FILMMAKER Pare Lorentz will be honored by the Washington Film Council on Saturday evening on the 50th anniversary of the premiere of The Plow That Broke the Plains, his first movie. The 80-year-old West Virginia-born writer, director and producer, who served as chief of U.S. Film Service toward the end of the Depression, will introduce the 28-minute documentary, which he cut to an original score by composer Virgil Thompson. Lorentz' 1937 film, The River, will also be shown that evening at American University's Wechsler Theater.
Although he made only four movies, Lorentz was considered a force of vision in his day. His films, which helped set the tone for five decades of social documentaries, also represented the first time that the federal government used the medium to explain farm and social policy. His documentaries were produced for theatrical release, which outraged Hollywood studio bosses, who argued that the government had no place in the filmmaking industry.
Lorentz began his career in the early 1920s as a film reviewer for the national humor magazine Judge. His reviews also appeared in McCall's, Variety and The New York Evening News before he turned to filmmaking. Tickets to Saturday evening's screening and to the reception that follows are $10. Reservations should be made by Friday afternoon by calling 556-8840.
That was Alan Alda you saw in town last weekend. The former M*A*S*Her was here to preview his new film, Sweet Liberty, to a sold-out auditorium at the American Film Institute last Friday night. Alda, who wrote, directed and stars in the comedy, was also in Baltimore Sunday night to appear before a sold-out Baltimore Film Forum audience. Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Michelle Pfeiffer and Lillian Gish also star in the movie, which opens in Washington on May 16.
Speaking of Lillian Gish, the 90-year-old screen legend will introduce the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program's latest film series, "Lillian Gish, Ginger Rogers and Sally Field -- Three Generations of Great Actresses," at the Museum of American History on Tuesday evening at 8.
Sometimes called "the First Lady of the Silent Screen," Gish made several dozen silent pictures, including D.W. Griffith's 1915 epic, Birth of a Nation. But unlike many stars of the silent era, Gish managed to continue working when "talkies" came along. On Tuesday evening, after a screening of movie clips from her career, Gish will be interviewed by Vassar film studies professor Richard Brown and take questions from the audience. Then there'll be a private viewing of the museum's "Hollywood: Legend and Reality" exhibition and a reception.
The series continues on May 20 with Ginger Rogers; and on May 27 with Sally Field. All three lectures cost $45 for RAP members; $60 non-members. Individual program tickets are $17 for members; $22 non-members.
The series price does not include the special May 17 screening of Way Down East, possibly Gish's most stunning work. In this 1920 Griffith-directed landmark film, Gish insisted on performing her own stunts. One very risky scene finds Gish marooned on an ice floe as it rushes toward a waterfall. Shot on the frozen Connecticut River, it's still one of the most terrifying scenes ever played out on film. The 150-minute film will be accompanied by a nine-member chamber ensemble led by Library of Congress music specialist Gil Anderson. It screens in the Natural History Museum's Baird Auditorium. Tickets are are $10 for members; $15 non-members. Call 357-3030 for all RAP events.
Insurance, fast becoming everyone's concern, soon could be taking its toll on moviegoers. Recently, Hollywood's trade bible, Daily Variety, carried the story, headlined "Insurance Crisis Hits H'Wood," of how film productions have been hit with skyrocketing insurance premiums over the last six months, with some production risk policies increasing as much as 25 to 30 percent. Much of the blame for the increased premiums is being placed on medical and workmen's compensation rates, which have been rising for some time. The increased cost of insurance, along with lesser actual coverage and higher deductibles, could force Hollywood to raise distribution charges. The next step? Higher ticket prices.
Some reality is best kept out of the movies.
It appears that Hollywood is growing closer to Charlottesville all the time. Actors Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange recently purchased a spread in Albemarle County, but details of the sale are being kept private. In making the move east, Shepard and Lange, who made Country together, join such other celebrity farmers as Sissy Spacek and her director husband Jack Fisk; novelist and screenwriter Rita Mae Brown; and billionaire broadcaster and producer John Kluge, who owns Metromedia Inc.
Although no real estate agent has claimed or confirmed the sale, several colleagues said that the Roy Wheeler Co., a longtime dealer in historic properties and luxury estates, dealt with a representative of the couple.
Some believe that celebrities move to the Charlottesville area to escape the Hollywood hassle.
"They just want to be normal people," figures Frank Quayle of the Wheeler firm. But Quayle says the celebrities aren't attracting other stars. "They wince when they hear that other ones celebrities are here."
In late February, actor-singer Wayne Newton, who runs one of the nation's largest Arabian horse breeding farms outside Las Vegas, backed out of a contract to buy the 1,180-acre Castle Hill estate near Keswick, less than 10 miles from Charlottesville.
SHORT TAKES -- The National Archives "American Lives" series repeats Ken Burns' moving profile Huey Long twice on Friday. Reels roll at noon and 2 in the theater at Pennsylvania Avenue and Eighth Street NW. It's free.
Yvonne Rainer's 125-minute The Man Who Envied Women is the Hirshhorn's Friday night offering this week, while the off-beat comedy Woza Albert! screens Thursday evening. All Hirshhorn screenings are free and begin at 8. Call 357-2700.
"Through the Frame: Film Encounters the Painterly Image," the National Gallery's free film series, screens three films throughout the weekend: Ingres -- Slaves of Fashion, (50 minutes); Edouard Manet: Painter of Modern Life; and the Italian-made The Spider's Stratagem. The last is in Italian with English subtitles. "Through the Frame" runs through June 21. Call 842-6272 for a complete screening schedule.
The Official Story, this year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, will be shown free Sunday evening at 7:30 at the Reston Community Center Theater. Tickets, however, are a must. Call 476-1111.
The American Film Institute will screen a special recut version of Steven Spielberg's smash Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition Sunday evening at 6. In 1980 the director added new scenes to the original 1977 version, making for a punchier package. But if you'd rather travel back in time, try Monday evening's 6:30 screening of Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper. Paramount released this Hopper-directed, low-budget hit in 1969, but it seems so much longer ago. The AFI has doubled-billed James Cagney's great 1931 The Public Enemy with Paul Muni's 1932 I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang on Tuesday at 8:45, and on Wednesday at 8:30. Call 785-4601 or 785-4600.
The National Geographic Society's free lunchtime film series continues Tuesday with a nature vacation planner, America's Wonderlands: The National Parks. Showtime is noon in the Gilbert H. Grosvenor Auditorium at 1600 M Street NW. Call 857-7133.