenel) leaves the clinic door unanswered, and shortly after a young African woman is found dead by the side of the road. Consumed with guilt, Jenny embarks on a journey to discover who the woman was and to see to it that she is remembered. “The Unknown Girl” is both a gripping mystery and a profoundly human moral tale encompassing “no end of guilt, and just enough grace,” as said by the New York Times. The film is in French with subtitles. It has a running time of one hour and 53 minutes and is not rated.

Tickets for the individual films are $7 for regular admission and $6 for senior citizens, Hope College faculty and children. Tickets will be sold at the door but are also available in advance at the Events and Conferences Office located downtown in the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center (100 E. Eighth St.). The office is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached at (616) 395-7890.

The Knickerbocker Theatre is located in downtown Holland at 86 E. Eighth St.