The wild--and mild--bunch

Warner Bros. celebrates its 75th birthday with a weeklong best-of fest

Star Wars notwithstanding, film revivals rarely work on a large scale anymore. Blame it on cable or videotape, or just the ever increasing number of new films released every year, but today's audiences--born and bred on the blockbuster and a steady diet of coming attractions, waiting eagerly for tomorrow's movie, much less today's--like their thrills immediate and now. The idea of going to a theater to pay full price for a movie they can catch on cable or their satellite hasn't much caught on--not unless there are 30 extra minutes of footage and dozens of added special effects. As of late, film fans have relished the chance to see such touched-up classics as Vertigo, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and even Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory once again on the big screen the way God and the director intended, but the options are usually few and far between.

Well, film lovers should thank God for marketing departments, which give us events like the Warner Bros. Festival of Classics, a weeklong run of great and not-so-great-but-still-an-important-part-of-the-franchise films from the 1930s to the 1990s touring the country this summer. In case you haven't noticed on all the Warner Bros. logos flashing across silver screens these days, this is the WB's 75th anniversary. And apparently somebody somewhere thought that people needed to be reminded that Warner Bros. has brought us great movies such as Casablanca, Bonnie and Clyde, and...Superman? Well, I guess you have to try to jump-start interest in your superhero monopoly somehow after the horrible crash of Batman and Robin.

But Superman, like every other film in the series, has been given a brand-spanking-new print, and despite a few exceptions, most of the lot is worth the special treatment. (In addition, A Streetcar Named Desire has been newly restored, and the festival features the astonishing director's cut of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch.) Below is a list of the ones you should definitely not miss, listed by the decade being showcased. Warners has wisely chosen to highlight a decade a day, featuring four to six films each day, though not in chronological order: The fest begins on Friday with the 1970s, moves through the '80s and '90s during the busy weekend, then unspools the '30s through the '60s from Monday to Thursday.

There's a definite thrill in being able to see The Wild Bunch blown up 30 feet tall after all these years, or viewing The Searchers in all its Cinescope splendor. Why watch a movie on video at home when you can feel it in a theater? And it's a bargain too: Fifty bucks will get you 33 movies, and not one of them's Godzilla.

The 1970s (June 12)
The '70s were a turning point in American cinema. For a flash few years, directors emerged as the stars of Hollywood, equally celebrated as artists, educators, and entertainers of the masses. They were the authors of film--auteurs, as the French like to say. But by the end of the decade, movies themselves had become stars, and the mindless blockbuster event-film-of-the-week with plastic-cup tie-in that we suffer through now was born. This festival doses out a little bit of both extremes, ranging from (an expatriate but nonetheless Warner Bros. director celebrant) Stanley Kubrick's superbly stylistic and still controversial violent future-vision A Clockwork Orange to the frothy Superman.

The best mix of the two vibes here are Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon and William Friedkin's The Exorcist. In Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino gives a classic manic performance as a bank robber in one of the original quirky crime dramas. And The Exorcist, a piece of pure fluff hiding some serious misogynist fears behind the devil, is the kind of horror film that's been MIA for a long time on the big screen: intense visuals, mesmerizing sound, and some genuinely scary moments.

The 1980s (June 13)
Of course Warner Bros. can't showcase its 1980s films without prancing out the heavily Academy-award nominated The Color Purple and Best Picture-winning Chariots of Fire. Both The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the life of a black woman in the early 1900s, and Chariots, the story of rival British sprinters in early 1900s, are wonderfully filmed pictures that will stretch out resplendently on the big screen. But be warned: Both are also super-sweetened stories of triumphant heroism that may be too much so early in the day, especially for those who take their movies like their coffee.

For those, there's Ridley Scott's director's cut of Blade Runner, the film-noir-cum-sci-fi classic that can only be fully realized on the big screen. But true cinephiles won't want to miss the back-to-back Kubrick bill of Full Metal Jacket and The Shining. As with most of Kubrick's work, neither of these films won over audiences or critics when first released, but both deserve deeper deliberation. Those who believe FMJ hits its climax at the shocking end of the boot-camp initiation overlook the prolonged burn the Vietnam War scenes play out.

The Shining is too often damned for being far too cold and calculating to be a good horror movie, too full of over-the-top performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall to be believable, and too divergent from Stephen King's novel to please Stephen King's cult. But the precision of the filmmaking makes for an experience that can be overwhelmingly in-your-face (the Steadicam has never been used as well--many of the images are scarred in our pop-culture psyche) and subversively subtle (the use of mirrored imagery and realities).

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