Film Notes

Film Notes

Go behind-the-scenes to learn more about your favorite films!

Jump to a specific film:

2001: A Space Odyssey | A.I. Artificial Intelligence | All the President’s Men | Amadeus | Babe | Back to the Future | The Band Wagon | Batman | La Belle et la Bete | Blade Runner | Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid | Casablanca | Columbus | Creed | Dr. Strangelove or: How I leanred to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb | Dracula (English) | Drácula (Spanish) | E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial | East of Eden | Fargo | From Dusk Till Dawn | Giant | Get Out | The Graduate | Guys and Dolls | A Hard Day’s Night | Harold and Maude | Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | The Host | Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade | Independence Day | Invasion of the Body Snatchers | Jaws | The Last Picture Show | Lawrence of Arabia | The Magnificent Ambersons | Marie Antoinette | McMabe & Mrs. Miller | Mission: Impossible | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington | Monkey Business | Moonstruck | Moulin Rouge | Mulholland Dr. | North by Northwest | Notorious | On the Waterfront | Planes Trains and Automobiles | Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Psycho | Raiders of the Lost Ark | Rebel Without a Cause | The Red Shoes | Romeo + Juliet | Selena | The Shining | Some Like it Hot | A Star is Born | Strangers on a Train | A Streetcar named Desire | Sunset Boulevard | Superman | There Will be Blood | The Thing | To Catch a Thief | Total Recall | The Tree of Life | The Umbrellas of Cherbourg | The Watermelon Woman | West Side Story | Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory | The Wolf Man | Young Frankenstein

Listed alphabetically by film title.




102 min

Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Owen Marks
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre

CASABLANCA first arrived in theaters in 1942, and, since then, seemingly every iconic moment and unforgettable one-liner from this beloved film has permeated our popular culture, to the extent that people who have never even seen the movie feel as if they have. Such lasting impact usually results from a rare combination of great artists doing the best work of their career and, let’s face it, pure luck.

For example, what if the strict film censorship of the 1940s hadn’t essentially forced the movie to end the way it does (perfectly, as it turns out)? What if, instead of Humphrey Bogart, the role of Rick Blaine had been granted to the rumored front-runner…Ronald Reagan? What if an unproduced play titled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” hadn’t been unearthed from a pile of discarded work headed for the trashcan?

As most classic movie fans are well aware, the Golden Age of Hollywood was filled to the brim with adaptations. Every literary best-seller and Broadway blockbuster put stars (not to mention dollar signs) in the eyes of studio executives all over Los Angeles, and major motion pictures were being developed from these popular favorites by the hundreds.

What you didn’t often see, however, was an unproduced play getting the star treatment from a major studio like Warner Bros, yet that’s exactly what happened with “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” an unproven commodity from stage writers Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. A Warner story analyst initially thought the piece was “sophisticated hokum,” but by the time the studio was done with it, CASABLANCA would be considered one of the greatest movies ever made.

Most people credit the film’s greatness to its script, but good luck figuring out precisely to whom that credit belongs. Though the script is often credited to the twin brothers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein (who were the first to be assigned to the project), they weren’t entirely present for the formative stages of the script’s life. In fact, they elected to join Frank Capra in the making of WHY WE FIGHT after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so Howard Koch took over on CASABLANCA. And those are just the credited writers; the uncredited Casey Robinson reportedly spent nearly three weeks on rewrites, and producer Hal Wallis claims the legendary final line came from his own pen.

Of course, we wouldn’t even care who wrote the lines if they hadn’t been delivered so perfectly by CASABLANCA’s extraordinary cast. As is so often the case with classic films, our enjoyment relies as much on the charismatic star wattage of the top-billed names as it does on the supporting cast filling in the gaps. Bogart and Bergman give us one of the screen’s most captivating romances, managing to portray both once-in-a-lifetime love and devastating heartbreak with equal dexterity. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve got beloved personalities like the impish Claude Rains, the underhanded Sydney Greenstreet, and the slithery Peter Lorre adding a touch of humor and a little intrigue to the proceedings.

With that script and these actors, it’s no wonder CASABLANCA has become an annual tradition not only for the Paramount but for movie lovers everywhere. It’s the kind of film you can easily watch once a year (some of us could probably make that once a month), and it will never get old. Does that mean it’s a “perfect” film? If such a thing is possible, I can’t imagine a better candidate for the job.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Planes, Trains and Automobiles


92 min

Director: John Hughes
Screenplay: John Hughes
Cinematography: Don Peterman
Editor: Paul Hirsch
Music: Ira Newborn
Cast: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon, Dylan Baker, Edie McClurg

In 1986, John Hughes sat down to write a road trip movie of nightmarish proportions (based in part on some of his own experiences), and in a mere three days he had come up with PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES. The final product proved to be not only the quintessential Thanksgiving movie and one of the funniest comedies of all time but also the strongest argument yet made for staying put over the holidays.

To portray the two men who must share this forsaken journey together (despite their drastically different outlooks on life), Hughes found two leading men at the peak of their comedic powers. Steve Martin had already made a number of his most beloved comedies (THE JERK, THREE AMIGOS) by this time, while John Candy had impressed in supporting roles for movies like STRIPES, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION, and SPLASH after his stint with Second City.

And has any comedy been more perfectly cast? Martin’s manic energy, with subtle hints of rage simmering just below the surface, clashes perfectly with Candy’s laidback casualness and that winning smile, making for one of cinema’s great oil-and-water pairings. As funny as they are, though, Martin and Candy prove, as they often did throughout their careers, that they are equally capable of coaxing significant emotional responses from the audience. The ending of this film is like a punch to the gut.

Conjuring a few tears out of comedies that otherwise seemed content simply to make us laugh was a John Hughes specialty. THE BREAKFAST CLUB, for example, spends the majority of its running time as a perfectly enjoyable comedy with a cast of intentionally stereotyped high school characters. And yet, at the end, we find ourselves moved by some magic blend of nostalgia and personal understanding to empathize with these kids as they move on to the next chapter of their lives. That was the unique and special gift of John Hughes, a gift that elevates PLANES from classic comedy to genuine masterpiece.

The writer/director was also smart enough to seek out great people and work with them as often as possible throughout his career. Though Candy starred in a number of films for many different directors, Hughes seemed to know better than anyone else how best to utilize Candy in the movies. Today’s film, featuring Candy as a misunderstood, well-meaning schlub with a heart of gold, contributed more than most to the legacy of this kind and generous actor. After his sudden and tragic death at the age of 43, this film brings us both the joy of remembering him as he was and the heartbreak of wondering what might have been.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Monkey Business


78 min

Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Screenplay: Arthur Sheekman
Cinematography: Arthur L. Todd
Music: Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin, Richard A. Whiting
Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd

MONKEY BUSINESS was a landmark film for the four Marx Brothers: their very first Hollywood picture. Now, I hear some Marx Bros. fans out there saying, “Hold on a minute, what about THE COCOANUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS,” which were both released before MONKEY BUSINESS?

Well, those first two films were actually shot in Long Island on the sets of Paramount Pictures’ Astoria studios, which allowed this madcap quartet to continuing performing on the Broadway stage on a nightly basis. Plus, these two films were adaptations of their previous stage hits, not Hollywood originals. So, by day, they performed old plays in front of a camera, and, by night, they performed their latest play in front of a live audience.

Thus, MONKEY BUSINESS was indeed the Marx Brothers’ first “Hollywood” film, complete with the first original screenplay written for them. Believe it or not, this script started off as an idea for a radio play (what would poor Harpo have done?), but Groucho felt that a story about a group of stowaways on a fancy ocean liner belonged on the screen.

As you might imagine, the screenplay was more of a suggestion than a requirement for the Marx Brothers. Though they would begin filming each scene by sticking to the script, the team’s anarchic tendencies and flair for improvisation very quickly led them astray. Director Norman McLeod soon realized that his film would greatly benefit by letting the cameras roll and roll until the brothers had exhausted either their bodies or their seemingly endless supply of jokes.

Though their first two films had certainly made for a perfectly wild time at the cinema, the Marx Brothers truly struck the box office jackpot with MONKEY BUSINESS, soaring to stardom and cementing their place among the Hollywood elite.

If one had to nitpick about this film, you could lament the substitution of Thelma Todd for the Marx Brothers’ best and most indefatigable comic foil, Margaret Dumont. Dumont had been a perfect match for Groucho in their first two films but stepped aside for Todd in the following two movies. Fortunately, Dumont would return for DUCK SOUP, which many believe to be the Brothers’ best.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Strangers on a Train


101 min

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, Ben Hecht
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: William Ziegler
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Laura Elliott, Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock, Marion Lorne, Jonathan Hale

***If you are seeing this film for the first time and want to remain in the dark about the plot, don’t read these notes until the film is over!***

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century. He was one of only a handful of directors whose name alone came to signify a specific type of film. John Ford meant westerns, Frank Capra was equated with “little guy against the system” stories, Orson Welles was the great, baroque visual stylist, and Hitchcock was “the master of suspense.” He earned that title by artfully manipulating both the vocabulary of the cinema and the expectations of his audiences.

Hitchcock made more than fifty films in his career, beginning with the British silent film THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925) and ending with FAMILY PLOT (1976). In between, he produced an astonishing body of work that is still being studied today and which continues to enthrall audiences.

The majority of Hitchcock’s films were stylish thrillers which touched on a number of thematic concerns, among them the idea that the world is a far more dangerous place than it appears, fraught with sudden peril. It’s a chaotic universe into which innocent people are unexpectedly thrust, where identity can be mistaken with deadly consequences, and where the ordinary and mundane can prove murderous.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is one of Hitchcock’s supreme thrillers, with a screenplay by legendary mystery novelist Raymond Chandler from a novel by another master, Patricia Highsmith. Tennis pro Guy Haines (Granger) would like to marry Ann Morton (Roman), the daughter of a senator (Carroll), but his wife Miriam (Elliott) won’t give him a divorce. On a train, total stranger Bruno Anthony (Walker) offers to murder Miriam if Guy will do away with his rich, disciplinarian father (Hale). Guy tokenly agrees, thinking that Bruno is joking. Bruno is not joking.

Hitchcock steadily ratchets up the suspense, and he stages many memorable set pieces along the way. There are great iconic images such as a tennis match in which swiveling heads reveal a dangerous presence, a murder seen in the fallen glasses of the victim, and the meticulously staged and edited climax on a crushing, out-of-control merry-go-round.

The performances are strong, with Walker’s young madman exuding wit and urbanity with a sinister streak lurking just below the surface. The screenplay is top notch, Hitchcock’s visual style is assured, and the pace, plotting and cutting of the film all work to produce a first-rate exercise in suspense.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog.



Harold and Maude


91 min

Director: Hal Ashby
Screenplay: Colin Higgins
Cinematography: John Alonzo
Editor: William Sawyer, Edward Warschilka
Music: Cat Stevens
Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner, Ellen Geer

As a UCLA film student, Colin Higgins came up with the story for HAROLD AND MAUDE, intending it to be a 20-minute thesis film. However, his landlady, Mildred Lewis, managed to get her hands on his script, and, as it turned out, Mildred was married to a Hollywood producer. But she was so enamored with Higgins’ work that she convinced him to join her in forming a production company of their own, and they began pitching the script all over Hollywood.

Eventually, the screenplay ended up at Paramount, where studio executive Peter Bart assigned the project to director Hal Ashby after admiring his work on THE LANDLORD. Luckily for Higgins, who wrote the part of Maude specifically for national treasure Ruth Gordon, both Bart and Ashby agreed that she was the only actress who could play Maude. But it took time for everyone to agree on Bud Cort as Harold — for a brief moment, Bob Balaban (who would eventually find fame on “Seinfeld” and in the Christopher Guest troupe) was considered for the part.

Gordon and Ashby proved to be kindred artistic spirits, and she would later report that her director “followed the Gertrude Stein theory: chronology has nothing to do with anything. We shot where and when and what Hal said to. Hal is his own man. Do you care about sequence? Not me. We don’t think in sequence, we rarely talk in sequence, we don’t rehearse a play in sequence, so why shoot a script that way?”

Despite the positive on-set experience and the studio’s confidence in their esoteric film, HAROLD AND MAUDE ultimately bombed at the box office, and even the film critics of the day weren’t onboard with the film’s eccentricities. But like many out-of-the-box films (Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 comes to mind), Ashby’s movie was saved by adventurous college audiences, who returned to see the film multiple times and pushed the film to record-breaking holdovers in cinemas around the nation.

When asked why his script has resonated with so many movie lovers over the years, Higgins suggested that “we’re all Harold, and we all want to be Maude. We’re all repressed and trying to be free, to be ourselves, to be vitally interested in living, to be everything we want.” Higgins would go on to become a successful director, helming favorites like FOUL PLAY and 9 TO 5.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


McCabe & Mrs. Miller


120 min

Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Robert Altman and Brian McKay
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Editor: Louis Lombardo
Music: Leonard Cohen
Cast: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, William Devane, Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine and Michael Murphy

Director Robert Altman is most often praised for his ability to draw career-topping performances out of his actors (most often a very large ensemble of actors), and MCCABE & MRS. MILLER is no exception – Warren Beatty and Julie Christie are more mesmerizing than ever. But thanks to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and a top-notch production crew, today’s film is also notable for its extraordinary attention to detail and visual splendor. Add to that the out-of-left-field choice of Leonard Cohen to provide the music, and you have one very unique Western – a Western perfectly suited to the New Wave of American filmmaking that was beginning to enliven Hollywood with fresh ideas in the early 1970s.

Altman was determined to make audience members feel as if they were really a part of this late-1800s mining town, and he found a number of ways to make it happen. Much like the hastily built frontier towns of the era, Altman had his crew cobble together an authentic Old West community in the woods. And much like the random assortment of people who showed up to populate those towns in the old days, Altman simply asked his actors to arrive on set in characters of their own design. No extensive rehearsals or script rewrites – just seasoned actors trusted to find their characters themselves.

And Altman’s signature ensemble touch was in full effect, too. Sure, Beatty and Christie bring their usual movie-star charisma, but everywhere you look are phenomenal performances that threaten to steal the film, including frequent Altman collaborators Shelly Duvall and Keith Carradine. The fact that Christie received the film’s one and only Oscar nomination (for Best Actress) tells you everything you need to know about how much the film was overlooked at the time.

In the 50 years since its release, MCCABE & MRS. MILLER has been revisited and declared to be not simply one of Altman’s best films but maybe his greatest film, period. (NASHVILLE fans, close your ears). One thing is for sure: it stands tall in the history of Westerns as one of the most original and refreshing entries ever submitted into the genre.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Last Picture Show


127 min

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Peter Bogdanovich, Larry McMurtry
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: Donn Camern
Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan

Occasionally, the perfect director is paired with the perfect story and the perfect cast to create what can only be described as a perfect movie. In the case of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, the director was Peter Bogdanovich, the story was a Larry McMurtry gem, and the cast was a riveting group of rising stars (and one veteran of John Ford films) who gave us some of the richest characters ever portrayed in film.

Born in Kingston, New York, in 1939, Bogdanovich may have seemed the least likely candidate to depict a fading small town in 1950s Texas. But the director was a scholar of classic films, particularly the work of John Ford and Orson Welles, and had absorbed not only the methods by which great films are made but also the means through which directors can coax great performances out of their actors.

The film’s success, though, clearly started with McMurtry, who was no stranger to film adaptations. His very first novel, Horsemen, Pass By, was adapted into the beloved Paul Newman film HUD, and the list has only grown in the ensuing years, including LONESOME DOVE, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, and many others.

The cast certainly did their fair share, too, and many of them were rewarded with extraordinary careers, including Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd. Shepherd had been working as a model when she was discovered and cast in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, and she would go on to star in hit series in both the 1980s (Moonlighting) and the 1990s (Cybill). Bridges, of course, is an Oscar winning, beloved actor who has graced many a Coen Bros. classic with his unmistakable drawl and wry smile.

But easily the most poignant bit of casting is Ben Johnson in the role of town legend Sam the Lion. Johnson was well-versed in Westerns, having spent many years working with John Ford and Sam Peckinpah, but, at first, he was hesitant to take on this particular role. In fact, he turned it down flat, leading Bogdanovich to call his old pal John Ford and beg for help in changing Johnson’s mind. Ford hung up and, within moments, Bogdanovich received a call from Johnson to accept the part. It’s good to know people.

Johnson wouldn’t regret the decision, going on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Cloris Leachman joined him at the podium, winning Best Supporting Actress for her unforgettably moving performance. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture but ultimately lost to THE FRENCH CONNECTION. I’m not so sure about that one, Oscar voters.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


100 min

Director: Mel Stuart
Screenplay: Roald Dahl
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Editor: David Saxon
Music: Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse
Cast: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Aubrey Woods

In recent years, we have seen our fair share of movies that were produced solely to cash in on existing properties. We’ve seen theme park attractions turned into movies both successful (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and not so successful (THE COUNTRY BEAR JAMBOREE??). We’ve seen inanimate children’s toys turned into movies with heart (THE LEGO MOVIE) and movies that break the hearts of the kid in all of us (TRANSFORMERS, anyone?). We’re even about to see THE EMOJI MOVIE, with classically trained actor Patrick Stewart providing the voice for an animated pile of poop.

But perhaps the most glaring example of crass commercialism in movie history somehow, miraculously, resulted in one of the most beloved films of all time. In the late 1960s, the Quaker Oats Company was seeking an out-of-the-box opportunity that would help them sell their latest chocolate bar. At the same time, producer David L.Wolper was seeking the funding to produce a silver screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Naturally, the two were destined to meet.

Despite Quaker Oats having never dipped a toe in film production before, Wolper somehow convinced the company to purchase the film rights to the novel and provide him with the budget to produce WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Thus, this delightful musical was born as nothing more than a feature-length advertisement for candy. But, oh, did it become so much more.

The production got off to a great start by convincing Dahl himself to adapt his book into a screenplay, allowing the author to retain his signature blend of whimsy and poignancy, with just a tiny hint of danger. But, while starting with a great script never hurts, the most important task was finding just the right actor to portray Willy Wonka. He had to have a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a spring in his step, and the best intentions in his heart.

Enter Gene Wilder, a man who was born to play this character. His soft voice and warm smile has since entertained generations of kids, and his delivery of the film’s Oscar-nominated songs permanently established his performance and the film in our pop culture lexicon. Regarding his approach to the role, Wilder says, “We all grew up on movies with scenes where the actor is lying and you know he’s lying, but he wants to make sure you know it’s a lie, and so he overacts and all but winks at you, and everybody in the world except for the girl he’s talking to knows he’s lying. I want to do the opposite. To really lie, and fool the audience…I wanted people to wonder if Willy Wonka was telling the truth so that you wouldn’t really know until the end of the picture what Willy’s motivations were.”

By the way, remember how the film started off as a chocolate commercial? Well, Quaker Oats did indeed release a line of Willy Wonka bars simultaneously with the film. Just one problem — no one bought them, and the entire line was ultimately discontinued. Merchandise rarely lasts, but great films are forever.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Young Frankenstein


106 min

Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks
Cinematography: Gerald Hirschfeld
Editor: John C. Howard
Music: John Morris
Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars

When Universal Studios’ first FRANKENSTEIN movie lumbered into theaters in 1931, it became a major box office hit, making actor Boris Karloff a household name and reaping a great deal of praise for director James Whale. The film became so iconic that Mel Brooks couldn’t help but lampoon it 43 years later in his horror spoof to end all horror spoofs, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

Brooks and star/co-writer Gene Wilder were so enamored with all of the old Universal monster movies that it was only a matter of time before they teamed up to film this hilarious parody. Though it is gently mocking, the film is quite clearly a love letter to those old classics.

After starring in bonafide masterpieces like THE PRODUCERS and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Wilder decided to pursue an idea he had been cooking up: what if Frankenstein’s cynical grandson were to inherit his laboratory and research after he died?

During their final weeks of shooting on BLAZING SADDLES, Wilder approached Brooks with the concept, and the director was sold. But beyond simply spoofing the characters, Brooks decided to go all out by shooting the film in old-fashioned black-and-white (almost unheard of in the 1970s), using 1930s visual transitions like wiping or fading to black, and even re-assembling the original 1931 FRANKENSTEIN laboratory set, making this film a true labor of love.

Most importantly, though, the film assembles a stunning collection of funny people, from Brooks regulars like Wilder and Madeline Kahn to masters of comic timing like Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman. With so much wit on set, it’s no surprise that many of the movie’s most beloved moments were improvised. It was Leachman who decided on the spot to offer Dr. Frankenstein some Ovaltine, and Feldman, who plays Igor (no, it’s pronounced EYE-gore), thought it would be funny to alternate his hump from shoulder to shoulder until someone from the cast or crew noticed. Once they did, the gag was added to the film.

Even Brooks himself got in on the act. Though this is one of the rare Brooks films in which he does not appear, that’s Brooks’ voice you hear when a screaming cat is hit by one of Inspector Kemp’s darts. Brooks ad-libbed the feline yowl while standing next to the camera. In fact, Brooks and company were having so much fun on the set that he reportedly kept coming up with new scenes to shoot if for no other reason than to keep everyone together to have a few more laughs. Can you blame him?

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Moulin Rouge


127 min

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Cinematography: Donald McAlpine
Editor: Jill Bilcock
Music: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh

The evocative atmosphere of turn-of-the-20th-century Paris serves as the backdrop for Baz Luhrmann’s rollicking modern musical MOULIN ROUGE! With unforgettable star turns from Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor and a dazzling supporting cast, Luhrmann’s pop confection became a touchstone for an entire generation of movie musical lovers.

