Charm of classic movies lives on for decades

  • Sat Mar 6th, 2010 10:08pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist

They may be watching “Avatar” on their own time, but the movie list for students in Beth Peterson’s Introduction to Film course is heavy on all-time greats.

“Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Casablanca,” “The Graduate,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Gone With the Wind” and “North by Northwest” are among movies the Everett Community College instructor picked this winter quarter. Her Film 100 class is an online offering, and students watch the movies on their own.

Peterson’s choices don’t exactly match my perfect list, but come pretty close. Since we’re all armchair film critics this Oscar Sunday, I’ll offer up my five favorite movies — feel free to disagree. Here goes: “The Godfather,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Last Waltz,” “Annie Hall” and “Casablanca.”

And yes, I have seen movies, tons, in the past decade, just not any that measure up to these. If I can commit to five, why do the Academy Awards folks have to include 10 in this year’s Best Picture category? No matter, I’ll watch tonight’s Oscars anyway. I always do.

My out-of-date list got me thinking. Maybe the reasons I fell in love with those movies have less to do with plots or cinematic qualities than with when I saw them. Does today’s avalanche of entertainment options — with everything on-demand all the time — distract us from watching one great work of art?

Maybe movies don’t sink in the way they used to, when we went to a theater, sat in the dark, and were enveloped in magic found no place else.

David Dilgard, a historian at the Everett Public Library, is a film lover who also wrote a book chronicling the history of Everett’s theaters. “Mill Town Footlights,” published in 2001, covers the earliest days of the Everett Theatre, when Al Jolson and other entertainers played live on Colby Avenue.

Born in 1945, Dilgard remembers when downtown Everett boasted several theaters. Along with the Everett Theatre, the Grenada, Balboa and Roxy were all downtown. The Everett Theatre was the showplace that outlasted the rest, which suffered from the rise of television. In 1952, Dilgard said, the Everett Theatre underwent extensive remodeling, with work done by Benjamin Marcus Priteca, a famous theater architect who designed Hollywood’s Pantages, home of the Academy Awards for many years.

“I was intrigued with the idea that things bigger than Everett happened in Everett,” said Dilgard, who calls the Everett Theatre “a surviving talisman.”

“John Barrymore came through Everett and appeared in that place,” he said.

Dilgard recalls a golden age of movie-going, when Everett Theatre manager Dick Goldsworthy kept up a rivalry with Raymond “Chuck” Charles, who had the Roxy across the street. Goldsworthy, he said, hired someone with Dalmatian dogs to be in the lobby when Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” opened. For “shiver-shudder shows,” Dilgard said, kids were hired to wear costumes and run around scaring the audience. Local bands played the Everett Theatre before the start of teen movies, he said.

Like Peterson, the film-class instructor, Dilgard’s list of greats is strong on classics. At the top is “Citizen Kane,” the movie the EvCC teacher also said is “the greatest everything.”

A 25-year-old Orson Welles directed, produced and starred in the 1941 tale of Charles Foster Kane, a thinly veiled take on newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. “It changed filmmaking and storytelling,” said Peterson, 44. “I love it.”

Dilgard agrees. “I’ve probably seen it 25 times,” he said. He once walked into a student showing of “Citizen Kane” at California’s Stanford University to see how people seeing it for the first time would react.

“A picture that old, it always manages to catch my attention with something I never noticed. It’s an astonishing movie, and you wind up being fascinated by William Randolph Hearst,” he said.

Dilgard is wild about directors Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. He also loves “King Kong” — the 1933 version with Fay Wray, not Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, or the Dino DeLaurentis one before that.

“It’s all effects now, they have movies that are nothing but effects,” Dilgard said.

He hasn’t gotten around to seeing “Avatar,” but Peterson has. “I’m going to be so mad if ‘Avatar’ wins,” said the film instructor, who favors “Inglorious Basterds” for Best Picture.

Dilgard isn’t in a hurry to see the new films. True to his profession, he likes Hollywood for its history, including Grauman’s Chinese Theater with its stellar footprints and signatures.

“I’m the sort of person who stands there looking at Marilyn Monroe’s handprints,” Dilgard said. “I’m just a star worshiper, I can’t help it.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Theater history

“Mill Town Footlights,” historian David Dilgard’s 2001 chronicle of Everett theaters, is available at the Everett Public Library. Copies are $16.50. Information: www.epls.org/nw/snobook.asp.