Category Archives: Classic Film Festivals

I’ve Got My Calendar Marked, Do You?

Today begins the Cinemark Classic Series for 2015 with a 75th Anniversary Screening of The Wizard of Oz (1939).  Though I can not make it out to the theater today, I have no need to worry.  All the films in the series will be shown on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s with afternoon and evening screenings.  So I have my calendar marked for this Wednesday to ‘follow the yellow brick road”, hopefully I’ll be able to make it to more of the films in this series.

Plaza Classic Film Festival: Part I


“Field of Dreams” at El Paso’s Southwest University Park

I have spent the last four days in the El Paso, Texas partaking in the 7th annual Plaza Classic Film Festival. Having attended last year, I was prepared sit in the dark 1929 movie house and be immersed into the world of black and white, and Technicolor. However, I was surprised to see many modern classics added to the lineup all starting with an American film from 1989, Field of Dreams. El Paso’s new baseball stadium provided the perfect setting for the baseball fantasy-drama starring Kevin Costner. So then I began to wonder, why the newer films? The festival had usually given preference to films that would have played during the Plaza Theatre’s days as a movie house. President and CEO of the El Paso Community Foundation, Eric Pearson, explained the idea of opening the theater to films that are the new modern classics which meant taking a new look at the definition of classic films. So I started to do the same.  However, looking deeper into some of the films added in as modern classics, there are connections to be made to the classic film world besides their critical acclaim or in some instances cult followings. Take for instance, Field of Dreams which features classic movie actor and Academy Award winner Burt Lancaster in his next to last big screen performance. It would be a few days later within the walls of the Spanish Colonial Revival style theater movie goers would see why Lancaster was an award-winning actor in the film that won him the Oscar for Best Actor, Elmer Gantry.



Shirley Jones entering the Plaza Theater for an afternoon showing of “Elmer Gantry”.

However on that day, Lancaster’s film presence would be upstaged by stage presence of the lovely Shirley Jones. Jones would too win an Academy Award for playing the prostitute Lulu Baines in the Lancaster production of Elmer Gantry. In an onstage interview prior to the film, Jones would tell the audience about Lancaster’s risky decision to cast her in the role that would transition her from the big screen musicals she was known for to an award-winning dramatic actress. However, it was those musicals and being placed under personal contract to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein as a complete novice of stage and screen that would lead the way to making her a recognizable face on the big screen. It had only been the night before when audiences had been treated to Jones’ first foray into the movies in the big screen Rodgers and Hammerstein production of Oklahoma which also included more candid stories from Jones and a little kiss-and-tell.



The Plaza Theater lit up at night awaiting another day of films.

Seeing a sweet Shirley Jones later play a spicy vixen (which by the way she who refers to herself as spicy versus the overly sweet Shirley Temple whom she was named after), only shows part of the variety of the Plaza Classic Film Festival. As a film fan what better way to spend a Saturday than going from having a laugh and shedding a small tear while watching Shirley Temple and Charlie Chaplin, and then moving to fire and brimstone with Elmer Gantry. Watching The Wizard of Oz while the Rocky Horror Picture Show plays outside and in a nearby venue local indie filmmakers are having a screening of their own original work. Enjoying the late evening offerings with the Plaza Art House and Plaza After Dark with modern classics such as Fargo (which dare I say…I had never seen), and Werner Herzog’s 1979 tribute film Nosferatu the Vampyre (a clearly intentional nod to the 1922 German expressionist film).

Plaza Classic Film Festival: Rita Moreno

The first weekend of the 6th annual Plaza Classic Film Festival has come and gone.  So too has the festivals first special guest, Rita Moreno.  The last time Moreno visited the city was in 1987 to perform an eleventh hour benefit show to save the historic Plaza Theatre.  The theater has now become the primary location for the festival and a performing arts center for the community.

Before Thursday’s screening of West Side Story (1961) Moreno took time to talk to her fans.  She began by speaking of her early life, moving from the tropical island of Puerto Rico to the barren wintertime landscape of New York City.  Moreno learned quickly that she needed to master the English language to be able to navigate her new surroundings.  At a young age Moreno was enrolled in dance classes and studied Spanish flamenco dancing.  It was through her dancing she would be discovered and given a contract with MGM.  To her, MGM was the studio which housed the biggest stars in Hollywood including her idol, Elizabeth Taylor.  Having found it difficult to find a Hispanic role model amongst the Hollywood starlets, Moreno modeled herself after the successful Taylor who was able to have a varied and lengthy career.  However, it would Moreno herself who would become a role model for Hispanic women.  Her role in West Side Story would earn her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.  She continues today to be the only Hispanic woman to win this honor.  But, before her big win, Moreno worked hard to land the role and was proud of playing a character that was a strong, confident Hispanic woman.  However, Moreno would find that playing a character that so closely resembled herself difficult.  She spoke of the week spent filming the candy store scene with her character and the Jets.  Though it was acting, the scene brought up the bottled up pain and emotion Moreno had felt being the target of prejudice in her own life.

