Films too good to watch only once

Because film is a visual art, Open Studio celebrates watching – or actually, rewatching — movies – or even just favorite parts of movies – on DVD or by streaming. My go-to film expert Richard Alleva, a semi-retired movie reviewer for Commonweal magazine, has a list of 30 films he likes to revisit periodically. And now, you might think, as a film critic of a certain age, he’d be all pure and principled about the superiority of viewing movies on big screens, with audiences, at a theater. And he says he does look forward to resuming moviegoing if and when Covid eases up. But in the meantime, he’s come to embrace Amazon and Netflix for making available an endless cavalcade of films, whether or not they were box office hits. Richard shares with us today four favorite classics from that list of 30: A silent film, The General, made by and starring Buster Keaton; Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander; Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country; and Francois Truffault’s Shoot the Piano Player. I’d never seen any of these before, but having seen them, I know I’m going to follow Richard’s lead and watch them, in whole or in part, again.

Richard Alleva: 30 Movies in my DVD Collection and Why I keep Watching Them Over and Over

Alice in Wonderland: Not the Disney version but the Jonathan Miller adaptation for the BBC. Mainly for adults but older kids may enjoy it. Its summer-breathing visuals and Ravi Shanker sitar score are narcotic, so you dream along with Alice.

Andrei Rublev: Did director Andrei Tarkovsky travel back to 15th century Russia with a movie camera? If not, how did this film come to be? It’s theme: how the soul survives in the midst of barbarity.

Au Hazard Balthazar: Robert Bresson’s masterpiece shows the perversity and self-destructiveness of human love through the eyes of an abused donkey. This should have been a ludicrous failure yet somehow becomes a spiritual experience.

Beauty and the Beast: Once again, not the Disney version but the Jean Cocteau retelling from which Disney cribbed. Solemn magic.

Beetlejuice: Tim Burton captures the essence of Halloween: scariness without viciousness, joyous grotesquerie. Thanks to this film, Wynona Ryder can be a child forever, Alec Baldwin will always be wearing that Land’s End flannel shirt, and Michael Keaton will continue to turn himself inside out.

The Black Stallion: The first hour’s island scenes are the greatest piece of silent-movie cinema done in the sound era (Chaplin’s City Lights excepted). The second hour, almost equally good, is a child’s daydream rendered believable.

Capturing the Friedmans: The greatest family tragedy captured on film and (alas) it’s not fiction. This documentary’s story keeps exfoliating with each scene and when it’s over it keeps expanding in your mind.

Chimes at Midnight: Orson Welles’s greatest movie since Citizen Kane. Adapting Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, Welles mourns the death of Merrie Olde England.

Citizen Kane: Among a thousand other reasons to see it, it’s the greatest bio-pic ever made. But it also explains why there can never be a true bio-pic. No trespassing.

The Conformist: Bernardo Bertolucci’s take on Italian Fascism is so deliciously decadent that, had he seen it, it might have convinced Mussolini to give up power, put on a tutu and take ballet lessons with Dominique Sanda.

A Day in the Country: The greatest movie under one hour. Jean Renoir’s adaptation of Guy De Maupassant.

The Dead: John Huston’s adaptation captures everything memorable in the James Joyce story and adds some stuff that should have been in it.

The Dekalog: A unique achievement by the great Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieslowski. Ten short films, one for each of the ten commandments. If you’re not going to read Dante’s Divine Comedy any time soon, see this instead.

The Earrings of Madam De_: Max Ophuls’ take on romantic love. As Pauline Kael wrote, “Perhaps the darting, swirling, tracking camerawork…is an expression of the evanescence of all beauty – it must be swooped down on, followed. It will quickly disappear.”

8 1/2: Fellini’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece. Composed from a thousand shots, it’s so fluid that it seems to be one, ongoing, unedited shot.  The most ordinary things, doused in Fellini magic, flit by your eyes as you try to take it all in.

Excalibur: John Boorman’s take on the Arthurian legends will survive even Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Fanny and Alexander: The triple-decker nineteenth century novel may have had its day but Ingmar Bergman brings it back to life. This is David Copperfield rewritten by August Strindberg. Must be seen in its original 5-hour TV version as preserved by the Criterion Collection.

The General: Behind Confederate lines some Union spies steal a train from its seemingly hapless engineer, but the engineer pursues, relentlessly and comically, on foot, on handcart, and on what’s left of another train. Based on a true story, but this great Buster Keaton silent comedy has nothing to do with the real Civil War, slavery, states’ rights or even history itself. It is a profound ballet about what the human body can do in motion when it’s both aided and thwarted by machinery. Paradoxically, the photography of this apolitical farce gives us a more authentic -looking 19th century America than any serious film does.