From the setting to the tone to the pure spectacle, Luhrmann’s film owes a great deal to the work of Arthur Freed and his legendary team at MGM, responsible for such classics as AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and GIGI. But perhaps the most important idea that Luhrmann borrowed from the Freed Unit was the ingenious use of already-popular songs, a novel approach that gave classics like SINGIN IN THE RAIN their spirit-lifting appeal. Though there is one wonderful original song in MOULIN ROUGE! (“Come What May”), the rest of the movie glides along on the wings of beloved pop hits from David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, Madonna, and even Rodgers and Hammerstein.

The result? A film that was practically already a sing-along from the day it hit theaters on June 1, 2001. Luhrmann’s dizzying cinematography and electric visual energy also proved to be massively appealing to children of the music video age. The film never seems to stop for a breath, but perceptive classic film fans will undoubtedly spot homages to Freed Unit films and a particularly obvious tribute to the Marilyn Monroe favorite, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.

The film was praised by critics and audiences alike and received eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture, though the movie’s one original song, “Come What May,” was disqualified because it had actually been written (but unused) for Luhrmann’s previous film, ROMEO + JULIET. But even more shockingly, Luhrmann himself did not receive a nomination for Best Director – shockingly because it was clear that the film’s vibrancy and unique appeal owed everything to the risk-taking director. In fact, on Oscar night, host Whoopi Goldberg famously quipped, “I guess MOULIN ROUGE just directed itself!”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Marie Antoinette


123 min

Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola
Cinematography: Lance Acord
Editor: Sarah Flack
Music: Dustin O’Halloran
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Coogan, Judy Davis, Rip Torn

After a less than auspicious start in front of the camera in her father’s saga-closer THE GODFATHER: PART III, Sofia Coppola proved to be one of her generation’s finest writer-directors. Her 1999 feature-length debut THE VIRGIN SUICIDES starring Kirsten Dunst stunned critics and audiences with an expert adaptation of a much-loved novel. But it was her 2003 follow-up, LOST IN TRANSLATION, that won her an Oscar for Best Screenplay and earned a Best Picture nomination, gave Bill Murray a dramatic high point in an already storied career, and launched Scarlett Johansson even further into the movie stardom stratosphere.

If there is one thing we’ve learned throughout movie history, it’s that people love to take filmmakers down a peg when they’re riding high. And that proved to be the case when Coppola reteamed with Dunst and premiered her third film, MARIE ANTOINETTE, at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. It received what The New York Times generously described as “lusty boos and smatterings of applause.” That probably owed a bit to the French people’s wariness about an American daring to tell the story of one of their own historical legends. But it also kickstarted a tired and lazy description of Coppola’s filmmaking that continues to plague her to this day: “style over substance.”

Firstly, that is simply not true. But while we’re talking about style…there is nothing wrong with the overwhelmingly gorgeous production design and delightfully anachronistic touches that make this movie a visual and aural delight. The costumes and set design are top notch as you’d expect, but it’s the modern touches (the sneakers, the indie pop music, the disregard for accurate accents) that allow us to truly experience the vibrant, youthful energy that defined Antoinette’s behaviors…and led her to make choices that resulted in her ultimate downfall. This is the essence of cinematic storytelling.

In his 10-years-later revisit of the film, critic K. Austin Collins said it best when he pointed out that what some critics called “style over substance” is itself “the movie’s premise. It was also one of the premises of Marie Antoinette’s existence and a major factor in her death. It’s the essence of Coppola’s own style as a filmmaker to revel in moods and surfaces — not to obscure her characters’ inner worlds or ignore their greater contexts, but rather to draw them out through a mere semblance of style…Coppola has been accused of ignoring history in favor of languishing in the bejeweled pleasures of her navel-gazing characters. But in Marie Antoinette, style begets substance, revealing multitudes about the politics of history and how we tell it.”

Check out K. Austin Collins’ entire essay on The Ringer.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




102 min

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Ben Hecht
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Editor: Theron Warth
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Leopoldine Konstantin, Louis Calhern

French director François Truffaut declared NOTORIOUS to be the quintessential Hitchcock picture, and few would argue that point. From the unforgettable love triangle acted out to perfection by Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains to one of the all-time-great “MacGuffins,” NOTORIOUS represents the pinnacle of cinematic suspense.

Although the theoretical hero of the film is Grant’s T.R. Devlin, Hitchcock does a rather remarkable thing in drawing sympathy for the Nazi villain played by Rains. Grant’s treatment of Bergman is typical of some of the crueler Hitchcock men – cold, manipulative, perhaps even selfish (think Jimmy Stewart in the second half of VERTIGO). Meanwhile, Rains’ character is a loving, gentle, emotionally available man (who just also happens to be a Nazi). Far from cookie cutter characters, these three people are thrillingly complex, and watching them fall in love with each other and then double cross each other is one of the great joys of the cinema.

And about that “MacGuffin,” aka the thing that puts the plot into motion but isn’t really relevant to the audiences’ enjoyment of the picture. In the case of NOTORIOUS, using uranium ore hidden in wine bottles as the MacGuffin seems unbelievably prescient in hindsight. According to Hitchcock, he and screenwriter Ben Hecht developed the idea months before the world was made aware of the atom bomb, based on the basic knowledge that uranium was unstable and might be used in a weapon of war. In fact, because the idea was so foreign to most people at the time, the film’s original producers sold the project to RKO after deciding the uranium angle was idiotic rubbish.

But Hitchcock knew he was onto something when, prior to shooting NOTORIOUS, he visited a leading scientist at the California Institute of Technology. When he asked the scientist how large an atom bomb might be, the scientist, clearly flustered and worried about saying too much, also tried to convince Hitchcock that his idea was a foolish impossibility. Hitchcock later found out that he had been placed under FBI surveillance for three months following that meeting.

So, it turns out that the idiots were actually those original producers, and not just because the uranium angle proved to be based in real fact. Their biggest mistake was thinking that the uranium mattered at all, when what audiences truly cared about were three simple things: Grant, Bergman, and Rains. These actors, under Hitchcock’s guidance, gave us three genuinely sympathetic characters, and thanks to cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff’s dazzling photography, we can’t take our eyes off of them.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




109 min

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire

***If you are seeing this film for the first time and want to remain in the dark about the plot, don’t read these notes until the film is over!***

While PSYCHO received mixed notices from critics at the time of release, it was an unqualified hit with audiences, thanks in part to its thematic and technical audacity and in part to Hitchcock’s masterful use of the publicity machine.

Though Hitchcock had displayed his promotional prowess many times before, he went to greater lengths than ever to ensure that the people would rush the box offices when PSYCHO arrived in their town. In a move straight out of William Castle’s playbook (see: THE TINGLER), advertisements for PSYCHO announced that no one arriving after the opening credits had begun would be allowed into the theatre. What does Hitchcock have up his sleeve this time?

Audiences were also caught off guard by the cheaper black-and-white imagery that Hitchcock elected to use, which seemed a step back from the Technicolor delights of VERTIGO and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. But the visual approach proved a perfect match for the story, an elegant ruse disguised as trashy exploitation.

Indeed, the stark imagery wouldn’t be the only thing jolting moviegoers from their seats. The plot navigates a series of twists and turns, some of which actually benefitted from the promotional set-ups, particularly the representation of Janet Leigh as the star of the picture. Hitchcock was nothing if not keenly aware of and sympathetic toward audience response – if they were disappointed by VERTIGO, then he would give them everything they wanted with PSYCHO.

Of course, the critics were as dissatisfied with this approach as they were with the more refined VERTIGO, going so far as to label PSYCHO a waste of time. But as director Francois Truffaut said in the introduction to “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” his legendary collection of interviews – “The art of creating suspense is also the art of involving the audience, so that the viewer is actually a participant in the film. In this area of the spectacle, film-making is not a dual interplay between the director and the picture, but a three-way game in which the audience, too, is required to play…To reproach Hitchcock for specializing in suspense is to accuse him of being the least boring of filmmakers; it is also tantamount to blaming a lover who instead of concentrating on his own pleasure insists on sharing it with his partner.” How French, and how true.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


North by Northwest


136 min

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau

***If you are seeing this film for the first time and want to remain in the dark about the plot, don’t read these notes until the film is over!***

By 1957, Alfred Hitchcock had already established himself as one of the greatest directors of all time, thanks to classics like REBECCA, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, REAR WINDOW, and TO CATCH A THIEF, and he had earned a devoted following among many film lovers. Counted among that group was legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who in 1957 declared to Hitchcock, “I want to do a Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures!” Lehman then proceeded to make good on that claim by writing NORTH BY NORTHWEST, arguably the ultimate Hitchcock film.

From frame jobs to chase scenes, plot twists to imaginative location shots, all those stylistic traits that typically define a Hitchcock film are here. Even the infamous MacGuffin (Hitchcock’s pet name for the device that keeps the plot and the characters moving) is, as Hitchcock himself put it, “boiled down to its purest expression: nothing at all!” The “top-secret” intel that James Mason seeks? We never learn a single thing about it.

For several weeks in late 1957, Hitchcock would go straight from the set of VERTIGO to meetings with Lehman, where they would work closely to make the script as taut and thrilling as possible. When the time came for casting, both the writer and director knew that Cary Grant was the right man for the part, despite the fact that Jimmy Stewart was lobbying heavily for it. Luckily for Hitchcock, who considered Stewart one of his dearest collaborators, Jimmy was ultimately distracted by the filming of BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE, leaving the role wide open for Grant.

The film would take Grant to some rather interesting locations, or, at least, the studio-produced versions of them. While Hitchcock was able to use a hidden camera to capture Grant entering the actual United Nations building, strict rules prevented the director from filming the interiors, forcing the studio to build a replica set that recreated the UN with near-perfect accuracy. Legend has it that Hitchcock himself had masqueraded as a tourist in the UN to take photographs for the set designers, a real-life parallel to his many in-film cameos.

From the confined spaces of the UN to the wide-open vistas of a now-iconic cornfield (not to mention the towering presidential nostrils on Mount Rushmore), NORTH BY NORTHWEST is an endlessly pleasing travelogue done Hitchcock-style. But before its release, the studio was worried that the journey, at 136 minutes, was too long. Thankfully, Hitchcock had developed enough clout by that time, and the film was released intact to great acclaim and box office success.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


To Catch a Thief


103 min

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Lyn Murray
Cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Auber, Jessie Royce Landis

Alfred Hitchcock earned the title “the Master of Suspense” by producing an astonishing body of work that includes more than fifty films. Hitchcock began his career in the silent cinema of Great Britain in the 1920s, where he made such classics as THE LODGER (1926), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE 39 STEPS (1935), and THE LADY VANISHES (1938).

The lure of Hollywood soon beckoned, and Hitchcock came to the United States to work with legendary producer David O. Selznick on his first American film, REBECCA (1940). The film was a huge hit, garnering 11 Academy Award nominations and winning two, including the highly coveted Best Picture of the Year. Hitchcock made many more films over the next 36 years, most of them solid, many of them classics. But of all of the films he made in his brilliant career, REBECCA remains the only Hitchcock film to win the Best Picture Oscar, while Hitchcock himself never won a Best Director Academy Award.

The majority of Hitchcock’s films were stylish thrillers in which he experimented with many types of storytelling techniques. And he had the opportunity to work with many of the greatest Hollywood stars of the time. But by all accounts his favorite was Grace Kelly.

Kelly made eleven films between 1951 and 1956 before retiring from show business to marry Monaco’s Prince Rainier in 1956. She won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954) but she’s best remembered for her three Alfred Hitchcock films, one of which is on display tonight.
In addition to being the third film Kelly made with Hitchcock, TO CATCH A THIEF is also one of four films Cary Grant made with the master. The others are SUSPICION (1941), NOTORIOUS (1946) and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), all of which are essential viewing for Hitchcock devotees and film fans in general. Hitchcock brings a decidedly light touch to this romantic comedy/suspense film, lensed on location in Monaco. Grant plays a (supposedly) retired jewel thief who finds himself once again under suspicion when a rash of jewel heists hits the aristocrats of Monaco. He woos elegant American heiress Kelly, and, as she tempts him with her jewelry and her charms, they pursue the thief to clear Grant’s name.

TO CATCH A THIEF received three Academy Award nominations including: Best Cinematography (Robert Burks, winner), Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog at www.


Guys and Dolls


150 min

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Editor: Daniel Mandell
Music: Frank Loesser, Jay Blackton
Cast: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, Vivian Blaine, Stubby Kaye

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. ON THE TOWN. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. With that kind of résumé, it’s no surprise that studios and producers were constantly knocking on Gene Kelly’s door to offer him a starring role in their latest musical production. Sam Goldwyn was no different, and, when he decided to mount a spectacular cinematic adaptation of GUYS AND DOLLS, he felt that Kelly would be perfect as Sky Masterson, the street-smart gambler.

Unfortunately for Goldwyn, MGM (which was lucky enough to have Kelly under contract) refused to allow Kelly to work on the picture. After all, why supply a rival studio with one of your top leading men so that they can go make a major box office hit together? With Kelly ruled out, Goldwyn found himself scrambling to find another big name to fill the role.

Who could do justice to one of the all-time great musical characters? Who could offer the required combination of charisma and voicework? Who could fill Kelly’s shoes in a singing and dancing spectacular? Why, Marlon Brando of course! Wait…who?

That’s right. After a long casting process that took just about every male movie star working at the time into consideration, Goldwyn decided to go with the soft-spoken, Method mumbler of the Broadway stage. But first, he had to be convinced by director Joseph Mankiewicz that it would work, and for that matter so did Brando himself. When it seemed that Brando was leaning toward turning the part down, Mankiewicz, who had directed the actor in JULIUS CAESAR, told him, “You have never done a musical; neither have I. We never did Shakespeare before either…”

Though a few Masterson songs had to be removed due to Brando’s modest singing voice, most everything else from the stage musical was translated faithfully to the screen, including its beloved Damon Runyon-penned dialogue and many of the supporting cast members who had made the show a hit on Broadway. And of course, there was no need to worry about the Nathan Detroit songs after the inspired casting of Frank Sinatra, whose voice was, decidedly, anything but modest.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


A Streetcar Named Desire


125 min

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Tennessee Williams, Oscar Saul
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Editor: David Weisbart
Music: Alex North
Cast: Vivian Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Though playwright Tennessee Williams had already enjoyed stage success with “The Glass Menagerie,” the play that would truly solidify his legend was the sweat-drenched Southern masterpiece “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which would bring him a Pulitzer Prize and founts of critical acclaim. The Broadway production was directed by the great Elia Kazan and starred Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as her sister Stella, Karl Malden, and Marlon Brando, who became the talk of the town as Stella’s aggressively masculine husband Stanley.

Kazan and his cast were all asked to take part in the movie adaptation of the play, with the major exception of Tandy. Worried that the Broadway veteran was unknown to the rest of America, studio executives felt they instead needed major Hollywood star power in the role of Blanche. Olivia de Havilland was offered the role but turned it down, and fate began steering producers toward the obvious choice. Vivien Leigh, having already played the most famous Southern belle in movie history in GONE WITH THE WIND, was currently plying her trade on the London stage as none other than Blanche DuBois in a production of “Streetcar” directed by her husband Sir Laurence Olivier.

While the other actors were trained in the Stanislavsky Method of total character immersion, Leigh was classically trained in the old Hollywood tradition, which threatened to cause some tension on the set. But, because Leigh’s marriage with Olivier was crumbling, she found it quite easy to enter Blanche’s mindset. In fact, Brando would later write that, “In many ways she was Blanche. She was memorably beautiful, one of the great beauties of the screen, but she was also vulnerable, and her own life had been very much like that of Tennessee’s wounded butterfly.”

In the end, the movie actually encountered its greatest difficulties after shooting had concluded. Though they had been embraced on Broadway, the more scandalous elements of the play unsurprisingly met with a great deal of resistance from Hollywood’s strict production code office. While Kazan and company successfully defended some of those elements, others, like the play’s emotionally complicated ending, were replaced.

Nevertheless, the strength of Williams’ words and the talent of the cast and crew could not be denied, with the finished product serving as a landmark of ensemble film acting. The movie received several Oscars, including wins for Leigh, Hunter, and Malden. Brando was the only actor who did not come away with a statue, with Humphrey Bogart’s win for THE AFRICAN QUEEN stunning the industry, but the impact of Brando’s performance will reverberate forever and continue inspiring new generations of actors and film fans alike.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


On the Waterfront


108 min

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Budd Schulberg
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Editor: Gene Milford
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Cast: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger

Following his Oscar-nominated performance in Elia Kazan’s big-screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Marlon Brando gave three wildly different performances in “Viva Zapata,” “Julius Caesar,” and “The Wild One.” The first two brought him two more Oscar nominations for Best Actor, while his performance as a motorcycle gang lead in the latter became an iconic cultural touchstone.

But it was his third collaboration with Elia Kazan, “On the Waterfront,” that solidified his standing as Hollywood’s most accomplished leading man, and it brought him not just a fourth Oscar nomination but, finally, a win. He was no longer just “a contender.”

Considering that his performance as former prize fighter Terry Malloy would become one of his most well-known, it’s shocking to learn that the role might have gone instead to Frank Sinatra. In fact, Sinatra was so sure he was a sure thing for the role that, when he found out it was going to Brando, he sued the product for contract infringement. This set up a long-running feud between Brando and Sinatra, which escalated a year later when the two found themselves cast together in “Guys and Dolls.” And with Brando once again getting the part that Sinatra wanted, it was, needless to say, an uncomfortable shoot.

Brando is far from the only talented actor in the film. Though Grace Kelly and Rosemary Clooney were both initially considered for the role of Edie Doyle, it ultimately fell to Eva Marie Saint, who was making her big screen debut after several years in TV. She proved every bit Brando’s equal, and she received an Oscar of her own for her astonishing performance.

The Oscar nominations kept flowing for fellow cast members Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger and Karl Malden, all of whom were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. While this was a notable feat for the film itself, it had the unfortunate effect of cancelling each other out. As a result, the winner was Edmond O’Brien in “The Barefoot Contessa.” Anyone remember that one? Anyone?

As if having a director and cast of this caliber weren’t enough, the film also benefits from a towering Leonard Bernstein score. While Bernstein created unforgettable music for a number of musicals that became movie musicals (like “On the Town” and “West Side Story”), this would prove to be the only original film score he ever composed.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




143 min

Director: Richard Donner
Screenplay: Robert Benton, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Mario Puzo (story), Tom Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Editor: Stuart Baird, Michael Ellis
Music: John Williams
Cast: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper

When producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind announced plans for a spectacular cinematic adaptation of Superman, you could hear shouts of “folly!” echoing throughout the hills of Hollywood. The tongue-in-cheek high camp of the 1960s Batman TV series had left quite an impression, and any attempt at expanding such silliness to silver screen proportions seemed destined for failure.

But the Salkinds had loftier ambitions, and they proved that point immediately by hiring Mario Puzo, author of “The Godfather” and co-writer of Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER film adaptations, to take the first crack at writing a script for SUPERMAN. He eventually crafted a giant, unwieldy story that served as the basis for both SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN II.

And the producers didn’t stop there. For their next trick, they achieved a major casting coup by convincing Marlon Brando to play the role of Superman’s father Jor-El. Brando accepted the part without much fuss, no surprise considering he was offered $3.7 million for a mere 2 weeks of work (a record-shattering amount at the time). Not only was Brando’s involvement a feather in the production’s cap, it also opened the door to Gene Hackman, who had initially balked at the idea of playing villain Lex Luthor due to concerns of ruining his image as a serious actor.

Once Brando and Hackman were on board, the tone in Hollywood began to change. Suddenly, it seemed that everyone wanted a piece of SUPERMAN. The producers had no difficulty coaxing veteran director Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER and several other 007 hits) to helm the picture, but there was one small hiccup. The Salkinds, always thinking a thousand steps ahead, realized that they could save millions by shooting in England rather than the initially planned location in Italy. Unfortunately, Hamilton was considered a tax exile in England and could only spend 30 days at a time in his native country.

After some time spent back at the drawing board, the producers settled on director Richard Donner, who had wowed them and movie-going audiences everywhere with his chilling horror film THE OMEN. Donner jumped at the chance to work on a big budget epic, especially since that chance came with a $1 million paycheck and the opportunity to work with Brando and Hackman.

However, upon joining pre-production, Donner realized that he truly had his work cut out for him, starting with that unwieldy, 500-page script. Not only did the director and his script doctor Tom Mankiewicz have to trim those pages down to a manageable amount, they also had to significantly tone down the campiness of the first draft, which often resorted to the very kitschy extravagances that the production’s detractors had anticipated. How kitschy, you ask? At one point in the script, Superman runs into Telly “Kojak” Savalas on the street and is greeted with the infamous catchphrase “Who loves ya, baby…”

Donner and Mankiewicz rid the production of those outlandish touches and replaced them with one of our most basic stories – in fact, the “greatest story ever told.” In their minds, Superman was a stand-in for Jesus Christ, sent to save the world by his father. I suppose that would make Marlon Brando “God” in the film, which probably suited him just fine.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Raiders of the Lost Ark


115 min

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Editor: Michael Kahn
Music: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina

No one was enjoying more success in Hollywood than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas when they met in the summer of 1977 to discuss the idea that would become RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Two years earlier, Spielberg had guided the aquatic thriller JAWS to the title of highest-grossing film of all time, a record that was about to crumble in May 1977 when Lucas’s own STAR WARS began outperforming even the wildest expectations.

