Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Feast your eyes on Robot Maria, perhaps the single most influential image in the history of sci-fi/fantasy films. She is, of course, the principal icon from Metropolis, Fritz Lang's silent Art Deco futuristic masterpiece, which has been the gold standard for sci-fi film design since its release in 1927. Doesn't she look great for her age? 83 years later, she's still the best-looking robot the movies ever made.

Metropolis is a stunning epic about a dystopian future in which the wealthy few live in luxury, the workforce labors in subterranean misery, and a mad scientist creates an evil robot twin of the messianic young woman who would lead them out of their chains. The film was rediscovered by college and cult film enthusiasts in the 1970s and considered very trippy. But for decades, the standard surviving print of this cinema milestone was at least half an hour shorter than Lang's original cut. Bits and pieces have been found and restored over the years. In the notorious Giorgio Moroder version in the '80s, the composer combined a bright new print and a some extra footage with an annoying rock soundtrack. A clean, digitally restored German release in 2002 (from the Friederich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation) added a few more scenes and made up the rest with original and new title cards, so that the plot started making enough sense to justify the glorious visuals.

Now there's a new piece in the puzzle in one of the greatest ongoing cinematic treasure hunts ever! Make way for THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS, a brand new digital version of this ageless classic incorporating a whopping 25 minutes of "new" footage recently found in the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires. At 145 minutes, this is as close to the movie as Lang intended it as we are ever likely to see (at least for now…) If you've never seen Metropolis before (and especially if you have), do not miss it on the big screen! Opens Friday, October 1st, and the Nickelodeon, for one week only. Get in line now.

Speaking of unalloyed classics, one of my all-time favorite movies, An American In Paris, is coming to the Aptos Weekend Classics series this week. (Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.) Choreographer-star Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli collaborate on one of the best musicals to come out of MGM—or anywhere else—in the 1950s. Kelly plays an ex-GI, now an expatriate painter living in cheerful bohemian "poverty" on the Left Bank. When he falls in love with dancer Leslie Caron, he fantasizes about her in a breathtaking 15-minute ballet designed in the ecstatic visual styles of Rousseau, Dufy, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

But wait, there's more! How about a delightfully acerbic supporting performance from the great Oscar Levant, and a sublime George Gershwin score? This 1951 delight shows off the famed Arthur Freed Unit at MGM at its absolute peak.

(And, no, I'm not just gushing because I was named after a character in the movie. It's true: my mom saw this movie when she was pregnant with me; she loved it so much, she named me after the Leslie Caron character. Thank heavens she opted not to use the original French spelling—"Lise"—or I'd have spent my entire childhood being called "Lice.")

Another movie I love comes out on DVD this week. Here's what I wrote about Ondine, a charming Irish romantic fable, when it played in town a few months back. And whatever you do, don't miss Never Let Me Go, a beautiful, heartbreaking, gorgeously crafted romantic drama opening at the Del Mar this Friday. Based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, it is, in a word, exquisite.

ART UPDATES Rumor has it some of the kinks I kvetched about last post have already been ironed out of the Open Studios Preview Exhibit at the Art League. I am assured that no artist's reputations were harmed in the minor alterations to the show, so don't forget to use this great resource while plotting your personal OS Art Tour this weekend.

Finally, if you're an art lover thinking of making your first art purchase, but unsure how to proceed, fear not: I'm here to talk you down. Check out my new column, "Fear of Art," and embrace your inner collector!

Monday, September 27, 2010


Art is a strange animal, the proverbial elephant perceived by an infinite number of blind viewers. (As envisioned in this great sculpture by local fabric artist Susan Else, "Bent Fable IV: The Blind Men and the Elephant.") We all have our private prejudices. Some people don't get realistic art, when a photo would do just as well. Others believe abstract art is the work of the devil. I was shocked to learn that a good friend of mine—who collects a lot of art—doesn't like figurative art. Why, she asks, would she want a picture of somebody she doesn't know in her house?

