Monday, August 12, 2013

Plaza Classic Fim Festival 2013: Concluding Thoughts

The 2013 Plaza Classic Film Festival is yet another glorious success to a most impressive annual event.

Every year, one can wonder, 'how will the El Paso Community Foundation top the year prior'?  Every year, they manage to do so with sticking with what made previous years so successful: bring in a classic film legend or two, have a mix of genres, and maintain a local spirit that invites the community (and one hopes, film lovers from other parts of the States and/or round the world) into making this not just a showcase of feature films, but a true good time to be had by all. 

The PCFF's success comes from the wide variety of films they present.  It delves into classics (those films that have risen to become standard-bearers of quality production): Ben-Hur, Sunrise,  Citizen Kane, Meet Me in St. Louis.  However, it also isn't afraid to show more offbeat or contemporary features.  How else to explain showing Escape from New York, Clerks, Evil Dead II, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (an annual tradition now) or even Beyond the Valley of the Dolls alongside those others?

The best quality of the PCFF is that it does not treat films as this rarefied thing to be admired from afar, something to be treated like a museum piece.  Instead, it invites the man and woman on the street to see films as what they are: things to enjoy.  The breath and variety of the features is not just extraordinary, but is something that the whole family can participate (with some exceptions...Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is still NC-17).   Every year, I can think of something that for anything from $20 to free I could take my children to see something at the PCFF (this year, The Muppets Take Manhattan would have been a highlight for family viewing, which makes me wonder if they could arrange for The Muppet Movie to show on the larger Kendle Kidd Theater rather than the smaller Philanthropic Theater as they did last year if memory serves correct).  If one thinks on it, having a chance to see such masterpieces like Close Encounters of the Third Kind for less than a ticket for something like After Earth should give anyone pause as to whether or not the cost is worth it.

The Plaza Classic Film Festival is above all else, a family event.  In particular, I think of the young volunteers, some from high school, who now have a chance to see films that might frighten others.  As a digression, I never understood why people are so afraid of silent or foreign films.  It is something that for young people can serve as an introduction to the great films without the filter of thinking of these movies as almost unapproachable, something to be enjoyed rather than endured. 

I got this while watching Ben-Hur.  Here is a film, almost 55 years old, still causing gasps from audiences at the chariot race.  For those who had never seen it, having a chance to experience something as massive as Ben-Hur the way it was originally conceived and created must be immensely memorable.  For those of us who have seen it, we appreciate so much more with it.

The PCFF is also smart in not just being about movies exclusively.  We have a variety of music performances in the plaza next to the theater which makes it a festive event.

Here's the good and bad about the 2013 Plaza Classic Film Festival.  It came at the end of my first semester of graduate school, so both a high volume of work and sheer exhaustion from it kept me from going to some films and events I wanted to.  The filmmaker's seminar on Sunday I missed simply because I overslept and was just exhausted from staying up late doing schoolwork.  That also kept me from seeing other films.

Still, minus Ben-Hur and GoodFellas all the films I saw were totally new.   Here are quick views and thoughts on the films I saw at the 2013 Plaza Classic Film Festival:

GoodFellas:  more for my Brother Gabe, who loves all mobsters, both of us were surprised that it was at the smaller Philanthropy Theater, but it was a sold-out show.  By the end the heat and lack of sleep was causing me to feel nauseated, but it was worth the effort.  The brilliance of Martin Scorsese to mix violence with music, to make these hoods fascinating figures, has not diminished.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans: the first of the new films I saw.  I was amazed that this silent film could have such emotional power, such an intense impact to move one to find that true love can survive all obstacles, natural and man-made.  The score from My Education enhanced the film, drawing us deeper into the visuals.  The music from this group for Sunrise was so good I did something I rarely do: I bought the CD to their score as soon as the film ended. 

