Writers Series brings old movie prints and top screenwriters to Monterey.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
It’s long been argued that movies would be nothing if it weren’t for their writers. At a two-week film series in Monterey’s newly restored Golden State Theatre, four writers will make their case and back it up with screenings of classic cinema.
Matt Malloy, the State Theatre’s manager, explains that new owner Warren Dewey has been trying to present “more than just a movie” in the restored 1926 theater, and having top screenwriters to introduce the films was the inspiration.
“We started with the artists,” says Malloy. “Then we asked them to present one of their favorite movies.”
On Saturday, local actor Taelen Thomas portrays Salinas’ literary golden boy, John Steinbeck, in an introduction to a 1940’s Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda as hard luck Tom Joad trying to find a new life in California for his dispossessed family. Thomas has been playing Steinbeck, among others, for almost 30 years and should provide “first-hand” knowledge of the tragic migrant workers’ story while lending his live voice to the screening. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Steinbeck loved the movie, commenting that Fonda’s Joad made him “believe my own words.”
The following weekend, on June 11, one of the top writers of crime-noir thrillers will introduce his own story, LA Confidential. James Ellroy, the self-described “demon dog of crime fiction,” has said he was very impressed by the 1997 adaptation of his best-selling novel about hard-hitting detectives in the 1940s. Kim Basinger, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey and a young Russell Crowe star in this smartly written drama that earned rave reviews.
Ellroy was a pivotal guest for this Writers Series, according to Malloy, because he not only lends his vast knowledge, passion and wit to the event, but he also invited author and film noir historian Eddie Muller to discuss The Prowler with him the night before LA Confidential.
Muller says he was happy to accept the offer to join this film event.
“Ellroy asked to show The Prowler as one of his favorites and I have shown it at several film festivals before,” he says. “I have a foundation dedicated to preserving noir films and The Prowler is a rarity. In fact, this is the only original print known to exist.”
Muller has written several books on film noir, including one on “dark dames.” The 1950 Prowler starred Van Heflin as a disgruntled cop who blames the world for everything that fate has brought him. A wife hires him to investigate a peeping Tom and they fall in love. They plot to kill her husband then run away together. One reviewer at the IMDb claims, “The Prowler draws on a number of emblematic ‘noir’ themes yet plays them in a new key.”
“I’m really looking forward to coming to Monterey,” Muller says, “because I’m very happy about the idea that a grand old theater has been restored instead of a new megaplex. Each showing of these types of prints makes them deteriorate a little. But, it’s very important we get people to see them, and know they’re around, so we can get whoever owns the rights or negatives to remember to save them from decay.”
For his own screening on June 18, Muller returns to wax poetic about two of his favorite films, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Touchez pas au Grisbi (1953).
“I am a lifelong fan of noir and The Asphalt Jungle just has one of the greatest screenplays ever,” Muller says. “I chose these two for a double bill because they are both about big bank heists, only one is very American and one is very French and it’s good to see the differences in the approaches.”
John Huston directs Sterling Hayden in Asphalt Jungle as a thief who just can’t quite pull off his last heist (and Marilyn Monroe appears briefly in the film).
To finalize the series, screenwriter Graham Yost, the wordsmith behind Speed, will visit the Golden State Theatre on June 26 to present Citizen Kane, one of the granddaddies of American cinema and Oscar winner for Best Picture in 1941.
The Writers Series is not only a great chance to hear screenwriters, actors and film buffs praise these classics, but also an opportunity to see archival prints on the big screen. As Muller says, “old films like these were meant to be seen on a big screen. They were shot and directed and created for big theaters because, back then, they didn’t have TVs and DVDs to watch. Things like Gone With the Wind are lustrous on big screens and it’s shocking when you first see that.”
The Writers Series is June 4, 10, 11 at 8pm, June 18 at 7:30pm, and June 26 at 7pm at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $10/film; $8/Prowler; $35 for all five. 372-4555.