Me, I love paintings with human characters in them. I'm not much for static portraits, but I'll pick a pair of Chagall's floating lovers over—well, just about anything else. Two of our most popular local artists (judging from the way their studios are mobbed during Open Studios), Anna Oneglia and Katharina Short, are beloved by their legions of fans (including me) for their figurative art.

What I think people are looking for in these images are reflections of themselves. Not like a physical portrait, a painted figure that looks like them, but something in the narrative of the piece—human figures caught in some simple moment of living, or else navigating a wonderful dreamscape—that captures what the viewer perceives as his or her true inner spirit.

At one of Art Boy's earliest Open Studios, he showed a painting called "Esta Casa esta Benedicto," in which a vaguely hominoid, vaguely female character (with his trademark big hair) is dancing in a room with a dresser, a large potted flower, and a kitchen table set for a meal with a cat prowling across it. I loved it so much, I was secretly hoping no one would buy it. I was doing pretty well steering people away from it—until a woman marched over, took one look, and cried "That's me! That's my kitchen! That's my cat!" It was obviously her painting, and I just had to get over it.

That's what we're looking for. Maybe the figure is blue with hair like a Brillo pad, but there's something in the essence of the piece that prompts us to cry, "That's me!"

(Above: "Clouds Rest" by Katharina Short, and "From the Sea #2 by Anna Oneglia.)


Dropped in to the Open Studios Preview Show at the Art League yesterday. It's absolutely essential viewing for any intrepid art lover planning to take the OS Art Tour this weekend (or the following two weekends, through October 17). But I have to say, with well over 300 artists participating in this year's even, the exhibit is even more daunting than usual. Every kind of art media is represented in that small space: jewelry, sculpture, fabric, metalwork, paintings prints, photography, glass, handmade musical instruments, ceramics, woodwork, you name it. Yes, it's amazing to have so many skilled artists right here in our county, but a person can reach maximum input overload very quickly.

The good news is, the Art League has finally installed air conditioning! (Yay!) It's especially welcome on these roasting Indian Summer days (our consolation prize with a vengeance this year, for not having had much of an actual summer). But the bad news is the show feels crammed to bursting. Granted, with so many artists, space is at a premium, but in some places the pieces are stacked up three or four deep on a wall; one label is so high up, you'd have to be Yao Ming to read it. In another overly congested area, one label is affixed to a light switch. One small piece of 3-D wall art doesn't even make it onto the flat side of a wall; it's stuck on the outer edge of a wall, like an afterthought.

Believe me, I know how hard the crack OS Committee and its army of volunteers works to get this exhibit (and the event) up and running. But it seems like one more pass could have been made by the hanging committee before the show was opened to the public to make sure each piece of art had a little more room to breathe.

None of which should discourage potential OS Art Tourists from visiting the show. There is absolutely nothing like seeing examples of the work in real life to help you plot a sane course through this extraordinary event. Work in the exhibit is grouped more or less according to region, to help you decide on destination areas to visit. So by all means, see the show; just remember to breathe deep, stay focused, and thank your favorite gods for the AC!

Another great way to see local art is on the monthly First Friday Art Tour, coming up this Friday (October 1). Since the ratio of artists in town to designated gallery space is about 8.6 thousand to one, the art community is always trying to find new spaces to show the work. This event, which began a few years back as a 12-Stop program downtown, involving a few cafes, commercial hallways, and a rickety bus, has blossomed into a busy and popular monthly celebration. It stretches from the Eastside of Santa Cruz across downtown to Harvey West Park, The Tannery, UCSC, even Davenport. Alongside traditional venues like the Art League, and MichaelAngelo, Felix Kulpa, and The Mill Galleries, you'll find art on display in clothing stores, hair salons, tea shops, design shops, wine bars, banks and brokerage firms, even Camouflage. The bus is gone, but you can probably use the exercise as you sip, nibble, and schmooze your way across town.

(Above: "Three Painters: Figures + Form" Artwork by Tom Maderos, Barbara Downs, and Claire Thorson, at the MichaelAngelo Gallery. First Friday Reception, Oct 1, 6—8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010


There's a new buzzword being bandied about these days by professional artists as a mantra for surviving in a sputtering economy.

