The Salesman – Revenge, Forgiveness, and Arthur Miller

I have been a fan of Asghar Farhadi since we showed his Academy Award nominated film, A Separation, a couple of years ago.  The film’s powerful characters, compelling story, and intense drama reminded me of the power of film.  When we had the opportunity to book Farhadi’s latest film, The Salesman, I was quick to put it on the schedule.  And the film doesn’t disappoint.  The Salesman is nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award and has already won over 80 awards from other films festivals.  

It is a powerful drama that on the surface is the story of a young couple whose peaceful lives are disrupted by a tragedy in Iran, but below the surface, The Salesman speaks to many themes much more complicated.  At its heart, the movie is a morality play which examines the power of revenge and forgiveness, as well as offering an honest and revealing look at society and culture in modern Iran. Adding another level to the film is Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, which is also a backdrop for the film.

The Salesman begins with a young couple, Emad and Rana, a teacher and his wife who are also starring in a production of Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  We first see them on stage in rehearsals for the play.  Then their normal life is interrupted and they are forced to find a new place to live.  Luckily a cast member has a vacancy in a place he rents and offers it to the couple.  What seems a stroke of good luck is actually where the problems begin.  Soon after they move in an incident happens — I won’t spoil anything — but it leaves Rana injured and Emad searching for the perpetrator.  Both of them struggle with how to deal with what has happened, but in very different ways.  As they try to come to terms the event and how it is affecting them, we see the increasing tension and distance start to appear in their relationship.  These changes seem most evident at the rehearsals for the production.  The play becomes the one place they actually communicate. As Emad’s quest for revenge builds, we are drawn into the differences between how he and his wife are dealing with this tragedy.  What follows leads us to a gripping and explosive final act.

The Salesman is filled with outstanding acting, but Shahab Hosseini (Emad) and Taraneh Alidoosti (Rana) present their characters with exceptional power and complexity.  And as they struggle to reach some sort of closure about what has happened, their performances become more and more compelling.  I can’t say that the production of Death of a Salesman and Emad’s role as Willie Loman parallels his emotional journey.  In fact, in many ways, he is the opposite of the character, but the production provides an outlet for the characters’ emotion, and it may be that Willie and Linda’s collapse in the play shadows the collapse of Rana and Emad’s life as well.  In the end, we are left with fewer answers than we want, but wiser for the journey.

The Salesman is in Persian with English subtitles and runs 2 hours and 5 minutes.

Read the press release.
Watch the trailer.

Erik Alberg
Technical Director for Events and Conferences Office

The Impact of Love (and “Loving”).

Richard and Mildred Loving (1966)

Their name is so perfect that if this was a fictional story, we would mark it down to poor writing. A couple named Loving fighting for the right to be recognized as a married couple. Married in Washington DC, but not allowed to live in their home state of Virginia. Jailed for their crime and banned from their home, they decide to fight back. This is not the 19th century. This is after the sweeping legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, still, their love was illegal. It seems like a topic that was resolved so long ago, but it could have been my parents. In fact, it was my wife’s parents.

Evie and John Permesang 1962

John Permesang was a young soldier stationed in Panama when Evelia Rodriguez caught his eye. It is not surprising — she was a beautiful, outgoing young woman who made no secret that she hoped someday to marry an American. They were married in Panama in a civil ceremony by an Army Chaplain (and again later, at a church) and, whether they knew it or not, the marriage decided their fate in terms of where they could live. Because it was 1960 and although married by the U.S. government, they were not welcome everywhere in the United States. At the time of the marriage they had about 20 states to avoid, and John once commented that when they arrived in the U.S., the customs agent looked at Evelia and told John that they should go as far north as possible.

Evie and John Permesang at Kollen Park (late 1960s)

Fortunately, home was in Illinois and then in Michigan (Indiana was not a legal option). Only 12 states allowed interracial marriage prior to 1887, and Michigan was one of them. So they started in Chicago, returned to Panama long enough for my wife to be born, and then settled in Holland. They had four children, John worked his way through college and became a teacher, and he and Evie remained together until his death at the age of 58. But just because something is legal does not mean it is accepted. My wife talks of being caught between two cultures, called a “chocolate chip” by some kids. And what looks did John and Evie get when they went shopping at Meijer, a mixed couple in the midst of sameness? When he showed up to a party for teachers with a wife who did not look like him (or most of them), what did people think? What did this couple quietly endure and avoid in their simple desire to share their lives and raise a family?

