Landmark’s Ken Cinema is treating cinephiles to another week of film classics starting this Friday with “Cabaret.” Here’s a rundown of what is screening.
Bob Fosse’s Oscar-winning film, based on the Broadway musical of the same name that was in turn inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novella “Goodbye to Berlin,” looks to Germany in the 1930s just as Hitler is coming to power. English-American writer Isherwood created the character of American cabaret singer Sally Bowles and she is what has captured the imagination of audiences far more than his book ever has.
Fosse’s film is especially interesting to watch now as FX is running the series “Fosse/Verdon” about the director-dancer-choreographer and his creative and personal relationship with singer-dancer Gwen Verdon.
“Cabaret” showcases Fosse’s unique dance style, made a film star out of Liza Minnelli, and served up a chilling mix of sensual dance numbers and political commentary.
‘City Lights’ (1931)
Although sound pictures made their debut in 1927 with “The Jazz Singer,” Charlie Chaplin dismissed them as a fad and insisted on making his 1931 film “City Lights” as a silent film. Talking pictures were no fad but Chaplin was correct in deciding that his Little Tramp was most perfectly suited to silent movies.
Chaplin’s Little Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) and tries to get money from a millionaire to get her medical treatment. The film has many of the iconic visual gags that are associated with Chaplin from eating spaghetti to fighting in a boxing match. The film remains as funny today as it did decades ago but perhaps what stays with you longer than the laughs is the sweet sentiment of the film. The film is a perfect swansong to the silent era and its most cherished clown.
‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959)
Jump ahead about three decades and you can revel in the very verbal but also very visual humor of Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and the delicious Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot.” San Diegans know that the film was famously shot at the Hotel del Coronado and that aspect of the film is also fun to enjoy. But the film is a piece of comic perfection that highlights Monroe at her most vulnerably charming and innocently sexy and gives us perhaps the funniest performance of Lemmon’s career. The film playfully shreds sexual stereotypes and delivers one of the most memorable final lines of any movie ever. You may have seen this film before but it never fails to delight.
Last year Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” ousted Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” from its top perch on Sight and Sound’s prestigious poll of the top 50 films of all time. It’s too bad Hitchcock isn’t alive to see this since the film did not meet with immediate critical and financial success. But over time audiences and critics have come to appreciate the creepy obsessions and visual seductiveness of this film.
Audiences had come to depend on Hitch for his tense thrillers such as “Rear Window,” “Strangers on a Train” and “Notorious” so this slow, strangely romantic, and deeply twisted tale about a former police detective (James Stewart) and his obsession with a beautiful woman (Kim Novak) came as a bit of a surprise.
The film is hypnotic, perverse and absolutely riveting. I highly recommend checking out the documentary “DePalma” and listen to director Brian DePalma pay homage to Hitchcock and describe the film in fascinating detail.
Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” adds some foreign flavor to this collection of film classics. The French Nouvelle Vague or New Wave had been launched at the end of the previous decade but hit full stride in the 1960s with films from Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, Jacques Demy, Agnes Varda and others. The filmmakers were fresh, brash, and bold and tore apart film conventions in order to create a new cinematic language that jolted audiences and announced a new generation of filmmakers.
“Contempt” features 1960s sex kitten Brigitte Bardot in gorgeous Technicolor for a visually bright but emotionally bleak portrait of a relationship falling apart. Godard also has fun with the reflexive opportunities of focusing on screenwriter and having filmmaking be a part of the onscreen story. If you have never sampled New Wave cinema you need to see this film on the big screen and appreciate Godard’s smart, provocative approach to filmmaking.
Amazingly from the same year is Stanley Donen’s Hollywood comedy “Charade” featuring two established stars in Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Two films could not be more different than “Charade” and “Contempt” and yet both can be enjoyed for their particular charms. Grant and Hepburn are hard to resist in anything and here they are placed in a comedy thriller that also features menacing bad guys George Kennedy and James Coburn. This is not the best film from Donen, Grant or Hepburn but it is a delightful distraction.
‘A Star is Born’ (1954)
The durability of “A Star is Born” as a story has been proven by the fact that we seem to get one for every generation and they all do well. The most recent was Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga last year. The film screening in film classic week is from 1954 featuring Judy Garland and directed by George Cukor. This is perfect Hollywood melodrama with Cukor and Garland playing up the women’s film soap opera to the max. Garland is amazing and the film is top-notch Hollywood schmaltz. It’s a guilty pleasure for some but many eagerly embrace it with no sense of guilt at all.
‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969)
Saving the best for last, at least for me, is Sam Peckinpah’s elegiac western “The Wild Bunch.” John Wayne had defined the Hollywood western for decades with his heroic image of the cowboy. He might have occasionally been flawed or an outlaw but there was no doubt that Wayne was a hero — 1969 was also the year that he would star in “True Grit,” a film that both mocked and played up that heroic image. So it is interesting that “The Wild Bunch” appears the same year. Peckinpah’s tale about aging outlaws attempting one last score was like a brutal valentine to the passing of an era, not just the fading of the traditional American West and all that stood for but also the passing of the traditional Hollywood western and all its tropes.
The film features a grizzled cast of amazing veterans such as William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Edmund O’Brien, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates. Peckinpah’s signature slow-motion violence would influence cinema everywhere (watch any John Woo film and you can see the influence) and was often criticized for glorifying the violence. But it perfectly fits this tale of a breed of men dying out and not going quietly into that night.
This is a great way to wrap a week of film classics and all these films deserve the expanse of a big screen and the joy of watching films as a community experience.
Showtimes can be found on the Landmark Theatres website.
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