- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

Admirers of the American independents John Sayles and Maggie Renzi will have the opportunity to encounter them in person Friday at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre.

The team, whose professional collaboration as writer-director and producer, respectively, has endured since “Return of the Secaucus Seven” in 1980, will host a screening of “Silver City,” their latest feature, a campaign-season whodunit-spoof-polemic. The title alludes to a location in Colorado.

In town recently to promote the movie, Miss Renzi gleefully acknowledged that it was intended to mock the incumbent president. What came as a surprise to her was the overflow market in Bush-bashing movies and books. She had expected the angle to be exceptional.

However, “Silver City” boasts an element the other detractors tend to ignore. Mr. Sayles points out that the movie’s Bush caricature, a gubernatorial candidate played by Chris Cooper, was drawn from an earlier model, the president as a novice candidate for office.

“By the end of the film,” Mr. Sayles asserts, “he’s obviously improving.”

To that extent, “Silver City” may be regarded as the most judicious and fair-minded example yet of a Bush-bashing artifact, circa 2004.

Period piece

Personal appearances could keep art-house patrons intrigued for the next week or two.

Margarethe von Trotta, whose most recent film, “Rosenstrasse,” opened a few weeks ago, will appear at the Goethe-Institut on Monday to introduce and discuss one of her earliest movies, “The Second Awakening of Christa Klages,” scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. showing. (The address is 812 Seventh Street NW, and admission is $5.)

Released in Germany in 1978, the film had a pretext that murmurs “period piece”: A married couple struggling to sustain a day care center responds to the threat of bankruptcy by planning a bank robbery.

Nostalgia has many faces.

More Murnau

The National Gallery of Art has begun its fall movie programming with a tribute to the Soviet humorist Boris Barnet (1902-1965) and plans a career tribute to the great German director of the 1920s, F.W. Murnau, whose life ended prematurely at 42 in an auto accident in California in 1931.

Recent National Gallery seasons have revived a pair of Murnau classics, “Faust” and “Sunrise.” The current series should provide a rare glimpse of relatively obscure titles from his German and Hollywood phases, along with the familiar landmarks, from “Nosferatu” in 1922 through “Tabu” in 1931.

Political colors

Personal appearances also will abound during a “political comedy” festival organized by the American Film Institute in collaboration with faculty members at American University. This Friday’s preview of “Silver City” is the first program, to be followed by such brainstorms as “Primary Colors,” introduced by author Joe Klein, who published the source novel anonymously, and “Wag the Dog,” introduced by director Barry Levinson.

Brando Italiano

The AFI plans a retrospective about the Italian director Elio Petri later in September and a Marlon Brando retrospective early in October, anticipating a revival of a slightly obscure Brando project, Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Queimada,” on Oct. 16. It was originally imported in an English-language version titled “Burn!” in 1969.

This will be the complete and subtitled Italian version, with Brando himself dubbed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A dubbed Burt Lancaster lent considerable dignity and authority to Luchino Visconti’s impressive movie version of “The Leopard,” also due for an AFI Silver revival this fall. As a matter of fact, Mr. Lancaster never recorded a word of live dialogue for the movie, which recently became available in a DVD edition that also preserves the ill-advised English-language condensation, released in 1963. Another 20 years were to go by before Mr. Visconti’s authorized version, which runs 205 minutes, finally reached art houses.

“Napoleon” returns

Abel Gance’s silent classic “Napoleon,” restored 25 years ago by historian and archivist Kevin Brownlow, returns for a brief revival at the AFI’s National Theater at the Kennedy Center. The dates are Oct. 23 and 24. Please note that this engagement will be “Napo-leon” strictly from the projection booth, with a synchronized musical track but without a live symphonic orchestra.

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