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Cinema au Naturel

When summer movies attack, New York City is cinematic sanctuary; art houses provide respite from the likes of Scooby Doo, Vin Diesel, and Ashley Judd. Thanks to the Quad, Sunshine, Commodore, Film Forum, and other alternative shelters, moviegoers can spend the entire season, air-conditioned and popcorn-satiated, without seeing one sticky-sweet product of Hollywood’s grubbiest season. Yet, come summertime, even the palest, most antisocial cineaste needs fresh, open air, and maybe a breather from the tedious art flick. Besides, when was the last time you enjoyed a contraband bottle of wine, a bucket of chicken, and the smell of Citronella at the Angelika? Free of charge, unpretentious, and interactive, outdoor movie festivals abound in 2002, with a wide gamut of public screenings at sundown running through the end of August. Whether you crave an oldie in Bryant Park, a cult classic on the piers, foreign films (and food!) in Queens, or music and a movie in Prospect Park, chances are you’ll find your fix of flicks beneath the stars. All films begin at dusk (normally between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.).

HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. Credit: Ethan Lercher. Bryant Park Corporation.

Stuck in midtown? A welcome reprieve for corporate drones each Monday, the veteran HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival maximizes the underrated park behind the New York Public Library. The tidy, shaded patch of green, sandwiched in the congested stretch between Grand Central and Times Square, is ideal for scaled-down concerts, David Blaine’s shenanigans, and after-work flicks. The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary with another crop of satisfying, well-known classics from Hollywood’s earlier eras. Note: if interested in aforementioned bucket of chicken, a KFC is conveniently located at 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue. Screening August 5, the racially charged Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1968) transcends its nearly quaint central conflict between a white affluent couple and their daughter’s African-American fiancé. The trailblazing dramedy paired up Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy for the last time before his death, and fetched Hepburn her second Oscar. Did we mention the unmatchable, always-blazing screen presence of Sidney Poitier? A guiltier pleasure, A Summer Place (1959), shown August 12, stars then-Brat Packers Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as illicit teen lovers frolicking on the photogenic coast of Maine. The sudsy romance boasts a stirring Max Steiner score and set design (the titular home) by Frank Lloyd Wright. August 19th’s screening of Bye Bye Birdie (1963) reminds us that Britney, Justin, et al. did not invent teen pop hysteria; in fact, the spastic, poodle-skirted fans of yesteryear, as portrayed here, make the TRL crowd seem dignified. The frizzy, Broadway-based musical chronicles the brouhaha in a small Iowa town following the visit of Conrad Birdie. Bound for the Army, the Elvis-ish crooner is due for “one last kiss” before shipping out; accordingly the local bobbysoxers pucker up in a riot-like frenzy. Full of ditties impossible to get out of your head—“Put On A Happy Face,” “Telephone Hour”—the ensemble romp features Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Bobby Rydell, and, at her most nubile, Ann Margret.

Bryant Park is located behind the New York Public Library, between 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Avenues. For more info, call 212-512-5700 or visit