No, not "plastics." The word is "commissions."

At the Capitola Art and Wine Festival a couple of weekends back, a potter, a glassblower, and a mixed-media painter ran into each other in one of the booths and started comparing notes on coping strategies for artists in the new recession. What they discovered they all had in common, Numero Uno on each one's list, was commission work. Sales may be sluggish at outdoor shows or in galleries these days, but commissions appear to be on the upswing; some are for public art, but most come from private collectors who know exactly what they want and aren't afraid to ask for it.

Understand, by "collectors," I don't mean billionaires in stretch limos, or swanky nobles, à la the Medicis, throwing around purses of gold (not that every artist alive wouldn't love to have a patron like that, but let's try to stay on track, here). In real life, especially here in Santa Cruz, collectors are ordinary working folks with mortgages, families, and property taxes, just like the rest of us. In tough economic times, an artist's best friend can be the collector who already knows and appreciates his or her work. They've been affected by the economy too, and with less disposable income to dispose of on art, it makes sense for them to save their money for a piece over which they've had some personal input, something the artist makes just for them.

Not every piece of commission work has to be a strictly lifelike rendering of a person, place or object—or the Sistine Chapel. It can be abstract, edgy, a flight of fancy, whatever fits in with the artist's unique style. (Just look at some of the amazing things d hooker does with mixed media, paint, and photographs of her client's facial features.) If a collector already loves an artist's work, he's generally willing to trust her instincts. And artists shouldn't fear commission work as Art by Committee. Think of it more like a jazz improv—the collector plays a riff, the artist adds a little bass, harmony, a certain syncopation, and with a little savvy and a little alchemy, voila! Behold art.

If there's one artist in Santa Cruz who knows commissions, it's Liz Lyons Friedman. Not only was she asked to design the cover art for this year's 25th Anniversary Open Studios Catalogue/Guide, her original artwork has graced posters for the Sausalito Art Festival, Capitola Art and Wine, and the Begonia Festival. Catch up with Liz at the York Gallery today, from 5 to 7 p.m., where she'll be signing copies of this year's OS poster featuring her image, "Studios by the Sea." Posters sell for $20 at the shop, $30 signed.

The York Gallery is located at 2724 Soquel Avenue (831 426-0313), in beautiful, unincorporated Live Oak.

(Top: Capitola Art and Wine 2008, poster art by James Aschbacher)

Saturday, September 18, 2010


It's been almost a year since poet, film scholar, teacher, colleague and dear friend Morton Marcus left us, and I miss him like crazy. But his influence continues to ripple throughout Santa Cruz arts and letters. The 1st Annual Morton Marcus Memorial Poetry Reading will be inaugurated in his honor on Saturday, November 6, 7:30 p. m. at the Cabrillo College Music Recital Hall. The event will feature a reading by visiting poet Robert Hass, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, and former U.S. Poet Laureate. This year's event also coincides with the release of Mort's final book of poems, "The Dark Figure In The Doorway: Last Poems" (White Pine Press). Gary Young, Santa Cruz County’s Poet Laureate, will serve as M.C., and join local poets Joe Stroud, and Stephen Kessler in reading from Mort's final book. The event is co-sponsored by Poetry Santa Cruz, Ow Family Properties, Cabrillo College English Department, and UC Santa Cruz. Tickets will be available starting October 5th, so start planning now. Admission is free, but seating is limited, so pick up tickets early at Bookshop Santa Cruz, UCSC McHenry Library, Cabrillo College Bookstore and Bookworks in Aptos.

Earlier this year, Mort's contribution to the local film community was celebrated when the 2010 Santa Cruz Film Festival offered its 1st Annual Morton Marcus Audience Award For Best Narrative Feature to participating filmmaker Eugene Kim (Liquor Store Cactus). Believe it or not, festival honcho Julian Soler is already soliciting for film and video submissions for next year's SCFF (the festival's 10th anniversary season), to be held May 5—14, 2011. The deadline for submissions is February 11, 2011, with an early bird discount for entries postmarked by November 19, 2010. Click here for submission info, or visit the SCFF website for more information.

