selected by ‘reel’ guru Max Laemmle
“We pursue a policy of trying to get the best films from all over the world, aiming at more discriminating tastes among moviegoers,” Max Laemmle says. With his son Robert, Laemmle operates 17 screens in nine theaters.
Laemmle’s father’s cousin, Carl Laemmle, gained fame for the family name with the 1912 founding of Universal Pictures. Max Laemmle, 80, was born and raised in Germany; he started working for Universal as a young man, later becoming general manager of distribution with headquarters in Paris. He lived in Paris for 10 years, moving his family to the United States in the spring of 1939.
Once in the United States, Laemmle became involved in film exhibition. Eventually his son joined him and became his partner. Their first theater was the Los Feliz, at that time a neighborhood second-run movie house.
“It was only because of my predilection for European films that once in a while I would book a foreign film,” Laemmle recalls. “The audience showed approval and asked why we didn’t do that more often. Then they asked, ‘Why don’t you go whole hog into the art business?’ That’s what we ultimately did.”
After great deliberation, Laemmle chose the following 10 art films as his personal favorites (following each title is the film’s director and year of release):
1 “Children of Paradise” (Marcel Carne, 1945). Made during the Nazi occupation of France and exploring the relationships between life and the theater, “this is one of the great humanistic films of all times. It is superbly realized as a piece of great acting and great craftsmanship, both in the writing and in the direction.” 2 “The Rules of the Game” (Jean Renoir, 1939). This film, considered Renoir’s masterpiece, is his pessimistic view of the social code people live by. It was a commercial failure when it was first released. “To me it isn’t only the style; I like the creative feeling of the film maker, which he portrays through his film. Renoir, Truffaut, Carne, and Bergman are all brilliant film makers, but I like them not for their brilliance, but for their humanity, their creativity.” 3 “Grand Illusion” (Jean Renoir, 1937). This film’s anti-war theme is expressed through the actions of its prisoner-of-war protagonists. It was the famous director’s first international success. “I knew Renoir in Paris when he made a film for our distribution that was a total failure, probably his most obscure film. I knew him well enough to like him very much as a human being.” 4 “My Night at Maud’s” (Eric Rohmer, 1969). “Rohmer is one of the great talents among film makers, though not a most commercial one. None of his films has ever been a smash hit, even though he has made quite a few successful ones, one of which is ‘My Night at Maud’s.’ ” The film depicts an evening of scintillating conversation, doubling as a smoldering seduction, which is not, in the end, achieved. “It’s a film that has a very beautiful literary and humanistic flavor. It’s like reading a good novel. Those are the films one can see over and over again.” 5 “Fanny and Alexander” (Ingmar Bergman, 1983). The adventures of a theatrical family, as seen through the eyes of a young boy, are at the center of this recent, lengthy movie by the famous Swedish director. “Bergman is at his apex with this film.” 6 “Jules and Jim” (Francois Truffaut, 1962). Truffaut’s film about a romantic triangle is “one of my all-time favorites; I would almost put it right behind ‘Children of Paradise.’ In addition to my having admired Truffaut for his films, I had the great fortune of being befriended by him, so there was a very personal rapport. ‘Stolen Kisses’ is another of Truffaut’s films that ranks close to my top ten.” 7 “La Ronde” (Max Ophuls, 1950). The German director made this film, based on a famous play by Schnitzler, in France. “It is a beautiful film about how love turns ‘in rounds,’ following a love story from one person to the next, and it’s done with such charm that it becomes a very memorable experience.” 8 “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (Alain Resnais, 1959). In this film, which brought international recognition to Resnais, a love affair between a French actress and a Japanese architect is contrasted against the destruction at Hiroshima. “Resnais is one of the giants among French film makers, and ‘Hiroshima’ is one of his masterworks.” 9 “Last Year at Marienbad” (Alain Resnais, 1961). An ambiguous film that re-creates the past as it is remembered by the protagonist, “Last Year at Marienbad” won the grand prize at the 1961 Venice Festival. “Resnais, like very few film makers, has a faculty for combining all of the arts in his films. The dialogue (in fact, he sometimes uses the spoken word as a sound effect), the music, the photography, architecture, decor, editing--all play very important roles.” 1 “Scenes From a Marriage” (Ingmar Bergman, 1973). “Besides that it was one of his great films, it was the film that we got hold of at considerable risk. We had to give a sizable guarantee. This happened shortly after we had taken over the Music Hall in Beverly Hills. ‘Scenes’ was the third or fourth film we showed there.” A precise examination of the disintegration of a marriage, “it became a big success and established the theater as a major outlet for foreign and special films.”