Movie classics? Depends on your taste

The schedule for Kristen Tett's Cinema Classics series at Triangle Square Cinemas doesn't look like the syllabus for a film studies class, exactly. This year's offerings run the gamut from critical darlings (the first two "Godfather" movies, "Vertigo") to popcorn classics ("The Great Race") to at least one entry that was outright savaged by most reviewers ("The Cannonball Run").

What the schedule does look like is a cross-section of moviegoers' tastes — and that's the idea. Every year, Tett, who organizes the classics series in Costa Mesa as well as at other Starlight Cinemas locations in Anaheim and Whittier, invites patrons to cast ballots for the movies they'd like to see return to the big screen for a night. And if that means "Airplane!" makes the list while "Citizen Kane" doesn't, which was the case at Triangle Square this year, well, then, so be it.

Whatever your own tastes may be, you'll probably find something to like in the classics series, which runs every other Monday until December, when one holiday-themed film will be shown each week. As Triangle Square prepares to tune up "The Music Man" on June 10, Tett spoke with the Daily Pilot about her own love of movies and her theory about what makes an enduring favorite:

Any time I hear about a classic film series, it always sounds like a labor of love. Were you a big moviegoer as a child?

Definitely a big moviegoer as a child. But also, my father is an avid cinema lover, and so I grew up watching a lot of these classics at home — specifically, a lot of the musicals. Most of the films we feature in our series were a big part of our childhood.

Are there any movies playing in the series this year that you saw in the first run?

No. I'm not old enough to have qualified for any of these in their first run. We categorize that anything released before 1980 is what we consider applicable to be voted on for the series. This is the first year we've featured any films released in the early '80s, like "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Because we limit it to the early '80s and before, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to see any in the theaters.

Looking at your schedule this year, there's certainly a mix of high and low art — everything from "Gone with the Wind" to "The Cannonball Run." Given that range, do you have a definition of what makes a classic movie?

We base our series, actually, on votes from our moviegoers. So once a year, we always have a voting. We have a nomination period where people can nominate films to appear on the ballot, and whatever gets the most votes appears on the schedule. There is a love of high-art films like "Gone with the Wind." But people like to be lighthearted and laugh once in a while. So in terms of what we consider a classic, we just say it has to come out before [circa] 1980.

And because we do the series at three different locations — we do it at Cinema City, Whittier Village and Triangle Square — the movies that are voted most highly will appear at all three venues. But the ones that aren't rated as highly, we show at just one venue. For example, we're showing "A Christmas Story" at Cinema City, but that's not showing at all three locations. Triangle Square is showing "The Cannonball Run," which is not showing at all locations. There are about four or five where that location is the only one it's showing at.

When I was a teenager, I wrote for the Orange County Register's teen movie review panel, and the other day I realized that, except for "Toy Story," just about every film I reviewed has been more or less forgotten. For example, do you remember "First Kid" with Sinbad?


"Chain Reaction" with Keanu Reeves?

No, not that one either.

"Mallrats" by Kevin Smith?

That one I know.

So when you see movies in the theater now, do you ever look at one and think, "That's going to be a classic! That one will make the time capsule"?

I really do think — based on the movies that get the votes year after year, time after time, and get really steady attendance every time they show — people, while they do like their good-hearted laughs, the ones that really stand the test of time are ones that speak to our deeper human nature, like "Gone with the Wind." So of recent movies, if I had to predict, maybe ones like "Inception," ones that didn't get a huge box-office reception when they came out, but they really speak to challenges we face in our everyday life. I think those are really the ones that are going to last for years and years and years.

Do you have a favorite movie of all time?

I would say my favorite movie is "Guys and Dolls" with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.

Have you ever shown it in the series?

We have.

How does the nomination process work?

The whole process is open to guests. Some people will jot down a couple of movies on a piece of paper. Some people print lists of their 100 favorite movies and drop it in. We really go over every one.

How big a turnout do you usually get for a classic movie?

They're pretty popular. The series is still getting out in the Triangle Square location, so tickets usually will be available up until the films start. The Cinema City location, we can sell out a couple hours before, depending on the film.

Triangle Square Cinemas recently took part in the Newport Beach Film Festival, and there's nothing more communal, as movie-watching experiences go, than a festival. People seem to laugh more, cheer more and basically project more how they're feeling about a film. Do you get some of the same vibe during a classic screening?

Definitely. And, in fact, so much so that with the musicals, we have to remind the audience that their fellow moviegoers are there to hear the actors sing and not their neighbor. There's a lot more audible laughter, a lot more cheering, a lot more humming and singing along.

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