Fab Films from the ’50s

UCSB Arts & Lectures’ Summer Film Series Turns 10

Fab Films from the 50's | Credit: Courtesy

“There are a lot of great films that came out of the ’50s; these are some of the most iconic, ones that people will recognize,” said Roman Baratiak, UCSB Arts & Lectures Associate Director, regarding the summer season viewing lineup at the County Courthouse Sunken Gardens. On offer are seven titles from the from Hollywood’s Golden Age, when stars such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean captured moviegoers’ fascination and adulation. “I wanted to have some of the great directors represented [and] have different genres,” Baratiak said. 

This year’s event kicks off with Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar-winning debut film. “Why start with Roman Holiday?” Baratiak asked rhetorically. “Well, it’s sort of vacation time and … we are in Santa Barbara, but we can still travel on our vacation to Rome via Roman Holiday.” Mysteries, a western, and comedies fill out the slate: North by Northwest, Rebel Without a Cause, Some Like it Hot, On the Waterfront, High Noon, and Sunset Boulevard. As for finishing with Sunset Boulevard, Baratiak said, “Sunset Boulevard, that’s an interesting film because it’s really kind of this silent-film-era diva who’s like unwilling to let go of the end of her career. It’s a good closer, actually.”

I recently spoke over the phone with Baratiak about his selection process, how the event has grown, and plans for the future.

North by Northwest and High Noon

How did you pick these films?  What I’ve discovered over the past 10 years … is that many of the films that you would’ve imagined people had seen previously, they haven’t, or it’s been a long time since they saw it. I was shocked at how many people had never seen Singing in the Rain. A lot of people had never seen The Wizard of Oz, for example.

How do you choose the era?  We tend to do classic films, but we did animation last year, so there were a number of films that were much more contemporary. For example, Loving Vincent had just come out a few years before.

When do films such as Back to the Future become classics?  Well, they’re classics now, but there are challenges [to getting] some of those titles. I wanted to do an ’80s series, but some of the best films [weren’t available] because they were going to be reissued with a different version. Sometimes rights can be a problem, in terms of just getting permission to do a public screening. So, for example, in the animation series, one of the biggest stumbling blocks was the inability to rent Disney films, because Disney does not want outdoor screenings if there’s over 1,000 people. 

Why is that, do you think?  I think they think it’s going to conflict with whatever their big summer release is.

Do you decide what you’d like to show or are you given a list of films you are allowed to show? I come up with a list of films I want to screen, then I go to the distributors and get the public presentation rights. So we’re having to rent all these films. And they’re quite expensive, to be honest with you. … We’re grateful to Montecito Bank & Trust [for their financial support]. 

I imagine it takes a while to put together the lineup.  This series was easier to put together; these films were accessible. The animation [series] was a lot more challenging in terms of trying to track down who the film distributors were.

Rebel Without a Cause and Some Like it Hot

What are your plans for the future? Are you thinking about adding vendors? It does have the friendly feel of a backyard screening.  I’m sort of torn about that because I think people just want to have picnics [at the Courthouse]. … I’m not sure that they want all sorts of additional entertainment. I think it’s really just about the social thing with your family and your friends. Community coming together, having a chance to interact, be outdoors, bring your dog, have a glass of wine, you know, just relax and see a good movie. I think the simplicity of it is attractive.

Do you already know what the 2020 lineup will be?  Oh no, I never know. I’m not even convinced that it’s the right series to do a minute before we [announce the one for the current summer] . … I’m always a bit concerned because the community … has different perspectives on things. A few years ago, we did a James Bond festival, which was very popular, but James Bond is not really my cup of tea — the films are incredibly sexist, and they’re dated. It’s the same thing with these films from the ’50s. … Anytime you’re a programmer, you know you’re not going to make everybody happy, so you just do the best that you can and hope the films are entertaining and they find an audience and they don’t offend anyone.

People still love it after 10 years.  The fact that it’s become this kind of tradition now for Santa Barbara is the most exciting part. … The first year, we did classic monster movies — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Phantom of the Opera — and I had no idea how many people would come. A little less than 1,000 people came out. And I was like, “Wow! Look at all of these people!” 

How many people generally come to these?  It varies. The Hitchcock series was over-the-top insane. There must’ve been close to 3,500 people. … [Generally] it is between 1,500 to 2,000 depending on the film. … I’m super excited this year because we are going to be using a new sound system setup. Previously, we’ve only had speakers which have been down by the screen. [This year] we’ll also have speakers on the upper part of the garden. … [We’ve had] the problem of trying to not have it so loud that you blew out the people in the front, but loud enough that the people in the back could hear it. So this’ll mitigate that. 

Are there any problems that arise having the screening at the Sunken Gardens?  Our biggest issue that we have is that people bring the wrong chair and the wrong blankets — they bring blankets that suffocate the grass and the grounds crew goes crazy if that happens. I think we’ve been training people pretty well [to bring] permeable blankets. … People are coming out and setting up by 12 noon, so they’re leaving these blankets out there during the heat of the day and the sun is beating down on these blankets that don’t breathe and the grass underneath them just will get browned out as a result.

Sunset Boulevard

Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler): Fri., July 5
North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock): Fri., July 12
Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray): Fri., July 19
Some Like it Hot (1959, Billy Wilder): Fri., July 26
On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan): Fri., Aug. 9
High Noon (1952, Fred Zinnemann): Fri., Aug. 16
Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder): Fri., Aug. 23


Screenings take place Fridays at 8:30 p.m. at the S.B. County Courthouse Sunken Gardens (1100 Anacapa St.)Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.

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