Movie Man

If you ever get the chance to talk to Charlie Scruggs about movies, do it. You'll see him beam and glow with happiness as he discusses motion pictures. He's the perfect director for the International Arts Society Film Series, which is sponsored by the UA's College of Humanities. The 65-year-old is a professor in the English Department, and he's been the series' director since 1971 (although there was a series hiatus in the '90s). On Jan. 16, the second semester of the series' 50th year will start with Heaven, a 2002 German film that explores whether love is possible in a fallen world. But this semester's film series has a new home: The Integrated Learning Center's Room 120, which features an updated, state-of-the-art film system. The movies, every Friday night at 7:30 p.m. during the academic semester, are all free. Check 'em out!

So, how did last semester go?

Very well. I think we kind of started off with a bang; we'd done a lot of publicizing of (the fact that it was the series') 50th year. It hit a lull about two-thirds of the way through. The last movie, Our Hospitality with Buster Keaton, was really well attended. We always have good audiences. There's never an empty auditorium. There's a good core of people.

You ever get people who are unruly? Problems with people making out?

Once in a great while, we'll have people talking. Normally, they're very appreciative. They'll clap when they like the movie.

How do you decide which films to show?

We've got a committee of four women and three men. We come up with a list, and say, "Look, I think we have got to have this movie," or, "We haven't had a movie from Russia for a while." Then, we'll call up (an expert on Russian films) and ask him, and he'll come up with stuff. We don't always do that, but we try to have a balance. We don't want too many wrist-slitters, or too many comedies, or too many American movies, although we've overdone it this time. People just come up with suggestions.

You ever argue?

Sometimes that happens, but the people are usually charitable and sympathetic to each other's points of view. But, oh yeah, sometimes someone will say, "That's not a very good film," and there will be a response. The committee's pretty democratic. We work well together, and we like each other. I have to add, that was not always the case in the old days. I made one big mistake: I enlarged the committee so there were about 12 people. Once I did that, it got real acrimonious.

Do you ever try to theme the films for a semester?

No. But it turns out that this time, there are two war films (Nicija Zemlja, or No Man's Land, and The Thin Red Line) and two boxing films (Hard Times and The Set-Up). We actually didn't think about that.

How did you decide to show The Big Lebowski?

(Laughs.) I wanted something by the Coen brothers, and this is off the wall and incredibly funny. I should say that on the suggestion slips from the audience, several people wrote it in. It probably isn't the best Coen brothers film--you could argue that's Fargo or Miller's Crossing or Blood Simple or even Barton Fink--but there's something about The Big Lebowski. There's a zaniness to it.

What's your favorite film this semester?

Oh, gosh. My sentimental favorite would have to be Hard Times. I don't think it's the best movie we've ever shown in the series. It's bluesy, very mythical; the guy kind of comes out of nowhere. I think I probably would say The Thin Red Line is the best film.

Have you ever showed a really bad movie you regretted?

Oh, yeah. Glauber Rocha's movie; it's set in South America. I can't think of the name. I probably repressed it; the movie was so tedious and pretentious. It was one of those arty films that went nowhere. This was back in the early days of the series, when we made a couple of really bad choices.

OK. Let's pretend I just put a gun to your head and told you to pick your one favorite movie of all time. What is it?

It would have to be Buster Keaton's The General. One of my favorites that comes to mind is the Fanny trilogy (by Marcel Pagnol). I would say Some Like It Hot.

I asked you for one movie, with a gun to your head, and you gave me five.

OK. Put Some Like It Hot. Let's do that. It's funny right from the beginning to the end.

One final question: What is it about movies that makes you love them so much?

That's a good question, a hard one to answer. On one level, I respond to them emotionally. ... On another level, I find them intellectually stimulating, the same way I find literature stimulating. It sounds pretentious, I know, but after a good movie, when I walk out of the theater, I see things differently. I love discussing them with friends; I learn from what they see.