So, when the two reigning box-office champions joined each other in Hawaii to toast/escape from the staggering global success of STAR WARS, it seemed only natural that another major idea would come up in conversation. Lucas mentioned that, back in 1973, he had written an idea for a movie called “The Adventures of Indiana Smith,” a tribute to the rousing adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s. After Spielberg said he loved everything about it but the last name, Lucas came back with a new name and a fleshed-out story so chock-full of grand ideas that some of them had to be shelved and eventually used in the sequel.

Though they had settled on the name of Indiana Jones, Lucas and Spielberg were initially at odds about what type of man this Dr. Jones would be. Lucas had in mind a world-traveling, womanizing playboy akin to James Bond, while Spielberg saw him as more of a Bogart-type with a bit of a drinking problem. Ultimately, neither idea won out as it was decided that simply being an archaeologist who cracks bullwhips and catches rides underneath Nazi semi-trucks was entertainment enough.

With the story and the hero all set, the time came to find someone to pay for all of this. When you watch the finished product, it doesn’t take long to notice just how much money went into its making. Even with their considerable pedigree, Lucas and Spielberg did not have an easy time convincing executives to foot this large of a bill. However, demonstrating just how savvy they were, Lucas and Spielberg made sure they were prepared by storyboarding every last frame and keeping the production on a very tight shooting schedule.

Once that shooting schedule began, the Indiana Jones set became a wild and crazy place, featuring everything from Nazi submarines (borrowed from the set of DAS BOOT) to dozens of poisonous snakes, which were actually just a bunch of giant legless lizards. Well, mostly: there’s no mistaking that the snake staring Indy down in the Well of Souls is an honest-to-goodness cobra. In the original releases of the film, before it was digitally remastered and enhanced in the 2000s, if you looked hard enough you could see reflections in the glass pane protecting Harrison Ford from the venomous viper.

Speaking of Ford, the super-stardom he received as a result of this movie was certainly well-deserved – he was quite the trooper during the production. In the course of making this film, an airplane ran over Ford’s knee (!), his ribs were bruised while being dragged behind a moving truck, and he was sickened with food poisoning in Tunisia along with most of the crew. It was this very sickness that gave us one of the most memorable scenes in the movie: when Indy decides to shoot one of the baddies rather than use his whip, it’s not because Ford wasn’t proficient enough with the weapon. It’s because he was so weak he could barely stand.

Among the other burdens Ford had to deal with was that iconic fedora; like all good adventure heroes, Indy needed to do all his stunts without losing his hat. Found on Saville Row by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman and aged by Ford himself, the hat not only added personality to the character but also allowed the stunt doubles to step in without being noticed. In fact, that’s lead stuntman Terry Leonard being dragged underneath the moving truck, a visual tribute to the stunts performed by Yakima Canutt in John Ford’s STAGECOACH. Fun fact: the truck driver who gets punched in the face by Ford? Also Terry Leonard.

With stunts like these, mind-boggling practical effects, another legendary score from John Williams, and the guiding hands of Lucas and Spielberg, it’s no surprise that RAIDERS was the highest-grossing film of 1981 and remains one of the top twenty highest-grossing films of all time (adjusted for inflation). More importantly, it’s a timeless adventure yarn that continues to remind us how immediate and thrilling a movie can be when the boulders are real, not computer-animated.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




126 min

Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Editor: Ray Lovejoy
Score: Danny Elfman
Songs: Prince
Art Direction: Anton Furst
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

No one was enjoying more success in Hollywood than Steven Spielberg and George Lucas when they met in the summer of 1977 to discuss the idea that would become RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Two years earlier, Spielberg had guided the aquatic thriller JAWS to the title of highest-grossing film of all time, a record that was about to crumble in May 1977 when Lucas’s own STAR WARS began outperforming even the wildest expectations.

So, when the two reigning box-office champions joined each other in Hawaii to toast/escape from the staggering global success of STAR WARS, it seemed only natural that another major idea would come up in conversation. Lucas mentioned that, back in 1973, he had written an idea for a movie called “The Adventures of Indiana Smith,” a tribute to the rousing adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s. After Spielberg said he loved everything about it but the last name, Lucas came back with a new name and a fleshed-out story so chock-full of grand ideas that some of them had to be shelved and eventually used in the sequel.

Though they had settled on the name of Indiana Jones, Lucas and Spielberg were initially at odds about what type of man this Dr. Jones would be. Lucas had in mind a world-traveling, womanizing playboy akin to James Bond, while Spielberg saw him as more of a Bogart-type with a bit of a drinking problem. Ultimately, neither idea won out as it was decided that simply being an archaeologist who cracks bullwhips and catches rides underneath Nazi semi-trucks was entertainment enough.

With the story and the hero all set, the time came to find someone to pay for all of this. When you watch the finished product, it doesn’t take long to notice just how much money went into its making. Even with their considerable pedigree, Lucas and Spielberg did not have an easy time convincing executives to foot this large of a bill. However, demonstrating just how savvy they were, Lucas and Spielberg made sure they were prepared by storyboarding every last frame and keeping the production on a very tight shooting schedule.

Once that shooting schedule began, the Indiana Jones set became a wild and crazy place, featuring everything from Nazi submarines (borrowed from the set of DAS BOOT) to dozens of poisonous snakes, which were actually just a bunch of giant legless lizards. Well, mostly: there’s no mistaking that the snake staring Indy down in the Well of Souls is an honest-to-goodness cobra. In the original releases of the film, before it was digitally remastered and enhanced in the 2000s, if you looked hard enough you could see reflections in the glass pane protecting Harrison Ford from the venomous viper.

Speaking of Ford, the super-stardom he received as a result of this movie was certainly well-deserved – he was quite the trooper during the production. In the course of making this film, an airplane ran over Ford’s knee (!), his ribs were bruised while being dragged behind a moving truck, and he was sickened with food poisoning in Tunisia along with most of the crew. It was this very sickness that gave us one of the most memorable scenes in the movie: when Indy decides to shoot one of the baddies rather than use his whip, it’s not because Ford wasn’t proficient enough with the weapon. It’s because he was so weak he could barely stand.

Among the other burdens Ford had to deal with was that iconic fedora; like all good adventure heroes, Indy needed to do all his stunts without losing his hat. Found on Saville Row by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman and aged by Ford himself, the hat not only added personality to the character but also allowed the stunt doubles to step in without being noticed. In fact, that’s lead stuntman Terry Leonard being dragged underneath the moving truck, a visual tribute to the stunts performed by Yakima Canutt in John Ford’s STAGECOACH. Fun fact: the truck driver who gets punched in the face by Ford? Also Terry Leonard.

With stunts like these, mind-boggling practical effects, another legendary score from John Williams, and the guiding hands of Lucas and Spielberg, it’s no surprise that RAIDERS was the highest-grossing film of 1981 and remains one of the top twenty highest-grossing films of all time (adjusted for inflation). More importantly, it’s a timeless adventure yarn that continues to remind us how immediate and thrilling a movie can be when the boulders are real, not computer-animated.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


West Side Story


152 min

Director: Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Editing: Thomas Stanford
Cast: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass, William Bramley

What do you get when you combine the music of Leonard Bernstein, the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, the choreography of Jerome Robbins, and the assured direction of Robert Wise? The formula for a perfect musical!

WEST SIDE STORY, as we all know, got its start as a Broadway smash. When the obvious decision was made to bring the musical to the silver screen, virtually all of the Broadway and London casts were dropped to make way for Hollywood talent, with George Chakiris being the only actor to feature in both stage and screen versions. Interestingly enough, Chakiris had played Riff in the London production but was promoted to the role of Bernardo for the film, a role that would ultimately win him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

If you’ve seen 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (if not, what have you been waiting for? It’s playing later this summer right here at the Paramount!), you’ve gotten a little taste of what might have been for the male lead role of Tony in WEST SIDE STORY. Keir Dullea, aka Dave in 2001, was actually the first to be offered the role, but he ultimately refused as it would have required him to cut the long hair he had been growing out for years. In retrospect, considering the short cropped look he sported in 2001 just a few years later, this now seems like a wasteful decision.

Natalie Wood, in the female lead role of Maria, is easily the most recognizable face in the film. Her voice is recognizable, too, but it isn’t her own. Maria’s singing voice belongs to the famed Marni Nixon, who went on to dub Audrey Hepburn’s voice for MY FAIR LADY a few years later. Wood was naturally disappointed by the decision to dub her voice, not only because it meant a crucial part of her role was given to someone else but also because she had been spending 16 hours a day with Jerome Robbins trying to perfect her voice and had already memorized all her songs.

In most cases where a film is directed by two people, the duo simply shares all the directorial tasks. WEST SIDE STORY was a special case, though, as legendary choreographer Robbins handled all the musical sequences while Robert Wise (who went on to direct THE SOUND OF MUSIC) handled all the dramatic sequences and technical aspects of film direction. However, the two clashed frequently on set, particularly due to Robbins’ legendary perfectionist streak. While Wise knew the ins-and-outs of film production and how to finish a film within the necessary time and budget constraints, Robbins would not rest until every dance sequence was absolutely flawless, causing the film to lag behind schedule.

When it became clear that Robbins was doing more harm than good, the studio ultimately had to dismiss him from the set. Surprisingly enough, they took this action before the iconic opening sequence was completed, leaving Wise to finish the number himself. I dare say he did okay.

WEST SIDE STORY would go on to become the second highest grossing film of the year after Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS. In addition to Chakiris’ Academy Award, the film also raked in Oscars for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno (which proved to be 1/4 of a career EGOT for this iconic screen legend), and Best Director. As you might expect, the Oscar podium was a tense scene when both Wise and Robbins went up to accept the Director award, and neither of them acknowledged each other in their speeches. Nevertheless, they managed to turn this remarkable material from Bernstein and Sondheim into cinematic legend.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Band Wagon


113 min

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Harry Jackson
Editor: Albert Akst
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan, James Mitchell, Robert Gist

While Gene Kelly was no stranger to epic Technicolor musicals (the long list includes classics like SINGIN IN THE RAIN, ON THE TOWN and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS), Fred Astaire made his name largely in black and white musicals of the 30s with titles like THE GAY DIVORCEE and TOP HAT. But he put his own stamp on MGM’s musical heyday in Vincente Minnelli’s glorious THE BAND WAGON.

In this 1953 dazzler, Astaire plays a faded film star trying to make a comeback. While this was by no means a comeback vehicle for Astaire himself (he worked quite regularly through the 40s and 50s), there was no doubt that his particular brand of top-hat-and-tails entertainment had been pushed out of the spotlight over the years. That unmistakable fact is exemplified by Minnelli’s clever opening shot of an actual top hat and cane on an auctioneer’s block, a relic of a time gone by.

That opening image imbues the entire film with a sense of nostalgia and fond remembrance of our cinematic musical history, but the film certainly doesn’t rely on that nostalgia alone. Like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, the film is chock full of popular songs from earlier Broadway productions, plus an all-new song that became the film’s biggest hit: “That’s Entertainment.”

The film was ultimately something of a departure for Astaire. Gone was usual dance partner Ginger Rogers, who was replaced here by the sizzling Cyd Charisse, who pairs with Astaire for some truly astonishing moments like a swoony romantic duet in the park.

As for the film’s largest dance number, a ballet inspired by the hard-boiled detective stories of writers like Mickey Spillane, Astaire would find himself working with Michael Kidd, Broadway’s up-and-coming choreographer of stage hit GUYS AND DOLLS. Kidd was a bit nervous about teaching his muscular dance moves to Astaire, who might think the upstart choreographer was trying to turn the elegant dance legend into a wannabe Gene Kelly. But, ever the professional, Astaire was receptive to the choreography and would ultimately deem it one of his very finest dance scenes.

In the end, THE BAND WAGON was yet another smashing musical success for Vincente Minnelli. This film, above all others, has stood the test of time as a shining example of Minnelli’s unmatched talent for directing singers and dancers, staging extraordinary set pieces, and finding those special moments that send movie musicals, and the audience, soaring.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Red Shoes


134 min

Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Keith Winter
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Editor: Reginald Mills
Music: Brian Easdale
Choreography: Robert Helpmann
Cast: Anton Walbrook, Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Leonide Massine, Robert Helpmann

Few films have taken advantage of the visual potential of cinema as stunningly as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s THE RED SHOES. Though the film may turn on a seemingly straightforward narrative, the filmmakers’ determined focus on ballet, particularly the decision to conclude the film with a dialogue-free ballet sequence, made it a risky venture at the box office.

So perhaps it wasn’t a surprise when, upon its release in British cinemas, THE RED SHOES didn’t have many fans among critics and audiences. There were complaints over the film’s length, and many felt that the characters’ depth (or lack thereof, in their opinion) was more befitting of a ballet than a dramatic film.

The prospects for the picture looked quite grim, which was bad news for Powell and Pressburger. The film’s budget had spiraled out of control by the time it was completed, and its failure would likely mean closure of the directors’ production company.

But then the film arrived Stateside in New York City.

Despite all the negative press, THE RED SHOES managed to sneak into one single Manhattan venue: the Bijou Theater, where management was willing to overlook the film’s meager showing in Britain. To the amazement of everyone involved, the film became a smash for the Bijou, playing there (and only there!) for 110 weeks.

Such success finally opened Universal Pictures’ eyes to the film’s potential, leading them to give the film a country-wide release. Stunningly, it was the film’s American triumph that brought it back into British cinemas for a second time and ultimately allowed Powell and Pressburger’s film to become one of the highest-grossing films in U.K. history.

The only person who seemed nonplussed by this fantastic news was the film’s prima ballerina herself, Moira Shearer. A real-life ballerina who had recently begun performing the classics at the U.K.’s Covent Garden (“every classical ballerina’s dream,” according to Shearer), she was not only uninterested in a film career but actively trying to avoid it.

“I fought against being in that film for a whole year,” Shearer said, “and Powell was so angry. He thought I would sort of fall at his feet and be absolutely thrilled at this great chance. But, though he was obviously very keen about the ballet in an overall way, he didn’t know anything about it at all.” Luckily for us, he knew something about making a movie about it.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Independence Day


145 min

Directors: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Cinematography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Editor: David Brenner
Music: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch

How to fully explain the impact of INDEPENDENCE DAY – and the media furor that surrounded its release – to those who weren’t alive for it (or have simply forgotten how much it dominated the cultural conversation in July 1996)? Do you recall seeing “ID4” everywhere you went? Napkins? Cereals? Action figures with floppy disks??

Remember that recent box-office-topping action movies at the time had relied largely on headlining stars and recognizable characters. In 1995, just one year before INDEPENDENCE DAY emerged, the top-grossing film of the year was DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, carried once again by star Bruce Willis. The top 10 list also included the James Bond reboot GOLDENEYE and the Kevin Costner vehicle WATERWORLD (remembered as an all-time-bomb that ended his box office streak, it was actually the 9th highest grossing film of the year).

But INDEPENDENCE DAY along with TWISTER, the 2nd film on the 1996 list, ushered in a “New Wave” of disaster blockbusters, echoing the trend of similar films that dominated the early 1970s box office (think THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, etc.). Rather than one major star taking all the glory, it was about ensemble casts coming together to survive some unspeakable threat. And though many films would try, none that followed managed to recreate the combination of humor, thrills and “stand up and cheer” moments that define INDEPENDENCE DAY.

The idea for the film came to writer/director Roland Emmerich while on the press tour for his much more sedate science-fiction film STARGATE. Recalling so many alien films in which one or two aliens remain hidden or cause problems for a few people in a confined space, he wondered what an alien army throwing all of its might against Earth might accomplish.

A high bar was set for monster visual effects by Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK three years earlier, which meant that the studio spared no expense in ensuring this film could top it. And by sparing no expense, we’re talking a budget of $75 million, quite a lot at the time. But that was pennies compared to the astronomical $817 million it made at the global box office.

With the aliens taken care of, all that was left was to cast the right people. Speaking of JURASSIC PARK, Jeff Goldblum was still soaring off the career boost he got from his quirky performance in that film, leading Emmerich to cast him in a similar role. And Bill Pullman had been cast in some pretty eclectic roles thus far in his career, but nothing prepared people for his presidential pep talk – one of the defining moments of the movie.

But the clear and obvious breakout star of ID4 was Will Smith. Having transitioned from hip hop to the small screen in the beloved sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” it was clear that Smith was meant for superstardom. He had already taken significant steps in that direction, with a dramatic turn in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION and a showcase for his action star potential in BAD BOYS. But it was his brash, witty performance in ID4 that cemented him as Hollywood’s latest box office hero. Thanks to MEN IN BLACK immediately following it a year later, Smith became – and continues to be – one of the most bankable movie stars of all time.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




98 min

Directors: Joel Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Editor: Roderick Jaynes (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Music: Carter Burwell
Cast: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell, John Carroll Lynch

FARGO proved to be a landmark effort for writer/director siblings Joel and Ethan Coen. While they had been enjoying great success making intimate comedies and dramas after their introduction with BLOOD SIMPLE, FARGO brought them more critical, commercial, and awards attention than they had ever received before.

The film follows two different characters and their related stories. William H. Macy plays car salesman Jerry Lundegaard, whose financial troubles lead him to hire two bumbling criminals to kidnap his wife and hold her for a ransom that he hopes to ultimately collect. After a wild series of events and deaths, local police officer (and seven months pregnant) Marge Gunderson, played unforgettably by Frances McDormand, is brought on the case.

While the Coens retain some basic aspects of the film noir genre, namely the detective story and cynically corrupt atmosphere, they turned just about everything else on its head. Aside from some of the obvious surface differences (like having a female detective protagonist rather than a femme fatale), they’ve also removed the shadows, not only from the cinematography but also from the characterizations.

Gone are the blurred lines between good and bad. In this film, the “good guy” is entirely “good.” There is no questioning Marge’s character; she is kind, devoted, and seemingly incorruptible. And you don’t get the feeling that a potboiler murder case, filled with twists and double crosses, walks into her door once a week. She leads a normal life with her husband discussing art and stamps, about as far as you can get from Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

This would prove to be the calling card of the Coen Brothers’ work. Not only are they technically capable of working in any and all genres, but they also have sharp wits capable of taking those genres in exciting new directions. Just look at their remake of TRUE GRIT, which somehow managed to thrill fans of classical Westerns as well as audiences who typically don’t care for Westerns at all. That’s the Coen Bros’ finest attribute as filmmakers.

Unsurprisingly, FARGO won the brothers their first Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and it would prove to be just one in a series of nominations for the duo.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Mission: Impossible


110 min

Directors: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: David Koepp, Robert Towne
Cinematography: Stephen H. Burum
Editor: Paul Hirsch
Music: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave

After the hit television series “Mission: Impossible” signed off with its final episode on March 30, 1973, it was 23 long years before Paramount Pictures was finally able to bring the franchise to the big screen. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, but it took Tom Cruise and his newly formed production company hiring a well-respected director and a veritable dream team of screenwriters to finally get the project off the ground.

The director was Brian De Palma, who had turned a few heads with independent films like GREETINGS and SISTERS (plus the gloriously bonkers PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) before making a mainstream splash with the Stephen King adaptation CARRIE. Of course, “mainstream” would not be a word anyone would use to describe De Palma’s career, which frequently ricocheted from erotic thrillers like DRESSED TO KILL and BODY DOUBLE to pop-culture-defining hits like SCARFACE and THE UNTOUCHABLES.

A director with a filmography like that might seem an odd choice to direct a Tom Cruise action blockbuster, but De Palma’s previous film, CARLITO’S WAY, exemplified just how good the filmmaker was at generating considerable suspense, a skill he would use to great effect in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. That erotic thriller experience didn’t hurt either: though there are limitations to what you can do in a PG-13 summer movie, De Palma instills the film with an unusual amount of sexual tension and subtle jealousies. There’s more driving these characters than just the plot.

Speaking of the plot, it took more than one legendary screenwriter to whip this script into shape. Initially, Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner worked with Sydney Pollack (director of numerous classics like TOOTSIE and OUT OF AFRICA) to craft the story for the film. Once De Palma was brought on, he invited a remarkable team of writers to help punch up the action and the plotting. To name a few: Steve Zaillian (SCHINDLER’S LIST, MONEYBALL), David Koepp (JURASSIC PARK, SPIDER-MAN), and, most intriguingly of all, Robert Towne (CHINATOWN, THE LAST DETAIL). The result of all these talents working in tandem? An unusually elegant and sophisticated action movie with some of the rough edges that defined the 1970s cinematic style favored by De Palma and Towne at the peak of their careers.

With so many grizzled old veterans working behind the camera, who would make sure the film would be marketable to 90s audiences? Tom Cruise, of course, who not only lent his star power to the movie but also raised a considerable amount of money as a producer, allowing De Palma to film the action set pieces of his dreams. In fact, Cruise was truly tenacious as a producer, fighting for the opportunity to shoot dangerous scenes involving glass and 16 tons of water and bullet trains. In addition to all that, he did a majority of his own stunts, which no doubt lightened the load on the budget and resulted in many sleepless nights for the insurance department.

The film was a hit in the summer of 1996, breaking all kinds of box office records and initiating a new movie franchise. And a truly fascinating franchise at that. Where most movie series try to retain directors for at least two or three of the films, the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise was initially not afraid to experiment with a new director on each outing. John Woo (THE KILLER, HARD BOILED), J.J. Abrams (the STAR TREK reboot, SUPER 8), and Brad Bird (THE IRON GIANT, THE INCREDIBLES) each took the reins for a sequel, treating us to a series that has differed stylistically from film to film more than most.

