Fun After the Sun: Fifties Flicks al Fresco

By Steven Libowitz   |   July 11, 2019
UCSB Arts & Lectures and the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture’s annual summer film series presents a free screening of North by Northwest on Friday, July 12 at the Courthouse Sunken Gardens

What could be more fun than spending a Friday evening with your friends watching a free classic film outdoors in a gorgeous garden setting?

That’s basically the premise behind UCSB Arts & Lectures and the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture’s annual summer film series at the Courthouse Sunken Gardens downtown – a bit like Santa Barbara’s version of the drive-in – which reaches its 10-year anniversary in 2019, an indication of the success of the concept.

“It’s about getting together and having a shared experience outdoors in the summertime in a beautiful setting for free. What’s not to like?” said Roman Baratiak, UCSB A&L’s associate director who plans and curates the film programs. Indeed, unlike even organic festivals such as Summer Solstice, it’s all about enjoying the moment, partly due to a minimum of distractions. “We keep the commercial aspects at bay – no giant advertising banners, no beer gardens or food court (although the food trucks usually show up). It’s just about hanging with your friends and family, having a picnic and watching a great movie.”

For sure, the films over the decade have been winners, usually time-tested classics that are well worth eschewing viewings on Netflix (if available) to experience projection on the big screen, albeit a giant inflatable one. While previous seasons have individually offered animation, horror films, thrillers, Hitchcock classics and more, this year’s “Those Fabulous Fifties!! Celebrating the Golden Decade of American Cinema” contains a bit of almost all of those genres while focusing on one of filmdom’s perhaps under-celebrated eras. Still to come in the series that began last weekend are North by Northwest, Rebel Without a Cause, Some Like It Hot, On the Waterfront, High Noon and Sunset Boulevard.

“These films are historical documents, part of the culture, but we wanted to have different genres, different feels, including action films, social/political criticism films, light things that are summer-y and vacation-y, escapist entertainment,” Baratiak explained. “And we also wanted to cover the iconic actors whose reputations were made in the ‘50s, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and the same with directors, like Billy Wilder. Everybody has their favorites, so it’s hard to narrow it down to just seven.”

Filmgoers are asked to respect the lawn and fellow attendees: Please bring blankets that are permeable (no plastic/nylon/tarps) and chairs that are low-backed and low to the ground. Filmgoers may start setting up at noon on the day of the Courthouse screenings.

While the formula hasn’t been tweaked with much, there are some upgrades for this summer, including an expanded sound system that features three additional speakers to cover the upper garden area at the courthouse, Baratiak said. “That provides much better sound up there and allows us not to have to crank the volume so high for those closer to the screen.”

Picnicking, including with alcohol for those over 21, is allowed and encouraged for extra fun before the screenings start. But the fabulous fun does come with a few rules and regulations, however. Filmgoers are asked to respect the lawn and each other by using only blankets that are permeable (no plastic/nylon/tarps) and chairs that are low-backed and low to the ground, and setting up no earlier than noon. Don’t drive stakes into the ground, or dump out unused drinks on the lawn.

Cinema on the American Riviera

Take a seven-day trip to filmdom in France via SBIFF’s The Wave film festival focusing on French film, fifth annual mid-summer mini-fest. Eleven new offerings covering just about all feature genres from romance to comedy, drama and more will play from July 12-18 at SBIFF’s Riviera Theatre. Each film screens twice during the week, and tickets for individual showing are available as well as full fest passes. Ironically, or perhaps intentionally, regular art house programming returns to the Riviera July 19 with Paris is Burning, an official HD restoration of the 1990 American documentary that chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities of the era.


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