Encore 6: The Great Theater + Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405


The Great Theater:
Sławomir Batyra’s evocative and visually rich film showcases a Polish opera theater’s production of Madama Butterfly from behind (and below) the stage. The film is an observational tour de force; Krzysztof Gromek’s camera investigates, without narration or talking heads, the innards and secrets of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw. The variegated offstage world of this theater has more heft and mystery, the film seems to assert, than the opera performance onstage. Batyra highlights the creativity and seriousness of the theater staff: costumers, cobblers, carpenters, stagehands, musicians, and, at the controls, a commanding stage manager. The beauty and wit of the filmmaking go well beyond a tour of a working theater’s systems and structure into the realm of metaphor: a costumed player in silent meditation in the midst of preshow bustle, or the building’s improbable M. C. Escher–like “ascending and descending” staircase. NK
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405:
Taking the concept of Gestalt art therapy to a spectacular level, Mindy Alper’s exuberant artworks breathe life directly into the spaces they inhabit. Alper’s extraordinary sculptures, drawings, and paintings reveal her singularity as an artist who has lived her entire life with a mental disorder. Alper is honest, self-critical, insightful, and sweetly funny in talking about her family, her daily routine, and her growth as an artist, daughter, and friend. Director Frank Stiefel gives Alper ample room to voice her thoughts in interviews and most of all through her works, which animate the screen with intensity and deep emotion. In a compelling portrait of an innovative artist who must constantly strive to maintain her equilibrium and express herself through speech that doesn’t come easily, this message comes through with clarity: life is chaotic, and creativity fosters love. DP

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