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Austin’s Paramount Summer Classic Film Series offers the perfect antidote to the summer blockbuster blues. Now celebrating its thirty-seventh year, this is one of the country’s largest and most exciting repertory festivals. And it’s a series that connects its community to its film history: it takes place at two of the city’s prime cinematic spots, the Paramount Theatre, a 1,200-seat movie palace dating back to 1915 (when it was a vaudeville theater), and the Stateside, a vintage movie house built in 1935.
This year’s program, running now through September 9, features more than eighty classic films and foreign classics, including some showing in 70 mm prints. We asked the series’ programmer, Jesse Trussell, a few questions about getting viewers to watch off-the-beaten-path art films alongside more mainstream fare (yes, both World on a Wire and The Breakfast Club are showing) and this year’s selections, which are divided into entertainingly named weekly categories like Female Filmmakers in Hollywood and Abroad, Bergman in Love, and Musicals!. The offerings this week include a serving of Hitchcock classics, The 39 Steps (June 21 and 22), The Man Who Knew Too Much (June 21 and 22), North by Northwest (June 23 and 24), and Strangers on a Train (June 23 and 24).
Is there a specific joy to programming a festival in an honest-to-goodness movie palace?
The living film history of this space is really incredible; the Paramount is the same auditorium where Austin audiences watched Casablanca for the first time. Programming in a place with such a rich history, I try to do a couple of different things. The first is to bring back the style of films that played in the theater during its cinematic heyday, the big emotions and the big images of Welles or Hawks. The second is to almost play against the space; I doubt when Kiarostami was making Close-up he thought it would one day screen in a 100-year-old picture house in Texas, but I’m playing it in August. That type of modernism in such a classical space creates a really interesting experience.
Are younger audiences turning out as well as the older viewers who might be better acquainted with some of the titles?
We’re really lucky in that this repertory series has been going on for thirty-seven years and has a really strong presence in Austin. And because we’re a really young cinephile town as well, the audience is much more eclectic than you might expect. I watched high school kids on a date come to the original Cat People last summer! Some of my favorite experiences have been going to see a classic comedy and watching an audience slowly warm up. In the first reel there will be laughs here and there throughout the auditorium, and you can feel it begin to spread. By the time of the last reel of Bringing Up Baby, we had hundreds of people rolling in the aisles. Experiences like that are what I think keep people coming back for movies they might have seen dozens of times. You can’t beat the communal experience of the movie theater.
You offer quite an eclectic lineup. How do you negotiate the different types of films you play at the festival?
I think there’s a balance you need to strike, especially considering that my personal taste leans more esoteric. We’ll always be a series that focuses on Hollywood golden-age filmmaking, and films like Rebel Without a Cause have lost none of their power on the big screen. But the benefit of having such a large program is that I can color in the margins with some out-there choices. I’m particularly excited to be showing A Man Escaped, which is maybe my favorite Bresson film. But on the other hand, I also tracked down a 70 mm print of the super flawed but also ridiculously fun Last Action Hero, and I can’t wait for that screening. There’s something about Schwarzenegger at his most nineties-meta that I find endlessly hilarious. Plus Ian McKellen as Death from The Seventh Seal!