We Are Spartacus: The Kirk Douglas Centennial at the Pickwick Theatre

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The Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series has celebrated many centennial events over the years, paying tribute to screen legends like Tyrone Power and Olivia de Havilland. We’ve honored both their life and career.

On December 8, we honor the film career of Kirk Douglas, who turns 100 the following day.

WHAT: Spartacus (1960) on DCP (restored and uncut)
WHEN: December 8, 2016   2 PM & 7:00 PM
WHERE: Pickwick Theatre, Park Ridge, IL
WHAT ELSE: Organist Jay Warren performs prelude music at 6:30 PM.
Steve Darnall, host of radio’s “Those Were the Days” (90.9 FM) will be our guest in the lobby.
HOW MUCH: $10 ($8 advance); $6 for 2 PM matinee

Every so often we present a film that has a particular resonance in our time, a relevance to events happening around us. Spartacus is a film that not only reflects the political issues of its era, but shines a light on the issues of today. The politically-minded viewer, for instance, might look upon the power-hungry Marcus Crassus, with his desire to make Rome great again, and see parallels to today’s nationalistic leaders. The film was made with HUAC  and McCarthyism still fresh in Hollywood’s memory, but in 2016, it’s easy to see how new groups have been singled out. Heightened patriotism and loyalty oaths can be a slippery slope. But fifty-six years after its release, we keenly feel the inspiring moments of Spartacus.  The “I’m Spartacus” scene, in which people stand up in unison with the eyes of Rome upon them, draws a direct link not only to the Hollywood blacklist, but to issues affecting liberty and freedom in our age. Though based on events from antiquity, the story of Spartacus speaks to every generation.

There are few films this season I have been looking forward to as much as Spartacus. It’s a film that can only be appreciated on a large screen. Made during the era of grand-scale moviemaking, it is one of the greatest historical epics ever made. Perhaps only Ben-Hur (1959) surpasses it. Based on the novel by Howard Fast, it is the enduring story of one man’s search for freedom against tyranny. Kirk Douglas plays Spartacus, a slave-turned-gladiator who leads an ill-fated revolt against the armies of Rome. Featuring an all-star cast including Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov (Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Jean Simmons, and Tony Curtis, the film is magnificent on all levels of production.

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Directed by visionary (and perfectionist) filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who replaced Anthony Mann, Spartacus makes stunning use of 35mm Super Technirama. This camera format allowed the filmmakers to capture more detailed, panoramic images. The battle scenes, in particular, showcase the value of this widescreen format. The film’s screenplay was written by the infamous Dalton Trumbo, a Communist who was one of the “Hollywood Ten.” According to Kirk Douglas, the film’s producer, he insisted on giving Trumbo screen credit, thereby facilitating the end of the blacklist. Another outstanding feature of this film’s production is the music. Composed and conducted by Alex North, the score rivals the best of Miklos Rozsa, who is often considered the greatest of epic composers.

There are vivid scenes we remember today– who can forget Douglas’ battle with Woody Strode in the arena?– but few are as uplifting as the “I’m Spartacus” moment. At this point in the film, the captured slaves have been offered freedom from crucifixion provided they first identify the man called Spartacus. In defiance of Crassus and his legions, the slaves stand together with each man declaring himself to be Spartacus. It’s a powerful scene that has often been cited as a direct response to the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, in which citizens were called upon to name names.

This is a motion picture that can only be viewed in a theatre. We hope the community will take advantage of this rare opportunity to see an epic the only way it was meant to be seen.

**Spartacus will include an overture, a 10-minute+ intermission (01:47 into the movie), the entr’acte and exit music. The 2:20:1 original aspect ratio has been letterboxed. We are screening the 196 min. 2015 restoration.

~MCH

Though the film is best-remembered for Kirk Douglas, the supporting cast is something else.
The scenes between Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov, in particular, are exceptional.
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Enter the Dragon at the Pickwick Theatre

WHAT: Enter the Dragon (1973) presented in DCP
WHEN: November 17, 2016   2PM  &  7:30PM
WHERE: Pickwick Theatre, Park Ridge, IL
HOW MUCH: $10 ($8 advance)/$6 for 2 PM matinee

“What’s your style?”
“My style? You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.”
~Lee to Parsons in Enter the Dragon

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A Shaolin martial artist (Bruce Lee) is enlisted by the British government to infiltrate the island of Han. It is controlled by a crime boss who uses a fighting tournament to recruit new men into his operation.