By the way, did I ever tell you about my favorite Morton Marcus poem? There are plenty to choose from, I know, but when I heard him read "Smoking Cigars" at a book store once (from the collection "Moments Without Names"), well, it blew me away. Understand, I hate cigars in practice, but in a few fleet, lyrical phrases, Mort had me reimagining the whole idea of smoking as a way to commune with the spirit of a place and the souls of ancient lives, a consummation with history itself.

Unfortunately, this revelation didn't make me any more tolerant of Mort's sweet cigar smoke wafting upstairs from the porch below and into our open window late at night during the two vacations Art Boy and I, and Mort and his wife, Donna, took together in the French countryside with our friends Bruce and Marcia McDougal. But I'd give a lot to go back to France one more time and fall asleep breathing in those toxic fumes, knowing that Mort was still down there on the back porch, in rapt conversation with a lost world.

(Photos by Jana Marcus, as seen on

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Tandy Beal is one of the most enduring treasures of Santa Cruz County. An internationally recognized dancer, choreographer, and teacher who has performed on four continents, she's like our own personal Cirque de Soleil; her productions offer a feast of dance, music, comedy, drama, and soaring imagination. Any new production from Tandy Beal & Company is an event, and her latest, HereAfterHere, presented last weekend to sold-out houses at Cabrillo's new Crocker Theater, is no exception.

Subtitled "A self-guided tour of eternity," it's a wry, intriguing, poignant, never depressing, often hilarious inquiry into the idea of death and what may or may not come after. It's a multi-media affair with 25 performers live onstage, three screens of film and video projections, and a propulsive, haunting, finely nuanced original musical score by Jon Scoville, Beal's longtime accomplice and partner in creative rapture. There are moments of eloquent pondering throughout, but this thoughtful, probing show is never mournful. Rather, it celebrates the adventure of life, this grand stage on which every single one of us is called upon to perform without a net.

I especially liked the range of ages in Beal's company of dancers and performers: exuberant children, elegant seniors, and every age and temperament in between. Kate Edmunds' minimalist set makes deft use of vertical cubbyholes stacked up behind a scrim upstage, where various performers are spotlighted now and then as if on a different spiritual or terrestrial plane. Videos of diverse people talking about the afterlife they imagine are often droll, or unexpectedly moving. Best of show? The video that encapsulates the entire arc of human life, from the cradle to the grave, in about 30 riotous seconds, and the final percussive ensemble dance leading up to a final image of breathtaking artistry and power.

Next up for Tandy Beal & Company is a Collaboration With New Music Works in October, followed by the irreverent annual holiday favorite, Mixed Nutz: The Nutcracker REMixed, coming in November and December.

(Image: Tandy Beal in Kyoto, as seen on


Word is out that the first of three Silver Tickets hidden away in randomly selected copies of this year's Open Studios Art Tour Calendar/Guide has been found! That means there are still two tickets out there, one for $250 and one for $500 toward the purchase of a piece of original art from the OS artist of your choice. Find out how to get your Calendar here; you could be next!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Art lovers, start your engines. The annual Capitola Art and Wine Festival is coming this weekend, September 11 and 12, a two-day street fair devoted to fine art and wine in—where else?—beautiful downtown Capitola. Fog or shine, the show will go on with upwards of 150 local and visiting artists, and 20 Santa Cruz Mountain wineries opening their booths (and popping their corks) to the public down in the village and along the Esplanade. Art Boy and I drop by the festival every year to see who or what is new. Look at the cool thing we came home with last year, this gorgeous turquoise-green, Art Nouveau-inspired vase from Foxlo Pottery, out of Cambria. (Notice how it coordinates with the color of my blog!) There's something for every taste and pocketbook at Capitola Art and Wine. Plus, you get a chance to get up close and personal with artists and winemakers alike. Live music (from Extra Large and The Refugees, to The Great Morgani and Santa Cruz Pipes and Drums), live dance, and comedy from Jetlag the clown (Rock Lerum) is provided non-stop at the Bandstand Stage. Event hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free; $5 buys you a commemorative wine glass for tasting. Individual drink tickets go for a buck apiece. Check it out!