It wasn’t until frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (writer of THE USUAL SUSPECTS and EDGE OF TOMORROW) followed ROGUE NATION with FALLOUT that a director repeated in the franchise. McQuarrie is once again at the helm for the upcoming MI:7, suggesting that the franchise is no longer leaning on unique directorial approaches but instead on Cruise’s increasingly…impossible…stunts.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Watermelon Woman


90 min

Director: Cheryl Dunye
Screenplay: Cheryl Dunye
Cinematography: Michelle Crenshaw
Editor: Annie Taylor
Music: Paul Shapiro
Cast: Cheryl Dunye, Guinevere Turner, Valarie Walker, Lisa Marie Bronson

The following is excerpted from an article by Chrystel Oloukoï (@_Onikoyi). You can read the full article here (after watching the film, as the article describes the plot in detail), and more of Oloukoï’s work for BFI here.

Twenty-five years after Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman (1996), the first US feature directed by an ‘out’ Black lesbian, you can count on a single hand the number of films offering such an audacious subversion of the filmic gaze. The Watermelon Woman takes Black lesbians as its subject matter, but also – and most importantly – as a standpoint from which to challenge the basis of representation, history and how stories are told.

In The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl, a fledgling Black lesbian filmmaker played by Dunye herself, sets out to make a documentary about Faith Richardson, a lost cinematic ancestor glimpsed in 1930s race films. Playfully switching between 16mm film and the glorious, radical and short-lived 1990s grainy videotape aesthetic, Dunye layers slices of everyday life with black-and-white archival bits about Faith.

As a video store clerk, she’s assisted in her research about Faith by co-worker and close friend Tamara (Valarie Walker), also a Black lesbian, and Diana (Guinevere Turner), a bourgeois white lesbian she’s recently started to date. Yet, her efforts are frustrated by a succession of white gatekeepers, from the library in which a white gay man assumes her lack of literacy, to the white lesbian community archive in which the rare Black lesbian materials are brutalised by the archivists themselves, to the hostile policemen who profile her in the street – in a way reminiscent of the opening scene of Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama (1979).

The Watermelon Woman is a landmark of the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s, a time of queer formal experimentation with cinematic language. These mostly low-budget indie features were characterised by excess, irreverence and the revolutionary cynicism of the AIDS period. Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992) boldly claimed to “put the homo back in homicide”. Marlon Riggs’ documentary Tongues Untied (1989) affirmed the fragile beauty of the hymns and spiritual songs Black gay men create for themselves in a world that has “no tender mercy for sons who love men”. Todd Haynes’ Poison (1991) spat society’s hatred and ugliness back at it, asking if the horror genre remained possible in the time of AIDS. And Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston (1989) foreshadowed Dunye’s inventive mix of archival material and fiction in its evocation of the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Lesbian cinema, in particular, with Sadie Benning’s Jollies (1990) and other video works, turned the democratising videotape technology into a hallmark of subaltern aesthetics, often receiving less recognition than their cis-gay male counterparts working with film.

New Queer Cinema was, above all, a call to transform the heterosexual structures of cinema. In Dunye’s own words, it was about “playing with form, […] changing not only the stories that are being told and filling the void, but […] push[ing] how narrativity works, how stories are told”.

After watching the film, read the rest of Oloukoï’s article here.

–Chrystel Oloukoï, BFI


Romeo + Juliet


120 min

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay: Craig Pearce, Baz Luhrmann
Cinematography: Donald McAlpine
Editor: Jill Bilcock
Music: Nellee Hooper
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Sorvino, Brian Dennehy, Paul Rudd

In August of 1992, Baz Luhrmann’s directorial debut STRICTLY BALLROOM arrived in Australian cinemas and became a massive success, receiving 13 Australian Film Institute nominations and ultimately winning eight, including Best Picture. Word of mouth served the movie well in America, too, where it earned a surprising $12 million at the box office and got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy or Musical.

After arriving on the filmmaking scene in such spectacular fashion, Luhrmann no doubt had his choice of projects to pursue next. Wisely, the director took his time to decide, ultimately electing to do an ultra-modern take on one of the most romantic stories ever told: William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It wasn’t enough for Luhrmann to simply adapt the entire play as it had been written and performed over and over again for centuries – he needed to do something fresh and vibrant.

One day, it hit him: “With Romeo and Juliet what I wanted to do was to look at the way in which Shakespeare might make a movie of one of his plays if he was a director. We don’t know a lot about Shakespeare, but we do know he would make a ‘movie’ movie. He was a player. We know about the Elizabethan stage and that he was playing for 3000 drunken punters, from the street sweeper to the Queen of England – and his competition was bear-baiting and prostitution. So he was a relentless entertainer and a user of incredible devices and theatrical tricks to ultimately create something of meaning and convey a story. That was what we wanted to do.”

And boy, did he get what he wanted. Luhrmann’s passion for the project was so contagious that rising star Leonardo DiCaprio, fresh off of successes like WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, and THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, paid his own travel fees to fly to Sydney and shoot some test footage with Luhrmann. Once 20th Century Fox saw the results, they knew they had to produce the film.

With DiCaprio set in the immortal role of Romeo, the casting of Juliet had to be equally perfect. Natalie Portman was the first choice, but something wasn’t quite right when she began rehearsing scenes. Only 14 years old at the time, Portman made even baby-faced DiCaprio (who was 21) and the ageless Paul Rudd (who was 26) look like a couple of old creeps. It was DiCaprio who wisely suggested Claire Danes for the part, and the rest is movie history.

The film was released in American theaters on November 1, 1996, and in its opening weekend ROMEO + JULIET earned roughly the same amount as STRICTLY BALLROOM’s entire American theatrical run. The film won several high-profile awards, with the most notable being DiCaprio’s Silver Bear Award for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival. But more importantly than accolades or earnings, Luhrmann’s striking vision made his Shakespearean redux a generational touchstone shared and beloved by everyone who grew up in the 90s (and probably their parents, too).

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


From Dusk Till Dawn


108 min

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
Editor: Robert Rodriguez
Music: Graeme Revell
Cast: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Danny Trejo, Salma Hayek

1992 saw the arrival of two filmmakers who would prove to be among the most exciting talents of their generation.

Texas native Robert Rodriguez – equipped with a $7,000 budget that he famously raised largely by participating in experimental clinical drug trials – wrote, shot, edited and directed EL MARIACHI, an indie neo-Western action film that so impressed executives at Columbia Pictures that the studio ultimately spent millions of dollars to market and distribute the film in the U.S. EL MARIACHI proved such a hit with audiences and critics alike that Rodriguez’s 1995 follow-up DESPERADO got to add several zeroes to the budget: $7 million. Not to mention the electric duo of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.

Meanwhile, video store clerk Quentin Tarantino wrote a script titled RESERVOIR DOGS that he initially intended to make with his friends. But through a fateful series of circumstances, the script found its way to Harvey Keitel, who so loved the film that he signed on to produce and star in it. Keitel’s involvement helped the production raise a budget of nearly $2 million and add Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth to the cast. The film was a smash at Sundance and in cinemas around the world, paving the way for his 1994 masterpiece, PULP FICTION.

After riding these parallel waves of success and making lifelong fans out of movie lovers around the world, any pairing of these two filmmakers was bound to be seismic news. So, needless to say, when they announced that Tarantino had written a script about a Mexican saloon inhabited by some very bloodthirsty patrons (aka vampires), which would be directed by Rodriguez, everyone took notice. When ER heartthrob (and soon-to-be-Batman) George Clooney was slated to star, the excitement shot through the roof.

For Rodriguez and Tarantino fans (and horror fans in general), the film was everything we hoped it would be and more – a stylish, giddily violent romp with plenty of laughs. And it proved to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship; the duo would go on to collaborate on the equally delightful genre love letter GRINDHOUSE. For those of us who were falling in love with film in the 1990s and 2000s, it’s impossible to imagine the cinematic landscape without them.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




124 min

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Cinematography: Bill Butler, Rexford Metz
Editor: Verna Fields
Music: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

There are those who blame Steven Spielberg’s JAWS for creating the concept of the “blockbuster movie,” which, to them, refers to a cinematic spectacle that ignores artistic ambition and innovation in favor of mass appeal. After all, it was the first film to pass $100 million at the box office, breaking the records long held by THE SOUND OF MUSIC and GONE WITH THE WIND. Motivated to match that achievement, studio executives began devoting their attention to looking for the next STAR WARS or SUPERMAN, at the expense of the more intellectual efforts that defined 1970s American filmmaking.

While there can be no doubt that the overwhelming success of JAWS has influenced the direction of major motion picture production and marketing to this day, there’s one thing you can’t blame Spielberg’s aquatic thriller for: the surplus of bad blockbusters arriving in theaters every year. Because JAWS is anything but bad. In fact, JAWS is a remarkable demonstration of how clever, inventive, and awe-inspiring a “popcorn movie” can be. So masterfully does Spielberg ratchet up the tension, and so effortlessly does he make you care for the characters, that the movie serves as a kind of film school. Pay enough attention to JAWS, and you’ll come away with a basic knowledge of what makes great films tick.

Even more impressive is the fact that Spielberg was only 26 years old when he was handed the reins of this challenging production. Though he had certainly turned a few heads with his previous thrillers, DUEL and THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS, those experiences in no way prepared him for the grueling task of shooting JAWS. The director didn’t make things easier on himself by insisting the shoot take place on location in Martha’s Vineyard, rather than the more controllable environment of a studio water tank. The locals and vacationing tourists weren’t huge fans of the film production invading their space; at least, not until the studio started throwing some money around.

Adding to the difficulty level was the shark itself. After the idea of using a real, trained great white shark was ruled out, Spielberg hired highly regarded effects genius Robert A. Mattey to construct the beast. Mattey did him two better and developed three hydraulic sharks that weighed one ton each and required thirteen scuba-equipped puppeteers to give them life. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not when all three insisted on breaking down at the worst possible moments, forcing Spielberg to shoot less of the sharks than he had planned. As cinematic serendipity would have it, that very inconvenience ultimately added to the heart-racing suspense. What really made the movie terrifying was not seeing the menace.

The casting was equally key, as, shark aside, the film would be carried or sunk by the men playing the three leads. Robert Shaw had to be convinced by his wife that he wouldn’t be upstaged by a shark, and Richard Dreyfuss agreed to take the role despite being certain the film would prove a disastrous flop. Only Roy Scheider was passionate about the role from the get-go, so perhaps it’s no surprise that he was the only one to return for JAWS 2.

Ultimately, JAWS proved as much a critical success as it was with audiences. The film earned four Oscar nominations and won three, including Best Original Dramatic Score for John Williams’s legendary theme that has been spoofed and reused about a million times since then.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Host


120 min

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay: Bong Joon-ho, Ha Won-jun, Baek Chul-hyun
Cinematography: Kim Hyung-koo
Editor: Kim Sun-min
Music: Lee Byung-woo
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona and Go Ah-sung

The following is excerpted from an article by critic Gary Indiana, written for Artforum upon the U.S. release of THE HOST in 2007. You can read the full article about Bong Joon-ho’s early works here, and you can read more of Indiana’s work for Artforum here.

Before he began working on The Host, thirty-eight-year-old Korean director Bong Joon-ho had made only two feature-length films: The first was, at the time of its release, a critical and box-office failure; the second, despite its grim true-to-life narrative, was a major hit.

Even so, no one could have predicted—indeed, no one did predict—the staggering success of Bong’s third film, a low-budget monster movie that premiered last May in Cannes to rave reviews before going on to become the highest grossing film in Korean history.

Godzilla was famously the projection of a postwar Japanese psyche traumatized by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the nameless monster of The Host is likewise the product of environmental disaster at the hands of the American military. But whereas Japanese films of the genre allegorized broadly the horrors of modern technology, The Host is a caustic—and quite specific—critique of American power: The monsters of our creation pose far less a threat to the world than our militarized overreaction to them.

When I first saw Bong’s new film, The Host, at the New York Film Festival last October, I recovered a long-dissolving hope for the future of movies. (Years of Hollywood tripe and the ludicrous banality of American “independent film” have spoiled the appetite for cinema; happily, America isn’t the world, even though most Americans think it is.)

I had heard about this crowd-pleasing Korean monster flick shortly after its premiere at Cannes, but nothing had prepared me for the carnivalesque, politically acidic megaspectacle that unspooled, seducing me and the rest of the audience into a state of childlike rapture.

The eponymous figure of this film is, ostensibly, the giant mutant amphibian produced when the US military dumps a vast quantity of formaldehyde into the Han River. The title is ambiguous, though, as South Korea itself could be considered the “host”—of the American military, on the one hand, and of viral global capitalism, on the other.

But the most energizing, raucous aspect of this film isn’t its “message,” despite the highly original way it is transmitted, but Bong’s ingeniously fresh approach to “science fiction”: The Host plays up ecological disaster, military insanity, and the stupid side of technology in the most casual way imaginable.

To read the rest of Indiana’s reflections on THE HOST and Bong’s other early works, click here.

–Gary Indiana, Artforum


The Thing


109 min

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Bill Lancaster
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Editor: Todd C. Ramsay
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart

Way back in 1938, John W. Campbell Jr.’s sci-fi novella “Who Goes There?” was published in the August issue of “Astounding Science Fiction” magazine, laying the groundwork for the cinematic adaptations that would follow. The first arrived thirteen years later in 1951 in the form of the Howard Hawks-produced THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, which became an instant sci-fi classic.

So it was a quite a surprise when John Carpenter’s 1982 remake THE THING proved to be a genre masterpiece as well. After all, how often do remakes emerge from the shadows of the original to stake their own territory in the canon of movie masterpieces? But Carpenter’s version did just that, maintaining the essence of the original story while providing several iconic moments of its very own.

The early drafts of the film were written by none other than Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel, who had already given moviegoers the fright of their lives with 1974’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but the task of delivering the final draft ultimately fell to the hands of writer Bill Lancaster (son of Burt Lancaster!). By the time the film was ready to go into production, Carpenter was already a well-seasoned director, having made seven feature films including HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

But THE THING presented a number of new challenges to Carpenter, namely the fact that this was his first film to be produced by a major film studio (Universal) rather than an independent and thus would receive a significantly larger budget than Carpenter was used to. That budget allowed him to shoot for three whole months on six artificially frozen sound stages in Los Angeles, which accounts for the film’s genuinely chilling atmosphere.

THE THING was initially met with mixed reviews when released on June 25, 1982, and it struggled at the box office, due largely to the dominating presence of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER. But luckily, the passage of time has seen THE THING rise to its deserved spot among the sci-fi greats, with horror fans and filmmakers alike agreeing it is one of the most terrifying and suspenseful films ever made.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Invasion of the Body Snatchers


81 min

Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Daniel Mainwaring
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Editor: Robert S. Eisen
Music: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones

An alien invasion is scary enough. But the idea that those aliens could not just shape shift but take the forms of our loved ones – and eventually ourselves – is the terrifying concept at the heart of Don Siegel’s 1956 thriller INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. In this case, the threat isn’t just from outer space. Metaphorically speaking, it’s already here…in your home.

It sounds like something Rod Serling would have written for The Twilight Zone. While certainly worthy of the comparison, BODY SNATCHERS was actually adapted from a magazine story by Jack Finney. Considering that it was released in a period of Communist hysteria, some felt that a film about soulless imposters replacing your neighbors was surely anti-Communist propaganda. Others argued the exact opposite: that it was anti-McCarthyism. But Finney swore that it was nothing more than an allegory about the importance of individualism – imagine how awful things would be if we were all the same?

Director Don Siegel recognized that the story had potential as an entertaining sci-fi thriller and was more than happy to sign on. Kevin McCarthy was cast in the lead role of Dr. Miles Bennell, and coincidentally, another Miles (Vera Miles of PSYCHO and THE SEARCHERS fame) was considered to play his girlfriend. But producer Walter Wanger ultimately went with Dana Wynter, a young actress under contract at Fox. By casting lesser-known actors, the film allowed the story and the ingenious concept to be the star of the show. It also lends the film a bit of that 50s B-movie appeal that makes it such fun to watch.

What makes this film so timeless? Legendary horror author Dean Koontz perhaps said it best : “Many of us spend the evening hours online, staring at a screen rather than at human faces, communicating without the profound nuances of human voices and facial expressions, seeking sympathy and tenderness without the need to touch. All the while, through our bones creeps the persistent feeling that we are losing our humanity. No wonder we still respond to Don Siegel’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS so powerfully, decades after its initial release.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


2001: A Space Odyssey


160 min

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Editor: Ray Lovejoy
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Douglas Rain

When asked what he hoped to achieve with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, director Stanley Kubrick simply said, “I want to make a good science fiction film.” Not only did he overachieve on that goal, he also made a film so singular and timeless that it’s almost unfair to compare it to any science fiction film before or since. Kubrick set out to do nothing less than tell the story of the past, present, and future evolution of humankind, and you can’t say he hasn’t succeeded.

The film is based on author Arthur C. Clarke’s 1950 short story “The Sentinel.” Kubrick reached out to Clarke about any possible interest in adapting the story for the screen, and they would ultimately spend four years working together to turn this short story into a cinematic reflection of our history and a visionary estimation of our future.

This process first involved Clarke writing an actual novel of the story, which he then presented to Kubrick as a gift one Christmas. From there, the two began work on turning the novel into a screenplay. The level of detail in the film was present from the very beginning, as Kubrick and Clarke were advised on future design and technology possibilities by companies like Whirlpool, RCA, GE, IBM, Pan Am, and NASA. What did those companies get in return for their advice? Just keep an eye out for all the product placements in the film; even Howard Johnson’s gets in on the fun.

Once production finally began on the film, Kubrick assembled an expert crew to handle everything from visual effects to makeup. Legendary effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull and his talented team played a significant role in creating an authentic experience for 2001. They devised ideas ranging from simple solutions, like attaching a pen to a sheet of plexi-glass to give it the appearance of floating in an anti-gravity room, to elaborately designed cinematic inventions, like new cameras and new methods of exposing film.

Not to be lost among all the technological talk is the note-perfect performance from Keir Dullea, who basically carries the audience through the film and allows us to participate in his experiences. Kubrick once said that he wanted people to “experience” 2001, rather than “watch it,” and Dullea’s subtle work is a critical part of achieving that goal. A flashy movie star may have given audiences reason to approach the film as a typical sci-fi action adventure movie, but Dullea’s quiet, reflective everyman allows us to “experience” the movie at the reflective pace that Kubrick wanted.

Of course, one of the more memorable elements of the film is Dullea’s computerized foil, the HAL 9000 artificial intelligence. Voiced by Douglas Rain in a tone that is somehow both banal and menacing, HAL 9000 not only provides Dullea’s character with some much needed company but also provides the film with a potent reminder of just how skilled Kubrick was at creating tension and suspense. A feature-length reminder would come 12 years later with Kubrick’s remarkable adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING.

By panning the vibrant and exciting BONNIE AND CLYDE a year earlier, many film critics had already begun showing signs of falling out of touch with the newer generation of filmmakers and filmgoers, and their evaluations of 2001 were no different. Several prominent critics believed the film to be slow and confusing, but their opinions proved no match for the enthusiasm of the young audiences who came out to see the film in droves. Remarkably enough for an admittedly non-traditional film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY became the second highest grossing movie of 1968. Can you imagine that happening today?

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Mulholland Dr.


147 min

Director: David Lynch
Screenplay: David Lynch
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Editing: Mary Sweeney
Score: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux, Jeanne Bates, Ann Miller, Robert Forster.

The following is excerpted from Luke Buckmaster’s (@lukebuckmaster) BBC article, “Why Mulholland Drive is the greatest film since 2000” from 2016. To read the full article, click here.

Cinema in the early years of the 21st Century has experienced something of an existential crisis. Terms such as ‘TV-like’ or ‘television-esque’ were once intended as insults; now, in a period most commentators consider a new ‘golden age of television’ – a Don Draper here, a Walter White there – that is no longer the case. So, if television has evolved to a point where it is no longer considered an inferior art form, what does this mean for cinema?

Perhaps it is no coincidence that David Lynch’s mind-bending mystery-drama Mulholland Drive has been named by BBC Culture’s critics’ poll as the best film of the century so far. Its very roots lie in television: the film began as a failed TV pilot and was salvaged into feature-length format.

Mulholland Drive’s own troubled history, and the studio politics and power plays depicted by Lynch in the film itself, hardly feel like coincidences. Under its dream-like veneer, Mulholland Drive is a brilliant commentary on Hollywood’s machinations, at least partly informed by its own woes.

Beginning life during the development of Lynch’s cult TV show Twin Peaks, the director eventually pitched an idea for Mulholland Drive as a series in 1998. He was given a green light by US cable network ABC, which hoped to replicate the success of the director’s small-town mystery serial.

ABC was unimpressed with the first episode, which they considered slowly paced and drawn out – 37 minutes too long to fit into a conventional TV timeslot. In early 2000 Lynch managed to rescue the project by agreeing to turn Mulholland Drive into a feature film, equipped with a budget twice the original size.

Infusing Mulholland Drive with pointed, perhaps pessimistic commentary about market forces in Hollywood, but also cramming it full of beguiling images, Lynch created a very appealing package for critics. They could get lost in the dream-like ambience of it while being engaged in an intellectual exercise deeply critical of the commercial realities of filmmaking: a sort of backhanded valentine to Tinsel Town.

