Despite countless film festivals, museum galleries and libraries in San Diego, repertory screenings of classic and international cinema are almost non-existent. That's what makes the upcoming "A Week of '60s and '70s Classics" series at the Ken Cinema—Friday, Aug. 22, through Thursday, Aug. 28—all the more essential. Such a program might be common practice in New York City and Los Angeles, but it should be considered cause for celebration in our town.
Curated by theater manager Sophia Verbiscar, the series (find details at landmarktheatres.com) consists of nine trendsetting works from two pivotal decades in filmmaking that reflect the political, social and ideological malaise of the times. Stanley Kubrick's mega-masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (2, 5:15 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23) traces mankind's desire to weaponize all things and the mind-melting consequences of such an endeavor. If there's a film in this group that's mandatory viewing on the big screen, it's this one.
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (midnight on Saturday, Aug. 23) also functions as a horrifying warning against our darkest impulses to destroy in the name of self-righteousness. Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle returns home from Vietnam a damaged man, spewing his racist and sexist vitriol in calm voice-over while cruising the dank Gotham streets in his taxicab. Scorsese's use of color and moody slow motion will make for an intoxicating (if haunting) theatrical experience.
Time-honored genre films are present in the series. Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1, 4:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22) elevated the gangster film to Shakespearean status and made a star out of a young Al Pacino. Roman Polanski's sun-drenched neo-noir Chinatown (2, 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24) exposed the rotten underbelly of political corruption through Jack Nicholson's charming cynicism.
Bob Fosse's Cabaret (5 and 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26) turned the musical on its head while winning Fosse, Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey Oscar gold. John Sturges' rowdy World War II film The Great Escape (4:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28) is a lovely reminder of Steve McQueen's charisma and spark. Finally, if you're up for a trippy animated musical, Charlotte's Web (11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 23 and 24) will do the trick.
The lone international film in the series is an important one: Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim (4:45, 7 and 9:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 25) defined the French new-wave movement of the 1960s that continues to inspire young filmmakers to this day.
The final film in the series deserves special attention due to its longtime unavailability. William Friedkin's Sorcerer (4:30, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27), a nightmarish and politically motivated remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 film The Wages of Fear, tells the story of four desperate men who are tasked by an American petrol corporation to drive highly explosive nitroglycerin more than 200 miles to a burning oil well.
Friedkin, better known for The French Connection, The Exorcist and, recently, Killer Joe, displays his penchant for muscular visuals and foreboding mood with Sorcerer. Set mostly in a fictional Latin American country, the film deftly critiques the diseased stranglehold of American capitalism, local corruption and economic desperation.
The plot is strafed with holes, but this shouldn't diminish Sorcerer's power as a near-elemental film. Fire, water, oil and dirt engulf the frame at different times, most notably when Roy Scheider's conflicted hero attempts to maneuver a massive truck over a wobbly wood drawbridge held together by splinters above a raging river.
Sorcerer's grueling subject matter proves that no matter how much you delude yourself, there's no easy escape from past demons. We're all simply waiting for them to reappear.