Speaking of upcoming art events, the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County has cooked up something new for this year's Open Studios. To celebrate the event's 25th (Silver) Anniversary, the CCSCC is pulling a Willy Wonka and hiding a rare Silver Ticket inside three randomly selected OS 2010 Calendar/Artist Guides. Each Silver Ticket is good for either $500 or $250 off the purchase of a piece of art from a participating OS artist of your choice! There are only three Silver Tickets out there, so ask yourself if you're feeling lucky, then run out and buy your Calendar now! Click here for more info and a list of local Calendar vendors.

Have you ever wanted to give a movie critic a piece of your mind? (I know I have!) Ever wonder what it would be like to be a film critic for a day? You can find out this Sunday at Chaminade, when yours truly goes up on the auction block for a worthy cause, and bidding commences (I hope) on a chance to go to the movies with me and Art Boy.

Here's how it all came about. Most of this summer, Art Boy has been hard at work on a public art commission from the good folks at the CASA organization (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in the Santa Cruz County court system). Because the finished painting will include a column of donor names, CASA Development Director Linda Bixby invited Art Boy and me to Imagine!, the organization's annual Gala Dinner and Auction this Sunday, to present the work-in-progress.

Normally, Art Boy would donate a painting or print to the auction as well, but in this case, he thought another Aschbacher in the auction might diffuse the focus on his commission piece. So he decided to donate me instead. With the kind indulgence of our friends at the Nickelodeon Theaters, CASA will be auctioning off a movie date with moi. The winning bidder, and three other close personal friends, will attend a private morning press screening of a new, upcoming film with myself and Art Boy, along with a few other local critics, at the Nickelodeon downtown. An after-screening lunch will be provided at Kianti, where, no doubt, a rousing discussion will ensue. To sweeten the deal, the Nickelodeon will also kick in 10 free movie passes redeemable at the Nick, the fabulously restored Del Mar, and/or Aptos Cinema. Be the first kids on your block to see a brand new movie the week before it opens! Enjoy the illicit thrill of going to the movies while everyone else is at work!

CASA's Annual Gala Dinner and Auction is this Sunday, September 12, 4 to 8:30 p.m. at Chaminade. $100 gets you wine, hors d'oeuvres, and live jazz on the Courtyard Terrace, an elegant three-course dinner in the Santa Cruz Ballroom, and access to the Silent Auction at 4 p.m., and the Live Auction at 6 p.m. Dan Green of KSBW returns as guest auctioneer. Maybe I'll see you there!

(Photo of Lisa & James by Jana Marcus.)

Monday, September 6, 2010


Hands up, everybody else who thinks that Mondo got robbed last week on "Project Runway." The challenge was to design something wearable from a lineup of godawful shiny neon bridesmaids' gowns, to be worn (and modeled) by the ex-bridesmaids themselves. (Reality alert: this means real women in a variety of interesting shapes and sizes.) I'm sorry, but designer Mondo's simple, chic little black and pink cocktail dress (with its one impudent epaulet) was the coolest thing on the runway. Michael C's winning dress wasn't bad, but a little too sci-fi for me—too much structure, too many asymetrical panels, and boring black, black, black. (I forget what the original gown looked like, but it couldn't have been ALL black!)

But poor, beleaguered Michael C was the PC choice this week according to the way this weekly drama is playing out. Sure, so-called "reality" shows may not be scripted (as far as we know), but they are definitely edited for maximum viewer manipulation. Next time you tune in, look at the show as if you were watching a movie. Who are the bad guys? Who are the good guys? Out of the thousands of hours of footage the crew must shoot of the designers in the workroom, at the runway, or over drinks in the penthouse at night, what random remarks are being edited and pieced together to create rivalries or alliances or other kinds of drama onscreen? Particularly notice from week to week how it's often the most expendable designer, not the very worst outfit, that gets ousted. The best designers rarely go home for one bad design, while the most antagonistic personalities tend to stick around long past their expiration date because the make good TV—they're the ones we love to hate.