In a discussion about the best critically received film so far in the new century, perhaps insights can be gained by comparisons to the best critically received film of the previous one. The title that repeatedly arrives at or near the top of the list is Citizen Kane, writer/director Orson Welles’ esteemed 1941 feature film debut – BBC Culture’s critics poll of the 100 greatest American films last year put Kane at number one.

If Kane can be viewed as an essay on the nuts and bolts of film-making – a masterclass in technical processes, from montage to deep focus, dissolves and the manipulation of mise en scène – Mulholland Drive’s appeal is more thematic and conceptual. It is less a demonstration of how great cinema is achieved than what great cinema can achieve, its capacity for ideas seemingly endless.

Lynch’s themes are wild and unconventional: dreams materialised; crazy thought bubbles brought to life. Whereas Orson Welles’ great film begins with a brief moment of surrealism – involving a snow globe and the cryptic word “Rosebud” – but then proceeds in a more straight-forward manner, Lynch maintains the surreal atmosphere throughout. In this sense Mulholland Drive picks up where Citizen Kane left off.

Its dream-like qualities give rise to many confusing and unexplained things that naturally encourage interpretation. But as critic Roger Ebert, one of the film’s greatest champions noted: “There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery.”

To read Buckmaster’s full article, click here.

Luke Buckmaster, BBC



A Hard Day’s Night


87 min

Director: Richard Lester
Screenplay: Alun Owen
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
Editor: John Jympson
Music: George Martin, John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell

You simply cannot overstate how incredibly different, fresh and exhilarating A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was at the time of its release (and still is today, over fifty years later). There had never been any movie like it before, and it would be years before any other filmmaker attempted what director Richard Lester and The Beatles managed to pull off.

There’s no real story to speak of. The film follows a day in the life (now there’s a song title!) of The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) as they prepare for a live television appearance. They run a gauntlet of rabid, screaming fans, hordes of reporters and photographers, and fussy television producers while occasionally finding a few moments for themselves. Oh, and they have to deal with Paul’s wacky grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell).

Shot in a cinema verite style on the streets of London, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT has a semi-documentary look, but it’s spiked with an effervescent pop joy for the four young men and their music. The songs are all first-rate, and all four Beatles come across as skilled comedians with a barrage of one-liners, sight gags and physical humor. It’s the Marx Brothers meet rock and roll, and the result is a unique, celebratory experience of the greatest rock band of all time at the peak of their early, worldwide fame.

Songs include: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Don’t Bother Me,” “All My Loving,” “If I Fell,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “And I Love Her,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “This Boy,” “Tell Me Why,” and “She Loves You.”

The Beatles made three other feature films in their career: HELP! (1965) (also directed by Lester), the animated YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) and the concert film LET IT BE (1970). All three films have their merits, but nothing ever quite matched the impact of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, whose influence would be felt years later when cable channel MTV began broadcasting music videos in the 1980s. The DNA of many of those early music videos can be traced directly back to A HARD DAY’S NIGHT.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog.





128 min

Director: Gregory Nava
Screenplay: Gregory Nava
Cinematography: Edward Lachman
Editing: Nancy Richardson
Score: Dave Grusin
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Constance Marie, Lupe Ontiveros.

The meteoric rise of the “Queen of Tejano music,” Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, was likely already being considered around Hollywood as the perfect silver screen biopic even before her life was tragically cut short at the age of 23. But when Selena was murdered at the hands of former family friend and employee Yolanda Saldívar in March 1995, Warner Bros. moved quickly to create an unforgettable film that would both commemorate Selena’s remarkable talent and mourn her tragic end.

Of course, the biggest question was: who should play Selena? After all, who could capture the energy and charisma that Selena brought to the stage at every show? The casting directors cast a wide net reminiscent of the legendary search that brought Vivian Leigh into the role of Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND. Over 22,000 (!) aspiring actresses auditioned for the role, and established stars like Salma Hayek and telenovela favorite Bibi Gaytán were also considered.

In the end, four professional actresses and three hopefuls from the casting calls were chosen to advance to screen tests. Among the final seven was a backup dancer and unproven actress named Jennifer Lopez, who had significant stage experience, thanks to stints on tour with New Kids on the Block and the hit TV show “In Living Color,” but very little onscreen experience. Being suddenly thrust into the spotlight proved to be the least of Lopez’s challenges, however, as she immediately received criticism from Selena fans who felt that a New York-born, Puerto Rican-American actress should not portray a Texas-born, Mexican-American singer.

Nevertheless, Lopez poured every ounce of energy and dedication that she had into the role, moving in with Selena’s sister Suzette in order to learn more about the late musician from the people who knew her best. And, while you might think that Lopez’s background as a dancer would have prepared her to play this role, the actress actually had the opposite experience. “It’s very difficult to unlearn everything your body is accustomed to doing and that it does naturally,” Lopez has said. “I had to learn what Selena did, which is very different from my own dance instinct.”

Ultimately, Lopez’s efforts would win over Selena fans around the world, most importantly (to Lopez) from those in Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi. But the film’s director, Gregory Nava, had his own potential roadblocks to deal with, including a few involving Selena’s father Abraham Quintanilla Jr. Having been very protective of his daughter throughout her career, Abraham was understandably even more protective of her story after her death. He felt that the film should avoid depicting Selena’s assassination, but Nava convinced him that acknowledging this horrific moment was crucial to telling Selena’s story.

He was right. In the end, the most remarkable thing about Selena is how much she continues to mean to us even after her death. Though she was cruelly prevented from giving us more music and memorable moments, the work that she did accomplish in her all-too-short career will continue to stand the test of time and inspire future generations of fans.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


A.I. Artificial Intelligence


146 min

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Editor: Michael Kahn
Music: John Williams
Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards, Jake Thomas, Jude Law, William Hurt

The following is excerpted from an article for The Ringer by Tim Greiving titled “From Kubrick to Spielberg: The Story of A.I.” To read the rest of the article, click here.

In 2001, a year Stanley Kubrick made famous with his sci-fi masterpiece of the same name, Steven Spielberg went on an odyssey of his own—one both deeply personal and deeply committed to someone else’s vision. “He tried to direct a Kubrick film,” says producer Bonnie Curtis. “I would jokingly call him ‘Steveley Kuberg’ during it, because the material itself is just a crash of the two of them. I mean, it’s a twisted Spielberg movie, or it’s a loving Kubrick film.”

When A.I. Artificial Intelligence came out on June 29, 2001, that strange creative “crash” baffled audiences and divided critics. Expecting something like E.T. II, Spielberg fans were instead met by sex robots, an android holocaust, and the bleakest boyhood story line in the director’s career, in which the “boy” is abandoned by his “mother” and cursed to roam the earth for 2,000 years, trying desperately to win her love. The film earned $236 million worldwide, which sounds respectable until you realize it’s the 19th-highest-grossing film that Spielberg’s directed.

In one of the positive reviews, The New York Times’ A.O. Scott called it “the best fairy tale—the most disturbing, complex, and intellectually challenging boy’s adventure story—Mr. Spielberg has made. … [He] seems to be attempting the improbable feat of melding Kubrick’s chilly, analytical style with his own warmer, needier sensibility.” On the flip side, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “A.I. exhibits all its creators’ bad traits and none of the good. So we end up with the structureless, meandering, slow-motion endlessness of Kubrick combined with the fuzzy, cuddly mindlessness of Spielberg. It’s a coupling from hell.”

Spielberg’s eyes were wide open to the fact that a film originally conceptualized by Kubrick but completed by him would confuse people, Curtis says. But she also remembers him saying, “I don’t care what anyone ever says: I just made a good movie.” Twenty years of hindsight have proved the director right, and fans of both directors have come to appreciate just how deeply devoted Spielberg was to his friend’s long-gestating, obsessive vision for the film.

“I remember [Spielberg] described the movie as mostly being about your responsibility to intelligence,” says Haley Joel Osment, who carried the film as the robot boy David. “Steven and Stanley, when they brought love into the equation—it’s not really a sentimental thing. It’s this really important philosophical thing: What’s your responsibility to that?”

The story behind A.I. actually goes back 50 years—a Kubrickian labyrinth of endless deliberation, false starts and creative casualties, and ultimately the posthumous lovechild of this very unusual marriage. When you cut A.I. open, you find cold Kubrick machinery underneath warm Spielberg skin … but it was never as “warm” as you might remember.

To read the rest of Greiving’s extensive article covering the remarkable making of A.I., click here.
-Tim Greiving, The Ringer



Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


129 min

Director: Frank Capra
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editing: Al Clark, Gene Havlick
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi.

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON is remembered as one of the most thrilling and inspiring films of all time. In this immortal classic, Jimmy Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a Boy Scout leader of strong moral conviction who is chosen to replace a recently deceased Senator because his corrupt fellow governors believe Smith will be easily manipulated.

Stewart made a career out of playing humble and generous characters, but in this film, he acts with an astonishing amount of vigor bordering on outrage as his naïve ideals about the government and its elected officials are slowly eroded by the cold, hard truth. Nevertheless, he remains steadfast in his beliefs, and his legendary filibuster during the final third of the movie remains one of the greatest acts of heroism in the history of motion pictures.

We were close to missing out on Stewart’s unforgettable performance of this role: Capra nearly gave the part to Gary Cooper, which would have been the obvious, safe choice. Cooper had already proven himself in a similar role in Capra’s MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, and there’s no doubt that he would have made a fine Mr. Smith. But Capra decided it was time for a new star to shine, and we can thank that decision not only for Stewart’s Mr. Smith but also for IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and VERTIGO and all the other wonderful Stewart performances that followed.

By all accounts, Stewart knew how important this role would be to his career. As co-star Jean Arthur would later remember, “[Jimmy] was so serious when he was working on that picture, he used to get up at five o’clock in the morning and drive himself to the studio. He was so terrified something was going to happen to him, he wouldn’t go faster.”

Unsurprisingly, the film ruffled more than a few feathers among real-life Congressmen at the time, who felt that they had been unfairly portrayed as easily corrupted power-mongers with anything but the nation’s best interests at heart. As we’ve all come to learn in the decades since, Capra may just have been onto something. Here’s hoping a few more Mr. Smiths show up to do a little looking out for the other fella.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


All The President’s Men


138 min

Director: Alan J. Pakula
Screenplay: William Goldman
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Editor: Robert L. Wolfe
Music: David Shire
Cast: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jane Alexander, Stephen Collins, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty

All The President’s Men recounts the adventures of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they cover the story of the Watergate break-in and the subsequent downfall of President Nixon. Brilliantly adapted by William Goldman from the best-selling book by Woodward and Bernstein and skillfully directed by Alan J. Pakula, All The President’s Men contains an amazing amount of suspense, which is surprising given that everyone know the outcome of the story.

As he did in the vastly underrated thriller The Parallax View (1974), director Pakula drenches the film in an atmosphere of paranoia. Tight, sweaty close-ups of Woodward (Redford) and Bernstein (Hoffman) as they grill sources over the telephone are amazingly effective in generating suspense.

He also sends his intrepid reporters out alone at night to interview people, many of whom are reluctant to speak and do so only in hushed tones. One source, “Deep Throat” (Holbrook), is met only in shadowed parking garages. The real identity of “Deep Throat” remained a secret for many years and was not revealed until after the 2008 death of former FBI Agent Mark Felt, who left confirmation that he was indeed the mysterious, anonymous source.

All The President’s Men provides a thrilling detective story set against the backdrop of the inner workings of a big city newspaper. Woodward and Bernstein are willing to risk anything to get their story, even going so far as to manipulate and fib to their sources. The film ends before the last chapter (the resignation of President Nixon) of the Watergate saga occurs but it’s nevertheless an engaging, real-life political thriller that vividly brings to life a very dark time in American history.

All The President’s Men received eight Academy Award nominations including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Robards, winner), Best Supporting Actress (Alexander), Best Adapted Screenplay (Goldman, winner), Best Art Direction (winner) and Best Sound (winner).

Frank Campbell




91 min

Director: Chris Noonan
Screenplay: George Miller, Chris Noonan
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Editor: Marcus D’Arcy, Jay Friedkin
Music: Nigel Westlake
Cast: Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Hugo Weaving, James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski

In 1986, George Miller was known mostly for his MAD MAX saga, a gritty, action-packed trilogy that established him as a director of edge-of-your-seat thrill rides. Little did he know, as he boarded a plane from his native Australia to London, that he would soon add a poignant children’s story about a talking pig to his resume.

On that plane, a woman in the seat next to Miller couldn’t stop laughing out loud throughout the trip. Out of curiosity, Miller glanced over and saw that she was reading Dick King-Smith’s book, The Sheep-Pig. After seeking out the book out at a London bookstore, Miller knew he had to buy the film rights, which was easier said than done as King-Smith was initially unwilling to entrust his story to someone else.

But the most significant challenges were still to come, the toughest being the movie magic required to create talking animals in 1995. CGI wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today — Andy Serkis’ groundbreaking performances as Gollum in LORD OF THE RINGS and Caesar in the PLANET OF THE APES trilogy were still years away.

Therefore, Miller needed to find a way to make his talking animals out of physical effects, which he accomplished through a combination of real animals and animatronic animals built by two different creature shops. CGI was used only to animate the talking animals’ mouths and was supplied by the same effects house that had animated the Coca-Cola polar bears.

Babe the “sheep-pig’s” voice was provided by Christine Cavanaugh, known to kids of the 90s as the voice of Chuckie Finster in “Rugrats” and Dexter in “Dexter’s Laboratory.” But the true breakout star of BABE was James Cromwell, who gives a memorable performance as Farmer Hoggett in the film. A relative unknown at the time, Cromwell got a huge career boost from this movie at the age of 55, though he almost didn’t take the part due to its relatively meager 16 lines of dialogue.

Though Miller obviously believed in the power of the story, he couldn’t have foreseen just how successful the film would become. BABE earned $254 million worldwide and received a whopping seven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Miller was technically not the director of BABE, but he did officially direct the sequel, BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, which proved to be the rare sequel that is just as enjoyable as the original.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




133 min

Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Cinematography: Maryse Alberti
Editor: Claudia Castello, Michael P. Shawver
Music: Ludwig Goransson
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

In 1976, Sylvester Stallone came out of nowhere to turn Hollywood heads with ROCKY, an unforgettable character that he both wrote and portrayed. The drama of an underdog boxer who just wants a chance in the ring against the champ won three of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

In the years that followed, ROCKY became a neverending franchise, involving a series of sequels with diminishing dramatic returns. Though they were filled with characters that have become part of the pop culture lexicon, by 1990’s ROCKY V it was clear that the series had run its course. A 2006 attempt to recapture the magic written and directed by Stallone, ROCKY BALBOA, simply didn’t work. It seemed that the series needed fresh ideas and a new character to root for.

Enter Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan. Following his Sundance triumph, FRUITVALE STATION, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, Coogler found a lot of doors opening for him in Hollywood. He took the opportunity to revive the Rocky franchise with a story centered on Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s former rival and eventual best friend Apollo Creed. Coogler’s FRUITVALE star Michael B. Jordan signed on to play the role and gave the same star-making turn that Stallone had in the original ROCKY four decades earlier.

With Apollo having died in one of the earlier films, Adonis grew up without his father, leading to a poignant turn of events that sees Rocky become his mentor and father figure in the film. Adonis’ hesitance to accept Rocky’s authority mirrors Rocky’s rocky relationship with his trainer Mickey in the original, and his honest and authentic romance with Bianca (Tessa Thompson, creating electric chemistry with Jordan) recalls Rocky and Adrian all those years ago.

As a result, CREED brings the thrills, laughs and tears to a modern audience, with a style and captivating story all its own. The film connected with audiences in a big way, grossing nearly $175 million worldwide to make a major profit against its $35 million budget.

Those numbers, combined with overwhelming critical approval, put CREED, Coogler and Jordan at the forefront of a wave of extraordinary films by Black filmmakers that proved moviegoing audiences were hungry for the stories they wanted to tell. The two would join forces again three years later for the even more spectacularly successful BLACK PANTHER, which became the first superhero movie ever nominated for Best Picture.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Sunset Boulevard


110 min

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder & D.M. Marshman Jr.
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark

In the years that followed the Allied Forces’ victory in WWII, you’d think all would’ve been bright and beautiful in the United States, particularly in the cinemas where war bond advertisements and grim propaganda messages had dominated the past several years. But before the nation got to Beaver Cleaver, it spent some time roaming the shadowy, expressionistic, cynical streets of film noir, a place where femme fatales prowled and dreams went to die.

SUNSET BOULEVARD’s inclusion in the film noir genre is a bit hazy. While this masterpiece from Billy Wilder (who also gave us DOUBLE INDEMNITY) contains several familiar noir elements, from its fatalistic Los Angeles atmosphere to its weary hero seduced by a manipulative woman, it is also unlike any other movie you’ll ever see.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of SUNSET BLVD. for film lovers, just as it is in SINGIN IN THE RAIN, is the behind-the-scenes portrayal of the Hollywood lifestyle in all its glitz, glamour, and intrigue. Unlike the Gene Kelly musical, though, Wilder’s film depicts the decay and decadence that follow the fleeting fame and fortune of the Hollywood elite, using as its emblem one of the most fascinating characters in cinema history, Norma Desmond.

Desmond is a forgotten silent movie queen (played unforgettably by actual silent film star Gloria Swanson) living out her final lonely years in a decrepit Hollywood mansion. When out-of-work screenwriter Joe Gillis is forced to flee his debt collectors, he finds himself hiding at Desmond’s home and becoming entangled in her increasingly bizarre web.

As Gillis becomes a kept man, he is forced to deal with Desmond’s delusional claims that, “I AM big! It’s the pictures that got small!” Desmond’s desperate attempts to cling to her dying fame lend the film a somber darkness, making it hard to believe that Wilder and his writing partner Charles Brackett initially conceived the film as a comedy about a silent screen star reclaiming her fame.

Thank goodness they decided to go the dramatic route. SUNSET BOULEVARD is one of Hollywood’s most bracing depictions of its own frailties and cruelties. For Billy Wilder, the film was just another in a series of masterpieces, including THE LOST WEEKEND, ACE IN THE HOLE, and STALAG 17, that immortalized him as one of the finest filmmakers who ever lived.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




102 min

Director: Norman Jewison
Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley
Cinematography: David Watkin
Editor: Lou Lombardo
Cast: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso, John Mahoney

After starting his career as a playwright whose work was produced both on and off Broadway, John Patrick Shanley decided to give screenwriting a try. He nailed it on the first try with MOONSTRUCK, his first theatrically released film, despite the fact that an Irish-American from the Bronx might not seem like the most obvious candidate to write a comedy about an Italian-American family in Brooklyn. But his universal love story “struck” a chord with audiences around the world, thanks to a seasoned director and a sizzling, perfectly cast lead couple.

Though, by that point, director Norman Jewison was most well-known for an incendiary drama (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) and a couple of daring musical adaptations (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR), he was also a veteran of both comedy (THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!) and romantic intrigue (THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR). This comprehensive experience behind the camera prepared him to spin cinematic gold out of Shanley’s wholly unique romantic comedy.

But, let’s face it, the reasons why we return to MOONSTRUCK time and time again are Cher and Nicolas Cage. A bonafide rock star whose partnership with husband Sonny Bono topped both the music charts and television ratings, Cher wisely made the transition to films soon after selling more than 40 million albums worldwide.

After co-starring with Bono in her first few films, she set out on her own in COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN and never looked back, going on to star in hits like SILKWOOD and MASK. By the time she starred in MOONSTRUCK, Cher’s confidence and charisma in front of the camera were soaring, and she dazzled audiences and critics alike, delivering one of the most beloved quotes in movie history and eventually winning the Best Actress Oscar.

So monumental is Cher’s performance that she could have easily overwhelmed a weaker actor, but Nicolas Cage was up to the challenge. After making quite an impression in films like VALLEY GIRL and RAISING ARIZONA, Cage gave a career-topping performance of his own as Cher’s decidedly swoon-worthy love interest. Surround these two electric actors with a talented supporting cast that includes Danny Aiello as Cage’s brother (and Cher’s other love interest) and Olympia Dukakis (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and Vincent Gardenia as her parents, and you’ve got a romantic comedy for the ages.

Shanley joined Cher and Dukakis on the Oscar stage that year, winning Best Screenplay for his work on this film. He would go on to write many more plays and screenplays, none more successful than 2004’s DOUBT, which won the Tony Award for Best Play before being adapted into an Oscar-nominated film featuring Cher’s SILKWOOD co-star Meryl Streep.

Cage went on to have one of the more eclectic careers in cinematic history, while Cher would eventually revive her record-setting music career thanks to global chart-topping single “Believe.” But it might please classic movie fans to know that, in a recent interview, Cher described her perfect night as “staying in bed and watching Turner Classic Movies.” I think we can all relate to that.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


112 min

Director: George Roy Hill
Screenplay: William Goldman
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Editor: John C. Howard, Richard C. Meyer
Music: Burt Bacharach
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, Cloris Leachman, Ted Cassidy, Kenneth Mars

Once in a while, a film comes along that is so unmistakably iconic that it launches everyone involved into the cinematic stratosphere. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was one of those films.