Part of Hudson River Park’s extensive, summer-long “Take Me to the River” program, Riverflicks puts celluloid on the piers, making stunning, democratic use of the West Side waterfront. And while any downtown event retains some poignancy these days, this year’s roster of films has little to do with heroic or patriotic themes. Instead, an unpredictable grab bag of cult classics and crowd pleasers from the ’70s onward dominates. Bonus: free popcorn! Devoted to R-rated fare, Pier 54’s Wednesday screenings recall perverse moments embedded in pop culture history. Who can forget the feces-like candy bar floating in a crowded pool, the dancing groundhog, or Chevy Chase in golf shorts in Caddyshack (1980)? If you need a refresher course and prefer raunchy comedies without Tara Reid, check out the country club kegger on August 7. More unsettling, Carrie (1976) fuses Brian DePalma, Stephen King, and embryonic Sissy Spacek in a classic high-school-gothic tale of an ostracized, telekinetic teen. Betty Buckley, who played caring-but-ineffective teacher Miss Collins (before going on to Broadway diva-dom), will be on hand at 6 p.m. to field questions—like what was it like working with a pre-Scientology John Travolta? Less pig-blood and more narrative ingenuity populate the razor-sharp The Usual Suspects (1995), which screens on August 21. Kevin Spacey won his first Oscar as “Verbal” Kint, the narrator and one of five criminals rounded up for a not-so-straight-forward investigation in this noirish, brilliantly constructed crime thriller. Ask your seat neighbor to explain the whole “Keyzer Soze” thing. Admit it, indie-lovers: the CGI-enhanced molten-metal-cyborg stuff in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), screening August 28, is still pretty awe-inspiring, even after a decade. Seven years before proclaiming himself King of the World, James Cameron flaunts his preternatural gift for breathlessly choreographed action sequences and technological eye-candy in this worthy sequel. Don’t forget Ah-nuld, arguably at his peak here. On Fridays, the kid-friendly Pier 25 Friday showcases of G- or PG-rated pickings; the lack of sex and violence belies some inspired selections. August 2nd’s Better Off Dead… (1985), though not as deconstructed as the John Hughes films of the same era, deserves a place in the canon in of ’80s teen comedies. With surreal touches of animation, bizarre subplots, and never-boring John Cusack as a depressed and dumped-upon dude, it’s aged well—right down to the deranged paperboy who stalks Cusack for two dollars. Tapping into a similar vibe of male neuroses and paranoia, Rear Window screens August 9th. Hitchcock’s masterpiece seems a bit out of place in this group, but the kids really shouldn’t miss it. Cry all you want about the decline of traditional, hand-drawn animation, but computer-animated fairy-tale farce Shrek (August 16) engages and entertains more than most of the mainstream live-action stuff released in 2001. What’d more, the elaborate parodies of the Disney Empire, even concocted by the un-underdogs of DreamWorks, satisfy our naughtier impulses. Only in the ’80s would Francis Ford Coppola trade Mario Puzo for S.E. Hinton; the auteur adapted Hinton’s novel The Outsiders (1983), a junior high must-read, for the big screen, shown August 23, Coppolla cast the misunderstood, T-Birdish gang of you-know-whats with just about every pretty male face of the era: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, and Tom Cruise. An important film to remember when playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer corralled an all-star ensemble of his own—Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Hugh Jackman—for X-Men (2000). Despite the marquee names and nine-digit budget, the franchise’s debut manages to distill some of the original comic book’s geekiness, introducing its band of sparring, insecure mutants with surprising depth.

Pier 54 is located at 13th Street and the Hudson River. Pier 25 is located at North Moore Street and the Hudson River. For more information, visit

Summer got you feeling lazy? If you can’t bear to leave the borough, the 24th annual Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival continues through August. This month, the Prospect Park-based program of music, dance, spoken word, and film offers two more multimedia extravaganzas that exploit the sexy, ironic symmetry between cinema and music. Beware of low-flying planes of August 1, when North by Northwest (1959) screens. Cary Grant stars as an unassuming executive, mistaken by the government as a secret agent and on the run, with only the stunning Eva Marie Saint to aid his escape. Setting the tone at 7:30, local band Sex Mob will play a set of stylish soundtrack cuts, with tunes from Anatomy of a Murder, Bullitt, and the 007 oeuvre. Just as the King enjoys another post-mortem success, thanks to a new greatest hits release and a remix topping the UK charts, Jailhouse Rock (1957) screens August 8. Elvis P. plays a prison inmate who aspires to music stardom on the outside. To prove his point, he struts and shakes his stripes-clad hips, snarling the title track in a ubiquitous, trademarked sequence. At 7:30, earnest tribute band Loser’s Lounge pay their respects to the royal one.

All performances ar Prospeck Park Bandshell, located at Prospect Park West & 9th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. For more information, call (718) 855-7882 or visit

Shun your picnic basket for Socrates Sculpture Park’s fourth annual riverside open air and outdoor festival. The summer-long celebration of Queens’s vast cultural spectrum includes film, music, dance, and—cheese and wine be damned—food from local ethnic eateries. Through August, each Wednesday evening spotlights one of the borough’s many international flavors, with prescreening performances beginning at 7 p.m. The pedigreed festival is being presented in collaboration of the American Museum of the Moving Image and the Partnership for Parks. Whichever evening you choose, the multi-culti fest won’t disappoint. Pray for clear skies on August 7, Mexican night, when cult fave Chac the Rain God (1974) screens. Filmed in Mexico’s otherworldly Chiapas region, director Rolando Klien visually re-imagines a Native-American spiritual quest, in which a group of villagers seek salvation from a horrible drought. Korean night, August 14, presents Im Kwon Taek’s Chunhyang (2000), widely hailed as a cornerstone in Korean cinema. The glittering epic retells a familiar noble-man-courtesan love story with experimental interludes, featuring a Korean “pansori” storyteller. An oft-explored culture here and abroad, Cuban night (August 21) offers the final work of native director Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Guantanamera (1997). Trailing a road-tripping group as they retrieve the body of a celebrated diva, Alea’s seemingly lighthearted film registers a sprawling, often troubling view of modern-day Cuba. The festival concludes with the vibrant The Color of Paradise (1999), which screens on August 28, Iranian night. Majid Majid’s acclaimed film studies the sensory awakening of a blind Iranian boy, sent from congested, urban Tehran for a summer in the lush, unspoiled northern valleys of Iran.


Jason Ravitz


The Brooklyn Rail


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