With bated breath, I wait. Anxiously, I check flyers, newspapers, websites, waiting for the announcement. It's one of the best events of the summer, and I cannot wait for the big reveal. What will the Byham summer film series have in store?
That question has caused me to nervously wade through pages and pages of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust propaganda -- not to mention the bleh that is the Post-Gazette A&E section -- wondering, usually aloud, if there would even be a series. I mean, if they haven't announced a film series that begins in August by the end of June, it must mean they haven't picked the movies, which in turn must mean they won't be showing any. Right? RIGHT?
I usually find myself wrong; there will be a film series and I'm psyched. This year, though, I was left wishing that there were no series when I read what was on the bill.
Over the past few years, I have seen the following movies during the various Byham summer series: "Notorious", "Shadow of a Doubt", "Casablanca", "Roman Holiday", "The Philadelphia Story", "From Here to Eternity", "Gone With the Wind", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "Vertigo", "Psycho", "The Birds" and "All the President's Men."
Now, these are movies -- for the most part -- that need to be seen in an old-time, opulent movie theater like the Byham. Now that it, along with Heinz Hall and the Benedum Center, other old time movie palaces, don't play movies regularly, it's a treat to see some of these old classics and more modern ones playing in them. And usually, the summer film series Downtown in rife with classics like this, so much so that to look at the schedule would be to be dizzy from the titles staring you back in the face.
This year, though, not only are the films anything but classics, there aren't even that many movies playing. This year's list is as follows:
August 3: "Polyester" August 4: "Braveheart" August 5: "Cabaret" August 6: "Wait Until Dark" and "The Shining" August 10: "Foxy Brown" August 11: "Enter the Dragon" August 12: "Swingers" August 13: "The Way We Were" and "An Affair to Remember" August 17: "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" August 18: "Whale Rider" August 19: "Casablanca" August 20: "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Donnie Darko"
What the hell? "Enter the Dragon"? MF'n "Polyester"?!?!?! (C'mon, it's only on the list because John Waters is in town. You know it, I know it, the American people know it.) The theme of this year's series is "Big Films, Enormous Screen." Nice. The older movies that are slated to be shown aren't exactly big films -- "The Way We Were" an "An Affair to Remember" are intimate love stories -- and the new films, like "Swingers" and "Whale Rider," are indie faves. And, I love "Donnie Darko," but for a movie that went wholly unnoticed upon its initial release in 2001 sure plays as regular as clockwork in the 'Burgh. "Braveheart" is a legitimate epic, "Holy Grail" is a send-up of one and "Casablanca" is about as big as they come. But don't you think whoever put this list together could have put a little more thought into it? Especially in light of what's playing at Pittsburgh Filmmaker's Regent Square theater at the same time.
Every Sunday in August, the Regent Square is playing a classic from 1969. Week one, "Easy Rider." Week two, "Midnight Cowboy." Week three, "The Wild Bunch." Finally, "Medium Cool."
Now compare the two lists. The Regent Square is playing better films, frame for frame, in those four weeks than during the entirety of the Byham series. So that begs the question, "Why?". Why couldn't Filmmakers, who usually works in conjunction with the Byham on the series list, bring at least the first three of those movies to the Byham? Why do we need another screening of "Donnie Darko" and "Napoleon Dynamite"? So all the wannabes who didn't see them during whatever run they had in the theater can cement their poser status by saying they saw them on a big screen? And, worst of all, why should I care about the Byham when they're playing mundane, medicore films?
That's really sad, especially when an hour of brainstorming could have resulted in a fuller, "bigger" list.
"Patton" was recently restored to its 70mm glory, and there is apparently a 70mm projector in Pittsburgh somewhere, so that would fit both criteria: huge movie, even bigger screen -- especially since few people nowadays have seen a 70mm presentation. "2001: A Space Odyssey" would have been a good pick. "Lawrence of Arabia," now there's a BIG film. "Bridge on the River Kwai." "Planet of the Apes," the original Charlton Heston version. "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" or "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." As much as I cringe to think it, "The English Patient." "Rocky" or "Raging Bull." "The Royal Tenenbaums." "Sideways." "Unforgiven." "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" for camp chic to replace "Polyester." "Saturday Night Fever." "Moulin Rouge" if you want a musical -- "A Star is Born," the restored director's cut of the Judy Garland, James Mason classic is another good choice.
See, it's not that hard. You can keep some of the choices, like "Braveheart" and "Foxy Brown." But otherwise, it's a complete wash. And as much as I would love to see "Casablanca" again on a big screen, as well as "The Shining," I know where my movie dollars are going -- and it's not to the Byham.
The Byham summer series is always hotly anticipated by movie lovers and cineastes alike, but this year, it's a head-scratcher. Hopefully they'll pull it together and regroup for next year.