Was 1939 the greatest year in American movies? That supplied to be embraced dogma among film fans. As the years peel ameans, that might not be the case anyeven more.
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But even more around that later. Wherever you put it in the “greatest ever” list, 1939 is still a pretty outstanding year. Hollywood’s Dream Factory remained in full production mode, and craftsmanship was at its apex. Depression-era audiences visited the movies in record numbers.
And some of them in 1939 went frequently to the Stanford Theatre, which is celebrating the 80th anniversary of that year with a two-month, 25-film tribute called “80 Years Ago in This Theatre: The Films of 1939.” It started on Tuesday, Nov. 5, and also ends via a four-day booking of “Gone With the Wind” Jan. 2-5. Nine of the 10 films that were nominated for finest picture Oscars that year are screening — all except “Of Mice and also Men.”
But tbelow is a large elephant on the room when it comes to the films of 1939: “Gone With the Wind.”
The finest picture winner became the all-time box-office champ — playing in some first-run theaters for 5 years — and has actually for decades been an enthroughout timeless. No 1939 retrospective would certainly be finish without it: David O. Selznick’s gargantuan accomplishment is a top-notch piece of filmmaking in all departments.
But a film that mourns the loss of the pre-Civil War South makes us significantly uncomfortable, as it should. “Gone With the Wind” it seems, is ultimately living approximately its title.
Look, judging art from the previous via today’s sociopolitical lens have the right to be misguided.
But tbelow are issues with some of these 1939 films in this series, from colonialism — “Gunga Din” (5:20 and also 9:30 p.m. Thursday and also Friday, Nov. 7-8), “Beau Geste” (Dec. 7-8) and also “The Rains Came” (Dec. 12-13) — to the treatment of Native Americans (“Drums Alengthy the Mohawk,” Dec. 17-18). I uncover enjoyment in all of those movies, even as I acknowledge some of their views included within them are antiquated (some are not).
The biggest irony is the Charlie Chan series, stood for in this festival by the San Francisco-collection “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island” (Dec. 3-4). Chan, meant to be a positive character, was created by writer Earl Derr Biggers, who based his creation on real-life Honolulu police detective Chang Apana, to combat the negative views of Asians being fueled by the Hearst newspapers’ “yellow peril” campaigns. The proudly intellectual Chan stands in contrast to the racist Dr. Fu Manchu publications and also movies.
And yet, in the 47 films made from 1926 to 1949, he was always played in yellowconfront by a white male — in the case of “Treasure Island,” the Missouri-born Sidney Toler. That was standard at the moment, and also the truth continues to be Chan was beloved by Asian Amerihave the right to moviegoers in the at an early stage 20th century, and basic audiences.
But “Gone With the Wind” is a little various. More and more it seems to enter “Birth of a Nation” region. Its worldcheck out is decidedly white nationalist — there’s just no escaping it. And in genuine life, think about that Hattie McDaniel came to be the first Afrihave the right to Amerihave the right to to win an Academy Award, for ideal supporting actress, and yet she was not permitted to attfinish the premiere in Atlanta.
Give me “The Wizard of Oz” salso days a week and twice on Sunday.
Let’s cshed on a positive note, because again, there is so much to love around the Stanford Theatre retrospective. My favorite regimen in the series is the double attribute of “Only Angels Have Wings,” Howard Hawks’ mysterious, cynical look at a team of mail pilots based in the South Amerihave the right to jungle headed by Cary Grant; and Ford’s idealized portrait of our 16th president, “Young Mr. Lincoln,” which stands as an apology in advance for “Gone With the Wind.”
Portraying Lincoln as a rising if homespun lawyer in Illinois, Henry Fonda and Ford are game for mythmaking. “Young Mr. Lincoln” presents a fantasy America, one in which its high-minded ideals will be, inevitably, completely realized. It’s a dream of perfection, an impossible dream that neverthemuch less is effective because it renders us desire to strive towards it.
Couple of movies, though, attain the balance of gangbuster movie entertainment and existential angst of “Only Angels Have Wings.” Stuck in their exotic, rural setting, the fliers develop a brotherhood of friendship, wisecracking nihilism and, dare I say, love. Grant in his gaucho hat and also gaucho pants regulates the display screen, and also yet also shares it: The ensemble actors, which has Jean Arthur, Ricdifficult Barthelmess, Thomas Mitchell, Rita Hayworth and Noah Beery Jr., has many kind of possibilities to shine.
Bristling through overlapping dialogue, amazing stunt flying and also moody lighting, it’s a movie that invites its audience to be a part of the film’s cool-people group. But the movie is additionally drenched via a sense of dcheck out and fatality. Flying is dangerous, and Hawks well kbrand-new it: An completed flier himself, he was a trip instructor for the U.S. Military Signal Corps in World War I, and close friends of his would die in action; his brvarious other, Kenneth Hawks, passed away while filming a movie flying stunt in 1930.
For Howard Hawks, flying is a metaphor for the movies, and life, itself: an exhilarating high-wire act that reaches difficult highs and crushing lows in the time of its transitory visibility.
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80 Years Ago in This Theatre: The Films of 1939: Tuesday, Nov. 5, via Jan. 5. Stanford Theatre, 221 University Ave., Palo Alto. 650-324-3700. www.stanfordtheatre.org. $5-$7, cash only, per program.