In other words, the Lovings and the Permesangs are examples of many couples that simply refused to let their love be ruled by unfair laws. And because of people like them, we find a society where such laws can no longer exist. The Census Bureau says that opposite-sex, interracial or interethnic marriages increased by 28 percent from 2000 to 2010. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2008 such marriages in that year alone accounted for 12 percent of unions. Maybe all those couples should send a letter of thanks to the Lovings, Permesangs, and all the other couples who opted to change society instead of letting society change them.
Enjoy the movie!
Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events

Our 2017 Winter Film Series

The marketing slogans are easy. “Films to Heat Up Your Winter.” “Four Ways to Beat Cabin Fever.” “Cold Weather, Hot Popcorn, Great Movies — The Perfect Mix.”

Those did not make the cut. Actually, we rarely have a catchy slogan as we think the films sell themselves. Our unofficial slogan for this next series of films is “the solid series” — a variety of films, all different, all strong.

Jan. 30- Feb. 4, 2017 — 7:30pm

loving_onesheetThis movie was named the number three film of the year by Time Magazine, despite the fact that it was out on limited release. This fictionalized drama is based on the true story of the incredibly named Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial married couple who took their battle to be legally recognized all the way to the Supreme Court. That it took until 1967 to have this happen makes the story even more amazing. The film is raking in award nominations and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times says “There are few movies that speak to the American moment as movingly — and with as much idealism — as Jeff Nichols’s Loving.”

Watch the preview.

The Salesman
Feb. 13-18, 2017 — 7:30pm

Here we offer an Iranian-French film by Academy-award winning directorthe salesman image Asghar Farhadi. (He won the Oscar for A Separation which we showed 2012).  An Iranian couple rehearsing for a performance in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” have to move to a new apartment. But the previous occupant’s past intercedes with their present, turning their lives inside out. Taking Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Farhadi’s latest film adds to his legacy. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian calls it “smart, ambitious…a well-crafted, valuable drama” and Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter says it “leaves the viewer tense and breathless.”
Watch the preview.

The Eagle Huntress
March 13-18, 2017 — 7:30pm

Just watch the preview and dare to miss this movie! The cinematography alone makes this a big-screen must, but the story of 13-year-old Aisholpan working to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations just adds to acclaimed documentary. This has the big themes — coming of age, women’s (girl’s) rights, the beauty of nature, the clash of ancient traditions and modern life, and, a glimpse into a culture few of us know. Receiving rave reviews, both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times named it a “Critic’s Pick,” with the NY Times saying it is “Thrilling! A movie that expands your sense of what is possible.”

Watch the preview.

Things to Come
March 27-April 1, 2017 — 7:30pm

Her husband is leaving her for another woman, her mother dies, and her professional life as a philosopher is in turmoil. Well, this sounds like a crazy comedy or a French film. And the winner is…French film! This unlikely plot line has a 100% rating by over 70 critics on Rotten Tomatoes and stars the incomparable Isabelle Huppert as the woman who decides not to fold under the challenges, but instead reinvent her life. Time Magazine says “Huppert is extraordinary—she reveals everything even when you think she’s showing nothing—and she’s the perfect actress, right now, for Hansen-Løve’s (director) fine-grained perceptiveness.” Time Out calls it “warm, thoughtful, surprising.”
Watch the preview.

We think you’ll agree that this is an incredible line up of films, likely to be heard about for years to come. We’ll feature each of these individually on the blog shortly before we show them, but please check out the trailers. And, tell your friends! You are the best advertisement we have for our unique film series. Thank you for supporting us and great films.


Derek Emerson
Hope College Director of Public Affairs and Events

Our Must-Watch Christmas Movies

We can’t begin the holiday season without the defining question of your Christmas spirit – “When is it acceptable to begin playing Christmas music, before or after Thanksgiving?” I’m sure there’s been a debate or two around the dinner table, but I’m here to tell you that there is a more important question you should be asking to really gauge the Christmas cheer:

“When is it acceptable to start watching Christmas movies?”

It's worth noting that It's A Wonderful Life received the most votes.
Thankfully, It’s A Wonderful Life received the most votes. I have hope for us. 

