Our Favorite Film Revivals of 2014
By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 26, 2014 8:00PM
Scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Jamaica Inn.”
There's no shortage of year-end "best of" lists out there, and as a bit of a list junkie, I'm not complaining. However, by definition these lists celebrate the new, while many of my treasured movie-going experiences of any year are revivals of older movies. In an effort to celebrate that, here are some of my favorite film revivals of 2014.
While I do find year-end rankings to be a fun, albeit meaningless exercise, in the case of revivals, it seems especially pointless. Comparing Force of Evil to King Kong vs. Godzilla is like comparing Monet to Hanna-Barbera. So instead, I'll offer some categorical pairings.
These are by no means all the revivals I enjoyed, nor even necessarily the best older movies I took in. These simply stood out as the most memorable or enjoyable retro cinema experiences of the year, whether that was due to the films themselves or the environment in which I watched them.
It's great to go back to movies you love, but new discoveries of older movies are especially exciting. As Lauren Bacall once noted, "It's not an old movie if you haven't seen it." To signify those new/old experiences, an asterisk is next to films I saw for the first time.
FILM NOIR: 1948
Force of Evil (Block Cinema) — Block Cinema's screening of a restored 35mm print was a perfect way to revisit Abraham Polonsky's stunning directorial debut (his career was crippled when he was blacklisted). Visually stylish, this film is best known for its unique, highly poetic dialogue. There are few more haunting, beautifully written scenes than when John Garfield's romantic overtures to Beatrice Pearson suddenly turn into a tortured justification for his own corruption.
Kiss the Blood off My Hands * (Northwest Chicago Film Society at the Patio Theater) — The Northwest Chicago Film Society is the city's most essential repertory cinema organization, but its organizers have had to endure losing their home base several times. The latest setback was the spring closing of the Patio Theatre (since reopened...we'll see for how long). The NCFS plans to resurface with more regular scheduling down the line. Thank god! Otherwise how often will we get to see rarely screened gems like this noir with Burt Lancaster as a fugitive at the mercy of blackmailers and Joan Fontaine as the lonely nurse who falls for him? And that title? Wow.
Goldfinger (Park Ridge Classic Film at the Pickwick Theatre) — A former programmer at the greatly missed Bank of America Cinema, Matthew Hoffman continues his mission to bring vintage films to the masses under the Park Ridge Classic Film banner. For his Park Ridge Public Library screenings, Hoffman will delve a bit into lesser-known titles, but for events in the handsome Pickwick Theatre he has mainly stuck to favorites and succeeded in drawing some very large crowds. The audience's enthusiasm added to the fun of this 50th anniversary showing of what many consider the definitive James Bond film.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (Sci-Fi Spectacular at the Patio Theatre) — I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was fairly entertaining, but for offbeat, intergalactic adventure with plenty of humor on the side, it pales next to W.D. Richter's 1984 cult classic. Admittedly, you've got to embrace the giddy and the goofy to enjoy this, but if that's in your cinematic wheelhouse, this remains a blast 30 years after its original release.
KONG THE GREAT / KONG THE RIDICULOUS
King Kong (Block Cinema) — The "8th Wonder of the World" remains a wonder indeed, as proven by the little tyke I saw after this screening who looked up at his mother and asked, "Mom, why didn't they just leave Kong alone on the island? Then he wouldn't have hurt so many people." Damn straight, kid! I can't count the times I’ve seen this seminal monster movie since I was near that child's age, and it never fails to enthrall me. 80 years of technological advancements have not dimmed the appeal of its groundbreaking stop-motion effects, which express more personality than countless modern CGI spectacles.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (Sci-Fi Spectacular at the Patio Theatre) — Kong was stripped of all his grandeur for this cheapo 1962 production, but man is it hilarious! Some of the wrestling gestures of the actors in the rubber suits had to be intentionally comic, but that's probably not true of the American-shot inserts of newscasters, scientists and military experts weighing in on the battle of the titanic monsters. This is a real hoot to watch with a crowd.
Jamaica Inn * (Chicago International Film Festival) — Its critical reputation is middling at best and Hitchcock himself hated it, so I was never in much of a hurry to catch up with the film the Master of Suspense made between his British triumph, The Lady Vanishes, and his first Hollywood project, Rebecca. Well, that was a mistake. This is an engrossing, often exciting film and surprisingly violent for its era. A tale of coastal pirates who deliberately cause shipwrecks and the decadent local official fronting the operation (Charles Laughton, chewing the scenery as only he could), Jamaica Inn boasts several signature Hitch touches. It deserves serious reappraisal from anyone who has written it off as "failed Hitchcock."
Why Be Good? * (Chicago International Film Festival) — It was worth sitting through a long and meandering introduction from CIFF co-founder Michael Kutza and film historian David Robinson to get to see this 1929 silent romantic comedy, thought lost for decades. Restored with its original Vitaphone soundtrack of jazz tunes and sound effects, the movie proved to be a real charmer. Star Colleen Moore (who later in life helped a young Kutza establish CIFF) shows the charisma that made her a screen sensation. Moore's notoriety has been dulled by time and lack of availability of many of her films. Hopefully, the rediscovery of Why Be Good? will help change that a little.
FAVORITE REVIVAL EVENT
Music Box of Horors (Music Box Theatre) — I still don't know many details of the acrimonious split between the Music Box and the Terror in the Aisles folks, who originated what was once called the Music Box Massacre (now simply The Massacre), but the silver lining of the feud is that local horror buffs now get a choice of two 24-hour movie marathons every October. I had been a Terror in the Aisles loyalist, but a very bad experience at the re-opened Portage and reluctance to support an Eddie Carranza operation led me to go with the Music Box of Horrors this year. I'm a marathon dabbler, not a hardcore all-day attendee, but during the five films I took in, the venue did a great job with everything from the variety of movies to generating a fun yet attentive vibe among the audience. Even a terrible laser disc projection of The Borrower (the only film I saw shown in a less than theatrical-worthy presentation) was salvaged by director John McNaughton's appearance and his often-hilarious account of the film's troubled production.
(* First viewing)