Cinematic civilization isn’t just a big city affair.
I had reason to spend last Friday night in Red Bluff, a hamlet of 13,000 considerably north of here on Interstate 5. I took a walk early Saturday morning, and spotted an old single-screen movie theater that had clearly seen better days.
You’ll find these in almost every small town. Some are split up so they can still do first-run business, although even in sections they can’t compete with a multiplex at the nearby mall. All too often, the old theater is dark. I approached this one wondering what I’d find.
The last thing I expected to see was a marquee advertising Citizen Kane. Certainly the place hadn’t been closed that long.
The State Theatre doesn’t show movies daily anymore, and doesn’t even have a 35mm projector. But the volunteers working to keep it alive show classic films every month (along with Rocky Horror midnight shows) via DVD projection. Other movies coming up include Stagecoach, My Fair Lady, and Young Frankenstein.
But in small towns as in big cities, revival cinema just isn’t the draw it once was. Executive Director Venita Philbrick told me that “The cost associated with showing movies is high – audience low… so we’ll see how it nets out next May.”
I wish them luck.
Of course, you don’t have to go to Red Bluff to see a great movie. Here are a few showing locally:
Recommended: Safety Last, Stanford, Friday, 7:30. Harold Lloyd’s iconic image, hanging from a large clock high over a city street, comes from this boy-makes-good-by-risking-his-neck fairytale. Lloyd made better pictures, but even mediocre Lloyd is funnier than most comics. And when he starts climbing that building, the laughs don’t stop. Accompanied by Chris Elliott at the Wurlitzer pipe organ.
Noteworthy: South Pacific, Castro, Saturday. Not a great movie, but an important one in the history of 70mm. South Pacific was only the third film shot in Todd-AO and thus the third released in 70mm with 6-track magnetic stereo sound. But because the process changed considerably after the first two (Okalahoma! and Around the World in 80 Days), South Pacific is really the first film released in 70mm as we came to know it. Part of the Castro’s 70mm series.
Noteworthy: Tron, Castro, Saturday, midnight. I haven’t seen Tron since it was a new movie showing on very big screens. I remember a dumb story but an entertaining light show. In those days, whatever computer geek in-jokes it contained went over my head. Today, I suspect Tron would have considerable historical interest. It was the first feature film to extensively use what we now call CGI. It was one of only two Hollywood films shot in 65mm between 1971 and 1992. And it was probably the last big movie about computers made before they became household appliances. Another part of the Castro’s 70mm series.
Recommended: High Noon Stanford, Saturday through Monday. Gary Cooper discovers who his real friends are (just about no one) when criminals are coming to get him in Carl Foreman and Fred Zinnemann’s simple fable of courage under fire. A stand-out great western from an era of great westerns, and arguably the best without input from either John Ford or John Wayne. Foreman’s last produced screenplay before getting blacklisted, High Noon can be interpreted as a parable to a Hollywood gripped in McCarthyite fear. On a double-bill with Love in the Afternoon.
Recommended, with Reservations: Hamlet, (1996), Castro, Sunday. There’s a lot to like about Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, and a lot to not like. But then, as the only film of the play’s complete text, resulting in a 242-minute running time, there’s a lot, period. On the plus side, Branagh has a unique and valid interpretation of the story, visually equating a dysfunctional royal family with a sick nation. The lead actors, including Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, and Branagh himself, are all spot-on. But Branagh fills the picture with unnecessary visual flourishes and distracting movie star cameos, some by performers who have no business doing Shakespeare. The result is brilliant–except when it’s laughable. This was the last feature film shot in 65mm. More of the Castro’s 70mm series.
Noteworthy: Cleopatra (1963) Castro, Monday. At 243 minutes, this widescreen epic clocks in as the longest single theatrical release by a major American studio. And at an estimated 40 million 1963 dollars, it’s probably the most expensive. I found the first half mildly entertaining and the second half boring (despite a torrid off-camera affair, Burton and Taylor fail to light up the screen), but then I’ve never seen Cleopatra under good conditions. I’ve heard that properly shown, this very big film comes alive as a visual feast. Happily, the Castro is properly showing a new 70mm print in a screening postponed from the 12th; they needed to upgrade the sound system for it. Note: I accidentally stated here that Cleopatra will be shown on Saturday. I corrected my error on Friday, 8/18.
Recommended: Playtime, Castro, Tuesday. Monsieur Hulot adrift and befuddled in modern Paris. That’s all there is of plot in Jacques Tati’s masterpiece, and that’s all that’s needed. One of the funniest films of the 1960’s, but in an odd, almost meditative way. And even when you’re not laughing, you’re fascinated by the little details of Tati’s city-sized universe. Tati spent (and lost) a fortune on Playtime, building a giant set and shooting the movie in 65mm for 70mm release, and the result is ours to enjoy–immensely. Yup; it’s in the Castro’s 70mm series.
Noteworthy: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Castro, Wednesday. I loved this movie when I was nine years old, but when I saw it as an adult (on laserdisc about twelve years ago), it had lost a lot of its luster. Three hours of solid slapstick is a bit much, especially when performed by nightclub and television comics experienced in getting laughs while standing still, and directed by a man with no comedy experience of any sort. Yet this screening at the Castro’s 70mm Series is hard to resist. Mad World was one of only nine features shot in Ultra Panavision (aka MGM Camera 65), a 65mm process with the widest aspect ratio ever used in Hollywood. This screening will be the first proper Ultra Panavision presentation of any movie in Bay Area in more than 40 years, and the first such local screening of Mad World ever.
Recommended: Titanic, Castro, Thursday, 8:00. It went insanely over budget, then went on to become the most successful film of all time, thanks largely to teenage girls who couldn’t get enough of Leonardo DiCaprio. No wonder so many cinephiles hate Titanic. Too bad for them. This is a big, broad, rousing entertainment told on an epic scale. Writer/director James Cameron perfectly balances intimate melodrama of doomed love with big adventure of a doomed ship, giving us romance, class warfare, history, tragedy, suspense, sex, and plenty of special effects. Closing night of the Castro’s 70mm series.