EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 17, 2013

Offbeat and Outstanding

Traditional old theater at historic Music Hall makes for a unique viewing experience of a unique lineup of films

By Lars Trodson

---- — There are so many live events at The Music Hall in Portsmouth that it’s easy to forget that this historic venue also is a great movie house.

It’s an old school movie theater, in fact, complete with a small concession stand right outside the theater doors and a curtain that pulls back when the movie begins.

Chris Curtis, who is the programming coordinator at The Music Hall, said the old theater is the perfect place to watch a movie because the venue itself provokes the senses. That’s just what the films shown at The Music Hall are chosen to do. And that’s why the film series as been named “Extraordinary Cinema.”

Film curator Bill Pence co-founded the Telluride Film Festival with his wife, Stella. That popular event in Colorado inspired the Telluride By The Sea Film Festival, which takes place annually at The Music Hall. Curtis, who works alongside Pence, said they try to choose smaller films that may not be booked at the megaplex over in Newington or other mainstream theaters in the region.

“Extraordinary Cinema” at The Music Hall has three major film programs: Telluride By The Sea, Film Matters and the Wild Card series.

Telluride, which takes place in September, is not yet scheduled. The other two, however, are ongoing.

Film Matters just finished showing “The Sessions,” Curtis said. That films stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt and is gaining strong Oscar buzz. Film Matters features one film for one or two week showings every month.

Here are the upcoming Film Matters offerings,

* “The Central Park Five,” directed by New Hampshire-based Ken Burns and Sarah Burns (a father and daughter team). According to the program notes, this film is about about a notorious incident in New York City: “In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers were arrested and charged for brutally attacking and raping a white female jogger in Central Park. But the truth about what really happened didn’t become clear until after the five had spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.” (Jan. 18 through Jan. 24.)

* “The Late Quartet” stars two Oscar winners: Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The brief description of this film is intriguing: “When the beloved cellist of a world-renowned string quartet receives a life-changing diagnosis, the group’s future suddenly hangs in the balance: suppressed emotions, competing egos, and uncontrollable passions threaten to derail years of friendship and collaboration.” (Jan. 25 through Jan. 31.)

The Wild Card series, Curtis said, are for films that deserve to be seen, although with perhaps not enough appeal to be shown for an entire week.

* One of the strongest films to come along is called “Any Day Now,” a true story about a gay couple in the 1970s who want to adopt a child with Down Syndrome, but are thwarted at every turn. “Any Day Now” stars Alan Cumming (who film buffs may remember as the flirtatious hotel clerk in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” or as the public relations executive Eli Gold in “The Good Wife”). (Feb. 12 through Feb. 17.)

Curtis said the goal of each film shown at The Music Hall is to find smaller, but no less extraordinary, achievements in film that might be overlooked.

“Even before I started working here at The Music Hall, I would come for a film. We’re here to celebrate and immerse ourselves in art. It’s not just the latest thing that has a million explosions or the latest effects, but a film where you’re talking about costume, or lighting or cinematography,” Curtis said. “We try to celebrate that kind of artistic commitment.”

For more information visit www.themusichall.org/.