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News / Life / Clark County Life

Kiggins Theatre screens classic film that takes on Hollywood

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 7, 2022, 6:00am
5 Photos
Hollywood's cynicism about Hollywood gets a darkly comic treatment in the 1950 classic "Sunset Boulevard," featuring Gloria Swanson and William Holden (pictured here) and Erich von Stroheim.
Hollywood's cynicism about Hollywood gets a darkly comic treatment in the 1950 classic "Sunset Boulevard," featuring Gloria Swanson and William Holden (pictured here) and Erich von Stroheim. (Photo contributed by Paramount Pictures) Photo Gallery

It’s still hard to know how to feel about indoor entertainment, indoor gatherings, indoor air. Everyone’s pandemic-risk calculations are different.

Just before Christmas, I attended the phenomenal “Beyond Van Gogh” immersive experience, and subsequently bought surprise tickets for my family. Score! The perfect experience-not-thing holiday gift. Omicron arrived with a thud about two seconds later, and we decided against going. Ditto New Year’s Eve plans at a nightclub.

So what about the cinema? Are people going? Richard Beer, programming director at downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre, said he’s been pleased by healthy turnout for recent screenings of everything from a niche skiing documentary to the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Advance ticket sales for a new second-Saturday series of live events for kids, sponsored by Columbia Play Project, have also been strong, and Beer’s fingers are crossed. Saturday’s debut features The Amazing Bubble Man.

Meanwhile, the debut of a locally produced documentary about oil-train and oil-terminal battles, featuring a Q&A with the director, has been postponed from early January until March 20.

“The industry is a mess all over,” Beer said.

Hollywood on Hollywood

Judging by its record of self-evisceration, the baby movie industry took about five minutes to recognize its own dark side and start milking that, too, for great stories and great profits. As early as 1923, a silent film called “Souls For Sale” unleashes a murderer on a movie set. “What Price Hollywood?” from 1932 follows the rise and fall of a naive young actress in the clutches of an alcoholic director. “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) is about a director who abandons Tinseltown because he can’t get a serious, relevant movie financed.

But the king — make that queen — of all Hollywood sendups must be 1950’s “Sunset Boulevard,” featuring Gloria Swanson in the role of her lifetime: a washed-up silent movie star who regresses into dreams of her glorious past while wrecking the lives around her. “Sunset Boulevard” screens at the Kiggins on Monday as part of its monthly Noir Nights series.

“Sunset Boulevard” sure is noir, but it always keeps a satirically merry twinkle in its wicked eye. Swanson’s frenzied, overwrought movie queen can never, ever stop performing, while low-key co-star William Holden, her kept man, wisecracks his way through the story like he’s living in an entirely different decade.

“We didn’t need dialogue!” Swanson declares of her fabulous silent-film past. “We had faces!”

The film was wildly successful. But writer-director Billy Wilder was reportedly taken to task in front of a star-studded audience at the Hollywood premiere by producer Louis B. Mayer, who said Wilder should be tarred and feathered for disgracing the industry that made him. What Wilder replied is not printable.

Romance and race

Here’s a silent film with some great faces you’ve probably never seen — and live music you’ve surely never heard.

“Ramona” is a romantic melodrama about subtle and not-so-subtle racism against Native Americans and mixed-race people in Southern California. Based on a popular novel from the late 1800s, the progressive 1928 film was lost again to viewers for decades until it was rediscovered in a film vault in, of all places, Prague.

“Ramona” stars Delores Del Rio, “the female Rudolph Valentino,” who rose to the top in early Hollywood and then returned to her native Mexico, where she remained a Spanish-language cinema and television superstar. The stunning Del Rio portrays an adopted woman of mixed ancestry whose upper-class upbringing can never trump her dark skin and ethnic looks. While Ramona manages to find love and reconnect with her roots, tragedy is never far behind.

Music for this silent 80-minute film will be provided live by a small chamber group from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, led by visiting silent film music arranger and pianist Rodeney Sauer. It screens Jan. 27 at the Kiggins.