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Rants and Raves: Cinema Under the Stars

Outdoor Venue Opens New Season

Film programmer Ralph DeLauro introducing a film at Cinema Under the Stars.

Credit: Eric Rife

Above: Film programmer Ralph DeLauro introducing a film at Cinema Under the Stars.


KPBS film critic interviews Cinema Under the Stars film programmer Ralph DeLauro.


Nestled in Mission Hills, Cinema Under the Stars affords film lovers the chance to enjoy classic movies in a cozy outdoor venue. I spoke with film programmer Ralph DeLauro about this alternate film venue.

As you enter the garden-like theater space of Cinema Under the Stars, gracefully curving twinkle lights catch your eye, and you're greeted by life-size cutouts of Alfred Hitchcock and Audrey Hepburn.

AUDREY HEPBURN: Won't you join me.

ANNOUNCER: Yes. Join Audrey Hepburn as you've never seen her before...

RALPH DeLAURO: Once you walk in you are stepping into another world.

Ralph DeLauro, programs films for Cinema Under the Stars, one of San Diego's ever-increasing number of alternative film venues. Doug Yeagley and DeLauro launched their first outdoor cinema in 1991 in the space adjacent to Yeagley's Tops Salon. The venue has gone through many changes and even a brief closure before emerging as Tops Presents Cinema Under the Stars in 2005.

RALPH DeLAURO: I think it is just the total immersion in a unique environment and I'd like to think that people would get that this is a real passion for us.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Eric Rife

Cinema Under the Stars

The intimate 60-seat venue has zero gravity recliners in the front and love seat cabanas in the back. Lit fountains adorn both sides of the twenty-foot screen evoking the feel of an old picture palace. This outdoor venue inspires DeLauro to program what he calls "event films."

RALPH DeLAURO: We want to show films that have stood the test of time that have the event feel to them, a film like a "Casablanca." No matter how many times we show them, those films sell out. All the time.

Cinema Under the Stars plans to play classics like "Casablanca" every year until people stop showing up. But DeLauro, who also programs films for the San Diego Public Library, likes to highlight lesser known titles.

RALPH DeLAURO: We also like to slip in little sleepers, little personal favorites, little cult things, and we also like to take some chances on things people have never heard of but we hope they trust us enough to take a fling and go see it.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

Cary Grant and Jean Arthur star in "Talk of the Town" screening July 28 and 29 at Cinema Under the Stars.

Films like "Talk of the Town," which features Cary Grant in a serio-comic role as a political radical framed for murder.

The programming at Cinema Under the Star is a give and take between DeLauro and Yeagley, two people with decidedly differing tastes but a similar passion for film. DeLauro has a flair for finding little gems and cult favorites whereas Yeagley champions more popular fare. Together they give Cinema Under the Stars its eclectic schedule. For DeLauro, it's also about getting people out to a theater to have that communal experience of watching a movie together.

RALPH DeLAURO: The gathering together of the tribe so to speak is essential to the film going experience. The fact that it does happen in a darkened room is major, the fact that it's larger than life and you really can't escape from looking at it. I think what film does is it plays out these cultural rituals in front of us.

DeLauro also thinks it's essential to provide a younger generation with the opportunity to see classics like "The Big Sleep," or the acerbic "All About with Eve," on a big screen.

CLIP Fasten your seatbelts it's going to be a bumpy night.

RALPH DeLAURO: Even for a younger audience they still come for the classics. Hitchock still flies Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant. Little cult films like, look what we're showing this weekend, "The Woman in the Window," which is a wonderful little film.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: RKO Pictures

Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson in "Woman in the Window," screening tonight and Friday at Cinema Under the Stars.

Filmgoers have so many options for watching films these days -- they can download movies to their cell phones, catch an IMAX screening at the mall, purchase a Blu-Ray to watch at home, or seek out an alternative venues that bring a little magic to the film-going experience. So pull up a lounge chair -- but leave the shades and tanning lotion behind -- and spend an evening at Cinema Under the Stars with Cary or Audrey.

Cinema Under the Stars will screen "Woman in the Window" tonight and tomorrow with the James Bond film "Never Say Never Again" playing this weekend. You can find a complete schedule of films at Tops Presents Cinema Under the Stars.

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