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BEFORE SUNDANCE, 40 YEARS AGO

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the 2019 Sundance Film Festival gets going (it began Thursday night), let's look back at its beginnings. Utah’s first major film festival was held in Salt Lake City during summer 1977 as part of the nationwide celebration of the country’s bicentennial. Out of that sprang the Utah/US Film Festival, which was held in Salt Lake City Sept. 6-12, 1978, and was composed primarily of old classic movies. But there was one unique element, an independent-film competition with six low-budget American movies judged by a panel of cinema professionals. The second Utah/US Film Festival shifted to late October 1979 and again featured many vintage classics on Salt Lake theater screens, along with five “regional cinema” independents to be judged by professionals (plus three ‘honorable mentions’). So, I’m using this space to highlight some of my stories about that gestating period, which would eventually lead to what we now know as the Sundance Film Festival. I was a city desk reporter, not yet the full-time film critic at the Deseret News (although I was freelancing occasional reviews to the entertainment section), but because of my interest in all things celluloid I was allowed to write about some of the festival events. This story was published Oct. 6, 1979, under the headline, ‘Diverse talents represented in festival.’

Our fears and fantasies will be well-represented in the movies to be screened during the Utah/US Film Festival, Oct. 26-30, in keeping with the theme, “Landscapes of the Mind: Fears and Fantasies in American Film.”

The diverse talents of Frank Capra, James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick, Peter Bogdanovich, Ray Harryhausen, Peter Sellers, Richard Brooks, Boris Karloff, Danny Kaye, Roger Corman, Vincent Price and many others highlight the schedule.

This is an incomplete list — more films are yet to be booked — but here are a few of the movies you’ll be able to see on the screens of the Elks Twin Cinema, 139 E. South Temple, and the Media Center of the Salt Lake Arts Center, 20 S. West Temple, during the five-day event:

 

Filmmakers Frank Capra, left, and Ray Harryhausen, each at work on the set of a film.

  • Frank Capra’s original classic “Lost Horizon” (1937), starring Ronald Coleman, considered by many critics the finest all-around example of movie fantasy. Also Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936), with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur; the multi-Oscar winner, “It Happened One Night” (1934), with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert; and the Jean Harlow 1931 movie with the title that followed her for life, “Platinum Blonde.” And three of Capra’s movies that represent some of James Stewart’s finest comic and dramatic work: “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938), “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1945).

 

  • Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy, “Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964), with George C. Scott and, in three roles, Peter Sellers.

 

  • Three films with Jack Nicholson: “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), the movie that made him a superstar; Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider” (1969), which led to that stardom; and an earlier Roger Corman comedy, satirizing the horror genre, “The Raven” (1963), with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

 

  • Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation special effects are nothing short of astounding in “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” (1958), “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) – both with stirring Bernard Herrmann scores — and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” (1974). They will be presented as part of a children’s program — but are equally mesmerizing for adults.

 

  • Two films dealing with real fears include “In Cold Blood” (1968), Truman Capote’s true account of a senseless multiple murder, vividly told from the viewpoint of the two killers, played by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, in Richard Brooks’ film, and Martin Ritt’s “The Front” (1976), with Woody Allen in a more serious role than usual, as a front who sells scripts for blacklisted Hollywood writers in the 1950s.

 

  • Peter Bogdanovich’s first film, “Targets” (1968), about a modern-day sniper who encounters a fading horror-movie star, appropriately played by Boris Karloff, and Bogdanovich’s 1971 Oscar-winner, “The Last Picture Show,” with Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson.

 

  • On the lighter side, “Wonder Man” (1945), featuring Danny Kaye at his musical comedy peak as a bookworm who takes the place of his show-biz twin brother when the latter’s ghost explains he was knocked off by the mob, and “Fun With Dick and Jane” (1977), wherein Jane Fonda and George Segal try their hand at robbery when their income is cut off.

 

  • “Obsession” (1976), Brian De Palma’s “Vertigo”-like tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, with Cliff Robertson.

 

  • “The Stepford Wives” (1975), Ira Levin’s vision of the ultimate male chauvinism through technology, with Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss.

 

  • “Watermelon Man” (1970), Melvin Van Peebles’ sardonic look at a white bigot (Godfrey Cambridge) who turns black overnight.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There was no film festival in 1980 but in January 1981 “The Third Annual Festival for American Film,” as the program booklet referred to it, changed its name to the United States Film and Video Festival and made its Park City debut. The Sundance Institute was founded in 1979 and took over the festival in 1984, though the ‘Sundance’ moniker would not become part of the festival’s name until 1990.