The very first Minneapolis Film Festival, 1981


Unearthed is a series of blog posts resulting from too much time spent rummaging around in the City Pages archives.

To celebrate the 26th Minneapolis Film Festival, with the kind assistance of the Internet, we've recreated the very first. The clips are old and the screen roughly 450 pixels wide, but you can't beat the ticket price.

In January, 1981, when The Minneapolis Star and The Minneapolis Tribune sponsored the first Minneapolis Film Festival, City Pages (then called Sweet Potato) put film reviewer Tom Baglien (who left Minneapolis that year for New York City) to the task of hyping the event.

We've recreated bits and pieces of the Festival here, matching the late Baglien's capsule reviews to vintage clips borrowed from the good people at YouTube.

We'll let Baglien set it up. Here's how he introduced the Festival in 1981:

Light up the kleigs! Roll out the red carpet! If you've ever questioned the position of Minneapolis as a vital film center, now is the time to put your doubts to rest, once and for all.

While we may not have the sun-drenched, publicity-mongering glitziness of Cannes or the laid-back sophisticated sheen of New York, Minneapolis nonetheless has the movies, which, of course, is what film festivals are supposed to be about anyway.International in scope, the Festival promises to be the biggest event of its kind in the United States, with nearly four times the amount of celluloid than even New York unreels each fall.

The Festival was overflowing with what is now the stuff of cinema history. New films by Jean-Luc Godard (Every Man for Himself), Igmar Bergman (Faro Document), and Akira Kurosawa (Kagemusha, or, The Shadow Warrior).

Here are some of Baglien's short reviews, and the clips to match:

" of the Festival's most bizarre entries is a little horror thriller called Fade to Black. A first film by Zimmerman, it stars Dennis Christopher (from Breaking Away) as a psycho movie fan who likes to dress up as his favorite movie villains (Cagney, Lugosi, Lon Chaney) and knock off his tormentors. I suspect there's a buried message in this for all of us obsessive movie nuts."

"Kagemusha--The Shadow Warrior brings Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, The Seven Samurai) back to moviemaking in triumph. This stunningly beautiful epic adventure story focuses on the struggle for power between warring samurai clans in 16th-Century Japan. It puts Shogun to shame. Centering on a beggar-thief who's saved from crucifixion because of his resemblance to the ruling warlord, Kagemusha becomes a moving study in the discrepancy between identity and impersonation, reality and illusion as the beggar-thief is forced to act the part of the warlord after he's killed in battle ... Chances are you won't see a better epic movie this year."

"...Ken Russell's biological shocker, Altered States, closes the Festival ... based on a novel by Paddy Chayefsky, Altered States is a reported "mind-blower" that deals with a young man (William Hurt) who constructs a deprivation machine and then manages to travel backward in evolutionary time to a state of primitivism. Russell's outrageous hallucinatory imagery finds its perfect outlet here--or so we imagine since the movie has been popping up on various "10-Best of the Year" lists."

There were 50 films in the Festival, and Sweet Potato couldn't get to all of them. Here are a few more, with a brief description and details on the screening:

The Wicker Man, directed by Robin Hardy

Varsity Theatre, 9:45 PM Saturday, January 17, 1981

This film has been described as the Citizen Kane of horror movies. Filmed in Scotland, this clip is actually an outtake.

Wernor Herzog Eats His Shoe, a short film directed by Les Blank

Varsity Theatre, 7:30 PM Wednesday, January 21, 1981

Infamous filmmaker Wernor Herzog made a bet with Errol Morris: If Morris could finish his first feature Gates of Heaven, Herzog would eat his shoe. It doesn't end there.

Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, another film by Les Blank

Varsity Theatre, 7:30 PM Wednesday, January 21, 1981

A rather comprehensive tribute to garlic. Wonderful.

The Man Who Stole the Sun, directed by Hasegawa Kazuhiko

Campus Theater Friday, January 23, 1981

Winner of the Tokyo Blue Ribbon Award for Best Film of the Year in 1980, this film is a satire on the nuclear insanity of the Cold War era.