Friday, June 17, 2011

Film Gab Under the Stars

Werth: It's here, Wise!

Wise: Did my Liza Minnelli puppet finally arrive from Amsterdam?

Werth: No. And I don't know what disturbs me more—the puppet or you posting that clip. I'm talking about the annual HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival that starts Monday!

 Wise: It's the official start to summer in New York.  For those of us without digs in the Hamptons. 

Werth: For ten Mondays in the summer, lovely Bryant Park becomes an outdoor movie theater that presents some of the most popular classic films for our viewing pleasure.

Wise: I love cinema al fresco. 

Werth: I thought before we talk about some of the offerings this year, I'd give a few helpful hints to make our readers' Bryant Park moviegoing experience more pleasant.

Wise: You are always so generous with advice.
Werth: First of all—be on time. The grounds open at 5PM and it's like the Oklahoma Land Rush to grab a spot on the lawn, so get there early to get the choicest seat. Secondly—in addition to a blanket, bring trash bags to sit on just in case the ground is damp. Because nothing spoils a show more than a damp bottom.  Afterward you can be a good citizen and use the bag  to throw out any garbage.

Wise: I try to avoid damp bottoms and come prepared with my vinyl-backed flannel picnic blanket that folds into a neat satchel. 

Werth: Most people bring lovely food and drink items to enjoy picnic style, and I always wonder, "Hey, can I wash down that triple creme brie with a glass of chardonnay?" The technical answer is no. Alcohol is not allowed in NYC parks—but in my experience if you're discreet and not hauling a keg in, you'll probably be all right bringing a bottle of wine to add a touch of sparkle to your evening.

Wise: Or just pour your wine into a Sprite bottle like Werth does for family functions.

Werth: Finally, before you settle into the movie, remember to give yourself a quick spritz of bug repellent 'cause the only thing that likes a dusk-time movie more than you are bloodthirsty swarms of mosquitoes.

Wise: Enough tips! Which movies should we see?

Werth: The list is quite fun this year, but my personal pick would be July 25th's The Lady Eve (1941) with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda.

Wise: The Lady Eve on a Summer's eve?  Sounds totally fresh.

Werth: Eve is yet another classic comedy from the hilarious pen and lens of Preston Sturges. Fonda is a milquetoast reptile expert who also happens to be an heir to an ale empire.

Wise: Snakes and beer—your favorites.

Werth: Fonda is coming home to New York on a boat from South America when the con-artist team of Stanwyck and Charles Coburn decide to fleece him for all he's worth. True to the romantic comedy genre, the hunter falls for the hunted and soon, in classic Sturges style, romance becomes a tangled, witty, pratfall-laden mess. 
Stanwyck in particular really shines as the sultry and smart gal who wants love, revenge, and then love again. The scene where she narrates as she watches in the reflection of her compact the ship's eligible bachelorettes attempt to woo Fonda at his table is some of the most whip-smart comedy of Sturges' career. Wonderful supporting work from a few of the best character actors of the time period (Coburn, William Demerest, Eugene Pallette and Eric Blore) make Eve a light summertime frolic, tailor-made for a snakeless park.

Wise: Comedies are perfect viewing for picnics with friends, so I'd suggest seeing Airplane! (1980) on August 8th because there's really nothing quite like snorting not-Sprite right out your nose. 

Werth: Unless of course it's snorting not-Coke.

Wise: The grandaddy of the hugely successful Naked Gun and Scary Movie franchises, Airplane! tops them all in sheer, gleeful absurdity.  
Co-written and -directed by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, the film follows traumatized WWII pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) as he attempts to patch up his rocky relationship with his stewardess girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) on a doomed flight from Los Angeles to Chicago.  Only by overcoming his worst fears can he save the day and get the girl.  

Werth: You make the plot sound like it's a classic airline disaster film.

Wise: That's part of what makes Airplane! such a successful comedy. The film sticks to the classic structure of Hollywood disaster films, but follows that logic to the most absurd ends. Plus the cast is full of tough guy stalwarts like Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and (perhaps most successfully) Leslie Nielsen, each of them playing to type and without a wink to the chaos around them. 

Werth: I particularly love the actors' straight delivery of such memorable lines as, "Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?", "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking," and "I am serious... and don't call me Shirley. "

Wise: Of course I can't talk about Airplane! without mentioning the two single most hilarious screen cameos ever filmed.  I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, but please look out for Barbara Billingsley and Ethel Merman.
Werth: So, Wise, what delicious items will you be bringing in your picnic basket?

Wise: Simple things, like bread, cheese and fruits.  Maybe a tart for dessert.

Werth: I love tarts.

Wise: We knew that about you.

Werth: So bring your damp bottoms, your Sprite bottles and your tarts to Bryant Park this Summer and join us next week for more Film Gab.

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