The Classics Reign Supreme ...

At Coronado Island Film Festival one of our most endearing monthly events has been the CIFF Classic Movie Series, where we show “an oldie but goodie every month” on the big screen at our beautiful Village Theatre, settling into those comfy plush seats with our popcorn, surrounded by friends and neighbors of all ages. Oh, how we miss those evenings, along with so much else these days. (Sigh)

The beauty of a good film is that it withstands the test of time, continuing to nourish and entertain, and somehow still feel relevant today, sometimes even getting better with age. This week we’ll revisit two such films, both of which filled every seat when we screened them as part of our Classic Series at Village Theatre. They can be found on Amazon Prime.

The powerful epic Western, “Giant,” (1956) is sure to bring a Texas-sized presence to your small screen. Based on Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name, the movie stars cinema legends Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean and chronicles a 25-year span in the life and times of wealthy Texas cattle rancher Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Hudson) and his family. The film is over three hours long, so we advise you to start early. It won’t disappoint.

Determined to cling to the old traditional ways of ranching, Benedict is challenged by changing times and the coming of big oil. A major subplot of Ferber’s story deals with racism, particularly the mid-century discriminatory practices of Anglo-American Texans toward Mexican Americans. This movie seems somehow as relevant today as it was 64 years ago.

Benedict’s wife Leslie (played by an impossibly beautiful 23-year-old Elizabeth Taylor) boldly defies the patriarchal social order by striving for an equal voice in the good-old-boy world of Texas ranching. Filmed on the dusty plains of Marfa, Texas, the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Hudson in his first major role, and James Dean as Jett Rink (posthumously), ultimately winning the Best Director Oscar for George Stevens.

But the movie clearly belongs to Dean, whose ghost hovers to this day over nearly every scene. He did not live to see the film released. On Sept 23, 1955, two weeks after shooting his final scene, Dean was killed in a car crash at the age of 24. An auto racing enthusiast, he was speeding in his brand new Porsche 550 Spyder on the way to a road race in Salinas, California. Elizabeth Taylor was reportedly so devastated by the news that she had to be hospitalized, delaying the shooting of the final scenes.

Shifting gears, as the month of May approaches (“National Bicycle Month”), we recommend a glorious comedy for the whole family, “Breaking Away,” often regarded as one of the best biking movies of all time. But it’s also about coming of age, friendship and following your dreams. Film Critic Roger Ebert gave it a four-star rave review, and American Film Institute has named it one of the most inspiring films of all time. Directed by Peter Yates and written by Steve Tesich, it was nominated for four Academy Awards, ultimately winning for Best Screenplay for Tesich.

It tells the story of top-notch cyclist Dave (Dennis Christopher) who, upon learning that the world’s bicycling champions are always Italian, hilariously attempts to turn himself into an Italian, driving his parents crazy. But everything changes after he meets the Italian racing team -- an encounter that ultimately leads him and his friends (Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley) to challenge the local college boys in the town’s annual bike race. 

“Breaking Away” was the first feature film for Daniel Stern (“Home Alone,” “City Slickers”). If his name rings a bell, it’s because in addition to his success as an actor, Stern is a prolific and passionate sculptor. His 8-foot tall bronze sculpture, “Handstand,” part of Coronado’s Public Art Collection, was installed atop of the Coronado Community Center in January 2012.

As always, we hope our film community is staying healthy and strong and we are eagerly awaiting the time when we can return watching the Classics on the big screen!

Doug St. Denis is the founder and chairman of Coronado Island Film Festival and can be reached at dougstdenis@gmail.com.

(1) comment

LeeRaskin

Nice article on the legendary classic, Giant. Doug St. Dennis...everyone knows James Dean actualy died in his Porsche 550 Spyder... on 9-30-55... at the Cholame, .CA Junction.

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