Orson Welles, writer and director of the cinematic American masterpiece "Citizen Kane," once made this analysis about cinematic art: "(A) film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet."
Even though blockbusters and controversial flicks tend to rake in the majority of filmgoer cash, a film's aesthetics and storytelling cannot be ignored. Classic celluloid created by a selection of America's cinematic poets, such as Frank Capra and Stanley Kramer, will be shown at the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival this week.
Now in its fifth year, the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival opens at 8:58 p.m. Tuesday (viewing times are approximate and change with each film) with Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday," a film version of the play "The Front Page," the classic newspaper farce that was remade into the 1980s movie dud "Switching Channels." Before "His Girl Friday" premieres on Tuesday, film critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper will take questions from the audience starting at 8:15 p.m.
The festival runs every Tuesday for free, concluding on Aug. 24 with "Guys & Dolls," starring Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit and the late Marlon Brando as fellow gambler Sky Masterson. The event is subsidized by ComEd, the Mayor's Office of Special Events and the Chicago Park District. All films are screened at Butler Field in Grant Park.
Ann Sylvester, program development coordinator with the Mayor's Office of Special Events in Chicago, said the combination of watching classic films in the outdoors surrounded by family, friends, and strangers, along with the beauty of the Windy City's skyline, creates an unforgettable experience for classic film buffs and neophytes alike.
"It's so fun to be out there. You can watch the movie, and then you can turn around and look at the city," Sylvester said. "And it's free. It doesn't cost $8 to see it. And the films are the American classic films."
Yahya R. Kamalipour, the head of the Department of Communication and Creative Arts at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, and a professor of mass and international communications, said film itself is a "ritual" that brings people of "diverse backgrounds" together in one place."
Ron Falzone, a professor with the film and video department at Columbia College in Chicago, agreed with Sylvester and Kamalipour and pointed out the festival introduces filmgoers to a world beyond the boob tube. Since most of these films were created at a time before television and DVD extras, many of the films' theatrical and story elements can be extremely different to a modern audience.
"In many ways, this reintroduces the real films to people," Falzone said. "The way it was meant to be done."
Sylvester said selection of these films depended on them being family-friendly classics. They also recognize the recent passings of Katharine Hepburn and Gregory Peck, who star in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "Roman Holiday," respectively, and the 100th birthday of "His Girl Friday" starring Cary Grant and the 80th birthday of "Guys & Dolls" starring Marlon Brando.
Other films include Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" on July 20; "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" on July 27; "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" on Aug. 3; "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," the festival's first science-fiction film, on Aug. 10, and "Roman Holiday" on Aug. 17.
While Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" conveys a message (interracial marriage and tolerance), entertainment remains the key.
"Embedded in movies are, of course, messages," Kamalipour said.
But foremost, people attend films, he said, to escape reality for a few hours.
Started five years ago in honor of the late Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel, the festival's popularity has grown with each passing year. Sylvester said that nightly attendance increased from between 10,000 to 15,000 during the festival's 2000 debut to between 20,000 to 40,000 last year.
And not only because of marketing. Word of mouth has also been a great advertisement. Sylvester said ages of attendees range from children to senior citizens, with many young filmgoers noting they never may have seen most of these older films were it not for the festival.
Falzone added that film has the power to touch generations. Issues and characters raised in a film back in the 1930s can touch teenagers and children as well as their "parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents."
Even including himself when he was a teenager, Falzone said young people's "sense of history is Thursday." But when the power of a classic film "connect(s) with them emotionally, connect(s) with them morally, they realize that the past is just as human as the present."
New to the festival this year in celebration of the iconic rodent's 75th anniversary, a Mickey Mouse cartoon short will be shown before each film. Mickey's creator, Walt Disney, is a former Chicago resident.
These Disney film shorts complement the Mickey Mouse statues currently lining State Street and also celebrate Mickey's diamond jubilee (separate from the film festival). Anyone interested in seeing the statues before attending the festival should do so before the exhibition ends on July 21. The Mickey statues are between Lake Street and Jackson Boulevard.
