News Column

El Paso Times, Texas, Doug Pullen column

August 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 06--The Plaza Classic Film Festival is the one event I look forward to every year.

It is not only unique and world-class, it is an event that brings the whole community together and, for me at least, provides lasting memories that underscore just how vital the cinema is to connecting us all.

But I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed going into this year's festival.

Call it the Al Pacino effect.

He's hard to top. Pacino was the star guest at last year's fifth annual festival, the biggest name on a growing list of special guests. It's hard to match a festival that included him, appearances by Eva

Marie Saint and Tippi Hedren, whose background talk on "The Birds" not only provided context to the scene in which she is pecked by the critters, but provided one of the festival's most memorable moments as a nearly full house gasped and, I'm sure, thought, "Don't go in that room!"

The Plaza Classic provides communal moments like that every year.

But I was already battling burnout going into this one. The newsroom has moved three times over the past year as we sold our building (now City Hall) and moved into a new one. We've redesigned the paper (long overdue) and transitioned from old computers and software to new ones.

It has resulted in long,

grinding days in the run up to this year's PCFF. Going into Saturday, the third day of the festival, I'd hardly so much as read the program.

I covered Rita Moreno's talk before "West Side Story" on Thursday, opening day, but missed half the movie. Having interviewed her the week before, it was a kick to see someone who looked, sounded and acted a good 20 years younger than she is, 81. As she told Thursday's audience, she's got stamina. In buckets.

Friday was a washout for me. I got out of work late, missing movies and Moreno's reading and memoir signing. Plans to catch a 9 p.m. show of "This is Spinal Tap" changed, happily, when we ran into artist Hal Marcus and his group at the Oasis. We sat on the patio for dinner and drinks, but didn't really watch the movie.

My first real PCFF experience came Saturday with Moreno's second book signing at 1 p.m. and "The Graduate" at 7 p.m.

Janice Windle, senior adviser of the El Paso Community Foundation, which puts on the festival, said more than 200 people turned out for Friday's reading and signing. There was half that on Saturday, a two-hour signing coordinated with Barnes & Noble's West Side store (how about more of these events in the future?).

I don't normally ask for autographs or take pictures with the stars, but Moreno had enjoyed our two phone conversations last week and asked me to introduce myself during the festival. This was my best shot.

So I got in line. When my turn came, I handed her the 3x5 card with my name on it for the inscription. She said the name sounded familiar. When I told her who I was, she gave me a big hug, chatted about how much she loved El Paso and wrote something nice inside my copy.

"The Graduate" is one of my favorite movies, but I hadn't seen it in years. I'd forgotten how subtly inventive Mike Nichols' direction was, and how impressively star Dustin Hoffman, one of my favorite actors, transforms Benjamin Braddick from the awkward young college graduate uncertain of his future -- but certain of his disdain for the plastic life of suburban middle America -- into a determined young man.

It's a movie that captured the zeitgeist of young middle America in the late '60s, when it came out, and a film that holds up so well 46 years after it became one of the top-grossing movies of all time. Nichols coaxed subtle yet powerful performances from his cast, and in Hoffman found an actor who could convincingly play both the whimpering boy-man to the determined young adult who learns what he wants, the love of sweetly innocent Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross).

Of course, he has that little affair with her mom. Mrs. Robinson (a dark, sultry Anne Bancroft) is determined to keep Ben away from Elaine, her love child, but fate intervenes. It's the getting there that makes "The Graduate" such an enduring work.

The festival means different things to different people. I'm sure the packed crowd for Saturday's fifth annual showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" have their own memories, as I did when they showed the cult classic the first time in 2009. But that's what festival creators Eric Pearson and Charles Horak had in mind when they launched this very special event in 2008.

It is an event built on memories that creates memories. On the third day of this year's PCFF, I finally had a few of my own.

Features co-editor Doug Pullen covers entertainment. He may be reached at dpullen@elpasotimes.com; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs and follow him at @dougpullen on Twitter and facebook.com/dougpulleneptimes.

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