Of all the magical folkloric stories that used to be part of growing up, none has a more intense appeal than the saga of Robin Hood. Just thinking of it can make all those grown-up children who devoured the storybook retellings - and drank in the wonders of Douglas Fairbanks' 1922 spectacle or Errol Flynn's 1938 swashbuckler - feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
The noble outlaw who fights for the commoners of England while King Richard the Lion-Hearted gets mired in the Crusades, Robin Hood embodies youthful idealism in action. He's also youthful idealism at play. He stands for the pleasures of teamwork. You may dream of being Robin, the leader and top archer. But you may also fantasize about being Little John, the expert with the quarterstaff, or the dagger-wielding Will Scarlett.
Everyone and everything worked like gangbusters in the Errol Flynn version, opening today in a fresh-minted print at the AFI Silver Theatre. Three-strip Technicolor never looked more glorious than in this film's Sherwood Forest; the fairy-tale setting gives the green-clad rebels the aura of woodland sprites. Arrows rarely landed with more resounding and satisfying thumps than they do on the soldiers serving under the odious villains played by Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone.
Flynn's directors (Michael Curtiz and William Keighley) knew how to stylize the violence, and his writers (Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller) crafted lines to fit their star's irreverent charm. Maid Marian's accusation, "You speak treason," and Flynn's response, "Fluently," entered the bloodstream of the throngs who saw the film in '38 and the students who rediscovered it in the '60s. Now it will invade the memory of new generations as they see it for the first time in the AFI Silver's digitally restored print.
Check www.AFI.com/Silver for updates; call 301-495-6720 for general information or 301-495-6700 for pre-recorded program information. Tickets: $8.50 for general admission, $7.50 for AFI members, students and seniors.
Double your Kurosawa
The Charles Theatre substituted Akira Kurosawa's 1985 masterpiece Ran when it looked as if Cowboy Pictures' bankruptcy would scuttle the theater's plans to screen The Bad Sleep Well (from 1960) tomorrow and Thursday. But The Bad Sleep Well, it turns out, is still available - so the Charles gets to play both, on different screens at the same time.
In the spring of 1986, I interviewed Kurosawa in San Francisco; Ran was still in theaters, and we had just watched a reconstructed print of The Bad Sleep Well. He said he considered The Bad Sleep Well, which re-sets Hamlet in a corrupt government-housing corporation, "probably the most difficult screenplay I ever had to write. It usually takes me about 40 days to complete a script, and for The Bad Sleep Well it took 100 days. It was not just about white-collar crime - it was also about political crime, which was very difficult to show for reasons of covert censorship. I had to go to great efforts to disguise the worst person in the film. He's at the other end of a telephone; you never see him on-screen."
By mid-'86, the critical and popular success of Ran had spurred widespread appreciation of Kurosawa's mastery. The color-coding of the medieval armies in this unique take on King Lear makes for magnificent poetic spectacle. But just as innovative is Kurosawa's use of sound. When Kurosawa's Lear figure gets trapped in a battle, the tumult dies down; all you hear is jagged, mournful music.
"What I was trying to get at in Ran," Kurosawa told me, "and this was there from the script stage, was that the gods or God or whoever it is observing human events is feeling that sadness about how human beings destroy each other, and that powerlessness to affect human beings' behavior. The music comes up to represent the feelings of the gods."
The Bad Sleep Well and Ran play Saturday at noon and Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Charles. Call 410-727-FILM or go to the Web at www.the charles.com.
The same middle-class intellectuals who populated writer-director Denys Arcand's 1986 art house hit The Decline of the American Empire reunite to help one of their number through his dying days in The Barbarian Invasions.
This week's entry for Cinema Sundays at the Charles, it won awards at Cannes for best screenplay and best actress (Marie-Josee Croze, as a brooding junkie), and is a probable contender for the 2003 best foreign film Oscar. Bagels and coffee: 9:45 a.m. Showtime: 10:30 a.m. For more details, call 410-727-FILM or go to www. cinemasundays.com.