Friday, November 25, 2016

“Show Boat” Comedy Romance Drama Movie is the December Film Classic in Bigfork

If you are ready for a very warm “feel-good” movie about love and its power, this is a good film to see. It is a comedy-romance-drama film based on the Broadway musical of the same name by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.  With several of the original Broadway actors and much of the same music, here is a chance to “go to” a Broadway play of the 1930s.  Kern and Hammerstein wrote three additional songs for the film that replaced some of original music.  The movie stars Irene Dunne, Allen Jones and Charles Winninger with the fourth “star” being the great music. The movie is “Show Boat” and it is the December Classic Movie shown on the big screen of the Edge theatre by Jack Nackbar. It will be accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the time period of the movie.  Date Thursday December 8th. Time 6:30PM. Price free of charge.    

“According to film historian Miles Kreuger in his book Show Boat: The History of a Classic American Musical, great care was taken by director James Whale to ensure a feeling of complete authenticity in the set and costume design for the 1936 film. This included the design of the show boat itself.”  The movie really does a great job of reproducing Broadway on the screen. Ten numbers from the stage score are sung, with four others used as background music. The orchestra was used just as if this was a Broadway production. The result is that some critics have said this movie is one of the best musical films of all time.  It was a daunting task and the results speak for themselves.

Irene Dunn was almost 38 when she played the youthful Magnolia opposite her love interest Allen Jones who was eight years younger.

Irene Dunne (1898-1990) was a stage and film actress and singer of the 1930s, 40s and early 50s. Nominated four times for Oscars and given the Kennedy Center Honors Award for her services to the arts.  Interesting that she should have this part in a play about steamboats, because they were part of her childhood. Her dad was a steamboat inspector for the US government. She would later write, "No triumph of either my stage or screen career has ever rivaled the excitement of trips down the Mississippi  on the river boats with my father."

Dunne's role as Magnolia Hawks in the play “Showboat” was the result of a chance meeting with Florenz Ziegfeld on an Elevator and was discovered by Hollywood during a road trip of the play. Signed by the RKO Studios, her age was always a topic because she was already in her 30s when her film career just got started. Her tombstone possibly even has the wrong birth year on it.

The actor first selected to play Allan Jones’ part in the “Showboat” movie was Russ Columbo. He was accidentally shot and killed before productions started, and the movie was delayed from 1934 to 1936 until Allen Jones was selected.  

Allen Jones (1907-1992) was a actor and tenor on stage and in the movies of the 30s and 40s. Allen was a coal minor as a young adult and left that job to study voice at New York University.  His father and grandfather were musically inclined. "My father had a beautiful tenor voice. So did my grandfather. ... Grandfather taught violin, voice and piano when he could. My father sang every chance he could get and realized his ambition through me. Although he starred in many musicals in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s, he is best remembered for his role in “Showboat”.

Another actor, Charles J. Winninger, whole career is remembered by playing a comedic “Cap’n Andy Hawks” first in the stage version of “Showboat” and then further cemented in this movie version.

Charles J. Winninger (1884-1969) was both a stage and film actor most often cast in comedies or musicals but was very capable of dramatic roles. He started in vaudeville but found his niche in this movie role. He was in the Broadway play version, and both the 1932 and 1936 movie versions of “Showboat”.  He could do other parts, but always best known for his “kindly, lovable, grandfatherly…and chubby” image. It was a good career with lots of work.


For a period look at how the movie was received, here is part of a May 1936 New York Times review by Frank Nugent: “We have reason to be grateful to Hollywood this morning, for it has restored to us Edna Ferber's Mississippi River classic, "Show Boat." It really was too grand a piece to suffer neglect just because the stage had wearied of it. Universal's excellent screen transcription, preserving the Jerome Kern score and accepting Oscar Hammerstein's book and lyrics, is the pleasantest kind of proof that it was not merely one of the best musical shows of the century but that it contained the gossamer stuff for one of the finest musical films we have seen. The Radio City Music Hall should be proud of its new tenant.”  You can read more at the following URL: 

Enough said about how one critic felt back then, but you need to see it to appreciate it. So come and see a movie on the big screen and see what a Broadway musical was like back in the 1930s all free of charge. An appropriate snack will be served courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist, Lynn.  Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday December 8th at 6:30PM. It will be worth going to Bigfork, because Jack will give you lots of background about the movie and a cartoon of the period will give you some laughs.

