The Champaigne Safari | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Champaigne Safari 

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The subject of this fascinating docu-bio-cum-social history by the Canadian animator turned director George Ungar is Charles E. Bedaux, a French-born entrepreneur who became wealthy in the 20s by selling his pseudoscientific theories on regimentizing the industrial process to blue-chip manufacturers. From his base in New York--where he emigrated at age 19--Bedaux peddled his vision of an efficient shop-floor utopia (soon to be spoofed by Chaplin in Modern Times); from his refurbished chateau in the Loire Valley, he and his American wife extravagantly entertained prominent members of European society. Bedaux also organized lavish expeditions to exotic lands. In 1934, at the height of his career, he took an entourage that included cameraman Floyd Crosby on an audacious 1,000-mile trek through the Canadian Rockies, carting along caviar and champagne (hence the film's title). The footage taken by Crosby, who later won Oscars for his Hollywood work, is used by Ungar in his meticulously researched narrative. The life of Bedaux is told in parallel with the expedition, which started with great fanfare but ended in failure. Shortly after returning, Bedaux found himself embroiled in Europe's fast-polarizing politics. Still trying to stay neutral, he continued his opportunistic ways, but by the end of World War II he was accused of collaborating with the Nazis. Ungar, through newsreel footage and interviews with biographers and relatives, not only compellingly retraces the arch of a flawed rags-to-riches life but also places it in the context of the moral and ideological ambiguities of the time. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, October 11, 7:00 and 9:00; Saturday, October 12, 6:00, 8:00, and 10:00; and Sunday through Thursday, October 13 through 17, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114.

--Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): flim still.

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