For example, take screenwriter William Goldman. Before he even had a single screenplay credit to his name, Goldman became obsessed with bringing the real-life story of Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longbaugh (aka the Sundance Kid) to the screen. Stunned that it hadn’t already been done but clearly not in any rush, Goldman spent nearly eight years doing extensive research into the pair’s history before he even began writing the script. The effort, clearly, paid off, and Goldman would go on to write PAPILLON, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, MARATHON MAN, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and many other classics.

Goldman always intended the role of Butch Cassidy for Paul Newman, who had starred in Goldman’s earlier film HARPER. But he had hoped that Newman would be paired in this film with Jack Lemmon, the first in a long line of potential Sundance Kids. 20th Century Fox wanted Steve McQueen, who refused to take second billing to Newman. Richard Zanuck, the head of the studio, wanted Marlon Brando but couldn’t get him. He then considered Warren Beatty, but Newman didn’t think Beatty was right for the part.

When asked who WOULD be the perfect Sundance Kid, Newman himself suggested a rising star named Robert Redford. Though it was Newman who chose Redford, he surely couldn’t have predicted just how significant a bond would form between the two actors, resulting in a lifelong friendship and a particularly warm and congenial set. Though both men had enjoyed some varying success in the movie business, this was the film that began writing their cinematic legends.

BUTCH CASSIDY became the highest-grossing Western film in box office history, won a slew of Oscars, and laid the groundwork for a number of other cinematic milestones to come. Newman and Redford would reunite with director George Roy Hill for Best Picture Winner THE STING, and, eventually, Redford would start a tiny little film festival in the mountains of Utah and call it “Sundance.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


95 min

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
Music: Laurie Johnson
Editor: Anthony Harvey
Cast: Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, James Earl Jones

If you ever try to pinpoint exactly what makes Stanley Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE a timeless movie classic, you’ll find an embarrassment of riches that contribute to its legacy. Most importantly of all, it was an ahead-of-its-time satire on politics and the arms race that featured a stacked cast of performers, led by the inimitable Peter Sellers providing some of the most viciously dark comedy you’ll ever see.

Which is why it might surprise you to learn that, initially, Kubrick wasn’t planning to make a comedy nor was he planning to include Peter Sellers in any way. When Kubrick lost funding for the film after a bad split with his producing partner, he ultimately found new financiers in Columbia Pictures. However, having been impressed with the box office prowess that Sellers provided to Kubrick’s LOLITA in Europe, the studio demanded that Kubrick cast the actor in the new film. In fact (and this is the truly surprising part), it was the studio, not Kubrick, that insisted Sellers play multiple roles in the film!

So Kubrick ultimately decided that, if Sellers was to play several roles in the movie, a satire would make more sense than a straight drama, leading to the film we know and love today. Sellers was initially cast in four roles in the film, all of which would ultimately change dramatically from script to screen. The American president Merkin Muffley was originally a slapstick character in the vein of Charlie Chaplin, which was certainly right up Sellers’s alley as all PINK PANTHER fans know. Ultimately it became a straight role, though Sellers still wrings a million laughs out of it.

The role that did allow Sellers to stretch his comedic muscles was the titular Dr. Strangelove, whom Sellers endowed with some hilarious tics like a seemingly murderous hand. And Colonel Lionel Mandrake was a role Sellers could have played in his sleep. Having already portrayed a dry British officer in countless films, it only took a slight tweak to make that stock character a laugh riot. Classic movie fans may notice a slight resemblance to Alec Guinness’s character in THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI, which is not an accident. Guinness was an idol to Sellers, who would never pass up an opportunity to emulate his hero.

So what was the fourth role Sellers was cast to play, fans of the film are probably asking? After all, he only appears on-screen in three. Well, he was also meant to play the role of pilot Major “King” Kong, but the peculiarities of the character’s Texas drawl seemed to stump even the great Sellers. Legend also has it that Sellers had a great fear of heights, which meant that being placed on top of a bomb three meters off of the floor was absolutely out of the question.

Enter the great character actor Slim Pickens, a real-life cowboy and rodeo star whom Kubrick had discovered at an earlier audition. Believe it or not, when you see Pickens in this movie, you’re seeing a man who is following Kubrick’s instructions to play it “as straight as you can.” That’s the real Pickens right there on the screen, and he would bring that same authenticity to Mel Brooks’s BLAZING SADDLES ten years later.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial


115 min

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Melissa Mathison
Cinematography: Allen Daviau
Editor: Carol Littleton
Music: John Williams
Cast: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

After the smash international success of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, director Steven Spielberg was looking to make something on a “smaller scale” for his next project. More specifically, he had a very personal story to tell about “the divorce of my parents, how I felt after my parents broke up.” When looking back on E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL later in life, Spielberg said, “It was the first movie I ever made for myself.”

The idea came to him on the stifling desert sands of Tunisia while filming RAIDERS. Feeling lonely and exhausted, Spielberg began to dream up an imaginary friend to keep him company. “It was like when you were a kid and had grown out of dolls or teddy bears,” he says. “You just wanted a little voice in your mind to talk to. I began concocting this imaginary creature, partially from the guys who stepped out of the Mother Ship for ninety seconds in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.”

After seeking out Melissa Mathison, an experienced screenwriter of children’s films like THE BLACK STALLION, to draft a script, Spielberg managed to raise a $10 million budget for the film, which was merely half of the budget he had been given for RAIDERS. When you consider that the animatronic E.T. puppet alone cost $1.5 million, you begin to realize just how careful Spielberg had to be with his money on this production.

But that puppet was worth every cent. Created by special effects legend Carlo Rambaldi, the puppet had two different control mechanisms: one for his bodily movements and one for his facial movements. And, of course, it wasn’t just one puppet. There were three versions of the puppet that could accommodate four different heads, which allowed for a wider range of motions and emotions.

Speaking of emotions, in order to get the most realistic performances out of his child actors, Spielberg abandoned his trusted storyboarding process. “I had the feeling the boards might force the child actors into stiff unnatural attitudes and I didn’t want that,” Spielberg recalls. The resulting scenes are among the most moving ever filmed, which is extraordinary considering that they are populated by young actors and a puppet.

E.T. became a box-office sensation so extraordinarily successful that Spielberg was rumored to be earning $500,000 A DAY during its first full week of release. That figure doesn’t even take into account Spielberg’s 10% cut of all merchandising sales. Considering that merchandising ultimately added up to $1 billion in revenue…well, you do the math.

More importantly to Spielberg, the film was well-received by critics and audiences and received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Spielberg’s third nomination as Best Director. He has often said that, until he finally won for SCHINDLER’S LIST, the loss for E.T. was the one that hurt the most.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Back to the Future


116 min

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Editors: Harry Keramidas, Arthur Schmidt
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson

Few movies are more fun to watch than Robert Zemeckis’ BACK TO THE FUTURE, which weaves an intricate, cleverly written story that takes us to the past and future and back again.

This dazzling film introduces us to restless high-schooler Marty McFly, who would soon become a pop culture legend thanks to the performance of Michael J. Fox. At the time, Fox was enjoying the height of popularity thanks to his starring role on the hit TV series “Family Ties,” and Fox carried every last ounce of his charm from that show to this film, making him an instant box office sensation.

And who could forget the eccentric Dr. Emmett Brown (or “Doc”), unforgettably played by funnyman Christopher Lloyd. Together, these two formed one of the very best duos in the history of movies. All whiz-bang effects and sharp time-travel plotting aside, these two characters and the wonderful actors who portrayed them are the real reason we keep coming back for one viewing after another.

But, wow, what clever writing it is, too. No matter how many times you see the film, you have to marvel at all the laughs the film gets from this sudden intrusion into the 1950s by a teenager from the 1980s. Anytime Marty forgets where…I mean, when…he is and orders drinks that don’t exist or suggests that a movie star will become president, he draws the most hilarious blank stares.

But the laughs and anachronisms aren’t the only remarkable thing about the film. Any decent screenwriter could come up with a time-travel story, but writer/director Robert Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale went the extra mile to add human elements to the mix.

The idea that a boy could get lost in the past is intriguing enough, but having his own mother (as a teenager) fall in love with him? That’s the stroke of brilliance that takes the film to a whole new level. It’s every teenager’s dream to have someone develop a crush on them, but what if that someone was your own mother and that crush might very well prevent you from being born in the first place?

With a crackerjack plot like that, it’s no wonder that BACK TO THE FUTURE was the number one box office hit of 1985. Its dominance of pop culture at the time even extended to the radio, where Huey Lewis and the News’ song from the film (“The Power of Love”) topped the charts for several weeks. Considering the film’s success, it came as no surprise that plans were immediately put into motion for sequels, which are also incredibly fun to watch.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




180 min

Director: Milos Forman
Screenplay: Peter Shaffer
Cinematography: Miroslav Ondricek
Editor: Michael Chandler, Nena Danevic
Cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones

Though the title might lead you to believe AMADEUS is solely about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most revered composers who ever lived, Mozart actually shares the screen with Antonio Salieri, the court composer of Emperor Joseph II in late-18th-century Vienna whose work has gone relatively unappreciated over the years. By comparing Mozart’s innate talent to Salieri’s self-diagnosed “mediocrity,” Milos Forman’s film reveals how devastating it can be to recognize genius but fail to obtain it for oneself.

Of course, there’s no reason to believe that a rivalry this vicious truly existed between Salieri and Mozart in real life, but it certainly makes for an exhilarating viewing experience. Audiences first encountered this remarkable play from playwright Peter Shaffer on London’s West End in 1979, and the work transferred to Broadway shortly thereafter with Ian McKellen portraying Salieri and Tim Curry as Mozart (imagine having had the opportunity to see that!). Among the audience members at an early London performance was Forman himself, who left the theater determined to bring the play to the silver screen.

As Shaffer recalls, Forman said all the right things to convince Shaffer to allow a film adaptation. “When I asked him what he would do with the piece, he replied that a film based on a play is actually a new work, an entirely different fulfillment of the same impulse that had created the original,” said Schaffer. “The adaptor’s task was to explore many variant paths in order to arrive in the end at the same emotional place, and that the director must collaborate with the author in order to achieve this.” As a result, the film version was different in many ways from the play, but it achieved the same thrilling result.

Considering McKellen’s and Curry’s previous and subsequent experience in films, you would think that bringing them onboard the film version would have been a no-brainer for Forman. But he actually wanted to cast the movie with relative unknowns, allowing us to see them as the characters rather than well-known actors portraying the characters. Thus, we have F. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce, who many may have recognized as one of the college frat hopefuls from ANIMAL HOUSE, as the bratty, crude Mozart.

Legendary producer Saul Zaentz spared no expense on the film, allowing Forman to recreate 18th-century Vienna on the streets of Prague and hiring Sir Neville Marriner and his Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra to record the Mozart compositions used in the film. Marriner, a world-renowned conductor, signed on under one condition: that Mozart’s music be used in the film exactly as written, with no careless edits.

Five years after its West End debut, AMADEUS made its way into cinemas, earning acclaim from critics and audiences alike and winning a remarkable 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (Shaffer won for adapting his own play), and Best Actor for F. Murray Abraham, who graciously “shared” the Oscar with his co-star and fellow nominee Hulce.

But perhaps the two greatest surprises resulting from the film’s success was the popular culture’s revived embrace of Mozart (the soundtrack remains one of the best-selling classical albums of all time) and the poignant rediscovery of Salieri’s work, which was performed in orchestras and operas around the world after the film was released.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Some Like it Hot


119 min

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, I.A.L Diamond
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Editor: Arthur Schmidt
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Joe E. Brown, George Raft, Pat O’Brien

SOME LIKE IT HOT ranks highly on two of the American Film Institute’s list of films. On the greatest 100 films of all time, it comes in at number twenty-two. That’s not bad. But on the AFI list of 100 greatest comedies of all time, SOME LIKE IT HOT is number one. Can this fifty-seven-year-old comedy possibly live up to that reputation? Is it really the funniest movie of all time?

Director Billy Wilder (along with writing partner I.A.L. Diamond) concocted a whiz-bang comedy that hits the ground running and never lets up. The pedal is to the metal in this fast-paced farce in which two musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), have the misfortune to witness the legendary St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in the first act of the film. They go on the run from the murderous mob by disguising themselves as women and hiding out with an all-girl jazz band headed to Florida by train.

Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) is a singer and ukulele player in the band who strikes up a friendship with the “girls.” Joe has a crush on Sugar and poses as a Cary Grant-inspired millionaire to woo her (a rather odd gambit given that this film takes place in 1929, well before Grant established his screen persona). Nevertheless, it’s a joke the audience gets and that’s all that counts. Jerry, on the other hand, begins to enjoy the benefits of life as a woman and soon finds himself the object of the affections of Osgood (Joe E. Brown), an honest-to-goodness real millionaire.

SOME LIKE IT HOT ends with one of the greatest last lines in film history. Monroe is extremely funny, while Lemmon and Curtis make a terrific comic team. SOME LIKE IT HOT received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Actor (Lemmon), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design (winner). The funniest movie ever made? You betcha.

–Frank Campbell
For more movie reviews, check out Frank’s blog at www.



The Graduate


106 min

Director: Mike Nichols
Screenplay: Buck Henry, Calder Willingham
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Editor: Sam O’Steen
Music: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Dave Grusin
Cast: Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton, Elizabeth Wilson

Just one year after his stunning debut film WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Mike Nichols added another legendary feather to his cap with the 1960s touchstone THE GRADUATE, a film so often referenced in popular culture that many may feel they’ve seen it before they actually have.

This time, it was Nichols’s turn to launch someone else’s career, that someone else being breakout star Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman was lucky to even get the job, only coming by the role after Robert Redford (who felt he wasn’t right for the part) and Charles Grodin (who didn’t think he was being paid enough) both turned it down.

In fact, by the time the part fell to Hoffman, he had already given up on it and accepted another role. However, recognizing what this part could do for his career, he broke the other contract and made himself available for THE GRADUATE. Hoffman was enthusiastic about working with Nichols, who would have a much better opportunity to use his comedic skills here than he had with the more dramatic WOOLF.

Nichols was initially drawn to bringing this story to the screen because, while reading Charles Webb’s original novel, he realized that Mrs. Robinson would actually be “the most interesting person in the picture.” Unlike the stories behind several other iconic characters in movie history, there was no movie star brawl or nationwide search to determine the actress who would play Mrs. Robinson – Nichols had Anne Bancroft in mind from the start. His instincts were right on the money.

As he had with WOOLF, Nichols stuck firmly to the script (no improvising) and led the cast in three weeks of rehearsal before shooting began. Of course, the final touch that brings the whole film together is the music from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, but, ironically, that part actually was improvised. During the editing process, Nichols used the Simon and Garfunkel songs as backing tracks while he cut the film. However, when he tried to replace the songs with the music composed for the film, he realized that nothing would fit better than those songs he had been using all along.

Again, Nichols made the right decision, and this series of right decisions led THE GRADUATE to become one of the most successful films of all time. Somehow, despite being a sardonic comedy starring a not-quite-matinee-idol, Nichols’ film boasts one of the highest domestic box office grosses of all time (adjusted for inflation of course). Nichols also received the Oscar for Best Director, and the movie frequently places in the top 20 on lists of the greatest American films.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Get Out


104 min

Director: Jordan Peele
Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Cinematography: Toby Oliver
Editor: Gregory Plotkin
Music: Michael Abels
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, Lil Rel Howery

The following is an excerpt from an article by Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie) for To read the full article, click here.

The premise of Get Out has been done before: A young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) goes home with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her parents. You can pretty much fill in the blanks from there.

Except, gloriously, you can’t. Get Out — written and directed by Jordan Peele, half of the celebrated comedy duo Key and Peele — makes the incredibly smart move to cast this story about racism not as a drama or comedy, but as a horror film.

Racism is scary, of course. But Get Out isn’t about the blatantly, obviously scary kind of racism — burning crosses and lynchings and snarling hate. Instead, it’s interested in showing how racist behavior that tries to be aggressively unscary is just as horrifying, and in making us feel that horror, in a visceral, bodily way. In the tradition of the best social thrillers, Get Out takes a topic that is often approached cerebrally — casual racism — and turns it into something you feel in your tummy. And it does it with a wicked sense of humor.

From the beginning of the film, Peele’s directorial vision is clear: creepy, funny, totally contemporary and aware of what it’s doing. The movie vacillates between shots that belong to comedy — conventional over-the-shoulder shots that let you feel like you’re in on the conversational joke — and shots that belong to horror — empty patches of screen that make you feel like someone could jump out at any moment. It’s a remarkably assured and confident debut from Peele, and perfectly cast.

It’s clear that Peele is drawing on a long tradition of social thrillers and horror films. In fact, he curated a series of them at the Brooklyn Academy of Music to coincide with the release of Get Out, and the films he picked are revealing. Among them are Night of the Living Dead, Funny Games, The Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, and the film I couldn’t stop thinking about while watching this one: Rosemary’s Baby.

After watching the film, click here to read the full article.

Alissa Wilkinson



Lawrence of Arabia


216 min

Director: David Lean
Screenplay: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Cinematography: F.A. Young
Editing: Anne V. Coates
Music: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains

Director David Lean and producer Sam Spiegel enjoyed a massive critical and commercial hit with THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI in 1957, so naturally Spiegel was itching to make another film with Lean at the helm. Spiegel had been intrigued by T.E. Lawrence ever since reading Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom in 1926, so Spiegel suggested that Lean adapt this memoir of Lawrence’s experiences with the Arab Revolt during World War I. The resulting work was LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, one of the most awe-inspiring films ever made.

Once Spiegel had acquired the rights to adapt the book from Lawrence’s brother, he set about casting the all-important title role. As with so many major roles at the time, Marlon Brando was at the top of the most wanted list to play Lawrence. When Spiegel went public with his desire to cast Brando, one very witty British reporter asked, “Will it be a speaking part?” After all, Brando was much more a mumbler than a paragon of British elocution.

When circumstances intervened in the form of Brando’s existing commitments to a remake of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, Spiegel and Lean were forced to look elsewhere for their Lawrence. In retrospect, they were more than happy that they did, as Brando’s reported temper tantrums and bad behavior nearly caused a mutiny on the set.

The producer moved on to a soulful, up-and-coming actor named Anthony Perkins, who tested very well for the role. But Perkins just had one more film to finish before he could begin working on LAWRENCE: Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. When that film became a huge hit and made Perkins the stuff that audiences’ nightmares are made of, Spiegel was once again forced to move on, fearing that the press would retitle the film “Psycho of Arabia.”

With one potential Lawrence after another dropping out of the picture, Spiegel and Lean began scouring already released films for any sign of the spark they needed for Lawrence. That’s how Lean came to discover 27-year-old Peter O’Toole in THE DAY THEY ROBBED THE BANK OF ENGLAND. As Lean recalls, “I saw this chap playing a silly Englishman, with a raincoat, casting for trout. And I said, that’s it, I’m going to test him.” On the day of O’Toole’s screen test, the actor dyed his hair blonde and auditioned in full Lawrence costume. Halfway through the test, Lean shouted, “No use shooting another foot. The boy is Lawrence!”

After acquiring the part, O’Toole worked tirelessly to disappear into the role of Lawrence. He virtually memorized Seven Pillars of Wisdom and interviewed dozens of people who knew Lawrence personally, and he even traveled to Jordan to learn the ways of the Bedouin. Most impressively of all, he managed to do what many of his fellow cast members could not by mastering the art of riding a camel. Whereas Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn were ultimately forced to ride horses instead, O’Toole actually won the admiration of the Bedouins themselves, who said his camel riding equaled their own.

Another critical decision to be made was the location for the film shoot. While Spiegel, ever the thrifty producer, argued for shooting the film in Southern California, Lean was adamant about using the real-life locations in Jordan despite the volatile political climate at the time. This posed a very real problem for Spiegel who, as a Jewish man, would very likely be denied entry into the country. Surprisingly enough, one of the film’s advisors happened to have been England’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs once upon a time, and he quite easily obtained a visa for Spiegel stating that the producer was of the Anglican faith.

These (only just slightly) legal efforts were well worth it. Once Lean and his film crew arrived at the locations in Jordan, they discovered the remains of the Turkish locomotives and railroad tracks that Lawrence had actually destroyed, a magnificent scene that plays a part in one of the most iconic images from the film.

These are the elements that combine to make LAWRENCE one of the most unforgettable cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. By filming a magnificent actor at the peak of his talents on a Super Panavision 70mm in these authentic and breathtaking settings, Lean created a singular epic that will never be outdone.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Magnificent Ambersons


89 min

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Cinematography: Stanley Cortez, Russell Metty, Harry J. Wild
Editor: Jack Moss, Mark Robson, Robert Wise
Music: Bernard Herrmann, Roy Webb
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead

One of the greatest “lost films” in the history of cinema, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (as originally shot and edited by Orson Welles) was potentially even more groundbreaking than CITIZEN KANE. However, the significantly abridged version that was cut to pieces without Welles’ participation or consent (which is unfortunately the only version we have today) still serves as a remarkable sophomore film from one of the finest filmmakers who ever worked in Hollywood.

For years, Welles dreamed of filming an adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s novel set in 1890s America, as it shared his fascination with and nostalgia for turn-of-the-century American society. After RKO gave him the greenlight, Welles began working on the screenplay in the summer of 1941, months before CITIZEN KANE was released in American theaters. The production that followed in the fall went very smoothly, with Welles rejoining several old Mercury Theatre friends including Joseph Cotton and Agnes Moorehead.

