Paramount100: The Journey So Far

This post will serve as a recap for the films we’ve seen so far in our Paramount100: A Century of Cinema series. It will be updated each week with a brief description of the films most recently screened (including links to the films themselves or information on how you can see them), allowing you to continue following along with this journey through film history.

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In the beginning, there were zoetropes (spinning toys that create the illusion of motion) and magic lanterns (early image projectors), entertaining diversions that planted the seed of motion pictures in the minds of inventors across the world. Zoetropes, like flipbooks, operate on the concept of “persistence of vision,” the idea that a succession of images flashed rapidly in front of our eyes can create the illusion of motion. In 1872, photographer Eadweard Muybridge carried this idea a step further when, in order to settle a bet, he took a series of photos of a horse running down a track to determine whether or not all four of the horse’s feet were ever off the ground at the same time. He got his answer (yes), but more importantly, he recognized that those images, played one by one in rapid succession, could recreate the actual motion of the running horse.

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From there, it was only a matter of time before inventors created the technology to capture and exhibit motion pictures, with many of them clamoring to become the first, and most prolific, producer of this exciting new entertainment form. In the United States, famed inventor Thomas Edison, already familiar with the cutthroat game of patents and copyrights, wrested control of the industry in the early years with the Kinetograph, one of the first motion picture cameras (actually invented by cohort W.K.L Dickson). Because the Kinetograph’s significant weight made it anything but portable, Edison had to buy a tract of land in New Jersey and erect what was essentially the first movie studio. Dubbed The Black Maria, this makeshift studio was built on a turntable so that it could always allow the sunlight to shine through its retractable roof. In early Edison films from 1896 like THE KISS (see below), SANDOW, and SERPENTINE DANCES, you can understand where The Black Maria got its name. These movies mostly featured vaudeville actors performing their act in a black room in front of a static camera, resulting in something more like technical demonstrations than the art form we’ve come to know as film.

Whereas Edison initially presented his films to people individually through Kinetoscopes (aka “peep shows”), French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière were able to introduce the more communal moviegoing experience we know today through their Cinematographe, a device that could not only capture moving images but also project them onto a screen for an entire audience to see. In addition to this important innovation, the Cinematographe was also more portable than Edison’s camera, allowing these early French films to be shot outside in various locales. Thus, the Lumières and their cameramen were able to capture people going about their daily lives, resulting in films like EMPLOYEES LEAVING THE LUMIÈRE FACTORY and ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN AT LA CIOTAT (see below) from 1895 that are both fascinating and of great historical significance to those who want a glimpse of life at the turn of the 20th century.

After several years of enjoying these early short films, audiences began to want something more substantial, and filmmakers themselves were anxious to provide exactly that. New celluloid technologies made it possible for films to run longer than 10 minutes, and few were better equipped to take advantage of this new opportunity than French magician and entertainer Georges Méliès. This legendary filmmaker managed to translate his stage sleight of hand to the cinematic medium, utilizing the burgeoning concept of editing to make people disappear and reappear right in front of moviegoers’ eyes. In his most well-known film, A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902, see below), Méliès combined these camera tricks with magnificent costumes and set designs to create an imaginative space journey the likes of which audiences had never seen, proving that films could tell stories as well as any other medium.

However, as imaginative as Méliès’ visuals were, his films didn’t really venture beyond the cinematic boundaries set by those earlier films from the Edison and Lumière companies. His camera still remained static, and the narrative and its characters moved simply and blandly from one scene to the next. Though Méliès frequently employed editing, he never really used the technique to cut between action happening in two different places, now one of the basic foundations of cinematic language. American director Edwin Porter’s film THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903, see below) took a step further in that direction. Not only does Porter’s film feel more realistic by taking place outdoors in real locations (including a real moving train) as opposed to Méliès’ stagebound sets, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY also revealed how the cinema, more than any other medium, could move freely between various situations to build tension and tell an exciting story. When you see Porter cut directly from a train robbery in progress to the cavalry assembling and giving chase, you’re essentially watching the cinema as we know it being birthed into life.

