Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Good news for fans of the esoteric: one of my all-time favorite movies is coming this weekend to the Aptos Weekend Matinee Classics series!

Maybe you had to be an impressionable teenager, like I was, when the movie Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) first cast its simmering spell over me. I seem to remember watching it in a classroom, probably in 16mm, on one of those rickety, square pop-up screens, so it was probably with the after-hours movie club I joined in high school. But I've never forgotten the impact of this moody, romantic 1959 update of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with the pulsing samba beat.

Set in vibrant Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval, it's about a guitar-strumming young bus conductor, Orfeu (Breno Mello) who falls in love with Eurydice (the beauteous Marpessa Dawn), newly arrived in Rio. But her past catches up to her in the lurid figure of Death during the riotous Carnaval parade, and Orfeu must literally descend into a kind of hellish underworld to reclaim the woman he loves.

Shot in Portuguese by French filmmaker Marcel Camus, the story is set to a propulsive score by Luis Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim, introducing their hip samba fusion music to the world. The haunting "Manha de Carnaval," soon to spark the entire bossa nova craze of the early '60s, was the theme song from Black Orpheus. An international hit, it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Picture. None of which made any difference to me; all I knew was I absolutely loved this movie to pieces when I saw it back in my misspent youth. Will it hold up after all these years? Let's find out this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, 10:45 a.m. at Aptos. Prepare to be swept away!

(Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn in Black Orpheus, and, yes, the movie is in color.)


Just remember, if you go see Black Orpheus on Saturday, you can also come see Bruce Bratton, Wallace Baine and moi at the Nickelodeon on Sunday for our annual slugfest, oops, I mean discussion of the movies of 2010. Back in the day, when Morton Marcus was leading his bi-monthly film discussion group at the Nick, we all used to convene for a year-end wrap-up of our favorite (and otherwise) films of the year in January, followed by a pre-Oscars discussion the week, before the Academy Awards.

Nowadays, we streamline the event into a single, annual mash-up of opinions. Yes, we'll cover what the three of us predict will win the Oscars (along with what SHOULD win, often two entirely different things) when the Academy Awards are handed out next Sunday, February 27. But Wallace, Bruce, and I also reveal what our personal favorite films of the year were and tell you why we liked them. (Handouts of our respective Top Ten titles will be provided, in case you want to rush home and enter them in your queue.) But it's not all about us; we also want to hear about the films you liked (or not) this year. Here's your chance to tell the critics what YOU think! So hie thee down to the Nick, this Sunday (Feb 20), 11 a.m. Turn off your cell phone and join the conversation!

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