The trouble started after shooting was complete. As part of a wartime effort to bridge the divide between the USA and its ally nations, Welles was recruited to make a film in Latin America. This project proved to be a distraction that allowed RKO to steal AMBERSONS right out from under him. Though Welles’ editor Robert Wise was supposed to be editing the film based on Welles’ long-distance directions, that plan didn’t pan out.

Legend has it that the film underwent a catastrophic preview screening in Pomona, California on March 17, 1942, where the audience response was supposedly so negative that RKO immediately went into panic mode. The studio ordered Wise to not only drastically reduce the film’s running time but also reshoot several scenes without Welles’ approval.

Ultimately, the film that was released into cinemas on July 10, 1942 was only 88 minutes long, over 40 minutes shorter than Welles’ original cut. Worse still, the studio ordered all of the deleted footage to be destroyed so that it could never be reincorporated into the film in the future. Ironically, the version released by the studio went on to lose money anyway, so their artistic tampering didn’t even pay off. The good news? THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is still a great example of Orson Welles’ cinematic genius. It’s just three-quarters of an hour less of that genius.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


A Star is Born


176 min

Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Moss Hart
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Editor: Folmar Blangsted, Craig Holt
Music: Harold Arlen, Ray Heindorf
Cast: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford

After making an impression in such films as 1938’s LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY, Judy Garland truly announced herself to the world singing “Over the Rainbow” in 1939’s immortal classic THE WIZARD OF OZ. A remarkable screen career would follow, albeit one marked by alcohol and substance use disorders brought on by the horrific treatment she received from studio executives as a young actress.

After 1950’s SUMMER STOCK, MGM released her from her contract, and it seemed that her career in movies might be over. But that very assumption is what made her dazzling comeback performance in 1954’s A STAR IS BORN every bit as transcendent as her turn in OZ. Here is one of the most talented and charismatic entertainers in the history of show business giving a riveting, unforgettable performance, in a story that has proven so effective that it has been told not one, not two, but four times onscreen.

The film reunited Garland with director George Cukor, who had briefly worked with her on OZ as an interim director (long story). Since then, Cukor had built a reputation for drawing career-best performances, particularly out of actresses – he had directed the all-female cast of 1939’s THE WOMEN, and Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman were among his many fans. So he seemed best-suited to help Garland overcome some of her personal demons and remind the moviegoing public of just how great she could be.

As the up-and-coming performer Esther Blodgett in this classic tale, she is paired with the already-there Norman Maine, played by James Mason. Mason was enjoying artistic and box office success at the time, having played Brutus alongside Marlon Brando’s Mark Antony in 1953’s JULIUS CAESAR and the infamous Captain Nemo in Walt Disney’s 1954 epic 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. He is paired perfectly with Garland here, as their relationship proves to be both tumultuous and tender.

The film was a smash success, restoring Garland to the heights where she belonged, and she and Mason were both nominated for Academy Awards. When Grace Kelly ended up winning instead for THE COUNTRY GIRL, Garland’s close friend Groucho Marx lightened the mood, telling her he thought it was the “biggest robbery since Brink’s.”

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Drácula (Spanish)


104 min

Director: George Melford
Screenplay: Baltasar Fernández Cué
Cinematography: George Robinson
Editor: Arturo Tavares
Cast: Carlos Villarías, Lupita Tovar, Barry Norton, Pablo Álvarez Rubio, Eduardo Arozamena, José Soriano Viosca.

In 1930 on the Universal lot, you could find star Bela Lugosi, director Tod Browning and the rest of the DRACULA cast and crew prowling around the film’s eerie sets during the day. But, if you were bold enough to stick around after dark, you’d see something surprising – the cast and crew of the Spanish-language DRÁCULA, using the same sets and working from an adaptation of the same script.

Believe it or not, this would not have been unusual at the time. In the years immediately following the advent of talking pictures, studios shot many foreign-language versions of their films in an effort to reach global movie audiences. Dracula, a universally terrifying tale, seemed like a perfect opportunity to test the waters with Spanish-speaking moviegoers. What has proved to be surprising over the years is that, in the eyes of many critics, this version is ultimately superior to the legendary Lugosi version.

Take, for example, the performances. Whereas many of the supporting cast in the English version are buttoned up and a little cold (even before they’re bitten by vampires), the Spanish-language cast brings welcome energy and life to their characters. In particular, Lupita Tovar as Eva (the Mina equivalent), José Soriano Viosca as Dr. Seward, and Eduardo Arozamena as Van Helsing are all noticeable improvements.

Though it should be said, if there is one weakness in this version, it is unfortunately the title character himself. No one could be expected to match Lugosi’s defining portrayal of the role, and Carlos Villarías can’t quite achieve the menacing charm that Lugosi brought to the part. So it’s perhaps more impressive that this version excels despite the fact that the most important component pales in comparison.

That’s thanks to director George Melford and cinematographer George Robinson, who take some interesting artistic chances that the English version never does. More expansive and less stagey than the English version, Melford and Robinson give us more of these great sets that the two films share. And despite the fact that he didn’t speak Spanish himself (he had an interpreter on set), Melford completely won over the cast – in a later interview, Tovar remembered everyone calling him Uncle George.

Considering that the two films used the same sets, similar dialogue and even the same cue marks for the actors, it’s a fascinating exercise to compare them and decide which interpretation you prefer. Sadly, this simultaneous production approach was abandoned pretty quickly, when the foreign-language versions proved to largely be flops. Studios instead opted to dub their English versions, robbing us of the opportunity to see more unique takes on beloved classics.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Dracula (English)


72 min

Director: Tod Browning
Screenplay: Garrett Fort, John L. Balderston
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Editor: Milton Carruth
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan.

While many actors become associated with the characters they play on screen, few have been as inseparably linked to their most famous performance as Bela Lugosi was to Count Dracula. Say the word “Dracula” and everyone around you will think “Lugosi,” but, as with most instances of typecasting, there was more to Lugosi than fangs and a widow’s peak.

Born and raised in Hungary before migrating to the United States after World War I, Lugosi became a classically trained actor who performed as the romantic lead (believe it or not) in several stage hits and films. In fact, the very traits (exotic allure and seductive charisma) that brought him success in those roles also brought him the part of Count Dracula in a stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel that ran for three years on Broadway.

Despite the play being a smash with Lugosi in the role, studios initially looked elsewhere when casting for the inevitable silver screen adaptation. Paul Muni was rumored to be under consideration, and it’s no surprise that Universal had planned to give the part to horror icon Lon Chaney under the direction of his frequent collaborator Tod Browning. However, Chaney’s untimely death opened the door for Lugosi, though it still took a personal recommendation from Stoker’s widow and a meager salary agreement to finally win him the role.

On screen, Lugosi’s comfort and familiarity in the part and Browning’s atmospheric horror experience (THE UNHOLY THREE, THE UNKNOWN, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT) combined to create a pop culture juggernaut that had audiences screaming and applauding in equal measure, laying the foundation for Universal Studios’ growing stable of iconic monster movies to come. Opting to replace background music with eerie silence and creaking sound effects, Browning cleared the way for cinematographer Karl Freund (who would go on to direct Universal’s THE MUMMY) to construct the visual palette that American horror films would utilize for the next several years.

From the moment it was released in 1931, DRACULA has etched Lugosi’s unmistakable countenance in our minds as the quintessential Dracula, and in the decades that followed, Lugosi often made public appearances in his vampire garb, seeming to embrace the connection. Unfortunately, this typecasting, combined with his willingness to accept a small salary with zero future returns, left Lugosi broke by the time he died in 1956. Still, many actors would give away their entire fortune for the opportunity to become as essential to the pop culture iconography as Lugosi is today.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Wolf Man


70 min

Director: George Waggner
Screenplay: Curt Siodmak
Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine
Editor: Ted Kent
Music: Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr, Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi.

After Universal’s DRACULA became a breakout hit in 1931, the studio followed up with a number of equally successful creature features throughout the 1930s, including FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, and several sequels. In 1941, ten years after it had begun, this “Golden Age of Horror” was capped with THE WOLF MAN, starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the American son of a wealthy English nobleman who falls victim to an ancient curse, turning him into something rather unpleasant under a full moon.

Whereas Chaney Jr’s father, the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” had dominated the genre during the silent era (THE UNHOLY THREE, THE UNKNOWN, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT), Chaney Jr. was now being given his own chance to cement a place in the horror lexicon. Ironically, he came close to continuing his father’s work in more ways than one, as he was almost cast in Universal’s remake of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which had been another of his father’s infamous silent film roles. However, Claude Rains (Chaney Jr.’s eventual co-star in WOLF MAN) received that role instead (the film would ultimately be released two years after WOLF MAN).

Once he was cast as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man, Chaney Jr. didn’t take the opportunity lightly. Though other actors often balked at being covered in layers of makeup, Chaney Jr. had the art of makeup in his very genes and submitted to hours and hours of application. After all, what’s a Wolf Man without some yak hair, rubber fangs, and a fake snout? Sure, he admitted the process wasn’t altogether pleasant (“What gets me is after work when I’m hot and itchy and tired, I’ve got to sit in that chair for forty-five minutes while Jack Pierce (Universal’s makeup expert) just about kills me, ripping off the stuff he put on me in the morning.”), he persevered in order to get the performance exactly right.

As for Bela Lugosi, the famous Count Dracula whose career was already in decline, he himself had hoped to play the Wolf Man but instead received only a cameo as a gypsy who also happens to be named Bela. Indeed, THE WOLF MAN represented the final high point of an era that had been initiated by Lugosi, as the Forties brought increasingly schlocky, low-budget horror movies to the screen with diminishing returns. With rare exceptions (such as Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE), it became clearer and clearer that audiences had stopped screaming and started laughing, something Universal ultimately capitalized on in 1948 with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


127 min

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Editor: Michael Kahn
Music: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, River Phoenix, John Rhys-Davies, Alison Doody, Julian Glover

When Steven Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK arrived in the summer of 1981, the high-octane action and relentless charm of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones combined for a cinematic spectacular beyond audiences’ wildest dreams. After RAIDERS proved to be the highest-grossing film of the year in addition to scoring an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it came as no surprise that a sequel would soon follow.

What did come as a surprise was the considerably darker tone pervading Indy’s second adventure in THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. In place of the Nazi menace (tried and true movie villains if ever there were ones), the sequel gave us a maniacal cult engaged in such decidedly non-lighthearted activities as child slavery and human sacrifice. The MPAA only needed to see one heart pulled from a man’s body to begin devising a middle-ground rating (PG-13) for future films like this one. Critical response was mixed, and the film’s box office performance couldn’t match RAIDERS’ numbers, despite having a built-in audience this time around.

So, how would Spielberg and crew right the ship for the third entry in the series? Lighten the mood a bit, first of all, and bring back the Nazis, of course. But most importantly, if Indiana Jones was considered the action-adventure successor to James Bond, why not play with the comparison and bring none other than 007 himself, Sean Connery, on board as Indy Sr.?

The cleverest touch of all, though, was the decision to make Connery’s character nothing like Indy or Bond. Rather than rushing headlong into danger, Connery’s Henry Jones is a professor in the more conventional sense, preferring book smarts over gunplay. Connery takes the opportunity to play against type and runs with it, showing us a new side of his personality and contributing heavily to the film’s laugh quota.

Spielberg had always intended to make a whole trilogy with the Indiana Jones character, and he was doubly motivated to succeed with THE LAST CRUSADE as a way of “apologizing for the second one.” In fact, he was so intent on making this film that he gave up opportunities to direct other major pictures like BIG and RAIN MAN. Not only did he turn down those original projects, but he seemed intent on playing it safe with the third Indy saga. As if following a RAIDERS blueprint, Spielberg once again has our hero racing against the Nazis to find a famous biblical artifact containing considerable power – this time, it’s the Holy Grail.

But Spielberg was also the one who provided the film with its freshest angle. After many screenwriters took a crack at the Grail story, Spielberg suggested introducing Indy’s dad into the proceedings, allowing for a father/son rivalry that would provide the lightheartedness the filmmakers so desperately wanted back. Once everyone recognized the potential in this storyline, particularly with Connery playing the role, it became the focal point of the film, with the Grail serving simply as a means to keep the plot moving.

It proved to be the right decision. Connery breathed new life into the franchise, providing a refreshing end (well, at least for the time being…) to the series. However, it once again failed to become the highest-grossing film of the year. In fact, it wasn’t even the most successful action film of 1989– that honor fell to Tim Burton’s BATMAN in what was perhaps a sign of superhero things to come.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer




100 min

Director: Kogonada
Screenplay: Kogonada
Cinematography: Elisha Christian
Editor: Kogonada
Music: Hammock
Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Michelle Forbes, Rory Culkin

The following is an excerpt from an article by Seongyong Cho for titled “On Life and Architecture: Revisiting Kogonada’s Columbus.” Click here to read the full article, and click here to read more of his work for

I still fondly remember those two weeks I spent in Chicago before attending 2010 Ebertfest. Going around here and there in the city during that time, I was constantly excited by many impressive things to absorb and remember, and I was particularly impressed by the various styles of numerous buildings in the city. While I was fascinated with several lovely historical buildings designed by Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan, I was especially enthralled by a number of modernist architectural works designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and other prominent modernist architects, and I tried to capture the awe and wonder I felt from all these gorgeous buildings as much as I could with my small digital camera. I also took several guided tours for more knowledge and understanding, and these tours certainly made me see more new things from the buildings and architecture of Chicago.

When I saw “Columbus” for the first time in October 2017, I felt a similar kind of excitement and enthusiasm. Its simple human drama leisurely rolling in the foreground, the movie often pays attentions to several notable modernist works of architecture in Columbus, Indiana, and it is interesting to observe how the movie attempts to do exactly what I tried to do during my Chicago trip. It wants us to look at closer those distinctive works and then reflect on them. We come to find ourselves gradually absorbed into its calm, meditative mood, while also engaged in the human connection slowly developed between two total strangers at the center of its story.

“Columbus” is the first feature film from director/writer/editor Kogonada, a Korean American filmmaker who has been known well for a number of enlightening video essays on the works of the great filmmakers including Robert Bresson, Wes Anderson, Terrence Malick, Yasujirō Ozu, and Stanley Kubrick. I belatedly checked his several video essays only after watching the movie, and I enjoyed how clearly and succinctly he demonstrates distinguishable visual touches even without explanatory narration. For instant, I was entertained a lot by his video essay on the common cases of mise-en-scène observed from Kubrick’s films, and I was also impressed much by another video essay of his which brilliantly presents the recurring elements in Ozu’s films.

As far as I can see from “Columbus,” Kogonada assimilates well whatever he learned from his thoughtful and meticulous film analysis. While there are a few moments of emotional tension, the movie never disrupts its low-key tone even during these moments, and it subtly and steadily establishes the serene ambience surrounding its two main characters and the city in a way reminiscent of Ozu’s films. As his cinematographer Elisha Christian’s camera usually maintains its formal static position, Kogonada constantly attracts our attention via precise scene composition and thoughtful blocking, and we come to notice a number of recurring visual aspects such as the frequent use of central focus on the screen, which is instantly linked with many strikingly formal visual moments of the works of Kubrick and Anderson.

Kogonada also draws well-rounded performances from his main cast members. John Cho, who drew my attention for the first time when he appeared in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” (2004), shows another side of his talent here in this film, and he has an unaffected onscreen chemistry with his co-star Haley Lu Richardson, who previously played a substantial supporting character in “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016) and will probably advance further considering her charming presence on the screen.

While there are many sublime visual moments to intrigue you, there are also little intimate human moments to touch you, and the overall result is a quiet but mesmerizing work about life and architecture which is also one of the best films of 2017.

Click here to read the full article.

–Seongyong Cho,


The Tree of Life


139 min

Director: Terrence Malick
Screenplay: Terrence Malick
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Editor: Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Tye Sheridan, Fiona Shaw.

The following is an excerpt from an article by Kent Jones for The Criterion Collection. Click here to the full article, and read more of his work for The Criterion Collection here.

“The objective,” wrote William Carlos Williams of the work of the artist, “is not to copy nature and never was, but to imitate nature, which involved active invention, the active work of the imagination.” For Williams, this work results in “a new thing, unlike anything else in nature, a thing advanced and apart from it.”

All things in nature were created according to laws that are beyond the limits of our understanding. For that reason, the “new things” that we hold in the highest esteem do not explain themselves, any more than space or time or a stone or a tree does. Williams’s poetry, Bach’s compositions, and films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Shoah, and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life do not reassure or comfort us. Rather, they bring us closer to the essential shock of the unanswerable question that is the object of Korean Zen contemplation: What is this?

I think that for Malick the imitation of nature is intensified and purified to such a degree that it becomes a devotional act. We are accustomed to describing works of art we like as “personal” and ones we don’t care for as “impersonal,” but that gets us only halfway there. “I try to get myself out of it as much as possible,” Manny Farber once told me of his painting process, “so that the object itself takes on a kind of religious awe.” In other words, the committed artist’s engagement with his or her material runs so deep that it can only begin with the personal and then arrive at another plane, the mysteriously impersonal and unnameable. In all of Malick’s films, and most powerfully in 2011’s The Tree of Life, everything is allowed to speak: the wind . . . the lighting of a candle . . . a meteor crashing to earth . . . a newborn baby’s moving arms and legs . . . a parched front lawn . . . the body of a drowned boy . . . a father’s sudden self-reckoning . . . the beginning of life and the end of time. Each image speaks the awe-inspiring mystery of its own existence, and radiates and resounds in harmony with the question: What is this?

Terrence Malick’s cinema takes place within a spatial and temporal framework that has the elasticity of human consciousness and moves to its pulse—we are on the Texas panhandle early in the twentieth century (Days of Heaven, 1978), or on Guadalcanal during World War II (The Thin Red Line, 1998), or in an unnamed Texas suburb in the 1950s (The Tree of Life)—but we always understand the geographical locations to be points within the greater universe, and the moments to exist within eternity. It can be difficult or impossible to know how much time has passed between scenes, or even between shots. With every cut, the world is reborn and seen anew. The only other narrative filmmaker with whom Malick might be compared in this sense is Jean-Luc Godard, but Godard’s angle of vision is purely existential, while Malick’s is profoundly spiritual.

In fact, comparing Malick with other filmmakers is a difficult task. His attraction to immense physical spaces might be likened to that of David Lean, but in all other respects these two artists are worlds apart, particularly on the question of acting. Lean timed his actors’ exchanges to the millisecond during lengthy rehearsals of precisely worded texts, whereas Malick creates working environments for his actors and then constructions in the editing room that are meant to replace the very ideas of text and performance with pure behavior. Robert Bresson and Roberto Rossellini were kindred spiritual artists, but their respective aesthetics of austerity are quite distant from the grandeur of Malick’s perspective. That grandeur and awe put Malick quite close to Stanley Kubrick, but while the vast spaces and silences of Kubrick’s films are momentarily comical and finally terrifying and shudder-inducing, in Malick’s work the terror is always tinged with thanksgiving and a sense of wonder that one might call childlike. Perhaps more useful comparisons can be found outside of cinema: in Herman Melville’s Mardi, Moby-Dick, or Clarel; in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; or in Gustav Mahler’s symphonies—all works that allow their very forms to be determined by the gravitational pull and sway of consciousness itself.

The Tree of Life is at once the culmination of Malick’s development as an artist and the beginning of a new phase in his filmmaking…

After watching the film, click here to the full article.

–Kent Jones, The Criterion Collection


There Will be Blood


158 min

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Editor: Dylan Tichenor
Music: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciaran Hinds, Paul F. Tompkins

After the last half of the 1980s ushered Daniel Day-Lewis into the spotlight with films like MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE and MY LEFT FOOT, this great actor has become a household name despite only sporadically appearing in films. Tonight’s movie brings us one of his very best performances, thanks in part to his collaboration with one of contemporary cinema’s most exciting filmmakers.

Paul Thomas Anderson received the kind of accolades for THERE WILL BE BLOOD that most filmmakers can only dream of. Hundreds of films have been called “Best Film of the Year” or even Best Film of the Decade,” but very few films have been declared “the Citizen Kane of its generation,” which is, verbatim, what many critics said about this awe-inspiring masterpiece.

Unlike many films that rely on a good lead performance to carry the movie, Day-Lewis’s breathtaking portrayal of Daniel Plainview is merely one of many highlights in a film that also claims the beautiful cinematography of Robert Elswit, the eye-catching designs from Jack Fisk, and the revolutionary score of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. These elements combine to make, arguably, a perfect film, deserving of the high praise it received.

The supporting cast is also quite notable. Paul Dano, whose quiet and brooding presence had been put to great use in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE a year earlier, was perfectly cast as the nakedly ambitious preacher Eli Sunday, while young Dillon Freasier, seemingly wise beyond his years, gives the film some heart as Daniel’s son H.W.

But Day-Lewis is the true focal point of the film, and the role of Daniel Plainview benefitted greatly from the actor’s renowned research and preparation work. Anyone who has seen CHINATOWN is familiar with the iconic voice of director/writer/actor John Huston. Huston’s work had a huge influence on Anderson, so the director had Huston’s voice in mind when writing Daniel Plainview. Day-Lewis replicates it perfectly, and the voice is one of the many unforgettable characteristics that make Plainview so fascinating.

The fact that a masterpiece like THERE WILL BE BLOOD had to share many year-end prizes with other films, particularly with Joel and Ethan Coen’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, is a testament to the remarkable film year that was 2007. In addition to being the year’s best, these two films shared something else in common: they were both shot in Marfa, TX. Seems like, in addition to the gorgeous landscapes, there might be some old-fashioned good fortune waiting for filmmakers under the Marfa lights.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Shining


146 min

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Cinematography: John Alcott
Editor: Ray Lovejoy
Music: Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers.