During the rest of her stay Moreno spent time meeting fans and autographing copies of her first book, a memoir of her life and career.  She would return to the theater on Saturday to present her handpicked choice for the festival, The Four Seasons (1981).  She discussed working with Alan Alda in this his directorial debut.  Though the film had wonderful characters and a fantastic cast, Moreno criticized Alda for his handling the female characters and not allowing them to be equal to their husbands.  She did praise the film for its portrayal of real characters and its depiction of middle-aged married life, and it continues to be one of her favorites from her filmography.  After reflecting on the film, Moreno exited the stage and to the surprise of all there took a seat amongst her fans to enjoy the film which she too has rarely been able to view on the big screen.  Yet there was another surprise, before the audience viewed The Four Seasons festival organizers had planned a special showing of another Rita Moreno performance, this time alongside the unique creations of Jim Henson on The Muppet Show.

Award-winning Rita Moreno kicks off El Paso’s Plaza Classic Film Festival – El Paso Times

Rita Moreno has won a few awards in her life — the National Medal of Arts, Presidential Medal of Freedom, two Emmy Awards, a Grammy, a Tony and an Academy Award, or “the little gold man,” as she calls her Oscar.

Follow the link to read more…


Plaza Classic Film Festival

Click here to learn more about the Plaza Classic Film Festival

I’ll be taking a short hiatus from my usual movie and news posts to attend the Plaza Classic Film Festival in El Paso, Texas.  This will be the sixth year the historic Plaza Theater has hosted this ten-day event which includes movies, special guests, and studio exhibits at the art museum.  Guests this year include Rita Moreno who has her own special ties to the Plaza Theater.  When the theater was in danger of demolition after years of neglect, Ms. Moreno staged a benefit concert which raised the last-minute money to save the theater.  She returns this year with her first book, “Rita Moreno: A Memoir.”  Joining Rita on the guest list will be Angela Cartwright and Margaret O’Brien.  Beginning on Thursday keep and eye out for updates from the festival.

The blog will still run its daily Classic Hollywood Birthdays and Wednesday Hollywood Words, as well as an entry for the William Castle Blogathon which begins this week hosted by The Last Drive In and Goregirls Dungeon.  Also look for daily updates during August for one of my favorite months…Summer Under the Stars.


Click on the picture for more information

Classic Movie Night: The Producers (1968)

The Producers (1968)

The Producers_1_J

The Producers_2When Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) meets Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) it is the beginning of a Broadway friendship, and the creation of a scheme that will bring them both financial success.  Max Bialystock is at the end of his rope, he is a seedy Broadway producer with a comb over that would make Donald Trump jealous.  His one success in life is his ability to get elderly women to give him money.  Leo Bloom is a nervous accountant whose neurosis drive him into literal hysterics.  During this chance meeting, Leo mentions that a well-financed Broadway flop would make more money than a hit.  With Bloom’s help Bialystock will produce a Broadway flop, pocket the money, and then fly off to Brazil.

The Producers_3The first step is to find a script.  Immediately, they set out to find the worst play ever written.  Hope is all but lost when Bialystock finds “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva in Berchtesgaden”.  Meeting Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars), the author of the play in person Franz appears equally obsessed with his carrier pigeons as he is with Hitler and Nazi Germany.  His play, an homage to Hitler, will be his vehicle to show the world the true Hitler that he knew and loved.  Liebkind describes his Fuehrer as good-looking, a good dresser, he had more hair than Winston Churchill, told funnier jokes, and he could dance the pants off Churchill.  Hitler was also a better painter, “he could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon…two coats!”  With the Liebkind contract in hand and Nazi armbands on their sleeves, Bialystock and Bloom are ready to raise capital for their play.  Bailystock now “launches himself into little old lady land.”  What follows is a hilarious montage of little old ladies handing over checks to their precious “Bialy,” when finished Bailystock has sold 25,000% of the play to his old lady investors.