Over the next decade, these techniques continued to be refined by one innovative filmmaker after another, though perhaps no director played a more significant role in elevating movies into a publicly recognized art form than D.W. Griffith. Having failed as a playwright, Griffith initially tried his hand as an actor in short films, but he eventually realized that his true talents were found behind the camera. As a director, Griffith transformed the American cinema from a nickel-and-dime, “lowbrow” entertainment into something approaching art, using editing, moving cameras, close-ups, and naturalistic acting to create suspenseful and moving dramas that are much more “watchable” for modern audiences than most earlier films. Plus, many of the actors who worked with Griffith, including Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, became so popular and recognizable that the concept of movie stardom was born. His 1912 short THE MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY (starring Gish, see below) was one of the high points of the silent short film era, yet it was only a taste of things to come.

After nearly 20 years of making short films, directors and producers with greater ambitions grew tired of being limited by a film’s running time, and audiences were ready to see what film could offer at a greater length. Italian “sword and sandal” epics retold national myths and legends at lengths of two or even three hours, to massive critical and audience acclaim. Encouraged by this response, Griffith decided it was time to move into feature-length films, resulting eventually in THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), a film remembered as much for its stylistic and technical milestones as it is for revealing Griffith’s bigoted ideologies. In response to the praise for his filmmaking as well as the outcry over his racism, Griffith promptly began work on his next grand epic, INTOLERANCE.

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Telling four different stories of humankind’s intolerance, each from a separate time period (Ancient Babylon, Biblical Times, 16th Century France, The Modern Era), Griffith’s film cuts back and forth between these stories at an increasingly rapid pace, leading to a thrilling and cinematically revolutionary climax. Not only did Griffith give audiences a taste of various genres that were popular at the time (ancient epics, stories about Jesus, modern social problem films), he also revealed what the cinema could achieve through editing. However, this unusual approach was perhaps too much for audiences at the time, and INTOLERANCE (streaming on Netflix) failed to match the blockbuster success of THE BIRTH OF A NATION, digging a deep financial and occupational hole from which Griffith would spend the rest of his career trying to escape.

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While dramas like INTOLERANCE did wonders for the credibility of film as an art form, a three hour epic about cruelty wasn’t exactly what most working class patrons (a significant portion of the moviegoing audience) wanted to see after a long shift at work. Even after longer films became more popular, short comedies continued to play before these features to great success. Thus, it was only a matter of time before silent comedy masters like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, having already become stars through their short films, decided to try their hand at features, too.

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Chaplin (pictured above from 1916) made his feature-length breakthrough with 1921′s THE KID. In addition to Chaplin’s lovable and iconic Little Tramp character, this memorable debut also features a star-making turn from adorable tyke Jackie Coogan as the young boy adopted by the Little Tramp. As funny as any of Chaplin’s earlier shorts, THE KID (streaming on Hulu Plus) also introduces a heavy dose of sentimentality, which would become a signature feature of Chaplin’s work. Thanks to Coogan’s heartbreaking performance, Chaplin manages to give us tears and chuckles in equal measure.

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Though he wasn’t known for his directorial abilities the way Chaplin and Keaton were, Harold Lloyd was certainly well known for his comedic talents. Unlike Chaplin’s eternally destitute Tramp, Lloyd frequently portrayed a motivated young whippersnapper striving for success and the American Dream, armed with nothing but spunk and an iconic pair of glasses. This character was never better than in Lloyd’s most popular film, SAFETY LAST! (streaming on Hulu Plus), which features the iconic scene of Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a tall building. Though he isn’t discussed as often as Chaplin or Keaton, Lloyd’s matter-of-fact sense of humor and athletic prowess are truly a joy to watch.