Ben-Hur: so much to admire in terms of filmmaking, the story never drags or slows down.  A larger picture allows one to see things that one might not have noticed before.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind:  over thirty years have passed since it premiered, but the special effects are still so extraordinary that it towers over current-day science-fiction films (ex. After Earth).  Moreover, the greatest quality of the film is the optimism within it; rather than see the danger of an alien invasion, we see the hope of contact with other beings.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: the reaction to this cult camp film was one of embracing mockery to Roger Ebert's only credited screenplay.  It plays almost as a deliberate ridicule of sexploitation films (among other genres).  However, the violence is still jarring, and at the end one person at the screening let us know in no uncertain terms his views on the late film critic and that film of which he was unashamedly proud of.  The man loudly commented that Ebert had given a thumbs down to A Clockwork Orange and Harold & Maude, but liked this.  The implication was clear: Roger Ebert was an idiot who did not know quality.  I didn't like A Clockwork Orange (and have not seen Harold & Maude), and I disagreed with Ebert on many occasions.  However, because he got a few wrong does not mean he didn't know what he was talking about (and the anonymous viewer did).

The Thief of Bagdad (1924): a delight, though longer than I expected.  One can see why Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. was a big star: he had a joie de vivre that dominates the screen, and the visual effects, though a bit clunky by Avatar or Lord of the Rings standards, are still beautiful and breathtaking.  It may not be great art, but it is a work of art nonetheless.  Walt Strony played the Plaza Theater's organ to where it fit so beautifully, giving people an authentic silent film experience. 

Again, it is terrible that circumstances forced me to miss a great deal of the Plaza Classic Film Festival.  However, even with the few films I did manage, it was all worth it.

A few years back, I had speculated as to what I hoped would be shown in future festivals.  To my surprise, some of my suggestions, such as Rebecca and Citizen Kane, were shown.   My ego is not large enough to think I had anything to do with it.  Still, I hope that the El Paso Community Foundation will be able to bring a wide variety of films, ranging from The Blue Angel to 1963's Cleopatra (damn the other critics, the public loves it...and I'm with the public) to An American Werewolf in London to The Phantom of the Opera (1925 or 1943 version) to Mary Pickford's Little Lord Fauntleroy to The Searchers.  Maybe a little Satyajit Ray film...The Music Room or The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, perhaps?   And those are just the ones off the top of my head.  Other factors play a role, but one can have a Wish List, mais oui?

Finally, I want to mention a few people who were extremely helpful to me in covering the festival.  First is Kathrin Berg Pettit, Director of Donor Relations of the El Paso Community Foundation, who was my initial contact to granting me a Press Pass as a member of the Online Film Critics Society.  Second, Charles Horak, the Artistic Director of the PCFF.  He introduced almost all the films (a monumental task) and did it with a mixture of joy and knowledge.  Mr. Horak was extremely gracious when I introduced myself after Ben-Hur (though a part of me thinks he probably wondered who this short, young guy was), but he has a great human touch that makes every film introduction an enjoyable experience.

To all the volunteers who helped, a special thanks for being cooperative in every way.

Lastly, I thank EPCF President Eric Pearson, who always arranged for tickets for me (and I suspect was equally exhausted by the end of the festival).  I hope I did not drive him crazy with my calls and e-mails to notify of what I was going to see.  Mr. Pearson was equally gracious and approachable, making coverage an easy and enjoyable experience.

I would be remiss without mentioning one misunderstanding.  I did not know Mr. Pearson had received my message that I would go to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, so I paid for my ticket ($4 wouldn't kill me).  When I went to The Thief of Bagdad I was reproached for 'not' picking up my ticket, but in a gentle way.  For the record, I DID go and thank everyone for being so cooperative. 

The 2013 Plaza Classic Film Festival was a smashing success, and everyone involved should take pride in a brilliant production: smooth, comfortable, and most of all fun.

Formal reviews and impressions on the films seen to come.

Here's to 2014 and more extraordinary films.

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