FilmOut Presents High Art And Low Camp With Karen Black Double Feature
‘Come Back to the Five and Dime’ and ‘Airport ‘75’ screen in tribute to late actress
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Actress Karen Black died in August 2013. FilmOut San Diego on Wednesday night will pay tribute to her great range with a double feature at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas.
Black won considerable acclaim during her long career. But she probably would have enjoyed more mainstream success if she hadn’t insisted on pursuing challenging characters in mostly independent features.
Her first role of note was in Francis Ford Coppola’s feature debut, “You’re a Big Boy Now,” and then she appeared in a string of roles on popular TV shows in the 1960s. But she hit her stride as an actress in the glorious '70s, when filmmaking was just getting its taste of breaking free of the studios and venturing out into new and exciting terrain.
She headed into the decade fresh off her memorable role in “Easy Rider” (1969). In the '70s she would make: “Five Easy Pieces,” “Drive, He Said,” “Cisko Pike,” “Portnoy’s Complaint,” “The Day of the Locust,” “Nashville” and “Family Plot” (for Alfred Hitchcock).
FilmOut’s Black double feature showcases the star in a pair of diverse films.
Robert Altman’s film adaptation of the stage play “Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” highlights her exquisite skill as a dramatic actress. The film’s themes (no details because that would be a spoiler) tie directly into FilmOut’s mission statement “to enlighten, educate, and entertain the communities of San Diego County and beyond through the exhibition of LGBT-themed films.”
“I love Karen Black and the cast, but her performance is the heart of the film," said FilmOut programmer Michael McQuiggan. "Plus, the film is newly restored and hasn’t played in San Diego in over 30 years.”
The second film in the double bill couldn’t be more different — “Airport ’75.” This Hollywood produced “disaster” film was part of a profitable franchise and an attempt by the studio to show off its star power in contrast to the more plebeian independent films that were challenging the industry’s old guard.
“Airport ‘75” is also the source for many of the tropes “Airplane” would mock (singing nuns, young girl awaiting organ transplant, plucky stewardess, auto piloting) just five years later.
Black plays a stewardess infamously coping with a midair disaster as Charleton Heston and George Kennedy try to assist her.
“'Airport 75’ is a bonus film that we chose as the second half of the Double Feature since it is the 40th anniversary,” McQuiggan said. “This all star campfest is a true cult classic and Black's playing it totally straight, again stealing the film.”
Black is also essentially being asked by the film to bridge old Hollywood and new by being both the helpless female who needs Heston to rescue her and a symbol of that newfangled women’s lib and its bold sense of independence.
Joe Ferrelli, who started FilmOut as his thesis project in college, will be the guest speaker introducing the films. He said, “Her appeal to myself and to Filmout stem from her unique otherness: her unconventional looks that feature distinctive crossed-eyes are far from the typical Hollywood ideals of beauty and normality, and her desire to work in eclectic films that challenge societal attitudes and expectations.”
“The two films couldn’t be more different and it clearly proves that she was game for anything,” McQuiggan said.
And no matter what she was doing, she was always fascinating to watch.
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