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While the continued success of American filmmakers like D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin laid the foundations for Hollywood’s still-existing dominance in the global film industry and defined what has come to be known as “classical filmmaking technique,” foreign directors and producers from France, Sweden, and elsewhere were defying cinematic norms and exploring bold new stylistic territory. In the early 1920s, this was most strikingly apparent in Germany, due to the sharp angles and dark shadows of the German Expressionism movement.

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THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI in 1920 popularized the movement around the world, with its daring, jagged sets and threatening shadows creating an atmosphere of dread and menace. The madness of CALIGARI’s design permeated every other aspect of the film, including its actors’ performances, and it’s in the performances that NOSFERATU (streaming on Netflix) most clearly follows in CALIGARI’s footsteps. In particular, Max Schreck mystifies and terrifies in the titular role of Nosferatu, his beady eyes, pointed ears, and vermin-like teeth matched by the subtle, restrained eeriness of his performance. The image of a door swinging open and revealing Schreck’s inhuman creature standing morbidly in the doorway is one you won’t soon forget.

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After German Expressionism proved to be a hit with audiences, Hollywood inevitably began to absorb some of the movement’s characteristics into its own movies. When German émigré Carl Laemmle founded Universal Pictures, he instilled the prevailing visual style of his homeland into many of his pictures. In one of his most popular productions, 1925’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (available to rent at Vulcan Video and I Luv Video), you can see the imprint of German Expressionism all over the film, from Lon Chaney’s hideously Nosferatu-esque Phantom to the dimly lit corridors of the Phantom’s lair. In fact, after the unmasking of the Phantom, you just might stop worrying about Nosferatu…

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World Cinema Classics at the Paramount!

For the next two weeks (August 6-18), the Paramount and Stateside Theatres will be searching the globe to bring you some of the very best foreign films. With beloved favorites like 8 1/2 and The Seventh Seal and new discoveries like Max and the Junkmen and Un Flic, the Paramount and Stateside Theatres are going to remind us that some of the greatest films of all time came from places other than Hollywood.

Check out the list below for details about the films we’ll be screening these next two weeks. If you’re an Austin Film Society member, you’ll save $2 on tickets at the box office on the day of the show. Just bring your AFS membership card!

8 1/2 (8/6-8/7) – Special 50th Anniversary Screening!! - Tues @ 7PM; Wed @ 9:10PM
NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (8/6-8/7) - Tues @ 9:40PM; Wed @ 7PM
LE PETIT SOLDAT (8/8-8/9) – Brand new 35mm print fresh from its premiere at NYC’s Film Forum!! Thurs @ 7PM; Fri @ 9:15PM
MAX AND THE JUNKMEN (8/8-8/9) – Never before released in the US until now!! Very rare screening of a newly restored 35mm print!! -  Thurs @ 8:50PM; Fri @ 7PM
THE RED BALLOON/WHITE MANE (8/10-8/11) – Sat @2PM; Sun @ 4:05PM
THE NEVERENDING STORY (8/10-8/11) – Kids save $5 at the box office for the Sunday show!! - Sat @ 3:55PM; Sun @ 2PM
PORTRAIT OF JASON (8/10-8/11) – One of gay cinema’s most iconic documentaries comes to the Paramount in a newly restored 35mm print, co-presented by Polari!! -  Sat @ 6PM; Sun @ 6PM
AMARCORD (8/11) -  Sun @ 4:05PM
UMBERTO D (8/11) – Sun @ 2:15PM & @ 6:05PM
THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (8/12-8/13) - Mon @ 7PM; Tues @ 9:05PM
THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (8/12-8/13) - Mon @ 9:05PM; Tues @ 7PM
LE DOULOS (8/14-8/15) – Wed @ 7PM; Thurs @ 9PM
UN FLIC (8/14-8/15) – Brand new 35mm print screens in Austin for the first time!! - Wed @ 9:10PM; Thurs @ 7PM
SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (8/17-8/18) - Sat @ 2PM; Sun @ 4:20PM
PAN’S LABYRINTH (8/17-8/18) - Sun @ 2PM & @ 6:10PM
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (8/17) – The Paramount is teaming up with Austin PRIDE to screen this legendary film and follow it up with a one-of-a-kind dance party!! – Sat @ 7PM
THE SEVENTH SEAL (8/17-8/18) – Sat @ 2:15PM & @ 6:05PM; Sun @ 4:10PM
WILD STRAWBERRIES (8/17-8/18) - Sat @ 4:15PM; Sun @ 2:15PM & @ 6:05PM