The Producers_4Next, Bailystock must assemble the rest of the group to round out the worst production in history.  Roger DeBris (Christopher Hewett) will be the director of the play.  As Bialystock describes him, he is the only director whose plays close “on the first day of rehearsal.”  This will be DeBrise chance to enter dramatic theater, with a little music put in.  On the day of auditions, Bailystock and Bloom have been unable to find the perfectly terrible Hitler, this is after seeing singing Hitlers and dancing Hitlers.  In walks flower power hippie, Lorenzo Saint DuBois “LSD” (Dick Shawn) singing a psychedelic song accompanied by his female band.  Bailystock has done everything he can to ensure the failure of the play.  However, on opening night the worst Broadway play in history becomes a comic hit.

“How could this happen?  I was so careful.  I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast.  Where did I go right?”  -Max Bialystock

“How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?” -Max Bialystock

The Producers_6The Producers was the directorial debut for Mel Brooks and the first collaboration between Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder: The Producers (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974), and Young Frankenstein (1974).  Two of these films, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, Brooks adapted into musicals.  In 2005, Brooks again adapted the musical version of The Producers into a new film.  The story line was updated with a few minor changes, but the premise and the characterization of Bialystock and Bloom (played by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick respectively) still remains true to the original.

The Producers_7Comedies about Adolph Hitler and Nazis have not always proven to be successful.  The trauma of World War II makes it difficult for comedies or satires to be successful about such a historic tragedy.  Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) and To Be or Not To Be (1942) starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard where Hollywood failures.  Both of these films where ahead of their time using satire to criticize Hitler and the Nazis, both being produced and released during the Second World War.  Despite being comedies both films had important messages about the Nazis, and their domination and oppression.  By the 60’s, shows like Hogan’s Heroes were popular on network television, and audiences where able to laugh at satirical depictions of the war.  This paved the way for Brooks’ comedy generous.  One of things I’ve always enjoyed about Mel Brooks productions is that nothing is ever sacred.  He is willing to find and make the most out of every comedic scene, with characters that are over-the-top and are able to make light of social stereotypes.

ON FILM: Plaza Classic Film Festival

Charles talks with Eric Pearson, president of the El Paso Community Foundation.  Hear about the return of the world’s largest classic film festival to the region.  Over 80 movies will be screened in venues including the Plaza Theatre, the El Paso Museum of Art, and Arts Festival Plaza.  Rita Moreno returns to the region 20 years after holding a fundraising performance to save the historic Plaza Theatre, and she will be attending a special screening of “West Side Story” on Aug. 1. Other special guests include Angela Cartwright of “The Sound of Music” and Margaret O’Brien, a former child actress who starred in “The Secret Garden.”  Erick & Charles also talk about some of the films that will be spotlighted on the big screen, including silent movies that will have live musical accompaniment!


Click here to listen to the conversation…

Exciting News

Just received media credentials for the Plaza Classic Film Festival.  I am eagerly counting down the days!

Click on the picture below for more information on this annual event.


Rita Moreno, 81, iconic singer and actress, is Plaza Classic Film Festival honoree

Posted:   07/05/2013 07:18:02 AM MDT
Storied singer, dancer and actress Rita Moreno made two appearances over a 20-year period to help save and celebrate the restoration of El Paso’s Plaza Theatre.She’ll mostly be talking, not performing, when she returns to the historic movie palace for next month’s Plaza Classic Film Festival.

Moreno, 81, will discuss her experiences making “West Side Story,” the iconic 1961 movie musical, and the 1981 romantic comedy “The Four Seasons.”

Click here to read more…

Summer stuffed with free, cheap movie nights

While summer is best known for blockbuster movies, it’s also a great time to find free and cheap movies that aren’t wallet busters. The season is chock full of movies in the park, film fests of the classics and even dive-in movies at the pool. Pack a picnic basket and take your look at these free and cheap date nights or family outings:

Summer Classic Movie Series: The historic Tampa Theatre is a great setting to see a classic movie and Sundays this summer is filled with notable and groundbreaking films. This Sunday at 3 p.m. brings the 1902 Georges Melies short A Trip to the Moon, the first known science fiction film that used innovative animation and special effects, including the well-known image of the spaceship landing in the moon’s eye. It’s followed by Forbidden Planet, considered one of the great science fiction films of the 1950s. A short discussion by USF film professor Harriet Deer follows many of the screenings, including this week’s. $9, $7 members. Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 274-8982. Some highlights: From Russia with Love (June 30), American Graffiti (July 14), Dr. Strangelove (July 28). Jaws (Aug. 4) and it wraps up with Casablanca on both Saturday and Sunday Aug. 24-25.

Click here to read more about this Summer event.

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