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Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years

August 3, 2012 - August 31, 2012

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On a buying trip to Chicago in 1905, clothing merchant Carl Laemmle was struck by the popularity of the nickelodeon theater, with its variety shows and short films. Within weeks, Laemmle abandoned his former career and began promoting these primitive movie houses. His efforts prospered and on April 30, 1912, the Universal Film Manufacturing Company was created through the merger of several independent companies. And so was born the oldest continuously operating film producer and distributor in the United States, recognized universally by its spinning globe logo.

From its beginnings under Laemmle, there was a discernible tension between Universal’s mission to produce low-budget “programmers” and the desire to compete with better-financed studios and their more reputable fare. While many of Universal’s early “prestige” titles are now much-admired classics, including All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), it remains the B movies, including its iconic 1930s horror cycle (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy), that epitomize its contribution to film history.

When antitrust cases reorganized the film industry in the later 1940s, Universal was able to move into the A-list with top-notch entertainment that validated popular genres, including melodramas (Imitation of Life), sex farces (Pillow Talk), rollicking comedies (Francis), and suspense (The Birds). By the mid-1970s, Universal shook-up the industry with the release of Jaws, redefining the notion of the blockbuster. Throughout its history, Universal has challenged the distinctions between fine art and popular entertainment. We are pleased to celebrate the hundred-year legacy of Universal Pictures.

Friday, August 3, 2012
7:00 p.m. Imitation of Life
John M. Stahl (U.S., 1934). The lives of a black maid (Louise Beavers) and a white widow (Claudette Colbert) intersect in a scheme to manufacture pancake batter, in this melodrama from an unfortunately little-known director. Nominated for three Academy Awards, Imitation of Life was named by Time in 2007 as one of the twenty-five most important films on race. (116 mins)

Sunday, August 5, 2012
5:30 p.m. Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Edward Cline (U.S., 1941) Family Fun! In this classic, W.C. Fields plays himself, searching for a chance to promote a surreal screenplay he has written. This zany collection of song, slapstick, and thumbnail sketches will make you “laugh your head off” (NY Times). (70 mins)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012
7:00 p.m. All Quiet on the Western Front
Lewis Milestone (U.S., 1930). Director Lewis Milestone won an Academy Award for this film, one of the boldest statements ever made about the cruelty and futility of war. Set in Europe during WWI, the plot follows the disillusionment of idealist young German soldiers as they confront the realities of the battlefield. (143 mins)

Sunday, August 12, 2012
4:00 p.m. Dracula
Tod Browning (U.S., 1931) Family Fun! Bela Lugosi’s eerie portrayal of the Transylvanian bloodsucker set the bar for all future Draculas in this iconic horror film. Followed by The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932), with Boris Karloff as an ancient Egyptian priest driven to possess the modern-day incarnation of his long-lost love; an enduring contribution to the pantheon of Universal monsters. (152 mins)

Saturday, August 18, 2012
8:40 p.m. The Birds
Alfred Hitchcock (U.S., 1963). The Birds does for our fine feathered friends what Psycho did for showers, as a seaside community (Bodega Bay) is terrorized when seemingly normal birds turn suddenly and inexplicably malevolent. Noted for its rapid montage of attack sequences and Bernard Herrmann’s score, composed entirely of manipulated bird sounds. (120 mins)

Sunday, August 19, 2012
5:00 p.m. Francis
Arthur Lubin (U.S., 1950) Family Fun! A WWII comedy about a talking Army mule named Francis, this film was the first of seven Francis films that appeared in the 1950s. Donald O’Connor stars as Peter Stirling, an inept second lieutenant who is rescued on the battlefield by the mule at the film’s outset, only to be serially committed and released from the mental ward by unbelieving superiors whenever he explains Francis’s role in his subsequent adventures. (91 mins)

Saturday, August 25, 2012
8:30 p.m. Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee (U.S., 1989). Writer-director-actor Lee’s third feature, a lively, frequently hilarious but hard-hitting drama, charts mounting racial tensions on the hottest day of the year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. “The funniest, most stylized, most visceral New York street scene this side of Scorseseland” (J. Hoberman, Village Voice). (120 mins)

Sunday, August 26, 2012
5:15 p.m. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Charles T. Barton (U.S., 1948) Family Fun! The title undersells it: Abbot and Costello don’t simply meet Frankenstein’s monster, but the whole stable of the Universal horror canon, including Dracula and the Wolf Man. Perhaps the best-reviewed title in Abbott and Costello’s long career, the beloved evergreen remains a landmark genre mashup. (83 mins)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
7:00 p.m. Pillow Talk
Michael Gordon (U.S., 1959). A colossal critical and box-office success, the sophisticated bedroom farce Pillow Talk pairs Rock Hudson and Doris Day as two singletons sharing a party line. The film garnered Day her only Oscar nomination, established her as a fashion icon, and became her most identifiable role. (110 mins)

Friday, August 31, 2012
9:05 p.m. High Plains Drifter
Clint Eastwood (U.S., 1973). A mysterious stranger wreaks havoc on a small Western town, but it is unclear whether he is a flesh-and-blood human being or a ghost. As Eastwood remarked on the film, “There is always retribution for your deeds.” (105 mins)

In association with UCLA Film & Television Archive. Coordinated at BAM/PFA by Video Curator Steve Seid. We wish to thank the following for making this celebration of Universal Studios possible: Shannon Kelley, UCLA Film & Television Archive; Paul Ginsburg, Universal Pictures; and American Express.