UCSB’s ARTS & LECTURES SUMMER FILM SERIES
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday nights, July 5 thru August 23 (except Aug. 2)
Where: County Courthouse Sunken Gardens
To celebrate its 10th year delighting audiences, UCSB’s Arts & Lectures has decided to celebrate the 1950s with seven absolute classic films screening in the Sunken Gardens of the County Courthouse.
Programmer Roman Baratiak says that the 1950s wasn’t exactly a happy time, “there were the McCarthy hearings, the Korean War–which nobody seems to remember anymore–you had segregation, the unequal treatment of women, and the threat of nuclear Armageddon.”
However, that might be one of the reasons that this decade gave us iconic films about teenagers (a new phenomena), a post-war world fit for travel, a nation in love with the car and freeways, along with metaphors for atomic destruction, paranoia, and Communist infiltration.
This year, the screenings will be helped with the addition of an extra set of speakers to help the sound quality. And as usual, they’re all free–all they need from you is a chair, a blanket, your own food and drink, and a desire to experience watching films in a crowd. There’s a very particular energy in the air with an outdoor screening, so even if you’ve seen these films many a time, there’s nothing quite seeing them in the Sunken Gardens.
Friday, July 5: Roman Holiday. (1953, Dir. William Wyler)
Even a light bit o’ fluff injected with charm–Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Rome in its post-war, tourist-friendly height–has the shadow of the blacklist upon it: Dalton Trumbo co-wrote but didn’t get an official credit until much later. Blacklisted director Bernard Vorhaus worked on the film as a 1st AD. The romantic comedy is still so adorable that it remains locked as an idealised version of the city. A perfect start to a summer under the stars in the Sunken Gardens…
Friday, July 12: North by Northwest. (1959, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock,)
You’d be hard pressed to pick just one Hitchcock film from his best decade–Baratiak certainly was–but North by Northwest has it all: Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint at their sexiest; Hitchcock in high tourist mode, celebrating national parks and monuments and planes, trains, and automobiles; a wrongfully accused man on the run; and devilish turns from James Mason and a young Martin Landau.
Friday, July 19: Rebel without a cause. (1956, Dir. Nicholas Ray)
Yes, James Dean in Nicholas Ray’s film is the platonic ideal of the romantically traumatized teenager, but “Rebel” is also a psycho-sexual explosion of 1950s repression, from Dean’s camp performance, Sal Mineo’s homoerotic fixation on his hero, and Jim Backus fully emasculated in an apron. The film is nuttier than you remember, so be sure to rewatch…
Friday, July 26: Some like it hot. (1959, Dir. Billy Wilder)
Marilyn Monroe’s sexiest performance, which must have melted brains of all genders when it first screened. The only thing possibly stopping full meltdown is having the delightful Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag for a majority of the picture. And amazingingly, its sexual politics have aged well, or at least better than most. That’s all down to writer-director Billy Wilder, who still had a little bit of the ol’ pre-war Berlin in him.
Friday, August 9: On the waterfront. (1954, Dir. Elia Kazan)
You can read Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront” as a response to his critics over his damning testimony during the HUAC hearings two years before, which still blemishes his name somewhat. But you can’t damn this electrifying performance by Marlon Brando, the influence of which still ripples and echoes across time to this day, as well as a treasure of supporting performances by Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger.
Friday, August 16: High Noon. (1952, Dir. Fred Zinneman)
Westerns have always been the genre through which America has tussled with ideology–over masculinity, over authority, over justice. Gary Cooper’s sheriff is the only one with the moral standing to not flee when a vengeful killer is on his way to town. Very few people stood up to the red-baiting of Senator McCarthy at the time; in 2019 the lessons could not be more explicit.
Friday, August 23: Sunset Boulevard. (1950, Dir. Billy Wilder)
And finally we end with a second dose of Wilder, his late-noir where the femme fatale is Hollywood itself, which both entrances and corrupts. William Holden’s main character begins the movie dead, the rest of the story is of his final days in the dusty circle of a faded silent movie star played by Gloria Swanson. A fever dream of Hollywood and a demarcation line between the Golden Age and a brave new world, the film still resonates and chills.