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Arts & Culture

Ken Cinema Hosts Another Week Of Classics

Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet does her best to cope with Orson Welles as Falstaff in "Chimes at Midnight," playing as part of the Ken Cinema's Week of Classics.
Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises
Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet does her best to cope with Orson Welles as Falstaff in "Chimes at Midnight," playing as part of the Ken Cinema's Week of Classics.

Selections include silents, Shakespeare and Kubrick

Preview: Ken Cinema's Week Of Film Classics
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando previews the Ken Cinema's new week of film classics.

The Ken Cinema kicks off another week of classic films on Friday, April 1 (no fooling!) and you can find everything from the Bard to bawdy humor.

The series kicks off with the low, politically incorrect and irresistibly funny humor of Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles." Brooks took flack and made audiences laugh when he tackled Nazis in his comedy "The Producers" (1967) and created the musical number "Springtime for Hitler." In 1974, he decided to poke fun at racism (among other things) with his western comedy "Blazing Saddles." Here's the scene where the new and black sheriff Bart (played to perfection by Cleavon Little) arrives in town, much to the distress of the locals:

Blazing Saddles: New Sheriff

I'm not sure anyone would be able to shoot a scene like that today, yet Brooks makes it hilarious and quite effective in pointing out racial stereotypes and then contradicting them. Little is great at giving us a smart black character who can navigate through the idiocy of the town. Gene Wilder, as the Waco Kid, offers this observation to Bart:

What did you expect? "Welcome, sonny"? "Make yourself at home"? "Marry my daughter"? You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons.

Hmm? Any way this film might connect to current events? Pair it with "Idiocracy" and see what you get.

"Blazing Saddles," despite fart jokes and low brow gags, is a smartly-made comedy that deserves to be included with the classics.

Then for a bit of culture shock, the Ken follows "Blazing Saddles" with Stanley Kubrick's tableaux like "Barry Lyndon." I never appreciated this film until I went to the Kubrick exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and gained new insight into the film. When I saw the film as a teenager in 1975, I thought it was a boring series of still life paintings gorgeously shot. But the LACMA exhibit provided background on what Kubrick was thinking at the time. Now I can appreciate the film as a study in boredom made by a man who had accomplished so much and wasn't finding the challenges to stimulate him. The film screens on Saturday, April 2 and is followed by Kubrick's ultra-violent classic "A Clockwork Orange" at midnight. The midnight films are not officially part of the classics week but a double bill of Kubrick is a treat that no cinephile should miss, especially when the films are as diverse as this pair.

On Sunday, April 3, Orson Welles' Shakespearean opus "Chimes at Midnight" screens. This was a labor of love that Welles pursued over many years. Welles cleverly stitched together elements from all the plays featuring the bawdy Sir John Falstaff (played by Welles) to create one breathtaking portrait of the character that played a supporting role in the history plays of "Henry the IV" and "Henry V." Welles has cited this as his favorite film and for good reason. He is brilliant as both Falstaff and as a master craftsman who had to shoot the film on and off for years, and sometimes without sound equipment (dialogue or voiceover would be added later).

Two undisputed classics play on April 4 and 5: Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece "Metropolis" and "Casablanca" starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. If you haven't experienced these on the big screen yet, do so now.

Francesca Annis and Jon Finch play Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in Roman Polanski's adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, "Macbeth."
Columbia Pictures
Francesca Annis and Jon Finch play Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in Roman Polanski's adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, "Macbeth."

Rounding out the week are a pair of more recent gems, Roman Polanski's "Macbeth" and Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" (screening in its European cut version). Polanski's adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy is stunning. He captures the intimacy of the relationship between Macbeth and his wife, and makes the couple young to heighten the sense of tragedy. Their youth contrasts so sharply with the elderly King Duncan that we feel they could have waited to ascend the throne rather than letting ambition prompt them to murder.

Polanski delivers a riveting interpretation of the play and one that far outshines the recent one with Michael Fassbender. The 2015 "Macbeth" directed by Justin Kurzel had a keen visual sensibility and interpretation of the main character but it felt like the director had no clue to what any of the lines actually meant. Polanski has a grasp of the language and the tragedy.

And what can I say about "Brazil"? It is simply one of my all-time favorite films and one that displays jaw-dropping originality. This sprawling, audaciously imaginative film takes us places that only Terry Gilliam (a former member of Monty Python) could imagine. Not even a big screen at a movie theater seems large enough to contain the imagery. Gilliam fought a massive battle (chronicled in a book) to get his version of the film out. At one point, Universal had cut its own version of the film complete with a happy ending and it screened in theaters and on TV. But eventually Gilliam won and his version is the one screening Thursday, April 7, at the Ken. It is a masterpiece.

Once again, the Ken Cinema serves up a week of classics to make any movie lover's mouth water.

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