Friday, November 11, 2016

World War I Christmas Truce in a Musical Theater Event at the Edge In Bigfork

Just before Christmas in 1914 there was a silence in the World War I trenches of the Western Front caused by several “unofficial” truces that started for no apparent reason.  How it happened, no one seems to know, and, more importantly, why it happened is also unknown. Earlier in the year, new Pope Benedict XV called for a truce, but it was officially rejected. But then, sure enough, in parts of front the guns went silent for Christmas.  There was were Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, some Christmas trees showing up, a chance to bury fallen comrades, and even the possibility of a soccer game. Minneapolis Theater Latte DA has an original musical theater production about that event in its tenth anniversary year. The production, “All is Calm, The Christmas Truce of 1914”, is being performed at the Edge Center in Bigfork Friday December 2 at 7PM. Prices $10 adults, $5 children.

This program is neither anti-war nor a glorification of war.  Rather it is a musical theater production about people and relationships in a time of great stress. They took a chance for a little while to escape from the reality that they lived in and that reality came back, but they always had the memory of the peace which “The Calm” gave them for just a short time. 

The Theater Latte Da production presents the Christmas Truce story beginning with, a strange “silence” and the only sound a German soldier singing “Stille Nacht”. His song was answered by an Allied soldier responding with a Christmas carol in his language. The truce is a historical event relived with some of the poetry, diary entries, official war documents and letters home presented with iconic World War I songs, patriotic tunes, and Christmas carols. And just maybe it is the real story of how it all started.

In 2014 “Time” magazine did an article on the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce.  In their research they encountered a first hand account of the event by Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” Above image from Mansell The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. 

There were also some small Christmas trees placed on the German trenches.  One might ask why would there be Christmas trees on a battlefield. Remember that the battle was on the ground in Europe and the Germans were much better supplied with some of the comforts of home than the Allied troops. So it was felt that Christmas trees would be a great moral boosters for the troops. This was only six months into the war and the real hardships of the conflict were yet to come.

Estimates of the number of troops participating in this impromptu lull in the battle vary greatly, but most of it was in the trenches occupied by the English vs. German troops. And this was not a truce universally recognized even in the trenches. There were troops shot while trying to participate.

From the same Time article: “And of course, it was only ever a truce, not peace. Hostilities returned, in some places later that day and in others not until after New Year’s Day. While there were occasional moments of peace throughout the rest of World War I, they never again came on the scale of the Christmas truce in 1914.” Ref:

Alfred Anderson, the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war was in the 1st/ 5th Battalion of the Black Watch and recalled vividly in 2003 that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (December 24th and 25th) 1914, when his unit was in a farmhouse away from the front line.
“I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas’, even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.”

This program “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914”  by Peter Rothstein with Musical Arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, directed by Peter Rothstein will be the special event of the Edge Center in Bigfork, this 2016 Christmas season on December 2nd. Place: Edge Center stage. Time 7PM. Prices $10 adults and $5 children. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Jonathan Thunder Brings "The Politics of Dreams: Defying Dilettantism" to the Edge Gallery


Jonathan Thunder Brings an Unexpected look to native art. His exhibit Jonathan Thunder: The Politics of Dreams: Defying Dilettantism is in the Edge Center Gallery in Bigfork from November 3 to December 3.  Thunder’s images seem to be a mixture of Native American symbolism and popular cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny.The images I create,” Thunder says, “are the dreamscape representation of the seen world I cohabitate every day in my life and journey.” There is a free Opening Reception on Friday, November 4 from 5-7 pm.  There will also be a showing of his animated films on the Big Screen of the Edge Center stage at 6:00 and 6:30 that evening. The films will show what makes Thunder’s work so unexpected.

His paintings on the Gallery walls are brought to action in the films, which will also be shown in the gallery on a monitor. But bringing the paintings to life is just part of what the films do.  Thunder continues, “The characters in my paintings and films come to me as any dream would, as messengers, and pivotal roles that carry out the story. The work is spiritual by nature. Subjects wear masks of animals, animals wear masks of humans and apparitions dress up so as not to surprise us.” 

How did this look develop?   His background and heritage is Red Lake Ojibway and it appears in the design. His work is also influenced greatly by the surrealists, impressionists, art deco, and cubists. Pop imagery also appears in his work occasionally to reflect the contemporary setting in which he find himself.  His work brings traditional motifs into the present digital world. 

Jonathan Thunder is a younger generation painter, digital media artist and film maker currently residing in Duluth, Minnesota. He has attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Effects, and Motion Graphics from the Art Institutes International Minnesota. His work has been featured in many state, regional, national and international exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications. Thunder has won several awards in SWAIA’s annual Class ‘X’ Moving Images competition.

The Edge Center Gallery is sponsoring a workshop for Bigfork School students in which to participate by making an animated film under Jonathan Thunder’s directions on Friday.  The combination of Thunder’s film making and teaching experiences makes this an unmatched learning experience for the Bigfork students.

