LONG BEACH — The films come from everywhere.
One, made in West Germany, depicts the life and times of the legendary German actress, Marlene Dietrich. Another, made in the Soviet Union, was banned when it first came out.
Taken together, they form the first series offered by the newly reconstituted Long Beach Film Society. And if the society's director has his way, they are a prelude to the realization of a longtime dream: an international film festival for an international city.
"Long Beach is an international city, but it hasn't grown up yet," said Howard Linn, 61, the society's director. "When it does, maybe the arts will stop having to take a back seat in this town."
Said Clarissa Ingabetsen, 46, a part-time secretary who came to the society's first evening of screenings on Sunday: "We need this here."
"Here" is a city that for years has been considered a cinematic backwater. And "this" is the society that has re-emerged after a 15-year hiatus to change all that.
It was the dream of cinematic significance, in fact, that propelled Linn in 1962 to become a co-founder of the Long Beach Film Society, which is sponsored by The Cinema Society of California State University, Long Beach, and uses university facilities for its functions. From 1965 to 1973, Linn served as the society's director. Then he resigned to take over the ownership and management of the Art Theater, and the society foundered.
For 14 years, the Art--on 4th Street near Cherry Avenue--specialized in foreign films, cult films and classics, offering thematic double bills that changed every third day. The only facility of its kind in Long Beach, the theater became a familiar beacon to local film aficionados looking for the kinds of movies that were rarely shown elsewhere.
By 1985, however, business was slipping. Faced with competition provided by the burgeoning home video market and the advent of cable television, Linn felt increasing pressure to show more commercial fare. "I wasn't attracting the kind of audience I wanted," he said. "We wanted to keep our films on a higher plane, but in order to keep something on the screen I would have had to show more exploitation films."
So late last year he bailed out. Selling the Art Theater to a company that owns a small chain of movie houses, Linn resurrected the film society as an educational nonprofit association. By cutting overhead and eliminating profit, said Linn, who receives no salary for his efforts, he can concentrate on showing the kinds of foreign and avant garde films that might not otherwise be seen.
"Film is an art form and if it isn't preserved and screened for people it will die out," he said. "There have been tremendous gaps in presenting these films to the public; some have gotten away."
Sunday's screening of "Marlene," a film about Marlene Dietrich directed by Maximilian Schell, was the first of five foreign films the society has scheduled for showings at the campus University Theater through June. The others are "Private Resistance," a Dutch film about World War II; "Himatsuri (Fire Festival)," a Japanese depiction of the effects of modern materialism on a small Japanese village; "The Right Hand Man," an Australian movie set in the rural back country of the 1860s, and "Theme," the Russian film that was made in 1980 but not released until recently.
Linn says he will plan future screenings if the first series at least breaks even. Eventually, he says, he would like to create the local international film festival as an annual event of at least four days duration. Patterned after similar festivals in Los Angeles and other cities, he said, the Long Beach festival--which would probably take place either at the university or at one or more local theaters--would feature back-to-back screenings of rarely seen foreign films that could draw film buffs from throughout Southern California.
"The film society is being used as a trial balloon," Linn said. "If we can draw enough people over a period of time, we would feel courageous enough to form an advisory group to talk to the powers-that-be about sponsoring the festival."
But drawing enough people to this first series may prove a challenge. To break even, Linn said, he must attract at least 500 customers, or 100 per film. To date, he said, he has about 42 subscribers, each of whom paid $15 for the series. Admission at the door is $4. And two screenings on Sunday drew a total of about 80 people.
What the audience may have lacked in numbers, however, it more than made up for in enthusiasm. "I loved it," said Rikki Floyd after viewing the Dietrich film. An actress herself, Floyd, 31, said she is used to driving all the way to Los Angeles to see such fare. "This is film history being spoken by someone who was there," she said. "I haven't seen it offered anywhere else."
Said Al Spangler, 45, a CSULB philosophy professor: "This will make the culture of the city more sophisticated. I wish more people would take an interest in it than in the Grand Prix."