Enter the Dragon is considered one of the greatest examples of the martial arts film. The “Kung Fu” movie was a genre that came into its own in the early 1970s, succeeding the “spaghetti Western” in international popularity. The star who most elevated the genre was the legendary Bruce Lee, who had already starred in several successful films in Hong Kong. His popularity skyrocketed as a result. Lee became a cultural icon and the face of martial arts. He was not only a great athlete, but he could act as well. Bruce Lee displayed a charisma and a distinctive screen presence. In his article for Cinema Retro, author Mike Siegel writes, “Together with his director, Lee ultimately found the perfect screen appearance for his first international film, satisfying the western taste established by the heroes of the 1960s and 1970s: the more skilled the hero, the cooler he had to behave on screen. This was a direct result of the James Bond films and the Italian western phenomenon as well as the magnetic screen presence of the biggest action stars of the time, McQueen, Eastwood and Bronson” (Vol. 12: Issue 35, 2016).

Enter the Dragon is one of the more modern classics we have presented at the Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series. In fact, it is our first film from the 1970s. The reason I’ve included it in Season 4 is simply because I grew up watching the films of Bruce Lee on television, which included The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and Way of the Dragon. (The latter featured Lee’s climactic fight with Chuck Norris in the Roman Colosseum.) I also remember the lesser efforts of the genre by Lee’s imitators– the “Bruceploitation” period that followed in the wake of Lee’s death.

The philosophy of Lee– the “emotional content”– separates Enter the Dragon from other Kung Fu movies.
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Warner Brothers, the studio that was co-producing the venture with Hong Kong, was somewhat skeptical of making an Asian the whole show. As a result, they teamed Lee up with John Saxon and Jim Kelly. However, there was no mistaking who the star was. Though Bruce Lee carries the film, he is given able support from the other two. John Saxon was never a screen fighter, but he was a black belt in real life and is convincing in the role of Roper. Jim Kelly, as Williams, was cast at the last minute because of his martial arts background, but he holds his own as an actor. He would go on to star in many films in the “Blaxploitation” cycle of the 1970s. The interesting aspect about their onscreen dynamic is that the film shows the three heroes fighting together with no commentary about their race, as you would probably find in a film today.

In the roles of Han’s fighters were actors who were martial arts experts, such as karate champion Robert Wall. Lee choreographed the fight scenes himself, but despite his precision and perfectionism, one accident did occur. In the fight in which Wall breaks a glass bottle in anger and thrusts it at Lee, he did get his hand cut in the exchange. Another standout performance is Angela Mau, who played Lee’s sister. She is seen in a flashback in which she is attacked by several of Han’s men. It is perhaps the best scene in the movie not involving Bruce Lee. Mau was a Taiwanese actress who appeared in many martial arts films of the 1970s. She was aptly nicknamed “Lady Kung Fu.” Also of note, one of Han’s henchmen is played by Jackie Chan in a fleeting, uncredited part.

John Saxon and Jim Kelly. There’s no mistaking the decade!
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Visually, the film is reminiscent of a James Bond adventure, albeit on a smaller scale. Bond was a conscious influence on aspects of the film’s plot as well, including the handicapped villain, his white cat, and the underground lair. It’s a very colorful film, and in the audio commentary on the dvd, producer Paul Heller mentions the pictorial influence of Terry and the Pirates, a 1930s comic strip that was set in the Orient. Enter the Dragon evokes the atmosphere of Hong Kong with its sets and location work, especially the harbor where the protagonists travel on their way to Han’s island; it is a floating ghetto of Chinese junks.

Although the film features a great cast, wonderful sets and location work, as well as a terrific film score by Lalo Schifrin, it is first and foremost a great martial arts film remembered mainly for its action sequences. Bruce Lee wielding a set of nunchucks is one of those audience-applauding moments that play beautifully in a packed theatre. The most famous scene, however, is Bruce Lee’s confrontation with Han within the confines of a mirrored room. It’s a remarkable piece of cinema and one of the highlights of the film.

Unlike modern martial arts films, which often depict acrobatics that defy the laws of physics (and gravity), Enter the Dragon displays a true artistry of the genre because it is rooted in the skills and athleticism of its star, Bruce Lee. There were no special effects needed when he was onscreen. Sadly, Enter the Dragon would be Lee’s last film. He died at the age of 32 just before the film’s release. Game of Death, the film Lee had started before working on Enter the Dragon, was later completed in 1978 using stand-ins. (Only fifteen minutes of Bruce Lee was actually incorporated into that film.)

In 2004, Enter the Dragon was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

~MCH

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Halloween ’16

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Thank you to the nearly 400 patrons who attended our fourth annual “Halloween Horrorfest” on October 27, 2016, featuring the Creature From the Black Lagoon. In addition to the movie, we had our “Parade of Ghouls” costume contest for all the kids in costume (and those who were not). Thanks go to our organist Jay Warren and to our “Grand Marshal of Ghouls,” Stephanie. We also owe a huge thank you to model builder Paul Pandocchi for setting up his monster display in the theatre lobby. Paul is a local artist and monster movie enthusiast.

Before the film, we read a note from actress Julie Adams, who turned 90 on October 17. Though she could not join us in person, she was kind enough to take the time to send us a special message. We had asked Julie about her career after Creature and what other film role(s) would she like to be remembered for– besides being “the girl in the white swimsuit.” The following was her response.

“One of my all-time favorite screen appearances besides Kay Lawrence in Creature from the Black Lagoon was playing Laura Baile in Bend of the River. It was wonderful to work with legendary film director Anthony Mann and the great movie actor James Stewart. I also became pals with co-stars Rock Hudson and Lori Nelson. Laura Baile was a homesteader and one tough cookie, she even survived being hit by an arrow in a night attack by Indians. She was a resilient woman, who also had a sensitive side. I was very young, so the experience of working with top-notch film professionals was new and very exciting! I will always cherish the scenes I played with Jimmy Stewart — he was a very nice person, a fine actor, and a true gentleman — just like the character, Glyn McLyntock, he played in the film. I also had an opportunity to play Jimmy’s wife about twenty years later in the short-lived television series The Jimmy Stewart Show. These are just a few of the reasons Laura Baile was such a memorable part for me. I tell more stories about this film role and others in my book The Lucky Southern Star.”

Thank you, Julie Adams!

Uncle Gilbert from “The Munsters” with Jessica Rabbit!
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Movie Hostess Allison striking a pose.
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Our ticket taker Shannon!
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Shannon, Elizabeth, and Allison…
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Grand Marshal Stephanie, who is also our graphic artist.
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Paul, our guest monster builder!
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Showing off the prizes!
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The kids line up…
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Our winners…
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Allison & Matthew
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Creature From the Black Lagoon at the Pickwick Theatre!

WHAT: Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) in Amazing 2D (on DCP)!
WHEN: October 27, 2016   2:00 PM & 7:30 PM
WHERE: Pickwick Theatre, Park Ridge, IL
WHAT ELSE: Jay Warren performs pre-show music at 7:00 PM/”Parade of Ghouls” costume contest.
With a special message from Julie Adams! And some monster “surprises” in our lobby!
HOW MUCH: $10/$8 (advance)/All seats $6 at 2 PM

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Searching For Lana Wood: Opening Night!

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Thank you to the 500+ patrons who came out to see The Searchers on September 15, 2016. We were honored to have with us that night Lana Wood, who played the young Debbie Edwards in the film. Lana met with fans before and after the show. At 7:00, Lana came out onstage for an interview in which she recalled her memories of working with John Wayne and the cast. This was a rare opportunity for audiences in the Chicago area to hear a first-hand account of the making of one of the greatest films ever made. Lana also talked about her experiences in other films such as Diamonds Are Forever. After the interview, we took some great questions from the audience.

It was a true delight to have Lana in town as a guest. We are grateful to everyone who helped make this night special. Thank you to organist Jay Warren, Colin Clark of the Ian Fleming Foundation, and Allison, Shannon, & Elizabeth– the Pickwick Theatre CFS staff!

A long line stretched down the block for our evening screening!
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Bond Girls are forever, and we had one in Park Ridge!
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Lana Wood signing autographs!
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Lana & Matthew (photo courtesy of Michael Mikrut)
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Colin Clark of the Ian Fleming Foundation with Lana!
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Another young fan is happy!
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Host & Hostess
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Lana and Elizabeth
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The Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series staff with Lana and Colin.
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(photo courtesy of Frank Pope)
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And thank you to author Scott Eyman for his contribution to our evening program!
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10 Reasons To See The Searchers (at the Pickwick Theatre)

“After I had seen The Searchers a few times, it was completely fixed in my mind. The film was such a seminal and primal experience that I was absolutely convinced I had dreamed it, which was just right because that’s in keeping with the movie. It almost should be dreamed.” ~ John Milius, A Turning of the Earth: John Ford, John Wayne and The Searchers (1998)

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Instead of writing an essay on the actual making of The Searchers, I’ve organized a more personal listing of the reasons why patrons should come out and see the film for its 60th anniversary. For those fans who want to know more about the production of this great film, I highly recommend reading Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend or the excellent analysis in the BFI Film Classic Series: The Searchers by Edward Buscombe. Also, I’d suggest listening to the always insightful Peter Bogdanovich and his audio commentary which can be found on the dvd/blu-ray. As the series host, I’m excited about this screening because it’s the first John Ford/John Wayne film I’ve presented since I played a 16mm print of The Horse Soldiers at the old LaSalle Bank Theatre in Chicago. I couldn’t think of a better way to open our fourth season. The following points are written specifically for our screening at the Pickwick Theatre.

1) Lana Wood. We are fortunate to have with us someone who appeared in one of the greatest movies ever. Nothing is of more significant value to our film history series than to actually have a witness to–  and a first-hand account of– the making of The Searchers. In the film, Lana Wood played young Debbie Edwards, a character who is portrayed at a later point by her sister, Natalie Wood. Lana has worked with and known many stars in Hollywood; this goes well beyond the scope of the films she herself has appeared in. For our show, she will be sharing many stories with us onstage including her experience working with “The Duke.” This will be a once-in-a-lifetime event for the community, and we are extremely honored that Lana will be visiting us in Park Ridge. She will be meeting fans and signing autographs before and after the evening screening.

Lana Wood at age 9.
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2) Cinematography. Cameraman Winton C. Hoch photographed one of John Ford’s most stunning productions and helped give it a mythic scope. The film is a visual tour de force with Ford’s framing and use of natural settings. Hoch’s camera captures the grandeur of Ford’s Monument Valley, a sight even more spectacular in the VistaVision process of the 1950s. This widescreen format allowed for a greater depth of field with an exceptional clarity in the image. Few directors could match Ford’s sense of composition. By contrast, refer to a modern-day Western like The Hateful Eight, which used an outdoor, widescreen format to shoot what is essentially an indoor film. The 70mm presentation and showmanship may have been impressive, but next to John Ford, the content of the Quentin Tarantino film is more like epic horse manure. For the millenials who have grown up admiring the hip, fan boy aesthetics of certain contemporary filmmakers, they need to go back and study the true masters of the form like John Ford.

3) Big-Screen experience. Though nothing will ever compare to seeing this film in the 1950s in 35mm VistaVision, it is our understanding, based on other screenings around the country, that this digital restoration of The Searchers is one of the best you will ever see in the “DCP” format. We will take full advantage of the Pickwick’s main theatre with this presentation. This is not a film meant to be experienced on a computer or iPad. My first experience was seeing it on television as a kid, and though the story fascinated me, there was no way I could fully appreciate its pictorial majesty on television. The Searchers is rarely screened theatrically, and this will be a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages to see it the only way it should be seen.

4) John Wayne. Like the red sandstone towers depicted in the film, John Wayne himself was a monument, and only an epic canvas like VistaVision could adequately capture this Hollywood giant. The Duke gives his finest performance as Ethan Edwards, a role that shows a wide range of emotions. Hate, compassion, loneliness– it’s all there. Edwards is a complex character– not a caricature or political archetype. There is a truth and honesty in his characterization. You see it in his eyes. When we were promoting this screening at a recent car show in Park Ridge, only two people (out of 75) said they would skip the film because of John Wayne, or “Wayne’s politics.” Though some see Wayne as a fading symbol of heroism and out-of-fashion masculinity, there will always be a legion of John Wayne fans out there, myself included, no matter how much society changes. We hope they will saddle up and make the journey to Park Ridge.

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5) Jay Warren prelude music. There are fans who come to our shows just to hear Jay Warren perform pre-show music, and with good reason. Jay is one of the outstanding musical talents in the Chicagoland area. He is best-known for his musical accompaniment to silent film.  Jay returns as our guest organist to perform on the theatre’s original Mighty Wurlitzer organ. He will be playing themes from The Searchers as well as musical cues related to Lana Wood. (You want to hear what Diamonds Are Forever sounds like on an organ? Come on out!)

6) AFI 100. The inclusion of The Searchers is one instance where the American Film Institute got things right. The film’s reputation as a classic has grown over the decades. Besides its high ranking on the AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time (#12), The Searchers is also ranked #1 in the Western genre. The film has had a tremendous influence on such directors as Martin Scorsese (who named it his favorite). In other words, this is one film your need to see (in a theatre) in your lifetime. Listen to Scorsese. He won’t steer you wrong!

7) Scott Eyman contribution. John Ford/John Wayne biographer Scott Eyman was generous enough to take the time to send us a few written words of introduction. This will be included in our programs for the evening. NOTE: These programs will only be available for the evening screening– not for the 2 PM matinee.

John Ford
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8) The Story. Adapted from the novel by Alan LeMay and inspired by true events, the screenplay by Frank S. Nugent blended history and fiction into one of the most powerful Westerns of the era. The genre had evolved considerably over the years. Westerns, which had been a respected genre in the early years, had given way to the Poverty Row B-movies in the 1930s– “oaters,” as they were called. John Wayne knew this all too well as he had starred in dozens of B’s throughout the 1930s.  He might’ve remained in this open range purgatory if John Ford had not rescued him with Stagecoach in 1939. But throughout the 1940s and 1950s, with directors like Howard Hawks and Anthony Mann, the genre took on darker tones and shadings. The Searchers reflects this complexity with a protagonist who is a rabid racist. The psychological aspects of his character, however, were not immediately recognized at the time– Ethan’s mission to kill his niece who had turned “Comanch”– because ’50s audiences always thought of Wayne as the hero no matter what. Though Jeffrey Hunter is the true “hero” of the film, audiences nevertheless related to Wayne. Over the decades, critics and historians have made commentaries on the film’s impact and extrapolated upon its themes. Though racism against Native Americans is not a hot topic issue today, we can nevertheless project the film’s racist attitudes and prejudices onto our own society. That is the greatness of The Searchers, that it can resonate and speak to us now in 2016. It’s a film with a great deal of truth made by people who knew the West. The Indians in the film are not the Indians of modern Hollywood– the noble innocents of Dances With Wolves. The film shows the Comanches as brutal killers and abductors. Yet, it also depicts the horror they suffered in the wake of the Union troops. The scene of the dead Indians  in their devastated camp is brief, but by showing it Ford acknowledges the other side– the other viewpoint. Some fans have taken exception to the “side trips” in the story– the subplot involving the love triangle with Ken Curtis, Vera Miles, and Jeffrey Hunter. And some even find fault with Ford’s humor in general. (Roger Ebert wrote about the film as though apologizing for it, but then, Ebert was never a film historian.) There is certainly broad humor in the story– Ford no longer had Darryl Zanuck to rein him in as he had done at Fox– but all of this is as much a part of Ford’s universe as Monument Valley itself. Ford was all about family, tradition, and the frontier community, and his juxtaposition of humor with tragedy within this framework was not unlike scenes in Shakespeare. Like the Immortal Bard, Ford was a great storyteller, but he told his stories visually in a 20th century art form.

9) Max Steiner Score. Max Steiner, perhaps the greatest of all the studio composers, created one of his most memorable scores for The Searchers. If you appreciate film music–  and if you can find it– we highly recommend you pick up the soundtrack offered by Brigham Young University. This limited edition cd features a booklet with liner notes by James D’Arc, curator of the Max Steiner Papers at BYU. The recording is absolute gold. What you hear is the subtlety and nuance and the historical motifs of a hauntingly beautiful score.

10) October Show Announced. Unlike other venues, we don’t announce next month’s film until the day of the current show. In part, this is meant to build anticipation– to get people to come out and see what’s next. But we do it primarily because the season is always changing. If we can get a guest for such-and-such film in late spring, it would make sense to keep that month open. We’re always looking to put together the biggest and best shows we possibly can, so we don’t want to set anything in stone too early. We can say that our fourth annual “Halloween Horrorfest” will take place on October 27, 2016.

~MCH

The Searchers will be screened at 2 PM and 7 PM on September 15, 2016. Admission is $6 for the matinee (feature film only) and $10 ($8 advance) for the evening show.
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The Searchers: 60th Anniversary at the Pickwick Theatre

WHAT: The Searchers (1956) 60th anniversary screening (on DCP)
WHEN: September 15, 2016    7 PM (with a 2 PM matinee)
WHERE: Pickwick Theatre, Park Ridge, IL
WHO: Actress Lana Wood will be appearing in person at 7 PM
WHAT ELSE: Organist Jay Warren performs prelude music at 6:30 PM
We will also be passing out programs for the screening as well as announcing our October show.
(We will have a special written introduction prepared by John Ford/John Wayne biographer Scott Eyman.)
HOW MUCH: $10/$8 (advance); all seats $6 for the matinee screening (feature film only).
NOTE: Lana Wood will be charging $20 for autographs.

Join us this September as we open our fourth season of classic movies at the historic Pickwick Theatre. With us on Opening Night will be special guest Lana Wood, who played young Debbie Edwards in The Searchers. Lana is also a “Bond Girl,” having appeared as “Plenty O’Toole” in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. In addition to being a movie star, Lana has appeared in Playboy magazine and has starred on numerous television programs. She will discuss her role in The Searchers and will provide wonderful stories about John Wayne and the cast, including her sister, the legendary Natalie Wood. Lana will be signing autographs before and after the screening and will be interviewed onstage starting at 7PM. NOTE: The film itself will begin around 7:45 PM.

The Searchers is considered John Ford’s masterpiece, containing arguably John Wayne’s finest performance. The film is recognized as being one of the greatest movies of all time and is ranked #1 in the Western genre by the American Film Institute. This DCP restoration of the film is one of the most stunning you will ever find in the digital format, so we highly encourage everyone to take full advantage of this rare opportunity to see The Searchers on the big screen. Author Scott Eyman, an authority on John Ford who has written Print the Legend, will be contributing a special introduction which will be included in our programs for the evening.

September 15 marks the 35th anniversary (to the day) of the Pickwick Theatre under the current management of the Vlahakis Family. Join us as we celebrate past and present programming at the Pickwick Theatre!

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John Wayne’s Hometown

The Duke (1907-1979)
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John Wayne’s home.
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Since 2009, I’ve visited the hometowns of several Hollywood stars, including Fredric March, Irene Dunne, and Harold Lloyd. In each instance, I discovered a wonderful small town that shaped the person behind the image. In November 2015, I was able to stop in Winterset, Iowa, which is most famously known as John Wayne’s hometown.

The town of Winterset is located in Madison County, Iowa, which received a revival of interest with the publication of the 1992 novel The Bridges of Madison County.

John Wayne, who would go on to become a Western icon and the embodiment of American values, was born Marion Robert Morrison on May 26, 1907. The family home is located at 224 South Second Street. When Marion was six years old, his father relocated the family to Southern California.

The following are some photos taken from that memorable visit to this all-American town.

~MCH

Entering Winterset, Iowa. The Madison County Court House.
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The front of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum.
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The bricks lining the walkway in front of the Museum.
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The birthplace is around the corner from the museum on the same block.
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A Century of Olivia

Happy Birthday to the last great star from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Miss Olivia de Havilland! Olivia turns 100 on July 1, 2016. No one in today’s Hollywood of ephemeral celebrities comes anywhere near Olivia’s class, talent, and stature. She is a living reminder of another time and place where movies were much different.

The Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series honored Olivia this past May with a screening of Captain Blood (1935). We were grateful to have Errol Flynn’s daughter, Rory Flynn, as a special guest. Rory shared with us a wonderful letter she had received from Olivia.

Olivia is best known for her roles in the Errol Flynn classics and for her two Oscar-winning performances in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). And, for an entire legion of fans, she will forever be remembered as Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939).

Olivia de Havilland currently resides in Paris, France.

Vanity Fair recently published an article on Olivia which can be found here!

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As 2016 is also the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, we thought for our summer movie recommendation we’d offer A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). This was Olivia’s screen debut– and one of the most beautiful productions to come out of Hollywood.

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Film 101: Color & Prints

With the Pickwick Theatre Classic Film Series,  I work with a large venue and large crowds, but one thing I miss about running the smaller LaSalle Theatre was working with actual film– and talking about film. Since those days of projecting 16mm and 35mm prints, most theatres in recent years have converted to digital projection. “DCP” (Digital Cinema Package) being the format that has replaced film. But it has not replaced the unique qualities of film itself. Images were not meant to be pixelated and uploaded into a computer. The properties of Technicolor, for instance, most certainly cannot be duplicated digitally. Sadly, with theatrical film exhibition receding into the past, the values and history of such terms as Technicolor have become lost on the new generation. Since I often say, “If we only had an IB Technicolor print of this title we would bring in twice as many people…” Whether that’s true now, I don’t know. But to answer some of the specific questions I’ve taken this season, I thought I’d elaborate in more detail.

Three-strip Technicolor is IB Technicolor. One and the same. “IB” stands for “Imbibition” indicating the use of dyes (cyan, magenta and yellow) on a single black strip of finished film (a matrix) from corresponding (three) camera negatives. After 1975, the word “Technicolor” was merely a copyright logo and saleable name in the industry; everything was actually processed on Eastman stock. Not that it made much difference by then. Full-blown, full-lit color photography was out; the kind of muted, shaded “noir” look was in. Everything started to look drained thereafter. All other studio systems, i.e., Metrocolor, Warnercolor, Pathe, etc., were all Eastman products. The absolute nadir was Deluxe, filled with pinks and purples over true reds and blues, and, interestingly, mostly associated with the Cinemascope process; the cost of wide-screen photography was offset by the inferior hues. Sort of pointless, really. As far as 16mm went, all those Warnercolor films of the early and mid-1950s were genuinely finished on Technicolor stock and consequently rather nice as projected.

I can’t exactly tell you how to spot a true Technicolor print; you just know it from experience. But Tech film stock is the “thickest,” naturally, due to the three layers of dyes, and the soundtrack is jet black as opposed to a bluish or purplish-ish track on an Eastman. The nice thing is, Techs were virtually vacuum-packed and, hence, fading is almost nil, even forty, fifty years later. Eastmans can literally fade to red in a matter of months. Of course, I’m talking about the “old days” before the low tolerance Japanese stocks that surfaced a few decades ago. There’s a CRI Technicolor standard stock (actually Kodak) that really captured most of the hues of the original Tech, except possibly for that unique “green” shading no one could touch. I suspect that A Matter of Life and Death was a CRI or just possibly a true Tech from England, in which case we all would relish a screening! The Biograph, pre-VCRs, used to annually run a Tech on The Adventures of Robin Hood which would knock your eyeballs for a loop; it was so sharp and rich you thought it was a 3-D print!

I can’t say for certain that some of the  Warner cartoons I played at the LaSalle Theatre were Tech. They could’ve been Kodak dupes. Generally speaking, most every major film photographed after 1935 was Technicolor, with an occasional foray into Cinecolor or Magnacolor or some similar 2-color Eastman process; up until maybe 1949 when Kodak refined a single strip process that was more feasible than the costly and mechanically-difficult Technicolor and the 3-pack camera set-up. You’ll notice a lot of films starting in the early ’50s carry a credit “Print by Technicolor” meaning they were shot in some form of Eastmancolor but processed onto a Tech release stock, and quite often the difference was almost undetectable due to improved raw celluloid. Though I’m not positive, I believe one of the last features shot in the 3 camera Tech negative way was Underwater in ’55, with Jane Russell, before they went to a ‘single-pack’ film in which the three colors were printed onto the single strip of stock in the camera via a prism.

I almost forgot about those eccentric-looking ‘Trucolor’ Westerns from Republic, a dual-color format showcasing snazzy ‘teal’ greens and ‘orange’ reds.

Another question I’ve been asked pertains to how new film prints are made or “struck” for replacement after old prints wear out. As previously mentioned, prints are no longer being struck for the commercial market, though some filmmakers still shoot on 35mm film. But generally, new prints of classic films would be made through institutions like the George Eastman House, or the Library of Congress, or the Museum of Modern Art, etc. But back in the day when all theatres projected film, the process went something like this: There were a number of avenues, which also accounts for the disparity in results. In a nutshell, we start with the original negative, that is, the camera negative. A positive “work print” is struck from the various reels. This is edited and acts as a blueprint for cutting the original negative. From there you can print all the ‘release’ positives wanted. ‘Protection’ copies of both the negative and positive can be created– duped– from these sources as safeguards. Film will naturally wear out the more times through the optical printer. Now, I’m talking the Golden Age when nitrate ruled. Decades pass. Film deteriorates. Nitrate was highly flammable and quick to decompose. Sometimes titles disappear forever in original form, negative or first positive. Protection prints, also known as ‘lavenders,’ may be the only existing source material. Enter acetate ‘safety’ film in 1949. Their biggest problem is shrinkage. Kodak introduced 16mm in 1923, mainly for amateur home movies. Hollywood product was first matched to 16mm around 1944, the popular format for rental libraries, later TV packages. Needless to say, a new ‘inner’ negative in the reduced gauge was struck from any available source, as close to the camera neg as possible. That shift in tone, light and dark, within a continuous strip is due to the lab not ‘timing’ the different edit cuts (like the same scene was broken up in two or three different photographic sessions). The reason some newer 16mms are ‘light’ struck, dupey, flat contrast, etc., is you might be working from a dupe reduction positive, or a duped 16mm from the only existing fine-grain positive. I can tell you, for example, there is no 35mm material on a Republic movie serial like Dick Tracy Vs. Crime, Inc. in existence. Lost, mis-catalogued, damaged, decomposition, whatever. Only fine-grain 16mm positives from which everything down the line is or will be struck. Obviously, the further away from the initial source, the lesser the quality. I don’t have to mention how this problem is magnified a million-fold in dealing with color stock. Improved stocks of today can yield marvelous representations of older prints, and with the advent of computer and digital technology, whole images can be erased, certainly cleaned up to near perfection. The bottom line, before digital, was how good was your best source material?

And what can you say about abnormal situations, like RKO selling off its entire library of some 755 titles, shipping the camera negs to South American labs, and forever altering the opening credits on many a classic by eliminating the tower trademark and relabeling everything a “C&C” film (with freeze frame titles) and doing the same with the endings. That was 1955 and there are still Radio pictures so disfigured. Ditto for a lot of Universals, like the Abbott & Costellos, taken over for reissue in the ’50s by Realart. Or the Columbias which emerged as “Screen Gems” product in TV packages. You’ll be unhappy to hear there is no 35 neg on Stagecoach for the most heinous reason imaginable: Wanger/UA sold the material to Masterpiece Imprints in the late ’40s and they cut up the camera neg to make new trailers! Most of your modern day print-offs were copied from the only 35mm positive around– from John Wayne’s collection– donated to USC.

~MCH