Friday, December 6, 2013

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

WHO: Preston Sturges wrote and directed this.

WHAT: Can an artist who has only known privilege make art that speaks to the experiences of people without privilege? This is the question at the heart of Sullivan's Travels, a laugh-out-loud comedy made in the early 1940s, when the Great Depression had officially ended but poverty continued. A pompous but good-hearted movie director, tired of making studio fluff, determines to experience the "real" America by going out on the road, and ends up farther from his Hollywood mansion than he'd ever expected. Filled with the romance, adventure, witty dialogue, and wonderful character actors that typify classic-era movie-making at its best, this film is frequently cited as one of the best comedies ever. Has the Hollywood myth machine ever been subject to more hilariously honest satire?

WHERE/WHEN: Only at the Stanford Theatre tonight through Sunday at 7:30, with additional matinee screenings tomorrow and Sunday at 4:10.

WHY: It's a pretty weak weekend for 35mm film screenings in Frisco Bay, believe it or not. The Castro is given over to the all-digital Good Vibrations Erotic Short Film Competition tonight and digitally-projected Sing-A-Long Sound Of Music the rest of the weekend. The Pacific Film Archive is screening its own 35mm print of the Hong Kong New Wave landmark The Arch Sunday and an imported print of Fassbinder's Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? tonight, but the latter is surely the same moderately scratched, extremely color-faded print I saw at Yerba Buena Center For The Arts last month. Otherwise it's showing Fassbinder's Despair on Blu-Ray and turning over the rest of the weekend to 2K & 4K digital presentations of classic films known for their great photochemical-era cinematography. At least Sony archivist Grover Crisp will be on hand to defend DCP as a format for the Saturday showings of Louis Malle's Alamo Bay and Scorsese's Taxi Driver. I hope he's asked some pointed questions.

But there are bright spots for 35mm-goers besides The Arch: YBCA is showing Querelle on 35mm Sunday (quality of print unknown), the 4-Star is giving the brand-new, shot-on-film 12 Years a Slave what I believe to be it's first local 35mm showings, and there's always the Stanford, which is wonderfully old-fashioned enough not to have the capability of screening anything digitally. Nor does it have the capability of selling advance tickets online or by phone, so if you want to ensure a seat at its annual, always-sold-out Christmas Eve screening of It's A Wonderful Life, you'll have to make your way to the theatre box office sometime shortly after tickets go on sale tomorrow. While you're there, why not catch a great film or two? Preston Sturges's closest-to-canonized classic Sullivan's Travels screening with my personal favorite Marx Brothers picture Horse Feathers? You can't go wrong.

HOW: Both films on the double-bill screen in 35mm as always at this venue.

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