Like part of the family

Film: From Schmoke's `Godfather' gab to the good feelings that were raining cats and dogs, festival makes itself at home in Baltimore.

April 24, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Introducing "The Godfather," at the first annual Maryland Film Festival yesterday at the Charles Theatre, was an offer Mayor Kurt Schmoke couldn't refuse.

In 1982, when he ran for state's attorney of Baltimore, Schmoke watched "The Godfather" instead of the election coverage on television. He won. Since then, it's become an election night ritual. Not "Godfather II," not "Godfather III." The original.

"If it worked once, it might work again," Schmoke explained.

As for the festival itself, the question was, would it work the first time.

Yesterday, nearly 25 films, documentaries and shorts, from the rarely seen "Pastor Hall," a controversial, 1940 film dealing with the Nazi seizure of power, to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," were screened at the Charles and the Orpheum in Fells Point and introduced by filmmaker John Waters, designer Alexander Julian and more.

"It's way beyond anything I thought we could do," said festival founder Jed Dietz. "I'm just overwhelmed by the support from the film community."

Dietz, wearing a beige Sundance baseball cap, didn't have a chance to sit down and enjoy an entire film, between introducing the films, making phone calls and organizing volunteers.

Thursday night, the festival opened at the Senator Theatre with the premiere of Barry Levinson's documentary "Diner Guys." A host of Baltimore's film and media elite turned out dressed in everything from little black dresses to blue jeans.

Yesterday, the films at the newly renovated Charles managed to draw in about 30 to 40 people a screening, with the exception of Polish import "With Fire and Sword," which attracted closer to 100.

Toddlers rattled boxes of Good and Plenty and filmmakers exchanged business cards.

At a morning panel, writers who have made the leap from books to screenplay, such as Taylor Branch,

Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter and Robert Ward, affirmed the commercial craziness of Hollywood players, which audiences, incidentally, could see on-screen later in the day in Robert Altman's "The Player."

The only real conflicts involved Dietz's standard poodle Zeke and Charles co-owner John Standiford's black and white cat, Rolmops. They got into a tiff in front of the souvenir stand in the morning. And Zeke drifted from theater to theater throughout the day, his tail often sighted floating above rows of seats like a disembodied powder puff.

Maybe Sean Penn wasn't running around. And Steve Buscemi wasn't chomping peanut M&M's. But the lack of stars didn't detract from the pure enjoyment.

Laughing along

The occasional glitch was taken as a given and dealt with in good humor. During "The Godfather," a projection problem caused a short delay, and a short film called "Culture" was shown in the meantime.

In it, a man pretended he was violently shooting a gun and then collapsed against a white wall. Blood began to spurt out of him, smearing down the wall.

After the short, Schmoke shot up out of his seat and turned to the audience.

"That's not how I remember it!" he yelled. The audience burst into laughter.

Dietz selected the "The Godfather" because he had heard it was Schmoke's favorite.

Schmoke first saw "The Godfather" when it was released in the summer of 1972. He was 22. He saw it four times that year. It was a different portrayal of the Mafia than he'd ever seen before, and he was taken by it. And although he's seen it countless times since, you'd never guess from the concentration on his face, hands together, fingers propping up his chin, when the movie began.

When Michael Corleone explains how his dad brutally assisted a singer's career, Kay shoots him a look of absolute incredulity.

"That's a great look," Schmoke says with a laugh. He chuckles at the girls swooning for the Sinatra knockoff.

As an aged member of the Corleone clan gets up to sing at Connie Corleone's wedding, Schmoke tells an audience member to "watch his mouth." If you look carefully, Schmoke says, you can see the guy's top row of dentures fall out.

Accidental silent movie

Margaret Dumont's lips were moving, but nothing was coming out. The famed Marx Brothers female foil didn't find her voice until about five minutes into "Duck Soup." The sound wasn't working.

The audience did its best to help out.

Julian, who introduced the movie, attempted to narrate. A volunteer yelled, "Does anyone know the words to `When the Clock on the Wall Strikes 10'?"

Elizabeth Skates, 35, wasn't too stressed about it.

"I just needed a good laugh," says the Liberty Heights resident. "I picked the Marx Brothers."

Skates is most looking forward to seeing "A Hard Day's Night" on the big screen. Her first movie was "Snow White." She was 6.

"It was such an adventure," she says. "It was wonderful."

When the sound was restored, she doubled over as Groucho aimed rapid-fire insults at DuMont and Harpo terrorized a peanut salesman.

She also couldn't help but be impressed by the stadium seating in the new Charles auditorium.

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