Groundhog Day: Haven’t I seen this movie many times before? Yes, and I will see it yet again. And again. And…

High and Low: Akira Kurosawa’s epic police procedural. Cops with the souls of samurai vs. a criminal out of Dostoyevsky. The greatest closing scene in movie history.

The Magic Flute: Ingmar Bergman’s production, not the recent Kenneth Branagh atrocity. Mozart’s fairy tale opera done with Mozartian grace.

The Magnificent Ambersons: An American aristocratic family is reduced to poverty and anonymity as the world of the 19th Century turns into the industrial 20th. This great Orson Welles film shows how the fall was inevitable and heartbreaking, and, in the process reveals why the very idea of aristocracy in democratic America is absurd, yet never dies.

Much Ado About Nothing: The Kenneth Branagh version. Has the greatest movie Shakespearean performance by an actress: Emma Thompson’s Beatrice.

Memories of Underdevelopment: The Cuban Revolution seen through the eyes of a Cuban aristocrat who sees his world collapsing around him. Tomas Alea’s film is too compassionate for Marxists and too critical of capitalism to be free-world propaganda. Therefore, perfect for anybody with a heart.

Nomadland: Having lost her husband to death and her house to sub-prime mortgage, a woman takes to living on the road inside an RV. This Chloe Zhao experiment in blending documentary and fiction is a total success and perhaps creates a whole new genre of moviemaking. Frances McDormand’s performance is for the ages.

Night of the Hunter: Hansel and Gretel set in the Depression-era South, but this time the witch is Robert Mitchum.

Nobody’s Fool: Paul Newman’s penultimate movie and his greatest performance as a man whose instinct for treating people right can’t be thwarted by his own cussedness.

North by Northwest: The greatest piece of mindless entertainment ever made. An espionage thriller in which comedy is inextricably blended with the thrills. Our laughter closely follows our screams and vice-versa.

One-Eyed Jacks: The only film directed by Marlon Brando. A western utterly conventional in its plot but utterly unconventional in its treatment.

Out of the Past: Greatest film noir ever made. Robert Mitchum’s innocent girlfriend tells him that that his onetime femme fatale lover can’t be all bad. Mitchum: “She comes close.”

The Passion of Joan of Arc:  Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film is a silent symphony of faces as Joan confronts her judges.

Persona: The deepest dive into a character’s psychology ever taken by a filmmaker. Ingmar Bergman’s greatest film.

Richard III: Laurence Olivier’s royal psychopath is the greatest Shakespearean film performance by a male actor.

Shadow of a Doubt: Alfred Hitchcock thought this his best work and maybe he was right. Written by Thornton Wilder, it’s like the evil sibling of Our Town.

Shoot the Piano Player: Trying to detach himself from the human race after a terrible personal tragedy, a pianist finds himself sucked back into life by his capacity for love and compassion. Director Francois Truffaut mixes gangster movie stuff with slapstick and lyricism. “Whatever Truffaut touches seems to leap to life – even a gangster thriller is transformed into the human comedy.” – Pauline Kael

Il Sorpasso (aka The Easy Life): Maybe the greatest “road movie” ever taken. Vittorio Gassman’s performance gives us the ultimate Latin macho male in all his ludicrous and unforgiveable glory.

Topsy Turvy: The greatest life-in-the-theater movie (yes, better than All About Eve). Director-writer Mike Leigh shows us how Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado was created and, a bonus, gives us great chunks of the operetta as well.

Vampyr: It doesn’t matter what time of day or night you see this horror movie; while you watch it, it’s always and unnervingly three o’clock in the morning and you’re having a nightmare. Directed by Carl Dreyer, who preys upon our subconscious.

Clockwise from upper left, four of Richard’s favorites: A Day in the Country, Fanny & Alexander, The General, Shoot the Piano Player.

Clockwise from top left, four of my favorites except for The Godfather Part 2: All the President’s Men, My Dinner with Andre, The Godfather Part 2, The Sting, The Natural

Have you donated to WESU-FM’s Fall/Winter pledge drive yet? Please support community radio by going to and giving what you can. There are way-cool thank-you gifts!

Happy New Year! Our first show of 2022, on Jan. 9, will focus on late-blooming artists!

Young, gifted and black — 3 art school students on how it’s going

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Clockwise from top: Thomas Harlee, Rochelle Robinson, and Gavin Saunders are Hartford Art School students who exemplify the Nina Simone song “Young, Gifted, and Black” and whose work sometimes touches on racial themes. We talked via Zoom about their experience so far and their hopes for the future.
Thomas, a sophomore, and a selection of his work:
Gavin, a sophomore, and a selection of his work:
Rochelle, a first-year student, and a selection of her work:
All three credit the help of Hartford Art School Prof Jeremiah Patterson, who comments at the end of the episode He is a fan of theirs: “They all love to draw,” says Jeremiah, “and if you love to draw, “you’re an immediate buddy.”