Right now, Michael C is the designated martyr; many of the other, snootier designers bad-mouth him behind his back (also in front of his back), and never let him join in their reindeer games. Someone decided that Gretchen, the golden girl after she won the first two challenges (and probably the most consistently skillful designer so far), needed some of her luster knocked off, so now she's morphing into a controlling bitch before our eyes. Well, they couldn't let her sail through the entire season to victory (as she very well might) without any conflict—that wouldn't be good TV. The question now is how they'll position her to regain he stature (and viewer sympathy) in time for the season finale. Stay tuned.

All that said, however, I have to admit that the worst outfit did lose last week, and justifiably so. That horrible seasick-green number from Peach, with the droopy, shapeless top and that weird fringe of what looked like moss-green pocket handkerchiefs jutting out from the hip line? Egad. Still, I hate to see Peach go. Not only was she a woman of (ahem) a certain age (she's 50), she was the funniest person in the workroom. I’ll miss her droll one-liners and her down-to-earth Chicago accent.

(What exactly is a "cocktail dress" anyway? Does anyone know any real-life women who actually wear them? Is there some element that makes it more suitable for going out for drinks as opposed to eating? (If you're going out to dinner afterwards, do you have to go home and change?) Or maybe its like a lobster bib at a seafood restaurant, designed to protect the messy. In that case they better make one in merlot-red for me.)

Speaking of drunk and disorderly conduct, there's a helluva drunk scene in Going The Distance. It's written in our marriage contract somewhere that Art Boy and I go see every single Drew Barrymore movie (even the ones with Adam Sandler). This is actually okay, since I like Drew too, especially when she's gutsy and funny. In this R-rated romantic comedy, she plays a 30-something woman struggling through a bi-coastal relationship with Justin Long (he's very funny too, although he looks about 12). In a staggering economy where neither dares quit their jobs to relocate (he works for a music label in NYC; she's a journalism grad student/waitress about to get her big break as a reporter for the SF Chron), they cope with rare, brief cross-country visits they can't afford, texting, live chats, an unfortunate attempt at phone sex, and oceans of alcohol. This essentially sweet-natured story (directed by Nanette Burstein, from a script by Geoff LaTulippe) is told with plenty of raucous profanity, which reaches its apex when Drew's character, completely wasted, has to be hauled physically out of a bar by her male buddy while she's shrieking insults at a gigantic tattooed biker (none of which are printable). It's not the kind of dialogue you'd ever hear in a Golden Age Hollywood comedy, but Drew turns in an absolutely bravura piece of comic acting.

Here's an update on the Weekend Classics series at Aptos Cinema. I dropped in on The Adventures of Robin Hood this weekend, starring that most princely rogue, Errol Flynn, and it was even more fun than I remembered! The color print was beautiful, the clean narrative dynamic and exciting. I particularly noticed the use of vertical space (in that pre-Cinemascope era, they must have depended on the towering height of the image to awe the audience): the tall, arching trees of Sherwood Forest, drafty-looking medieval interiors under high, vaulted ceilings, those great diagonal staircases winding up and down turrets (suitable for chases and swordfights), even an overhead shot of Robin climbing up a trellis, Romeo-like, to Marian's window. You just don't get this sense of scale on a small screen.

Best line that I'd forgotten: Robin crashes the feast to defend his right to bedevil the usurper, Prince John, in the name of the rightful (but absent) King Richard. The shocked Marian cries, "You speak treason!" "Fluently!" Robin agrees, jauntily. I have nothing but respect for the recent Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott Robin Hood makeover, but the Errol Flynn production is still the real deal.

Best of all, Aptos showed the movie with a cartoon (!), the well-chosen "Rabbit Hood," starring Bugs Bunny. What more could you ask for six bucks?

