FULLERTON — The Muckenthaler Cultural Center opens its outdoor "Celestial Cinema" series tonight with "Zou Zou," the 1934 French film starring Josephine Baker.
When "Zou Zou" came out, St. Louis-born Baker was already a huge celebrity in France, her adopted country. She was a song-and-dance phenom with an appeal both exotic and common. By making the most of her talents, and through savvy image-making, Baker was the queen of the demimonde.
He handlers wanted a larger arena for Baker besides the Paris nightclubs and theater stages where she regularly performed. The movies made sense, and screenwriter Carlo Rim was asked to come up with a story. French matinee idol Jean Gabin was also brought aboard as Baker's co-star.
In "Zou Zou," Baker plays an orphan who grew up in a circus. She's in love with Gabin, but he's knocked out by her friend. Things get better for Zou Zou, though, once she becomes a sensation after stepping into a Busby Berkeley-like musical review when the star can't go on.
The series continues Aug. 15 with "Double Suicide," filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda's 1969 adaptation of a traditional 17th-Century Japanese puppet play. In this example of the Japanese New Wave of the '60s and '70s, a bankrupt businessman and a prostitute immerse themselves in a doomed affair.
The program ends Aug. 22 with "Juliet of the Spirits," Federico Fellini's first color movie. It's also one of the first to indulge Fellini's passion for surreal, often hypnotic imagery. The film, which centers on the fantasies and fears of a wife who believes her husband is cheating on her, stars Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife and his favorite leading lady.
"Zou Zou" starring Josephine Baker screens tonight at 8 in the Muckenthaler Cultural Center's amphitheater, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton. $2 and $3. (714) 738-6595.