Lot’s ‘particular toes,’ etc — a close look at the Artemesia Gentileschi show at the Wadsworth Atheneum

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Today, I tour the Artemesia Gentilleschi exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneaum in Hartford with my go-to art historian colleague and friend Fran Altvater. Amnesia Genti-who? you ask, and that’s kind of the point. Artemesia was one of a number of women artists, who, though they were successful and even celebrated, and painting royalty in the courts of their time, which in Artemesia’s case was the Baroque period, they are far from household names today. The Wadsworth exhibit, titled “By Her Hand: Artemesia Gentlieschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500-1800,” intends to rectify that. The exhibit will be up through January 9 and then it goes to the Detroit Institute of Arts, its collaborating museum, where it will hang from Feb. 6 to May 29.

‘By Her Hand: Artemesia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500-1800’ is up at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford through January 9.
Follow along as art historian Fran Altvater, associate dean of the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College, shares her insights about the exhibit, including in a post-mortem at Pepe’s pizza in West Hartford
  1. Artemesia’s self portraits: two as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Self-Portrait as a Lute Player

2. Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy by Artemesia Gentileschi

3. Lot and His Daughters by Artemesia Gentileschi

4. Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes by Artemesia Gentileschi

5. Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Fede Galizia

6. Portia Wounding Her Thigh by Elisabetta Sirani

7. Cleopatra by Ginevra Cantofoli

8. The Christ Child as depicted in Elisabetta Sirani’s Madonna & Child; Sofonisba Anguissola’s Holy Family with Sts. Anne and John the Baptist; Lavinia Fontana’s Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandria

9. David and Bathsheba by Artemesia Gentileschi

10. Hedgehog in a Landscape by Giovanna Garzoni

‘Just me and the wreck’ — a deep dive into the art of breath-hold diver Kenny Martin

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Today, we talk with Kenny Martin, a teacher and artist who lives on the edge. Not only do his high school students wield blowtorches to do metalwork, but Kenny’s hobby is undersea diving – while holding his breath. An exhibit of his drawings based on his breath holding free dives is up now at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Oh, and Kenny’s also been a boxer, and most recently founded a Fight Club for teens; he’s convincing in making it sound therapeutic. Back when Kenny taught elementary school, he had his students bury tuna carcasses, a lesson in composting. So do I need to tell you Kenny’s an interesting guy? He says he also gives a great haircut.  This is the interview that convinced me I need to have more people from Brooklyn in my life. And btw, where else are you going to find conversations like this but on WESU? Please, during this fall/winter pledge drive, do your part to support community radio by going to and giving what you can. Or I’ll have Kenny punch you in the nose.

Upper left, Ken with the first of his breath-hold-dive drawings, done from memory for artist Peter Waite’s “Monster Drawing” class in Wesleyan’s Graduate Liberal Study Program several years ago.

Below, two views of the art cart Ken, then a K-5 teacher, created when he lost his classroom. It was paid for in part with crowd-funding.

In Search of ‘The Creep Factor’

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Today we talk with photographer Bryan Sansivero, whose work has been described in The New York Times as creepy, sad, and beautiful. He travels widely looking for abandoned houses to shoot inside and out. His short documentary, “Shadows of Kings Park,” about a closed up mental institution, can be found on YouTube, and his book, American Decay, is in its second edition. You can find him on Instagram @st.severus and his website.

She goes big when she goes to Rome: the grande art of Kristin Jones

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Inspired by Christo while in college, Kristin Jones enlisted the help of an army of volunteers to “draw” a parade of she wolves, the emblem of Rome, by powerwashing away biological growth from the walls of the Tiber River. Her hope is to someday animate the procession from her archive of more than 90 drawings. In our visit, she talks about that project; another in Rome, her first there, created from dust; and others, including some in New York City, where she lives. As much as she’s interested in such cosmic subjects as the fluidity of light and the continuum of time, she’d like us to know that, using her years of experience as an architecture model maker, she also work on a miniature scale. Often working collaboratively, her mission is to “render the invisible visible and awaken a sense of wonder.” You can explore her oevre at and

Some of the she wolves, now disappeared from the walls of the Tiber. Jones is interested in transience and in work that “cannot be owned.”.
Jones’s first installation in Rome, made by engineering the accumulation of dust on glass shelves.
A project in NYC’s Union Square; the digital numbers have been updated to refer to climate change.
Looking to the future: Jones hopes to create an installation involving Rome’s Pantheon.

A 2011 New York Times article about “persistent public artist” Jones and her Washington Square digital project honoring an almost 350-year-old tree known as Hangman’s Elm.

Q is for Quoin: Teaching architecture to kids

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Welcome to the 2nd year of visual art on the radio! Today, we visit via Zoom with architect Michael J. Crosbie, a University of Hartford architecture professor who has written a children’s primer about architecture. Below are some pages referenced in our conversation:

Can you guess what the ones below are?