Friday, September 3, 2010


So, a couple of weekends ago, Art Boy and I invented an impromptu holiday. We called it National Goof-Off Day. It was a Sunday morning, and we decided to celebrate by doing nothing of any significance—he took a day off from his art commissions, I performed a keyboard-ectomy, and we took off for the illicit thrill of a morning matinée at the Aptos Cinema.

In case you hadn't noticed, Aptos is now in the sixth month of its wonderful Weekend Movie Classics matinée series. Showtime is 11 a. m., Saturday and Sunday (and Monday, on long holiday weekends). A mere $6 gets you in the door, but the unalloyed delight of seeing a vintage movie as God intended, on a great big screen in the dark, is, as they say, priceless.

We went to see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with James Mason as Victorian-era mad genius, Captain Nemo, prowling the ocean in his hand-built submarine. Jules Verne is the godfather of Steampunk, and the folks at Disney spent plenty on the lavish interiors and steaming, pumping mechanics of the good ship Nautilus, and all her underwater adventures (including an eerie, pre-CGI giant squid attack). And who can blame Nemo for his sacred mission of blasting the evil, death-dealing warships of mankind out of the pristine oceans?

Of course, time changes perspective, which is part of what makes watching old movies so much fun. When I saw 20,000 Leagues on late-night TV once, as a 20-year-old college student, I remember thinking Kirk Douglas was kind of sexy in his striped Spandex T-shirt. This time, I found his hammy, eye-rolling machismo a bit much, as the shipwrecked Yank harpooner (although to be fair, he didn't get much help from the script typing him as the two-fisted Ugly American who'd rather fight than think—and yes, he is the hero— but, forget it, Jake, it's Disney, and you can't expect emotional depth). Even less PC is a tribe of black cannibals on a tropical island, shaking their spears and shields. Ugh. And while it's cool that Nemo's crew farms the ocean floor for their food, I hated to see the Nautilus divers herding magnificent sea turtles off to the galley.

It's also kind of funny in a ghoulish way, how the movie appropriates the idea of nuclear energy as the power source for the Nautilus. Released in 1954 (less than a decade after Hiroshima), it includes a scene where a man gazes into the atomic energy core of the ship's engine, "protected" by an old-fashioned diving helmet. In the climactic nuclear blast, our heroes, fleeing in a rowboat, gaze up placidly at the mushroom cloud like they were watching fireworks on the 4th of July. Well, this was the era of "duck and cover" drills, after all.

It's interesting to see how Disney cannibalizes its own over the years. Parts of 20,000 Leagues seem to have resurfaced in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Nemo at his organ obviously inspired the scene of Bill Nighy's great, squid-headed Davy Jones in PotC 2, playing the keyboard with his tentacles. (Although both hark back to Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, so there's nothing new under the sun—or the sea.) And haven't we seen Johnny Depp hot-footing it over the sand pursued by a tribe of irate natives, as Douglas does in this film?

Another fun thing about Aptos' Weekend Classics series is the sense of community among the intrepid audience members. It's like we're a cult. Out in the lobby before the show, one guy cheerfully explained how 20,000 Leagues, Thunderball, and Sea Hunt on TV inspired him to become a lifelong scuba diver. As the lights were coming back up at the end, a woman in back called out, "Who else was rooting for the squid?"

Coming up this weekend is The Adventures of Robin Hood, one of my all-time favorite swashbucklers, with the incomparable Errol Flynn. (Captain Blood is my absolute favorite Flynn movie, But this is a close second!) Shot in 1938, in a lavish early color process called Three-strip Technicolor, it's jam-packed with action, romance, noble ideals, forest skulldugery, boisterous camaraderie, and some of the most rip-roaring nose-to-nose swordfights ever filmed between Flynn and villain Basil Rathbone. (In real life, Rathbone was the expert swordsman; he excelled in making Flynn look good!)

Robin Hood plays at 11 a. m. on Saturday, Sunday, AND Monday this Labor Day weekend, so don't you dare miss it on the big screen; you'll never forgive yourself.