Ever since he was a child, Martin Blank has considered himself a film buff.
“My dad took me to the movies a lot when I was very young,” Blank remembered. “We went to see all different kinds of films: horror films, foreign language films, detective films, westerns. It was something I loved right away.”
Afterwards, they would talk about the movie they had just seen, and about the actors and background of the story.
So began a passion for the cinema which Blank now shares with others through the Brookfield Public Library’s free monthly film series.
Each month, Blank screens a film, which he precedes with an introduction and follows with an open discussion about the actors, writers, producers, directors and the film itself.
Blank began the series in the fall of 2005, showcasing an eclectic selection of movies from all genres. Some are personal favorites, while others are selected from the Film Movement series, which supplies award-winning independent and foreign films to the library and other outlets on a limited-time basis.
Library patrons also may borrow a DVD copy of the titles, which are changed each month.
“Movies are our biggest checkout,” said Blank. “People seem to like to talk about the movies.”
Though Blank has watched a lot of movies in his lifetime, the program has created an opportunity for him as well as the audience to be exposed to some films they might otherwise have never heard of.
“I think I would find some of these films, but I certainly would not find all of them,” he said.
The selection features “wonderful, offbeat films” that have received awards or been featured in film festivals.
For example, on July 8 the group watched “August The First,” a Swedish-Nigerian drama about the unwelcome homecoming of an estranged father who returns after a decade-long absence to attend his son’s graduation. On Tuesday, Aug. 12, Blank will present “Noise,” a crime drama “about the wrong person in the right place at the wrong time.”
In addition to the monthly discussion group, Blank also presents some films as Saturday afternoon matinees. A “comedy sports” matinee will be presented July 26, featuring Abbott & Costello in “The Naughty Nineties” (including the comedy team’s classic “Who’s On First” routine), along with two vintage comedy shorts: W.C. Fields in “The Golf Specialist” and the Three Stooges in “Punch Drunks.” On Aug. 20, Blank will present Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes.”
Blank said he got about 20 attendees for his first film showcase, and sometimes “we really pack the house.”
Still, he said, “it’s gratifying when there are seven or eight people and we have a great discussion.”
Like the films themselves, the audiences comprise an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life.
“We get some regulars,” he said. “There are young people who are film buffs and come to the library. One of our regulars is in the film business. A woman who comes regularly works in the medical field. She said often times in films, they’ll show a chest X-ray, and it’ll be upside down. My sister-in-law works in law enforcement, and she’s been critical of how law enforcement is depicted. Some people are very critical of the behavior of the characters in the films.”
The films are projected on video in the lower-level meeting room at the library, 3609 Grand Blvd.
“It’s a nice experience seeing a bigger image,” Blank said, adding, “It’s interesting to talk to a group of people, some who agree and some who disagree. It gets you thinking, and it’s a great feeling.”
The first film screened in the series was “Le Grand Voyage,” a story about a young Muslim living in France, summoned to accompany his devout father on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Since then, the series has featured “tragic stories and funny stories,” Blank said. “Most are fiction, but there are some documentaries. Sometimes, it’s good to go with a classic, but so many people have seen them. Different people go to see different kinds of films.”
Some featured titles have included Mel Brooks’ “High Anxiety,” “The Seventh Seal,” “Fraulein,” “The Way I Spent The End Of The World” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation.”
For a screening of the Russian film “The Island,” one patron of Russian descent “had so much insight into that film,” Blank recalled. “It was good to have her here. She discovered things in the plot that I didn’t know about.”
Blank often schedules films around a timely theme; for Halloween, he will show the classic silent horror film “Nosferatu,” the first film adaptation of the Dracula story.
Each year, libraries across America promote suppressed titles during “Banned Books Week.” Last year, Blank presented Woody Allen’s “The Front,” a comedy-drama based on the 1950s anti-communist blacklisting scandal; many of the performers and technicians who worked on the film were among those whose careers and lives had been affected.
This year, Blank will present Bette Davis in “Storm Warning,” along with the documentary, “This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated.”
And bringing things back full circle, on Nov. 22 Blank will present “Shadowcase,” a French film based on an original novel written by Blank’s late father.
“My dad always wanted to be a writer,” Blank remembered. “After he retired, he started working on this novel.”
It was a detective crime story originally set in the Chicago area, but French filmmakers changed the setting to France.
“He had a lot of fun with it,” Blank remembered. “He was very flattered that his first novel was made into a film.”