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June Highlights at the Summer Classic Films Series

We hope you’ve been enjoying the Summer Classic Films Series so far. It has been wonderful to see so many of you coming out for everything from SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN to THE SEARCHERS to DOUBLE INDEMNITY. If you’ve missed some of your favorites, be sure to grab a calendar from our lobby and stay tuned to our newsletters and social media so you don’t make the same mistake again!

Some highlights from the upcoming weeks:

Frank Capra: Cinema’s Great Optimist

Those of you who made it out for our wonderful evening with Leonard Maltin already got a taste of Frank Capra with LADY FOR A DAY. Well, we’ve got four more classic films from the great director coming up June 19-23, including MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. All four films brim with hope for the future and an overwhelming belief that a person’s natural tendency is toward kindness and generosity. Or, in the case of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, toward raucous flirting:

Newman + Redford

We all know how perfectly matched Paul Newman and Robert Redford were in films like THE STING and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. But this summer we’re taking a look at some of the films they did without each other, featuring Newman’s HUD and SLAP SHOT and Redford’s DOWNHILL RACER and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. For all you aspiring investigative journalists, we’ll have a stiff drink waiting for you at the bar:

Charlie Chaplin: One Talented Tramp

Here’s one man who needs no introduction for fans of the Summer Classic Films Series. It wouldn’t be summer without a few days of Chaplin. This year, we’ve got two of his unmissable silent classics, CITY LIGHTS and THE GOLD RUSH, plus a darkly comic talkie MONSIEUR VERDOUX and the 1992 biopic CHAPLIN starring Robert Downey Jr. as the man behind The Tramp.

Film Noir 201

We had a great time with FILM NOIR 101 a week ago, bringing some of the foundational films in the genre like THE MALTESE FALCON and OUT OF THE PAST to the Paramount. Now, we’re moving forward in our noir study to highlight two Philip Marlowes, Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP and Elliot Gould in Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE, as well as two stylish and seductive noir films from the 1980s, the Coen Brothers’ BLOOD SIMPLE and BODY HEAT. If you think the Austin sun is sweltering, just wait til you get a load of Kathleen Turner and William Hurt:

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The Summer Classic Film Series Is Nearly Here!

Today we are excited to announce the entire schedule for the 2013 Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount and Stateside Theatres, which starts next Thursday May 23!

We’ve got it all, from Radio Days and Daniel Day-Lewis nights to celebrations of the Marx Bros. AND the Warner Bros. Whether you want to study the shadows in Film Noir 101 or study abroad from the East to the Wild West, you’ll find exhilarating new discoveries along with your beloved favorites playing 6 days a week all summer long.

We’ll see you next week for the Opening Night Film Fan Party (are you a Film Fan yet? It’s a crazy good deal!) and Casablanca/Annie Hall double feature on May 23 followed by a one-of-a-kind evening with Leonard Maltin presenting an incredibly rare 35mm screening of Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day on May 24. Remember those exciting new discoveries we were talking about? Lady for a Day is one of them. Check out the video below featuring Maltin’s thoughts on the film, and don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see him present the film in person followed by a lively conversation!

You can come to this blog to find exciting previews and tidbits about our films throughout the summer, but for now, you can download the full schedule here or grab a free printed copy in the Austin Chronicle that hits newsstands today. Start marking those calendars!

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Michel Gondry’s Newest Film at Stateside

Ask anyone born in the last 30-50 years for a list of their ten favorite movies, and more often than not you’ll see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind somewhere on that list. This modern classic announced two things to the world: Jim Carrey could really act, and Michel Gondry could REALLY direct.

