Aug. 13--"You survived," I said to Charles Horak on the way out of the Plaza Theatre after "The Thief of Bagdad" on Sunday night.
"Thrived," shot back the artistic director of the Plaza Classic Film Festival, the 11-day El Paso Community Foundation event that came to a close with Sunday's silent film finale.
Of course Horak thrived. The guy's got the most encyclopedic knowledge of film of anyone I know. He's like a kid in a candy store when it comes to the festival he's so carefully curated.
Even though he battled a cold most of the week, Horak and the festival's visionary co-creator, EPCF President Eric Pearson, who battled a far more serious illness earlier this year (and didn't appear with Horak on stage for Sunday's finale), had pulled off another diverse menu of movies.
They mixed the well-known ("The Sound of Music," "Citizen Kane," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") with the obscure ("Alphaville," "Possession," "Phase IV").
They put together tributes to actor Burt Lancaster, critic Roger Ebert and cartoon master Chuck Jones.
They brought in stars Rita Moreno and Margaret O'Brien, director Godfrey Reggio and Lancaster's three daughters to talk about feature films such as "West Side Story," "Meet Me in St. Louis" and the underappreciated "Sweet Smell of Success."
They showed outdoor movies ("Clerks," "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), showcased locally made movies, offered free film talks, brought in the Texas Archive of the Moving Image again to digitize people's home movies, and borrowed production art, including drawings from "Gone With the Wind" and "Sleeping Beauty," from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an exhibit that's up through Sept. 8 at the El Paso Museum of Art.
The crowds were as good, if not a little better than last year, with more than 1,800 attending Moreno's "West Side Story" appearance, nearly 1,600 turning out to see Angela Cartwright with "The Sound of Music" and good-sized crowds for the kind of movies that didn't draw as well a few years ago.
Take "The Thief of Bagdad" for example. It's a 1924 silent movie, an ambitious big-budget movie ($2 million) for its day that featured one of Hollywood's biggest stars in Douglas Fairbanks, a love story between a princess and a thief-turned-good and lots of special effects -- including flying carpet rides -- that were probably cutting-edge nearly 90 years ago.
It was an odd choice to close out this year's festival, a slot reserved at previous festivals for hipper flicks, such as "Dr. Strangelove," "Chinatown" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." But about 500 turned out for what was the second silent movie shown at this year's PCFF. Organist Walt Strony's deft accompaniment on the theater's restored Wyler Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ was an added attraction.
Of course, my butt was sore after watching the two-and-a-half hour movie (director Raoul Walsh could have cut 30 minutes and not hurt the narrative). I guess one good reason to donate to the EPCF's Plaza Theatre endowment fund is so the city can repad those restored seats.
I don't know what the festival's final attendance figure will be this year, but I'll bet it's in the vicinity of last year's 40,000, which is about what the festival drew two years ago. That's pretty consistent.
Then again, our answer to the Turner Classic Movies channel has become such a reliably steady source of old movies, new memories, entertainment, education and communal experiences -- I'll never forget the communal scream at "Jaws" a couple of years ago -- that can't be duplicated by any other local event, or many other events for that matter.
It has become a local favorite and a world-class event.
It'll be interesting to see how or if the festival, which is tentatively set to return Aug. 7-17 next year, grows as Downtown continues its renaissance with a new baseball stadium next year, the San Jacinto Plaza makeover and the new businesses slowly moving in.
Charles Horak's not the only one that's survived and thrived. So has the Plaza Classic Film Festival.
Features co-editor Doug Pullen covers entertainment. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs. Follow him on Twitter at @dougpullen and Facebook at facebook.com/dougpulleneptimes.
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