It’s time for my New Year’s resolutions that I never keep such as losing weight (yeah, right) or perhaps not swearing as much when I drive. All I can say to the latter is “hell, no!”
But one resolution I always keep is to try to watch more movies, especially vintage flicks.
And I’m already circling the eclectic films screening in January at the Egyptian and Aero Theatres that I’m interested in seeing.
Of course, there is the January 13th tribute at the Egyptian to Robert Vaughn, who died in November at the age of 73. I’m sure I wasn’t the only baby boomer who got misty-eyed with the news of his demise. From 1964-68 I was addicted to NBC’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the spy spoof starring Vaughn as the super sexy secret agent Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as the equally yummy Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.
But Vaughn was a lot more than Napoleon Solo. He earned a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for 1959’s The Young Philadelphians and won an Emmy for 1977’s Washington: Behind Closed Doors.
Vaughn made two films with Steve McQueen, 1960’s The Magnificent Seven (Vaughn was the last surviving member of this magnificent group of seven) and the seminal 1968 detective thriller Bullitt, both of which are screening at the Egyptian on January 13. I always have a soft spot in my heart for Bullitt. The film was set in San Francisco and I lived in the Bay Area then, so I always get nostalgic because I left my heart in San Francisco. The film is famous for having one of cinema’s most iconic car chase sequences, which took three weeks to shoot, resulting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds of footage.
Though I never met Vaughn, I did interview him by phone during my years at the Los Angeles Times and found him whip-smart, charming, and drolly amusing.
He confessed to me that a location was tantamount to him when picking a project because in the 1970s he found himself in less than ideal situations. /This includes the time that he was under house arrest in Caracas, Venezuela while making a movie in the South American county.
“There were four producers on the film: an American, a Venezuelan, a German, and an Italian,” he noted. “About 10 days into filming, suddenly the film shuts down. I picked up the morning paper and there was a picture of the Venezuelan producer behind bars. I said to my future wife, ‘I think we are going to be leaving here quite soon.”’
That didn’t happen. “They wouldn’t let us leave the country unless we paid a bribe,” Vaughn recalled “So we were there for two weeks under house arrest and never paid the bribe. We left the country in the dead of night, getting on a plane that was going to Barcelona.”
If you love musicals (don’t get me started on how much I am obsessed with them) then perhaps you are one of the lucky Cinematheque members who got a seat at the Aero’s January 7th screening of the Oscar-contender La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and the City of Angels itself – on a double bill with Jacques Demy’s candy-colored 1967 tribute to American musicals The Young Girls of Rochefort, starring Catherine Deneuve, her late sister Francoise Dorleac, Gene Kelly, Danielle Darrieux, George Chakiris, and Grover Dale. Chazelle will be appearing in person to discuss his film.
And if you love France, especially musicals set there, then head down to the Aero on January 8th for Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 Oscar-winner An American in Paris, with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in her film debut, and Demy’s gorgeously melodramatic 1964 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, starring Deneuve. The latter’s influence on La La Land, according to Slate, is evident in that, “the story is broken up into seasons that are marked with on-screen titles, not unlike Jacques Demy’s classic French musical.” For more on La La Land’s classical influences, click here.
Both Minnelli and Demy offer expressionistic depictions of France. In American in Paris, Minnelli creates a Technicolor storybook that belies the fact that World War II just ended six years earlier. The culmination of Minnelli’s vision is in the groundbreaking “American in Paris” ballet number with Kelly and Caron that depicts practically every vision of Paris, from the Toulouse-Lautrec era to more contemporary times.
Demy has also taken a melodrama and created this lollipop kaleidoscope of beauty and emotion. France is a stunning country, but Demy has taken it to the extreme.
Though Cherbourg is better known than Rochefort, I always found the later much more outrageous and bizarre. In the late 1990s, Demy’s widow Agnes Varda worked on the extensive restoration of Rochefort, which had faded badly over the decades.
She told me in a phone interview that Rochefort was “juvenile,” but it had that quality of youth and love. It’s like daring to be happy. Nowadays for sure that’s not the style, but maybe it’s good to remember that some people wanted to express joy. He didn’t make many funny and joyful films, but he wanted that.”
Demy’s work is also on display in his only U.S. feature, 1969’s Model Shop, which screens at the Aero on January 20. Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey) plays a floundering L.A. architect. He falls for an older and beautiful French model played by Anouk Aimee, reprising her role of the title character in Demy’s first film, 1961’s Lola. It’s much fun to watch to see how Demy portrayed the Los Angeles of 47 years ago. For fans of vintage Los Angeles, you will get an eyeful in this film as Lockwood traverses the city in his convertible, from the Hollywood Hills to West L.A. and more, capturing the businesses, the often sparse landscape, and the iconic L.A. freeways. Gary Lockwood will be on hand to talk about his experience working with Demy.
Other can’t-miss screenings this month:
“Clements and Musker: Animation’s Dream Team” (Jan. 1, 8 and 15 at the Aero). This free series -you must RSVP on Evenbrite, which is taking a waiting list for some titles - pays tribute to the veteran Disney animators Ron Clements and John Musker with screenings of their groundbreaking 1989 film The Little Mermaid, 1992’s Aladdin, and their first CG animated film, the current hit Moana. The duo will be on hand for the Moana screening,
“The Greatest Generation of Villainy: The Movies vs. the Nazis” (Jan. 13-27 at both theaters). Among the films included are Mel Brooks 1968 comedy The Producers, which mocks the Nazis especially with the outrageously wonderful “Springtime for Hitler” number; the chilling multi-Oscar-winning 1972 musical Cabaret, based on the Kander and Ebb Broadway musical hit directed by Bob Fosse; and The Great Escape, John Sturges’ 1963 World War II prison camp epic that was based on true escape, featuring a superstar-making turn by Steve McQueen as the Cooler King
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Jan. 20th at the Egyptian): Joe Dante will be on hand to introduce his 1990 sequel to 1984’s blockbuster “Gremlims.” This follow-up is irreverent fun and earned strong reviews but the audience stayed away. It’s time the film is given its just due.
“The Inferno of Werner Herzog” (Jan. 27-29 at the Aero). The award-winning German director who was one of the architects of New German Cinema 40 years ago returns to the Cinematheque with this four-movie series. He’ll be at the theater on Jan. 27 after a screening of his 2016 documentary Into the Inferno and on Jan 29 with his 2011 3-D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
Veteran journalist Susan King wrote about entertainment at the Los Angeles Times for 26 years (January 1990 - March 2016), specializing in classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. She received her master's degree in film history and criticism at USC. After working 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner, she moved to the Los Angeles Times.