Two film series feature an eclectic mix of movies Old and foreign flicks to be shown HOWARD COUNTY DIVERSIONS

September 10, 1993|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

There aren't any paparazzi chasing down celebrities or producers cutting deals over Evian. But with the opening of two film series today in Columbia, the new town might seem like the next Cannes.

One series, still in its infancy, shows only older movies -- a mix of American and foreign films -- while the other, entering its 25th season, primarily exhibits foreign films and documentaries.

"Marvelous Movies & More," premiering at 7:30 tonight at Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake, will run monthly through the spring.

The Columbia Film Society, opening at 8:30 p.m. today and tomorrow at the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College, runs monthly through June.

Beginning its second season, "Marvelous Movies & More" has expanded its program from four to nine movies that run the gamut from the intense and horrific to the slapstick and sentimental.

"I felt it's important to show films that would satisfy everyone," said David Pierce, a film and copyright consultant who selected the program. "If we had a Cary Grant festival, only those who were interested in Cary Grant films would come."

Besides being well-made, the movies must meet the criteria of being old and obscure.

The oldest in the series, for example, is "Steamboat Bill Jr.," a silent comedy starring Buster Keaton, that was made in 1928. That movie and most of the others, such as "Eyes Without A Face," "I Know Where I'm Going" and "Yiddle With His Fiddle," are not bound to pop up on video.

"I was looking for movies that don't show up frequently on television or cable or in the video stores," Mr. Pierce said. "They're good, but they aren't common.

"It's a matter of expectation. By choosing less familiar movies, there's a greater chance they will be more entranced by something unexpected. It's important to surprise an audience."

A big attraction of the series is the 30-minute discussion after each movie, moderated by Mr. Pierce over dessert.

"It's a free-form discussion," said Carole Black, program coordinator for Slayton House. "It takes off in opposite directions, depending on the film. They may discuss what was going on in the world when the film took place, what society was like or talk about the director."

Mr. Pierce, who has written for American Film and American Cinematographer magazines and co-produced "The Age of Exploration," a series of eight silent feature films, believes that group viewing and follow-up discussions enhance the movie-going experience.

"It's more than a movie," said the 33-year-old Laurel resident. "Movies in a theater is a communal experience. So afterward, we discuss what everyone else saw. Movies should be a shared experience, just like a comedy is a lot funnier with an audience than it is when you're watching it by yourself. The Buster Keaton film is one of the funniest movies ever made -- [when seen] with a large crowd.

"But there's nothing worse than seeing a great old movie and not be able to tell anyone about it. And this is a series of great movies."

Discussions might also focus on the styles of early American movie making, examining, for example, why actors kissed to the side (so both faces could be seen) or the lighting on Cary #F Grant's face (to keep him from blending into the black and white frames.)

But the talks do not turn into dissertations on the evolution of film. "The purpose is not a film history lecture, but a discussion of how they liked the film, which characters they liked and whether they thought something was believable," Mr. Pierce said.

"We try to get people to talk about movies so they'll watch them more carefully. Everyone sees something different. It gives them a chance to compare what they saw."

Since its first showing, the fledgling program has developed a core following of all ages.

"There seemed to be a real interest and not just in specific films," Mr. Pierce said.

"It's a different movie experience than when you go to a movie in a mall," he said. "Our audience seems to feel more satisfied."

One satisfied customer, Nick Vogel, 70, of Columbia, relishes the experience.

"I haven't missed one," he said. "It's not like a cinema, it's like a party where the host shows a movie."

For the Romanian native who grew up in Austria, Switzerland and France, the movies are a reminder of his youth.

"I'm an old man," he said. "Chances are I've seen them a long time ago. They bring back memories.

"It's interesting to see, not just for their subjects, but for what they represent as a historical document. They tell how people lived then. It shows you the way the world was."

Mr. Vogel finds the discussions equally provocative.

"They couldn't stop me from participating," he said.

For the foreign film aficionado, the Columbia Film Society offers a selection of critically acclaimed foreign films and foreign and American-made documentaries that have been released within the past two years.

The society, which boasts about 700 members, sells tickets by subscription only, for a total of $24.

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