We also talked about:

The Vessel, aka The Hive, in NYC
The Pantheon in Rome
The newest building on the UHart campus, the Hursey Center
Back view

As I wrap up this first year of Open Studio, I want to thank a few people who’ve been instrumental in keeping the show going, especially Leith Johnson for composing the opening and closing theme music as well as the station break music, for his stomping out all manner of technical fires, and for his all-round moral support. Thanks, too, to WESU general manager Ben Michael, program manager Rick Sinkiewicz, and program director Ben Spencer for determinedly making community radio happen during the pandemic. Thanks to Sarah Bank and Mary Ahlstrom for promoting Open Studio on social media. Special thanks to all my brilliant guests – you’re an inspiration — and finally, a big thank you to you, listeners, for tuning in. If you enjoy community radio and shows like mine, I hope you’ll be generous at pledge drive time. I’m Maria Johnson, thanks for listening.

The graphic novel as college textbook

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Immediately above and below are images from a graphic novel created by UConn history Prof. Jason O. Chang about a 19th-century mutiny by Chinese slaves on a ship that ultimately wrecked on Japanese shores.
Today, we go beyond the Sunday funnies and explore the graphic novel with Prof. Chang and Prof. Charles Baraw, from Southern CT State University’s English dept.
Graphic novels, for those unfamiliar with the term, take the comic book into the deep end of the pool. One graphic novel you may have heard of is Art Spiegelman’s Maus, set in Nazi Germany. Another is Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home, which was made into a Broadway musical.
As you’ll hear, both of my guests, interviewed via Zoom, have developed creative approaches to reading, analyzing, and even creating graphic novels.

Prof. Jason O. Chang. One of his articles won the 2018 Koontz Prize for the most deserving contribution, tracing the role of Chinese merchants across successive imperial regimes in the Pacific. He also serves on the West Hartford Board of Education.
Prof. Charles Baraw. He is the recipient of the 2019 SCSU Board of Regents Teaching Award and the 2018 J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teacher Award. Below are covers of some of the graphic novels he teaches:

With this episode of Open Studio: Conversations on Art & Why It Matters, we close out our first year of visual art on the radio! I want to thank a few people who’ve been instrumental in keeping the show going, especially Leith Johnson for composing the opening and closing theme music as well as the station break music, for his stomping out all manner of technical fires, and for his all-round moral support.

Thanks, too, to WESU general manager Ben Michael, program manager Rick Sinkiewicz, and program director Ben Spencer for determinedly making community radio happen during the pandemic. Thanks to Sarah Bank and Mary Ahlstrom for promoting Open Studio on social media. Special thanks to all my brilliant guests – you’re an inspiration — and finally, a big thank you to you, listeners, for tuning in.

I invite you to enjoy the first episode of the new season, on Sept. 26th, when I’ll talk to Michael Crosbie, an architect whose books include a primer for children, called From Arches to Zigzags, an Architecture ABC.

‘Can You Repeat the Question?’ — an inquiry into identity

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Award-winning Brazilian American multidisciplinary artist Chantal Feitosa, of New York, takes us through her exhibit, “Can You Repeat the Question?,” at Hartford’s Real Art Ways through Oct. 17. She was invited to exhibit as a winner, selected from hundreds of applicants, of a $2,500 award for emerging artists living in New England, NJ, and NY. Her work — collages and a video installation — focuses on, among other things, ethnicity and gender and how those differences play out from earliest childhood, in school.
Brown Bag Lunch (Ham’s Redemption), 2021, is based on a ’70s era survey of Brazilians invited to self-identify about their skin color. It has a video installation on the reverse.
Blackfish Bay Catch of the Day (detail), 2021
Nobody Puts Baby In a Corner (detail), 2021
High Fashion Bootstrapping (detail), 2021
Fireweed (detail), 2021

A related interactive website can be accessed at

Chantal Feitosa’s website:

Next episode: Sept. 12. Comics and the graphic novel

Turning plastic waste into art to bring awareness to endangered animals

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Using discarded household plastic, Katharine Owens, an artist and poli sci professor at the University of Hartford, creates life-size wall hangings of sea creatures and birds that are endangered by eating or getting entangled in ocean waste. She hopes to exhibit the series of 46 all together when they’re done.

Connect with Kat on Instagram @katowens2012 and on TT @kathaowens; her website is

Below is one of three whales she’ll complete with the help of schoolchildren from across Connecticut and on Fishers Island, NY. Kat invites them to sign their work.

Below: I helped, too! (“Lotta DNA on this,” says Kat.)

Some finished seabirds below:

Below: “Trash talking” via Zoom:

Below: Kat’s mural of a sealion displayed in Kat’s home office, where she stores bins full of plastic: