Friday, August 3, 2012

Plaza Classic Film Festival 2012: A Preview


If it's August, it must be the Plaza Classic Film Festival, now in its fifth year.  I have been to them since Day One, when I saw Casablanca open the festival.  I wasn't about to miss one of my favorite films on the really big screen. 

Casablanca is making a return, in part to celebrate its 70th anniversary.  The PCFF is in a celebratory mood.  It celebrates its fifth anniversary, and it not only takes a look at Casablanca's 70th, but the centennial of both Universal and Paramount Studios and the 70th anniversary of the death of Carole Lombard in a plane crash after a war bonds drive, one of the great tragedies for film.

Charles Horak, the PCFF artistic director, has elevated the PCFF since its initiation.  The first year I remember there were many films, but since then he's wrangled up a series of guest speakers ranging from Debbie Reynolds (native El Pasoan) speaking before Singin' In the Rain (and showing why she's more a 'rack on tour' than a raconteur) and now we have Eva Marie Saint (introducing North By Northwest and On the Waterfront), Tippi Hedren (The Birds and Marnie), and Mary Badham (To Kill A Mockingbird).

This year, he even has Al Pacino speaking, although for him you have to pay.  While it's good to have a fundraiser, I couldn't persuade anyone to pay $65 to sit high up in the Plaza Theater to hear him hopefully apologize for Jack & Jill

Of course, with a wealth of speakers, one is rather spoiled for choice.  I enjoyed Reynolds' rather risque chat and am looking forward to Saint and Hedren.  As much as it would be nice to see Badham, I had already planned to see Alexander Nevsky when TKAM was running.

This is the plus and minus of the PCFF: sometimes there are two films running at around the same time and one has to choose.  The quality and scope of the PCFF is incredible: you don't just get the traditional 'classic' films, but you get the art house films and the avant-garde and even a hint of local flavor (and I don't mean Chico's Tacos, though you really try it). 

Last year, I saw both Breathless for the first time (brilliant) and the original The Wicker Man.  Having The Rocky Horror Picture Show is now de rigueur.  I admit thinking the whole thing was a bit odd, but then I don't think I'm the target audience.  Sadly, it takes place outside since having such a chaotic showing inside a historic theater would cause a host of problems.

On the whole, the PCFF has grown for the better.  We still have no panel discussions, and whether this is good or bad I have no idea.  Also, the fact that despite my efforts as a member of the Online Film Critics Society I was never issued a press pass irks me to no end.  I submitted my online application, never heard anything.  I sent an e-mail, never heard anything.  I had thought of calling, but I thought that would put the burden on me to do their work. 

I hope that this casual dismissal of the only local member of the OFCS is not indicative of either disorganization or contempt for alternative press by the PCFF.

As for what I hope to see, I have a set schedule which I've worked around my work schedule.  As always I have a mix of previously seen films and new experiences.  On the Waterfront opens the festivities for me, with the silent Wings and my favorite Casablanca on Sunday.  Duck Soup, another favorite, is for next Saturday, and I hope to introduce Brother Gabe to it.

New films are the World War II epic Midway and both the 1953 Titanic and the Carole Lombard film Nothing Sacred next Sunday.  Alexander Nevsky is also in the mix.  Work prevents me from enjoying a full day, having to sacrifice both Shanghai Express and Summertime, a terrible disappointment.

As I've stated, the variety of films, from silent to such oddball features as Manos: The Hands of Fate (which, sadly, is the most notorious contribution to cinema from El Paso), which I'm still debating on going, is what makes the Plaza Classic Film Festival not just the biggest but one of the most open film festivals I'm aware of. 

Updates will come as time allows, with a wrap-up on Monday, August 13 or Tuesday, August 14th.

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