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING has proven to be one of Kubrick’s more divisive films, drawing a solid line between those who see it as another example of the director’s mastery and those who think it failed to capture the themes and intent of the novel.

You can count King himself among the latter group. The legendary horror author is notorious for being disappointed with the cinematic adaptations of his books, but he took a particular disliking to Kubrick’s film. So much so, in fact, that King essentially mounted his own TV miniseries production of the film many years later, serving as executive producer and sole screenwriter on that version.

Those of us who love Kubrick’s version, though, must respectfully disagree with King this time. Once again, as he did in so many other genres, Kubrick found a way to make something wholly unique, the “2001 of horror movies” if you will. This was one of the first films to use the new Steadicam technology, which literally gave movie-goers a visual sensation they had never experienced before (a must for any good horror film). He also wisely eschewed the typical scary movie music for the strange, otherworldly modernist work of composer Wendy Carlos.

All these elements, combined with a terrifyingly committed performance from Jack Nicholson and the perfect set designs and locations, give THE SHINING an overwhelming atmosphere of dread and impending terror that no other horror film has been able to replicate. Like many great films, it opened to mixed reviews and so-so box office numbers, but it has since become a marquee member of the Halloween movie rotation.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


La Belle et la Bete


93 min

Director: Jean Cocteau
Screenplay: Jean Cocteau
Cinematography: Henri Alekan
Music: Georges Auric
Editor: Claude Iberia
Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parely, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Marcel Andre

The first feature-length adaptation of the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” was director Jean Cocteau’s French masterpiece LA BELLE ET LA BETE, an interpretation of the tale that has proven to be influential and unforgettable. From the awe it inspires in audiences to the creativity and imagination it has inspired in contemporary filmmakers, Cocteau’s visionary delight has remained as timeless as the story itself.

LA BELLE ET LA BETE is dreamy in the most literal sense of the word, thanks largely to Cocteau’s Surrealist approach. In later years, Cocteau seemed hesitant to acknowledge his role in popularizing that movement in 1920’s France, but, between today’s film, his participation in famous Surrealist art pieces like the ballet “Parade” and the play “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, and his avant-garde film THE BLOOD OF A POET, there can be no doubt that Cocteau was at the forefront of Surrealism.

In fact, despite only directing 11 films, Cocteau managed to be one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of French Cinema. Along with LES PARENTS TERRIBLES and ORPHEUS, his take on “Beauty on the Beast” brought the avant-garde a step closer to the mainstream and inspired a whole new generation of French directors, including Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut.

Of course, Cocteau isn’t the only one responsible for the artistic success of tonight’s film. Despite being made in the grim shadow of World War II’s aftermath, some of France’s finest cinematic artists managed to come together to create a work of breathtaking beauty. Among the crew were production designer Christian Berard (ORPHEUS), composer Georges Auric (ROMAN HOLIDAY, RIFIFI), cinematographer Henri Alekan (ROMAN HOLIDAY, WINGS OF DESIRE), and costumer Marcel Escoffier (ORPHEUS, LOLA MONTES).

If you find yourself mesmerized by the sets, costumes, score, and imagery, you have these artists to thank.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg


95 min

Director: Jacques Demy
Screenplay: Jacques Demy
Cinematography: Jean Rabier
Music: Michel Legrand
Editor: Anne-Marie Cotret, Monique Teissiere
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Ellen Farner

Many great directors contributed to the rise of the French New Wave, but there was only one French New Wave “power couple:” Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, who married in 1962. Varda proved to be one of the longest-tenured filmmakers of the group, directing highly regarded films until her death in 2019.

Demy made considerably fewer films before he died in 1990, but the ones he did make, particularly two exquisitely colorful musicals, certainly left quite an impression. His best known film is one of those musicals, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, featuring music from frequent Varda and Demy collaborator Michel Legrand and starring the legendary Catherine Deneuve.

The film follows Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as star-crossed lovers who are forced to separate, and like the original star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, their story is a bittersweet one. In choosing this story for a musical, Demy seemed to be attempting a more authentic portrayal of romance than what he saw in the typical American musicals.

But when it came to the visuals, Demy clearly took inspiration from some of Hollywood’s best. The heightened non-realism of studio sets and beautiful colors bring light into the film, and it helps that the citizens of French port town Cherbourg (where the film was shot on-location) were kind enough to let Demy paint their houses to suit his vision.

Unlike most Hollywood musicals, though, Demy chose to go all the way with the “musical” aspect. There are no spoken words in this film – his actors sing every single line of their dialogue. The result only adds to this strange juxtaposition of fanciful style with all-too-real subject matter.

The result was a hit with critics and movie lovers alike, winning the coveted Grand Prize/Palme D’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival and earning several Oscar nominations. Demy’s work would also go on to inspire future generations of filmmakers, from Wes Anderson to Damien Chazelle (who named CHERBOURG as a major influence for his own modern musical LA LA LAND).

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Portrait of a Lady on Fire


122 min

Director: Céline Sciamma
Screenplay: Céline Sciamma
Cinematography: Claire Mathon
Editor: Julien Lacheray
Music: Jean-Baptiste de Laubier, Arthur Simonini
Cast: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino.

The following is an excerpt from an article by Ela Bittencourt for The Criterion Collection. Click here to read the full article after watching the film.

In Céline Sciamma’s unabashedly romantic and fiercely political film Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), two women fall in love and set each other free, if for only a few glorious days or weeks. It is one of the most unforgettable depictions of love foresworn, of lesbian love, of any true love, in cinema. Around the besotted lovers, the film envisions a social contract defined by a strong sense of community among women, no matter their age or class. It takes place in the late eighteenth century, but it also speaks to our own time, as many women continue to call for intersectional solidarity in their fight for equality. It is no accident that here the engine of this revolution is art. Sciamma, who grew up outside Paris and would bike into a neighboring town to go to the movies, creates a provincial world in which art—both as a technique governed by solemn tradition and a practical tool for remaking one’s world—is a part of daily life, and in which the artist’s gaze is reciprocal, not one-sided. Similarly, the film presents the act of falling in love not through the (quintessentially male, one might say) lens of conquest and possession but through one of equality between the two lovers, creating a reality in which each can truly see the other.

The preoccupations with longing and looking—who is gazing and who is returning the gaze—are not new for Sciamma, nor is the centering of a kind of character not often seen on-screen. The director’s previous three features are poignant contemporary coming-of-age stories: In Water Lilies (2007), an adolescent girl experiences her first lesbian crush. In Tomboy (2011), a young child, Laure, tests the bounds of sexuality and gender. Girlhood (2014) is the story of a teenage French-African girl who finds a way of navigating the violence and poverty of her life by joining an all-female gang. Although Sciamma’s stories often tell of yearning—and always from a queer, female point of view—the director is far from a fatalist: in her films, love paves the way to personal growth and creates a keen sense of one’s own self-worth. Like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Water Lilies and Tomboy both revolve around intense looking. And in Tomboy, Laure’s portrait being drawn is a painful reminder of just how powerful it can be to be seen by another. Another memorable moment of recognition takes place in Girlhood, when the heroine, Marieme (Karidja Touré), watches her best friends dance to Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” Here, the young black women claim their spots as divas, agitators, rebels, rather than people shunted off—by the education system and by the men around them—into roles of caregivers or sex workers. When the reserved Marieme turns from observer to participant and joins the dance, it is a thrilling instance of feminine jouissance: sensual, luminous, radiating warmth. This vision of joyous sisterhood returns in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Sciamma’s first period film, in which she shows us that although desire leaves us vulnerable and exposed, it also defies solitude.

After watching the film, click here to read the full article.

-Ela Bittencourt, The Criterion Collection


Blade Runner


117 min

Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples
Cinematography: Jordan Cronenweth
Editor: Marsha Nakashima, Terry Rawlings
Music: Vangelis
Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah.

Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER was released on the exact same day as John Carpenter’s THE THING. So, if you were a sci-fi-crazy moviegoer in 1982, you were in cinematic nirvana! However, it wouldn’t have been quite the same experience as the one you’re about to have, since the version you would have seen in 1982 differed greatly from the version we will watch today.

In its original theatrical release, BLADE RUNNER was significantly altered from the vision that Scott and star Harrison Ford had for the film. Whereas Scott and Ford had fought to make a subtle film that never talked down to its audience, producers and executives were convinced that their version was too complicated and difficult to follow.

The biggest change these neurotic financiers forced onto the film was a series of narrative voiceovers spoken by Ford that essentially held viewers’ hands through the film they were watching. The quality of those voiceovers was so bad that, for years, BLADE RUNNER fans were convinced that Ford performed them poorly on purpose in the hopes that they wouldn’t be used. But in 2002, Ford insisted, “I delivered it to the best of my ability, given that I had no input. I never thought they’d use it. But I didn’t try and sandbag it. It was simply bad narration.”

Thankfully, over the years, a number of different director’s cuts were released, bringing us closer and closer to Ridley Scott’s original vision until we finally arrived at the “Final Cut” you will see today.

Here, in all its glory, is the dark, mysterious, noir-esque sci-fi treasure that Scott always intended it to be. Gone are the voiceovers as well as the studio-enforced happy ending that had been tacked onto the theatrical release. This was always a gritty and hard-edged film tinged with despair, and now it has the ending it deserves.

What that ending means for the characters is anybody’s guess (even after the sequel BLADE RUNNER 2049, many questions remain), and that very open-endedness is what so often defines great art.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Total Recall


113 min

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay: Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman
Cinematography: Jost Vacano
Editor: Frank J. Urioste
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside

Prolific sci-fi author Philip K. Dick published his short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” in 1966, which made it nearly 25 years before it was adapted into the Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster TOTAL RECALL. In fact, it took a while for many of Dick’s excellent works to find their way to the screen. But after Ridley Scott adapted BLADE RUNNER from one of those stories, the floodgates were opened, leading to Steven Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT, John Woo’s PAYCHECK and many others.

The rights to “Wholesale” were first optioned by screenwriter Ronald Shusett in 1974, after which he convinced friend Dan O’Bannon to work with him on an adaptation. However, they quickly realized that this would be a very expensive movie (if the technology of the time could even manage it), so they moved on to write a “smaller, more intimate” sci-fi thriller…Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. The massive success of that film gave the screenwriting duo the clout they needed to make TOTAL RECALL a reality.

Initially, body horror legend David Cronenberg was signed to direct, with Richard Dreyfuss on track to star (though Cronenberg had preferred William Hurt). After Cronenberg left the project, a version starring DIRTY DANCING’s Patrick Swayze was briefly considered. But the carousel of talent was finally halted when Arnold Schwarzenegger acquired the rights to the production and chose Paul Verhoeven to direct, having been a big fan of the director’s 1987 film ROBOCOP.

Proving the screenwriters’ earlier assumption that this would be an expensive film to make, the production was given a massive budget of $50 million. Verhoeven spent that money employing 500 crew members and building over 40 sets, and this would be one of the first films to incorporate not only miniatures, mattes and animatronics but also primitive computer-generated imagery (CGI).

As for the cast around Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven brought back his ROBOCOP villain Ronny Cox for another dastardly turn. And Sharon Stone’s work in this film earned her the infamous lead role in Verhoeven’s follow-up, BASIC INSTINCT.

But ultimately this was another star vehicle for Schwarzenegger, and once again he delivered. TOTAL RECALL was a box office smash – believe it or not, it made back half of that massive budget on its opening weekend alone – and it was even an Oscar winner for Best Visual Effects.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


152 min

Director: Chris Columbus
Screenplay: Steve Kloves
Cinematography: John Seale
Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce
Music: John Williams
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (renamed Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S.) was published in 1997 and went on to win a slew of awards and top a number of best-seller lists. By the time the third book in the series was published in 1999, it became clear that this was once-in-a-generation fantasy franchise that appealed to all ages, leading Warner Bros. to buy the film rights and begin work on an adaptation of the first novel. Believe it or not, they paid just a little over $1 million for the rights to the first four books. The returns would be…considerably more.

The first filmmaker reportedly approached to direct was Steven Spielberg, who apparently felt the film should be animated and incorporate elements from many of the books. That was the complete opposite direction of where the production was heading, so the partnership didn’t work out. Spielberg instead made a very different fairy tale, A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, with Haley Joel Osment, the actor Spielberg had initially suggested for Harry Potter.

A veritable carousel of possible directors was then considered, from obvious choices like Wolfgang Petersen (THE NEVERENDING STORY) and Rob Reiner (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) to more interesting possibilities like M. Night Shyamalan (THE SIXTH SENSE), Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, BRAZIL) and Jonathan Demme (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). Ultimately, the job fell to Chris Columbus, who first had success writing the screenplays for GREMLINS and THE GOONIES before moving on to directing films like ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, MRS. DOUBTFIRE and the first two HOME ALONE films.

Naturally, the casting of these beloved characters became a global concern. Newcomers Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were made instant stars as the lead trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron. But it was the seasoned British and Irish acting veterans who brought experience, class and star power to the film as the adult characters. In particular, Alan Rickman touched a nerve as the mysterious Snape and Maggie Smith was delightful as always in the role of McGonagall.

Sadly, legendary stage actor Richard Harris, who originated the role of Dumbledore here, passed away soon after repeating the role in the second film, forcing Warner Bros. to recast the role with Michael Gambon. Harris’ interpretation is that of a quiet, contemplative old wizard, bringing some gravitas to the manic effects-driven action of the first two films. Gambon’s Dumbledore proved to a bit more spry and vibrant, which was precisely the energy the later films required.

Unsurprisingly, Columbus and his crew did not take too many risks with what had become an instant classic, sticking closely to the source material in the novel. This was a welcome approach to some (particularly devoted fans of the novel), while others wished it had been a more original cinematic vision (which many of the later films would be).

But none of those quibbles stopped the film from becoming a box office juggernaut, earning nearly $1 billion in its initial run. That made it the highest grossing film of the year, just above LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, which also earned nearly $900 million. Both were distributed by Warner Bros. (RING technically by sister studio New Line Cinema), so, needless to say, 2001 was a very good year for them. And considering that both films spawned many successful sequels, Warner enjoyed a very long period at the top.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer


East of Eden


115 min

Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Paul Osborn
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Editor: Owen Marks
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, Burl Ives, Richard Davalos, Albert Dekker

James Dean, forever 24-years-old, is, along with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, part of the holy trinity of 1950s pop culture icons. Born in 1931, Dean worked his way up through TV commercials, Broadway plays, and bit movie roles to screen immortality in the three films he made in a span of two years: EAST OF EDEN (1955), REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and GIANT (1956). His premature death in a car accident in 1955 only intensified his cult following, as fans proved perennially fascinated by his image of troubled, sensitive, doomed youth.

We can only speculate on what path Dean’s career would have taken had he lived. He might have gone on to make many fine films, perhaps even eventually being honored with an Oscar or two. He might have slid from the top and become a second-rate actor, forced to appear in B-movies or lesser fare. He might have stopped acting at some point and become the subject of a “whatever-happened-to” question. All of these scenarios remain in the realm of unwrought things because, due to his untimely death, James Dean’s mystique was preserved for all time.

Elia Kazan’s version of EAST OF EDEN only covers the last part of John Steinbeck’s classic American novel. It begins in 1917 when Cal (Dean, in his first major role), discovers that his father Adam (Massey) lied to him and his brother Aaron (Davalos) when he said their mother was dead. He discovers that Kate (Van Fleet) ran out on the self-righteous Adam and wound up a madam in Monterey. Now he understands where he got his wild, bad side; he also knows that his similarity to Kate is the reason Adam loved Aaron much more than him. Cal and Aaron of course represent the biblical Cain and Abel, and the film is the story of the two brothers’ struggle to win parental love and approval.

The themes of EAST OF EDEN include misunderstood youth (a Dean specialty); the search for identity; the search for love; and rejection – every character is rejected by someone they love and in turn rejects someone who loves them. Kazan’s handling of actors is impressive. The scenes between Dean and Van Fleet and Dean and Harris are dynamic, and the ending is extremely emotional. EAST OF EDEN received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor (Dean), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (Van Fleet, winner). It was remade as a television mini-series, which, while it included more material from the Steinbeck novel, did not have Dean’s extraordinary presence.

–Frank Campbell


Rebel Without a Cause


111 min

Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Stewart Stern
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Editor: William Ziegler
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, William Hopper, Rochelle Hudson, Corey Allen, Edward Platt, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams

James Dean, forever 24-years-old, is, along with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, part of the holy trinity of 1950s pop culture icons. Born in 1931, Dean worked his way up through TV commercials, Broadway plays, and bit movie roles to screen immortality in the three films he made in a span of two years: EAST OF EDEN (1955), REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and GIANT (1956). His premature death in a car accident in 1955 only intensified his cult following, as fans proved perennially fascinated by his image of troubled, sensitive, doomed youth.

We can only speculate on what path Dean’s career would have taken had he lived. He might have gone on to make many fine films, perhaps even eventually being honored with an Oscar or two. He might have slid from the top and become a second-rate actor, forced to appear in B-movies or lesser fare. He might have stopped acting at some point and become the subject of a “whatever-happened-to” question. All of these scenarios remain in the realm of unwrought things because, due to his untimely death, James Dean’s mystique was preserved for all time.

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE could have been merely a teen-exploitation film, but in the hands of director Nicholas Ray (perhaps the greatest screen interpreter of alienated outsiders), it became a timeless study of maturity formed in rebellion and tragedy. Dean’s brooding, troubled character (along with Marlon Brando’s character in THE WILD ONE (1954)), set the stage for countless teen pictures to follow as the restless youth of the mid- ‘50s defined teen culture.

In the film, Dean and his family settle in Los Angeles, the latest in a series of moves driven by Dean’s delinquency. Confused by his father’s (Backus) surrender to his domineering mother (Doran), Dean tries to establish himself with fisticuffs and daredevil stunts. When he meets Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo at the police station, his pursuit of Wood leads to a deadly hot-rod showdown and a tragic run from the police. In the face of pursuit by the authorities, and with no effective adults to turn to, the three form an imitation family of their own until Backus finally finds the courage to reach out to his son.

Nicholas Ray dignifies the story with careful screen compositions and by drawing electrifying performances from his cast. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE received three Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Mineo), Best Supporting Actress (Wood), and Best Screenplay. Of Dean’s three films, REBEL is the one that cemented his screen image for all time.

–Frank Campbell




201 min

Director: George Stevens
Screenplay: Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffat
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Editor: William W. Hornbeck
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Mercedes McCambridge, Jane Withers

Inspired by the remarkable story of Texas oilman Glenn McCarthy, who made his first $1 million at age 26, author Edna Ferber wrote GIANT, a Texas-sized epic that follows the Benedict family over a tumultuous 25-year period. The novel was perfect screen material, and every studio under the sun was pleading with Ferber to sell them the rights. But Ferber refused them all, save for the modest proposal of director George Stevens. The proposal? That he wouldn’t change a thing about the book.

Stevens’s authenticity extended to the choice of shooting location: aside from a few exteriors filmed in Virginia, GIANT would be shot in Marfa, TX. If that doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, consider this: the remarkable Benedict Mansion set had to be built at the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood and shipped to Marfa in pieces on a railroad train.

It was there in Marfa that one of the greatest casts ever assembled gave some of the finest performances of their careers. All the stars of Hollywood were fighting over the role of rancher and patriarch Bick Benedict, with names like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and William Holden whispered in connection with the part. But Stevens wisely recognized that it would be easier to age a young man than to accomplish the reverse, so he went with 29-year-old Rock Hudson.

In his head, Stevens actually pictured Grace Kelly as Bick’s wife Leslie, with Elizabeth Taylor as a Plan B. Though he was an admirer of Taylor’s, Stevens worried that her mere 23 years of life hadn’t adequately prepared her for such a mature role. Wisely, Stevens asked Hudson to choose, and Hudson went with Taylor, a decision he certainly wouldn’t regret. The two bonded extremely well, leading gossip columnists to issue the usual rumors about a love affair blossoming on set. But hindsight has shown that the two were simply very close friends, partying into the night and drinking chocolate martinis together.

While those two were turning in the performances of their lives, another legend was taking shape via the third point of the film’s love triangle, luckless dirt farmer Jett Rink. Though Alan Ladd and Montgomery Clift had both been considered for the role, the task ultimately fell to James Dean, who was willing to take the part for the minimum salary. Stevens may have initially felt that he “got what he paid for,” as the two clashed frequently throughout the production. Stevens was not impressed with some of Dean’s “Actor’s Studio” tendencies, and in return Dean would often behave petulantly and frequently showed up late, causing the film to go over schedule.

Hudson wasn’t a huge fan of Dean’s either, but Taylor tells a different story, saying, “We would sometimes sit up until three in the morning, and he would tell me about his past, his mother, minister, his loves, and the next day he would just look straight through me as if he’d given away or revealed too much of himself. It would take…maybe a couple of days before we’d be back on friendship terms. He was very afraid to give of himself.”

On September 30, 1955, before GIANT was even completed, James Dean died in a car accident at the age of 24. Although he wasn’t able to celebrate the release of GIANT into theatres around the world, Dean nevertheless participated posthumously in its success. When the Oscar nominations were announced that year, Dean’s name would be called along with Hudson’s in the Best Actor category, and, for guiding these occasionally temperamental young actors and creating an epic film for the ages, George Stevens would go on to win the Best Director statuette.

–Stephen Jannise, Film Programmer