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Review: The Ken’s 100th Anniversary Film Series

A Century Of The Ken And Film History

Above: D.W. Griffiths' groundbreaking silent epic "Intolerance" kicks off the Ken's 100th Anniversary Film Series Saturday at 11am.

Aired 8/31/12 on KPBS News.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the Ken's 100th Anniversary Film Series.

Transcript

Landmark's Ken Cinema turns 100 this year and as part of the celebration Landmark is hosting The Ken's 100th Anniversary Film Series that kicks off tomorrow morning at 11am with "Intolerance." Watch for my video feature about the Ken tonight on Evening Edition.

[Please note that after the publication of this article Landmark Theaters retracted its claim that the Ken Cinema was built in 1912, a revised estimate sets the time in the late 30s or 40s.]

The Ken Cinema was built in 1912, about the same time the American film industry was taking its first baby steps with films like DW Griffiths' "The Musketeers of Pig Alley" and Edwin S. Porter's "The Count of Monte Cristo." As with most theaters back then, it wasn't fully committed to the movies says Ken Cinema's current manager John Luis.

"Behind the screen here there is an actual stage, and a lot of movie theaters, they'd use stages for vaudeville between the reels."

Luis says The Ken was built about the same time as the Spreckels Theater downtown but for a very different crowd.

"This was built as sort of a ‘boonies’ theatre, and it was competing against the downtown theatres. Downtown at that time was about 10 cents a film and here it was cheap, a bargain at 5 cents."

And you might see something like Griffiths' pioneering 1916 film "Intolerance."

The Ken Cinema on Adams Avenue in Kensington.

Beth Accomando

Above: The Ken Cinema on Adams Avenue in Kensington.

Fittingly, "Intolerance" kicks off the Ken's 100th Anniversary Film Series this Saturday at 11am. The series showcases a film from each decade the theater has been in business. "Intolerance" was a box office flop when released but its groundbreaking editing and narrative style have proven highly influential. Silent movies rarely play so having an opportunity to see this breathtaking film on the big screen is a real treat. Representing the 20s, is the film Charlie Chaplin most wanted to be remembered for, "The Gold Rush."

"We sort of geared this film series towards a general family audience, simply because we wanted to attract people from the neighborhood which, people usually don’t come to the theatre because we show a lot of foreign independent films."

Chaplin's Little Tramp is always a crowd pleaser as is the ever popular 1939 musical "The Wizard of Oz." The film remains an enchanting film and its vivid Technicolor is glorious in a theater setting.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Billy Wilder's film noir classic "Double Indemnity."

Above: Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Billy Wilder's film noir classic "Double Indemnity."

In sharp visual contrast to the vibrant colors of Oz is the shadowy world of film noir found in "Double Indemnity." This hardboiled 1944 tale of murder and betrayal boasts a crackling script by Raymond Chandler.

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray): "Yes I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman."

Barbara Stanwyck is the elusive woman. With her blonde wig and severe bangs she gives us one of the most memorable femme fatales of all time. The film also has Edward G. Robinson as a dogged insurance investigator.

Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson): "Murder's never perfect. Always comes apart sooner or later and when there are two people involved it's usually sooner."

Murder may not be perfect but this film is. As is the selection for the 1950s and another classic from Billy Wilder, "Some Like It Hot." The film serves up Marilyn Monroe at her sweetest and sexiest.

Daphne (Jack Lemmon): "Look at that! Look how she moves. It's just like Jello on springs."

Shot in part at the Hotel Del, the film has a playful sense of gender bending as Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis don dresses to hide out in an all girl band. The tumultuous 60s are represented by the splendid adaptation of Harper Lee's racially charged "To Kill A Mockingbird." Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his performance as lawyer Atticus Finch.

Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck): "This case should have never come to trial. The State has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place."

The Ken 100th Anniversary Film Series
Enlarge this image

Above: The Ken 100th Anniversary Film Series

The only foreign film in the line up is from the 70s, Federico Fellini's memory of childhood, "Amarcord." As we move out of the 70s, the film choices are less interesting and the series closes out with the mainstream box office hits "Back to the Future," Jurassic Park," and "Chicago."

Guy Hanford is co-owner of Kensington Video next door to the Ken. He used to work at the theater as a teenager in the 1960s. He cleaned the theater each night for a dollar and five cents, and changed the marquee on Thursdays for nothing. But that's how he got introduced to foreign and independent film, and developed a love for cinema.

"I tell people all the time that if you are not going here to the theater at the Ken you are missing one of the rare archival places that you have here in the community."

For the next ten weeks, filmgoers will have a great opportunity to celebrate not only a 100 years of the Ken Cinema but also a century of filmmaking history.

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