Chosen for its classic stance in American cinema as well as to acknowledge the presidential election year, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," starring Jimmy Stewart, follows the inspiring tale of one average American's bid to better America by putting his patriotism into action. The ever-likeable Stewart motivates the audience to root for him by not evoking a discernible left or right viewpoint but the classic American values of truth and persistence, ideals often explored in the works of Frank Capra, the film's director.
Since many people meet up with friends and family at the festival, Sylvester mentioned that cell phones can be brought to Grant Park but recommended they be shut off before the film's start. Sylvester said that people who attend the festival are typically extremely quiet and respectful to the filmmakers as well as their fellow cinephiles.
"I am actually amazed that 20,000 to 40,000 people are completely quiet," Sylvester said.
For more information and to check viewing times, call the Mayor's Office of Special Events, (312) 744-3315.
What to bring
* A blanket or lawn chair. Lawn chairs also can be rented on site at the festival for $4 from The Park Grill, but supplies are limited so get to the festival early if you plan to rent. Traditional moviegoing snacks, such as popcorn and soda, also will be made available for a small fee at the festival onsite from The Park Grill.
* Bring your own picnic basket or reserve one from The Park Grill Restaurant two days in advance by calling (312) 521-7280 and pick it up the day of the film from the restaurant at 11 N. Michigan Ave., which is within walking distance to Grant Park.
* While admittance to the festival is free, parking is not. If you leave Indiana by car, be sure to bring enough money to park in any of the public garages -- East Monroe, Grant Park North and Grant Park South. Parking also is available at Millennium Parking Facility.
If you go
* Arrive early. Sylvester recommends arriving between 7 and 8 p.m. to get a good seat.
* Do not bring pets, alcohol or plan to grill. All three are prohibited.
* Prepare a list of questions for the Chicago film reviewers ahead of time if you choose to see Ebert and Roeper before the premiere film. Questions will be taken via audience cards before the film critics take the stage.
How to get there
* Public transportation is recommended. The South Shore train can be taken from Indiana to downtown Chicago. Call (800) 356-2079 or consult www.nictd.com for stations and departure times.
* If you choose to drive, take I-80 West/I-94 West (the Bishop Ford). Stay on I-94, which turns into the Dan Ryan Expressway. Take the Dan Ryan to I-55 North (Stevenson Expressway). Immediately after getting onto the Stevenson, get into the left-hand lane to merge onto Lake Shore Drive/U.S. 41 north. Stay on Lake Shore Drive until reaching the corner of Monroe Street.
* If you happen to be visiting Chicago on vacation and have a bike, you can cycle to the Festival. Bikes can be valet parked through the Chicago Bicycle Federation and parked for free at the northwest corner of Lake Shore Drive and Monroe Street. Also new to Grant Park this year are additional bike racks.
The beauty of the Chicago skyline accenting the beauty of these classic films. Cinematic engineer James Bond has attended to the challenge of presenting these films outdoors: Keeping the integrity of the older films while still making them visually and audibly accessible to the public amid Chicago's hustle and bustle.
Some Indiana parks will showcase their own outdoor films.
* The Westchester Public Library will present films at Thomas Centennial Park in Chesterton at 7 p.m. on Fridays through Aug. 6. A concert will precede each film. Call (219) 926-7696 for more information.
* The Schererville Park Department will begin showing films at dusk on July 23 in Reder Park. Call (219) 865-5530 for more information.
* While recent mainstream and independent films can be seen at any of downtown Chicago's main theaters, the more underground and world films not widely distributed can be caught at Facets Multimedia and The Gene Siskel Film Center at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For Facets, call (773) 281-9075 or consult for show times and pricing. For The Gene Siskel Film center, call (312) 846-2600 or consult www.artic.edu/webspaces/siskelfilmcenter for show times and pricing.
FYI: Yahya R. Kamalipour's book, "War, Media, and Propaganda: A Global Perspective," which he co-edited with Nancy Snow will be published in September.