The West Virginia Division of Culture and History’s movie series continues on four consecutive Saturdays in July, beginning July 2, and continuing on July 9, July 16, and July 23, with two showings at 1 and 4 p.m., at the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex, Charleston. The July movies are classics of the big screen. The film series is free and open to the public.
The July 2 film is based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical novel To Kill a Mockingbird, (1962, 130 minutes) which won three Academy Awards for best actor (Gregory Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay (Horton Foote) and Best Art Direction (Hal Erickson). Set in a small Alabama town in the 1930s, the story focuses on the scrupulously honest, highly respected lawyer Atticus Finch, who puts his career on the line when he agrees to represent Tom Robinson, a young black man accused of raping a white woman. The trial and events surrounding it are seen through the eyes of Finch’s six-year-old daughter Scout. While the trial gives the film its momentum, Scout’s adventures and relationships with her 10-year-old brother, Jem, her precocious friend Dill Harris (based on Lee’s childhood pal Truman Capote), her father, and the reclusive “village idiot,” Boo Radley (Robert Duvall in his movie debut), provide the glue that makes the film one of the most thought-provoking dramas of its time.
On July 9, the sophisticated and classic masterpiece, Citizen Kane, (1941, 119 minutes) will be aired. The movie marked the screen debut of Orson Welles, who at age 25 served as producer, director, and star of the film, as well as collaborating with Herman J. Mankiewicz on the screenplay. Much of the film drew its inspiration from the life of William Randolph Hearst, who had put together an empire of newspapers, radio stations, magazines and news services, and then built himself a flamboyant castle. Citizen Kane covers the rise of the penny press, the Hearst-supported Spanish-American War, the birth of radio, the power of political machines, the rise of fascism and the growth of “yellow” journalism. The screenplay, which won an Oscar and was the only one Welles ever received, also covers Kane’s marriage, from early bliss to dissolution, the story of his courtship of Susan Alexander and her disastrous opera career, his lavish entertaining, and his decline into the remote master of his mansion, Xanadu, where he died alone.
On July 16, silent screen superstar Gloria Swanson plays a Hungarian opera diva, Nella Vago, in the romantic comedy Tonight or Never (1931, 81 minutes). In this early talkie, Vago’s singing coach insists that her performances lack passion, a situation that can be rectified only if she experiences love herself. Returning to Budapest by train after her debut in Venice, Vago soon learns that her fiance, Count Albert von Granac, is in the midst of an affair. Meanwhile a charming young man played by Melvyn Douglas begins following her around everywhere, and seems the perfect choice to provide just the jolt her career needs. With stunning costumes by Coco Chanel, gorgeous art-deco sets, beautiful cinematography, and a scene-stealing waiter played by Boris Karloff in his first role after “Frankenstein,” Tonight or Never is an entertaining film from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The Best Picture Academy Award-winner An American in Paris (1951, 113 minutes), one of MGM’s most celebrated musicals, can be seen July 23. The movie is a showcase for Gene Kelly’s talent as he serves as star, singer, dancer, and choreographer. Kelly plays a GI who stays in Paris after World War II to become an artist, and has to choose between the patronage of a rich American woman (Nina Foch) and a young French gamine engaged to another man (Leslie Caron in her screen debut). The film glorifies the joie de vivre of Paris, features music and lyrics by the Gershwin brothers and includes a spectacular 17-minute dance sequence at the end of the film that took a month to film. Songs include “I Got Rhythm” and “Love is Here to Stay.”
The film series will continue in August with three films by independent filmmaker John Sayles. For more information, call (304) 558-0162.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. Visit the Division’s website at www.wvculture.org for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.