And if you really want to know more about the person, you ask them for their all-time favorite Christmas movie, which is exactly what I set out to do in our office. What better way to get to know my co-workers? Plus, if we’re going to be choosing films for you to enjoy at the Knickerbocker Theatre, then we should be equipped to recommend some holiday classics as well. Right?

First thing I found out: no one can pick just one favorite. That’s fair.

However, most of us can agree on a few you should definitely be watching this holiday season.

Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) is a must. The heartwarming classic has become a Christmas tradition in many households, and can you blame them? Capra said it was the greatest film he ever made, the greatest film anyone ever made, and it was also James Stewart’s favorite of all his feature films. It gets at the heart of Christmas, as a frustrated George Bailey learns from an angel just how wonderful life is. It will leave you smiling every time you hear a bell ring.

"Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind." - Kris Kringle
“Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”    -Kris Kringle

Still loving on the classics, we’re all about Miracle on 34th Street. I’m talking Edmund Gwenn’s timeless Santa Claus in the 1947 original, but if I’m being honest, a couple of us won’t let a year go by without watching the 1994 version as well (it’s the ‘90s children loving on our decade’s childhood star). You can’t help but be in the Christmas spirit after watching this, and mostly, you’ll be wondering why you ever stopped believing in Santa Claus in the first place .

You’ll find some kind of comedy in just about every holiday film, but our office is goofy and fun, so we also have some suggestions for an extra dose of laughter. Will Ferrell’s Buddy will teach you about the food groups that matter in Elf (2003), while Bill Murray’s Scrooged (1988) will give you a perfect balance of touching moments and off-beat humor with the modern take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Will Ferrell isn't your ordinary elf!
Will Ferrell isn’t your ordinary elf!

And just about everyone agrees that you cannot go without National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). It’s a classic of its own – it’s everything Christmas shouldn’t be, but simultaneously, it’s so much of what you can relate to during a time when family get-togethers become a constant.

Matchmaker Santa is my current Hallmark favorite.
Matchmaker Santa is my current Hallmark favorite, because Santa always knows best.

Forget binge watching Netflix shows during the holidays. It’s all about the Hallmark holiday movie specials here. Even if over-the-top, predictable rom-coms aren’t your thing, you must dedicate one day (preferably an entire weekend) to the channel. It’s your typical boy meets girl, girl falls in love, boy and girl live happily ever after storyline, except in a Christmas setting, making it 100% better. Ignore the mediocre acting, I’m not praising cinematic value here, and go for it – you’ll have all the Christmas feel goods in no time.

Finally, we have Joyeux Noël (2005). We are the Knickerbocker Theatre blog after all, so there has to be a foreign film recommendation. This 2005 film features the true story of the World War I Christmas truce, an unofficial agreement on the Western Front where soldiers on opposing sides stopped fighting and came together to celebrate Christmas of 1914. It’s both sweet and sad, but ultimately, it tugs at the heart of what this time of year is all about.

Honorable mentions include White Christmas (1954), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Love Actually (2003), but really, you can’t go wrong with any of them to get in the spirit.

White Christmas is truly a classic.
White Christmas truly is a classic.

These are our favorites, but we want to know yours! What are your must-watch Christmas films?

-Odille Parker

Cary Grant Focus for the One Night Only Series

He was once told by an interviewer  “Everybody would like to be Cary Grant.” He replied, “So would I.”

cary grantAnd such is the quandary for an actor who becomes larger than himself. Grant is the classic leading man, yet difficult to pin down. His comic timing is impeccable (see His Girl Friday), yet Hitchcock finds the man beyond the handsome face (see North by Northwest). A British-born actor who became an American citizen and had an accent that was a conglomeration of influences. His career in movies expanded over three decades and the American Film Institute named him the second greatest male star of the Golden Age of Hollywood, yet he never won an Academy award.

So what makes him different from so many other leading men? New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael thinks it has to do with that hesitant nature.  She notes that “in His Girl Friday, he’s unabashed about everything in the world except why he doesn’t want Rosalind Russell to go off with Ralph Bellamy. He isn’t weak, yet something in him makes him hold back—and that something…makes him more exciting.”

