- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2006

Having started a retrospective film series to supplement its Paul Cezanne exhibition, the National Gallery of Art will also offer free film programs as part of the 90th anniversary evaluation of the dada movement that begins this week. Showings on March 11 and March 12 in the auditorium of the East Building will revive several short abstract movies of the 1920s that reflected the dada influence — “Anemic Cinema,” “Le Ballet mecanique,” “Rhythmus 21” and “Ghosts Before Breakfast.” These programs will be augmented by live musical accompaniment from the small ensemble called the Alloy Orchestra.

Outside the film auditorium, there will be daily performances of a portion of the score originally composed for “Ballet mecanique” by George Antheil in 1924. Computer technology makes it somewhat easier to simulate the sound he had in mind, which called for 16 player pianos in addition to a pair of live pianists. The ensuing racket can be heard daily at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the East Building mezzanine. A silent “Ballet mecanique,” a collaboration of Fernand Leger, Man Ray and Dudley Murphy, will also be shown repeatedly in Gallery 13.

Well into the exhibition, which concludes in May, the National Gallery will also present a film series called “Dada and World War I.” It includes such contemporary films about the war as Abel Gance’s “J’accuse!” and Charlie Chaplin’s “Shoulder Arms,” as well as later classics such as Lewis Milestone’s movie version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of “Paths of Glory.” The series begins the first weekend in April and continues for the remainder of the month. Call 202/737-4215 for additional information, or consult the gallery Web site, www.nga.gov.

Local Oscar fete

The American Film Institute Silver Theatre in Silver Spring will again host one of the official Oscar-night parties authorized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for charitable purposes. Scoring something of a coup, organizers have secured comedian Fred Willard as the event’s celebrity host.

Mr. Willard, whose movie resume certainly overshadows that of designated Oscar-ceremony host Jon Stewart, will preside at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center on March 5. The fact that Channel 8 newscaster Kyle Osborne and AFI Silver director Murray Horwitz have been announced as masters of ceremony may indicate that Mr. Willard will be free of all obligations except to be as genial and funny as the spirit moves him.

Currently a member of the cast of “Date Movie,” Mr. Willard became a beloved movie fixture as part of the ensembles in Christopher Guest’s mock-documentary comedies “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

Tickets for the event, which benefits the children’s charity First Star, are priced at $75 in advance and $85 at the door. For detailed information please call 202/293-3903, Ext. 101, or consult www.firststar.org.

On to Mars

The six-wheeled robot explorers celebrated in the new Imax featurette “Roving Mars,” a daily attraction at both branches of the National Air and Space Museum, were expected to conk out after three months of heavy duty in Martian landscapes, but they remain serviceable two years after landing in January 2004.

One of their principal boosters, Steve Squyres, scientific director of the Mars Rover project and a Cornell University astronomy professor, was in Washington recently to promote the opening with producer-director George Butler and co-producer Frank Marshall.

Mr. Squyres, who carries a pocket watch that keeps Martian time, updated the progress of Spirit and Opportunity, whose longevity complicated the filmmakers’ plans. At the outset they envisioned a three-act tribute documenting how the machines were built, flew to Mars and then expired after an invaluable but short-lived mission of photographic and geological study.

“Spirit is sprinting across a valley, trying to get to a mysterious feature we call Home Plate,” Mr. Squyres reports. “We’re not sure what it is, and there’s still a ridge to get around. From orbit it’s a bright whitish feature, and we’ve been curious about it for the past two years.”

Mission operations “at their most intense” obliged Mr. Squyres to take a year’s leave of absence from Cornell. Despite the continuing productivity of the Rovers, he has been able to return to Ithaca, N.Y., and a regular teaching schedule. “We’ve learned how to sustain them remotely,” he explains. “Instead of the whole team being together at Mission Control, we can operate from our home institutions. I can also take the mission right into the classroom.

NASA itself was planning neither a theatrical documentary nor a TV special about the missions. Mr. Butler got intrigued and contacted Mr. Marshall, who pitched the idea of an Imax film to friends in the Walt Disney hierarchy. The studio agreed to cover the production costs and remained patient as the completion date kept getting postponed, in deference to the durability of Spirit and Opportunity.

Mr. Squyres refuses to believe that manned space flight has been eclipsed by the Rover success story. The self-described “robot guy” says that his program is looking spectacular but that things go up and down all the time.

“Go back only six or seven years, and we had missions that crashed and burned. So, I wouldn’t exaggerate the status of one portion of the space program. I regard our machines as advance scouts for humans and still think our best exploration will be done by humans.”

The next big step, he says, is Mars, despite the fact that it has been 30 years since the last significant steps beyond low Earth orbit. “We need a destination where we can resume flexing some deep space muscles again,” he notes. “The moon’s a good place to do it. Once we’ve re-established that capability, it’s on to Mars.”

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