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Though Gondry had already made a decent name for himself by directing Human Nature, which was another Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine) script, as well as popular music videos for Bjork, Foo Fighters, and The White Stripes, Eternal Sunshine made him a household name for indie film lovers everywhere. Since then his whimsical style and boundless imagination have brought us movies that always seem to spark creativity in others; films like The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind have inspired young people across the globe to pick up a camera.

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Well, Michel Gondry is back with a new film called The We and the I, which premiered at Cannes last May and will make its Austin premiere at Stateside Independent this Monday April 15 at 7:00pm, and just about everyone is falling in love with this one. As A.O. Scott of The New York Times says in his Critics’ Pick review, “To call this thrillingly original, deeply felt movie a coming-of-age story would be to insult it with cliché.”

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Forgoing his usual camera tricks, Gondry focuses his attention this time on a group of high school students, played not by professional actors but by actual honest-to-goodness high school students from the Bronx. Rather than relying once again on the visual adventurousness that has brought life to so many of his previous films, this time Gondry leaves it to the kids to invigorate the film with the effervescence of youth and the boundless energy of New Yorkers. And they don’t let him, or us, down.

The one thing this film does have in common with Gondry’s past work is that it is truly one of a kind. Don’t miss your only opportunity to see it in a movie theater in Austin! Check out the trailer below:

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War Witch Comes to Austin

War Witch is the reason we launched Stateside Independent; well, War Witch AND  hundreds of other films like it that may not have otherwise found a home in Austin.

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This is a film that rose above entries from around the world to nab one of five coveted Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Film, and yet most people in cities like Austin will have to settle for VOD or DVD, missing out on the opportunity to see it in a movie theater. As our fair city continues to improve its status in the filmmaking community, playing host to more film shoots and sending more movies to Sundance and other major festivals with each passing year, the filmgoing community deserves some love, too.

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Kim Jones at the Austin Chronicle has already done a fine job of defining where Austin stands in the film release landscape. The only way we’re going to bring more films to Austin, and at the same time as larger cities like Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, etc., is for our theaters to continue taking chances on these films, and, more importantly, for those of us who love movies in Austin to go out and support them when they do come to town.

So, this Monday April 1, you have a chance to show distributors everywhere that Austin deserves the chance to see films like War Witch on the big screen, and it’s certainly a film that earns every ounce of support it gets. Though the story of a 12 year old girl kidnapped by rebel soldiers and enslaved to a life of guerrilla warfare in the African jungle may sound brutal, as Matt Odam of the Austin American-Statesman wrote today, “writer-director Kim Nguyen shows a restrained and artful hand in rendering his heartbreaking tale.”

Rachel Mwanza as Komona in War Witch_distributed by Tribeca Film_courtesy of Item 7_1

Take a look at the trailer below, and then buy your tickets here. You’ll not only be treating yourself to an eye-opening night at the movies, but you’ll be also be laying supportive groundwork for Stateside Independent and Austin’s moviegoing culture in general.

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Cinema Six

Now that the annual post-SXSW week of healing is at an end, it’s time for you to get out of the house once more and come see a movie set in a movie theater…in a movie theater. Cinema Six, the next screening in our Stateside Independent, is a film as generous with its quotable one-liners as it is with its relatable characters, and members of the cast will be joining us for a Q&A this Monday, March 25 at 7:00pm!

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Mason, Dennis, and Gabe have worked at the Stanton Family Cinemas for longer than they want to remember, but long enough they don’t want to leave. Most of their time is spent messing with customers, watching fellow employees work out their relationship issues and basically just slacking off, but at a cost. Will they work out their problems? Maybe, but first they have some customers to ignore.

With a great cast including beloved Austin actors John Merriman, Byron Brown, Chris Doubek, and many others, Cinema Six is another fine example of the wonderful films being shot in and around Austin. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll wonder if this movie kisses its mother with that mouth. Don’t believe me? Check out the trailer below.

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