Apparently, a lot of people found him exciting. He was married five times and with Dyan Cannon he had his only child, a daughter. He was 62 at the time and retired from filmmaking in 1966 to focus on his daughter. Maybe family was so important to him since he lost a number of relatives in the bombing of Bristol by the Nazis. Or maybe he did not want to be a fading star, choosing to leave films when he was still in demand. Either way, he left behind an incredible list of films.

So, how did we choose which ones to show?

The iconic shot from "North by Northwest"
The iconic shot from “North by Northwest”

I would like to say we poured over hours upon hours of films, consulted a number of leading film critics, and settled on the four essentials. But, actually, we wanted a Christmas movie, but not one we always see on television 24 hours a day (e.g. Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life). The Bishop’s Wife (1947) was suggested, and the Cary Grant series was created.

The Bishop's Wife paper doll set!
The Bishop’s Wife paper doll set!

Personally, I pushed for His Girl Friday (1940) and Bringing Up Baby (1938), two of my favorites. But then we wanted to fit in one of his Hitchcock films and settled on North by Northwest (1959). Then there is the star-filled The Philadelphia Story (1940) with Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart — hard to pass that up. So out went Bringing Up Baby (with Katherine Hepburn) and the lineup was set. Yes, we had to pass up on his first starring role in a film, with Mae West. Or the classic, Arsenic and Old Lace, which he hated and Houseboat with Sophia Loren, whom he loved, but, alas, was not loved back. No on Notorious and To Catch a Thief? Ouch. Still, we think you’ll agree we have four great films to see on the big screen (maybe once again, maybe for the first time — we won’t ask).

North by Northwest (Nov. 21)
His Girl Friday (Nov. 28)
The Philadelphia Story (Dec. 5)

The Bishop’s Wife (Dec. 12)

And, I got to keep His Girl Friday, which has two of my all-time favorite scenes

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday"
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday”( and Russell in his office and then at the prison newsroom — I’m laughing as I write this).( and Russell in his office and then at the prison newsroom — I’m laughing as I write this).

(Grant and Russell in his office and then at the prison newsroom — I’m laughing as I write this).

Tell us what we missed? What we did right? Other ideas for our One Night Only series? But most of all, come and see the films. It is how we know we are on the right track.

Interesting Facts About Cary Grant to Impress Your Film Friends

(from IMDB)


Donated his entire salary for Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) ($100,000) to the U.S. War Relief Fund.

He never said “Judy, Judy, Judy” in the movies, which he credits to Larry Storch, but he did say “Susan, Susan, Susan” in Bringing Up Baby (1938).

Turned down roles opposite Audrey Hepburn in both Roman Holiday (1953) and Sabrina (1954). He also turned down the role of James Bond, saying he was too old, although the part was partly created with him in mind.

In His Girl Friday (1940), his character remarks, “Archie Leach said that,” a reference to his real name.

He never played a villain.

Always cited his To Catch a Thief (1955) co-star Grace Kelly as his favorite leading lady. He attended her state funeral in 1982 and wept throughout the televised service.

In case you are checking, we also stole some of this information from the ultimate source, Wikipedia.

 Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events

Welcome to the Knickerbocker Film Series Blog

130618Knickerbocker009Welcome to the Knickerbocker Film Blog!

We’ve created the blog to give us some space to explore the films we show, hear from other film fans, and, basically, find a new way to celebrate the celluloid film (or digital film — we’ll cover that in a future blog).

If you are not familiar with us, the Knickerbocker Theatre is a historic venue in downtown Holland, Michigan owned and operated by Hope College. In addition to year-round live events, we also do three film series each year (winter, spring, and fall) with four independent or international films. 7:30pm is our usual starting time.

We also have a “One Night Only” series where we focus on one actor, director,150330KnickerbockerSign003 or genre over four weeks. In the past, we’ve looked at Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman, and Famous Couples. In the summer we host four free family films on Thursday evenings where we throwback to some classics we all love, such as Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, and The Goonies.

091013KnickerbockerTheatre007There are many great reasons to spend some time with us. Our ticket prices are reasonable and our concessions are actually delicious and inexpensive. No $40 tab when you have popcorn and soda while watching a movie with us! We have friendly students helping with tickets, concessions, and often running the movies. We also always have one of our Events and Conferences Office staff hanging around (and most of them are friendly). And, we do all this in a historic theatre!

So, this is just our way of saying welcome!

We would love your comments on our blog or our films. Suggestions? We’ll take them.

Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events