The Jonathan Thunder: The Politics of Dreams: Defying Dilettantism exhibit will be in the Edge Center Gallery until December 3rd. The opening reception is on November 4th from 5:00 to 7:00 with the showing of his animated films at 6:00 and 6:30. Plan to be there to meet the artist and experience his work.  The regular Gallery hours are from 10:00AM-4:00PM on Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays.  The Edge Center is next to the Bigfork School.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is the November Film Classic in Bigfork

One afternoon, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco pet store. She decides to follow him home with a surprise when the pet shop does not have what he wants. She brings with her the gift of the two love birds for Mitch’s sisters which he was trying to buy. Of course they strike up a romance. Soon after birds start attacking children at Mitch's sister’s birthday party, and a huge assault starts on the town by attacking birds everywhere. This seems like a plot only a master horror movie maker, like Alfred Hitchcock, could turn into an award winning film that scared movie goers in its day, and still will give you the creeps. The movie is “The Birds” and it is the November 10th classic movie in Bigfork shown on the big screen of the Edge Center by Jack Nachbar at 6:30 PM.  The is no charge and it will be accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the film at the time period of the picture's release.

With such a seemingly simple plot, the “how” of this movie’s success must be in the story-teller’s skills.  That would be Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Once he showed up at a premiere for this movie with a bunch of birds for company.  He saw Tippi Hedren once in a commercial on TV for a soft drink and signed her as the next "Grace Kelly.” When “The Birds” was aired on NBC-TV in the U.S. on January 6th, 1968, it became the highest rated film shown on TV up to that time, and remained in the top spot until “Love Story” near the end of 1970.

The movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Special Effects beating out the big winner of that year, “Cleopatra.” A movie that certainly had some awesome special effects of its own. And the list of other awards is substantial. Including as the American Film Institute’s rating of 7th greatest thriller, and Bravo’s award in 96th spot on their 100 Scariest Movie Moments, for the bird’s attack on the town.  

More recently this film has had a rebirth in popularity with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 96% showing that the key to good story-telling is the build-up…no matter what era. It is simply a good scary movie, as State Senator Ted Gill once said, “(he)… gave up movies after seeing it. They were…just getting to weird and disturbing for an old rancher…it’s still pretty terrifying, even if you see it again and again.”  

Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was the Master of Suspense with a directing career spanning more than a half of a century. Starting out as an English film director, he had a successful career in British silent movies and “talkies”, before relocating in America and becoming an American citizen in 1955. His movies often included heroes on the run with “icy” blondes” along side them. He created new styles in movies which often made the audience feel more a part of the movie’s action. With twisted plots, lots of action, murder, anxiety, fear, empathy, and surprise endings, his movies were very special.  

He usually had cameo appearances in his movies and audiences searched for his presence. For ten years he hosted a TV program, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, which increased his persona as a master story teller.

In 1978, film critic John Russell described him as “the most universally recognizable person in the world,” and “a straightforward middle class Englishman who just happened to be an artistic genius.”

Tippi Hedren signed a seven year contract to work with Hitchcock before even meeting him thinking the work was to be a “special” in the Hitchcock TV series. 

Nathalie “Tippi” Hedren, born January1930 was a very successful fashion model in her twenties appearing on front covers of "Life" and "Glamour" among others. She was “discovered” by Hitchcock in a TV commercial for a diet drink called Sergo.  Hedren received world recognition for her acting in two Hitchcock movies, “The Birds” and “Marnie” receiving a Golden Globe award for her work in the first. She appeared in over 80 movies and TV shows winning numerous other awards and honors.

The first call was from her agent telling her “a producer” was interested in working with her. She was totally surprised when she found out it was Hitchcock and that “The Birds” was a movie not a special for his TV show. Hitchcock later said, "I was not primarily concerned with how she looked in person. Most important was her appearance on the screen, and I liked that immediately. She has a touch of that high-style, lady-like quality which was once well-represented in films by actresses like…Grace Kelly…and others but now is quite rare." Hitchcock put Hedren through an extensive color screen test that lasted two days and cost $25,000. She was a quick study and learned a huge amount about movie making working with Hitchcock. She cried when Hitchcock, during a dinner with his wife, gave her a pin with three birds on it and told her she was going to be the star of “The Birds.”

Hitchcock made her into a first class Hollywood personality and star by coaching her about wines, foods, style, costuming, being directed, and much more about the inter-working of making movies. She said she learned more in her first three years working with Hitchcock than other actresses take 15 years to learn elsewhere. She was worked mercilessly by Alfred but she absorbed and learned during all of it.

The breaking point was the week she did a bird attack scene where Alfred told her the birds were going to be fake, but instead, prop men with heavy leather gloves threw “live” birds, with their beaks clamped shut, at her while she “acted” that she was in terror. A doctor, treating her for a bird wound on her cheek ordered one week or rest and asked Hitchcock if he was trying to kill her.

