The Last Supper: Race, Class, and Justice on Screen

Date Film Time
5/1 Caché 7 pm
5/15 The Thin Blue Line 7 pm
5/21 The People vs. Paul Crump 7 pm
5/27 When you CAN'T Shake it Off 6 pm
5/28 A Man Escaped
7 pm
6/4 The Passion of Joan of Arc 7 pm

This spring Block Cinema presents a film series linked to the exhibit The Last Supper: 600 Plates Illustrating Final Meals of U.S. Death Row Inmates, a solo exhibition by contemporary artist Julie Green. For nearly two decades, Green has painted images of the last meal requests of death row inmates onto second-hand ceramic plates. She intends to continue making fifty plates per year until capital punishment is abolished. The companion film series, which divides into two strands, asks similar questions about the ambiguity of guilt, the finality of death and the role race and class play in the judicial system. One strand features documentaries focused on the issue of the death penalty in America. It includes The Thin Blue Line (1988) and The People vs. Paul Crump (1962), a Chicago-based documentary by a young William Friedkin. The other strand brings in fictional films that offer different historical and cultural perspectives on the issue of capital punishment and the complexities of justice in societies struggling with inequality. These include Carl Dreyer’s 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc, A Man Escaped (1956), and Caché (2005). The series also offers a look at how social media shapes the national discussion about race, law, and the limits of police power through a conversation with Will Schmenner, Block Cinema Interim Curator, and Harvey Young, Northwestern University Associate Professor of Theatre entitled “When You CAN'T Shake If Off.”

Caché (Hidden)

Friday, May 1, 2015 7:00 PM
(Michael Haneke, 2005, France/Austria/Germany/Italy/US, 35mm, 117 min.)

The rash of videos of African-American men dying in police custody has given Caché, a quiet thriller set in France, new cross-cultural relevance. What does it mean to witness tragedy? What responsibility comes with it? Director Michael Haneke subtly ties those questions into France’s complex and suppressed history of violence against Algerians. Well-to-do Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) finds a series of videotapes of the outside of his home in Paris. Quietly ominous, perhaps, the videos break no laws, and a nerve-wracked Laurent sets out to investigate them himself. They lead him back to his childhood, to a boy named Majid whose parents worked for his family, and to the disturbing and terrible ways history disappears and guilt resurfaces. A thoughtful tour-de-force.

The Thin Blue Line

Friday, May 15, 2015 7:00 PM
(Errol Morris, 1988, US, digital, 103 min.)

Randall Dale Adams lived through a nightmare. In 1976, someone shot and killed Dallas police officer Robert Wood. In 1977, a Texas court convicted Mr. Adams of the crime and sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court took up his case, and in March 1985, Errol Morris arrived in Texas to work on a documentary about psychiatrist known as Dr. Death for his damning testimony. Adams’s case fascinated Morris, who at the time held down a day job as a private detective. Applying those investigative skills, Morris crafted The Thin Blue Line. The movie stirred an outcry about the case and launched Morris’s career. In 1989, the Texas justice system released Adams from prison. Adams died in quiet obscurity in 2010, the New York Times reporting his death some eight months after it had occurred.

The People vs. Paul Crump

Thursday, May 21, 2015 7:00 PM
(William Friedkin, 1962, US, 16mm, 60 min.)

Before making his splash in Hollywood, 26-year-old Chicago-born director William Friedkin made a short documentary about Paul Crump (at that point the youngest death row inmate in Illinois history) to be shown on television the night of his execution. The film depicted the alleged torture by the police that Crump endured. The People vs. Paul Crump was not publicly screened, but Friedkin expeditiously showed it to the Illinois governor who commuted Crump’s sentence. The documentary’s use of reenactment anticipates Errol Morris’s famous use in the similarly themed The Thin Blue Line (screening May 15).

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.

When You CAN’T Shake It Off

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 6:00 PM FREE

A cell phone camera captures the death of Eric Garner. White men toting assault rifles film confrontations with police officers over their right to openly carry firearms. A video of a cop lip-synching to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” goes viral. This wide-ranging conversation looks at the role and use of social media in creating a national conversation about race, law, and the limits of police power. How does civil resistance operate in the Internet era? And how do citizen videos expand our definition of the moving image? Special attention will be paid to performances of resistance (such as “I Am Trayvon” and “Hands Up”), responses to the highly predicable and anticipated arrival of racial violence. Will Schmenner, Block Cinema Interim Curator, in conversation with Harvey Young, Northwestern University Associate Professor of Theatre.

Un condamné à mort s'est échappé (A Man Escaped)

Thursday, May 28, 2015 7:00 PM
(Robert Bresson, 1956, France, 35mm, 99 min.)

Bresson loosely adapted this thriller from the memoirs of André Devigny, a French resistance fighter held in a German prison during World War II. One of the masterpieces of this unrivaled director, Bresson strikingly mixes the tedium of jail with the nail-biting suspense of the preparations for escape. At every turn, this darkly Catholic film wonders aloud whether the dumb luck also needed to attain freedom comes by chance or by the grace of God. This is perhaps the only film about death row that throws away all questions of guilt and asks, what does it mean to be saved from certain death?

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Thursday, June 4, 2015 7:00 PM
(Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928, France, 35mm, 82 min.)

On trial for heresy, Joan of Arc’s captors use interrogation, torture, and death threats to force her to sign a confession. Dreyer’s 1928 restaging of the trial of Joan of Arc is famous for its exquisite cinematography, specifically its use of closeups. It is a testament to the beauty and power of the human face. The Passion of Joan of Arc, like other films in this series, portrays the suffering and helplessness of victims abused by power. The film itself suffered from cuts by the government and the Archbishop of France. Dreyer’s original version was only available in a truncated form until the 1980s when a complete print was discovered.

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive. Live musical accompaniment by David Drazin.