Rod Taylor claimed that the seagulls in "The Birds" were “encouraged” to just walk around rather than flying by feeding them a mixture of whiskey and wheat.

 Rodney Sturt Taylor (1930–2015) was an Australian actor of stage, film and television. He had a rather unusual means of making his trip to Hollywood He won an Australian acting award which included a round trip ticket to London with a stop over in Los Angeles. When he got to Los Angeles, he simply just never got back on the plane. In Los Angeles, he launched a six decade career that included both film and TV appearances.

He never rose to the level of a top tier star, but did manage to get over 100 film credits with some in very good movies including “The Time Machine”, “The V.I.Ps.”, “Giant”, and, of course, “The Birds”. In the 2009 film “Inglorious Bastards” he appeared as Winston Churchill which was his final film appearance.

Rod almost did not get the part of Mitch Brenner in “The Birds,” because Cary Grant was considered, but Hitchcock did not want the huge expense of Grant. He also beat out several other actors. In the end, it was a good choice, and Rod turned in a very good performance.

You can see this movie free of charge courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist, Lynn.  Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday November 10th at 6:30PM. It will be worth going to Bigfork, because Jack will give you lots of background about the movie and a cartoon of the period will give you some laughs.

Friday, October 28, 2016

“The Lost Forty” Celebrates Life in Early Northern Minnesota at Bigfork Edge Concert

It all started with Brian Miller researching an obscure saloon-keeper and singer from Virginia Minnesota. It ended up being the discovery of a treasure trove of early audio recordings of folksongs from the Great Lake region. The discovery is of the 47 songs were recorded in 1924 from singers who lived and worked in the woods. With the help of financing from the Minnesota Arts board and over 100 private donors, Brian created “The Minnesota Folksong Collection" web site that you can visit and listen to the original recordings. Brian teamed up with Randy Gosa to form “The Lost Forty” duo and will bring some of that early history to life in Bigfork on Sunday, October 30th, at 2pm. A show for the whole family to enjoy, the Prices are $10 Adults and $5 children.

“The Lost 40” name is borrowed from Itasca County’s Scientific and Nature Area (below). "This is a place where some of Minnesota's largest trees tower over some of the state's most fragile plants, a virgin forest, that legend has it, was spared the ax because surveyors mapped it mistakenly as a wetland. Lost 40's geology includes an 11,000-year-old ice age relic known as an esker... which described as a "glacial, gravelly deposit....It also holds colonies of delicate Indian Pipe. The plant isn't especially rare but it looks unnatural — ghost white surrounded by green plants and the brown forest floor. The plant has no chlorophyll and is fragile.If you were to touch it, it's very wet and would almost dissolve in your hands..." 

"The tract, a Minnesota scientific and natural area, preserves a remnant of the state's forest primeval. A walk-through finds trees about 130 feet tall, perhaps 300 years old. The biggest have trunks that need two or even three people holding hands to surround them. They include valuable white pine cherished by wood workers and the state's largest red pine." Below Photo by Vicki Olsen for MPR News.  Read more at:

Like the preserved forest left intact, “The Lost 40 Project” brings brings back music history intact in the form of the old recordings to the web for everyone to enjoy. To read and hear more about visit  “The Minnesota Folksong Collection”  Brian Miller’s research of the saloon-keeper led to a 90 year-old newspaper then to the collection of some of the earliest audio recordings of folksongs from the Great Lakes Region. That is a great story in itself. And this concert is a chance to hear the results.

They are regionally-composed logging songs, railroading songs, deer hunting songs, Great Lakes shipwreck songs, old Irish ballads and even older English ballads dating as far back as the 1680s. The Miller Gosa  performance will feature stories and historical photos mixed with The Lost Forty’s new arrangements of the old music. Miller hopes that the Bigfork concert will inspire others to learn songs from the collection.

Brian Miller and Randy Gosa, “The Lost Forty”, have each toured across the US and Canada with the country’s top Irish traditional music groups. Both perform on guitar and bouzouki (a relative of the mandolin that has been adapted into traditional Irish music in recent decades). For his work with North Woods music, Miller earned a Folk and Traditional Arts Grant and two Artist Initiative Grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Miller was also a recipient of the 2014 Parsons Fund Award from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

The “Lost Forty Project” earned a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the support of over 120 donors who gave money to a recent fundraising campaign.

So, for a good time with some of the earliest North Woods music come and spend part of Sunday afternoon reliving the history in this part of the country. It promises to be a special kind of concert for the whole family that relives history and lets you see into how early settlers of the area lived and worked.  Sunday, October 30th, at 2pm. The Prices are $10 Adults and $5 children.