A scene from the 1963 ensemble comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad… (AMPAS, AMPAS )
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' new summer screening series, the Last 70mm Film Festival, isn't heralding the death knell of celluloid but rather celebrating the wonder of filmmaking on a grand scale.
"There is so much talk about the death of film, period, let alone 70-millimeter film, I wanted to make sure we celebrated 70 millimeter for the really terrific medium that it is," said academy programmer Randy Haberkamp.
"We certainly admire and appreciate what is going on in the digital revolution," said Haberkamp. "This is not about one medium is better than the other, but it is a matter of not allowing the other to be forgotten. I think there is something really wonderful about that kind of shared event experience. I am not ready to give it up and I am going to fight to keep putting those on the screen as long as I can."
Apparently, many share his sentiment. Several movies in the series, which includes ">Walt Disney's 1959"Sleeping Beauty," 1960's"Spartacus" and 1965's "The Sound of Music," are already sold out; there will be a standby line before each screening.
Monday's opening night screening, of Stanley Kramer's all-star 1963 comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," sold out almost immediately. The three-hour caper comedy revolves around of group of zany motorists who witness a crash on a dangerous winding road in the California desert. The motorists stop to help the dying man, who tells them he's left a fortune under a "big W" before he literally kicks the bucket. A madcap race to get to the money begins.
Oscar-winning Spencer Tracy and what they used to call a cavalcade of comedic superstars, including Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Dick Shawn, the Three Stooges, Ethel Merman, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney and Buster Keaton, headline the comedy. It was a real change of a pace for Kramer, best known for his social conscious dramas "The Defiant Ones" (1958), "Inherit the Wind" (1960) and"Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961).
"He set out to make a comedy to end all comedies," said his widow, Karen Kramer, who will be appearing at the screening along with Rooney, Winters, Carl Reiner, Barrie Chase and others.
"Mad World" came about after a conversation Kramer had with New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, who told the director that he was considered the "most influential, important filmmaker on social issues in the 20th century," said Karen Kramer. "But there was one thing [all the critics] agreed on is that you can never make a comedy. There was a long pause and Stanley looked at him and said, 'Oh yeah?'"
"Mad World," which opened the Cinerama Dome, also marked the film debut of Winters, whom Kramer had seen perform his cutting-edge comedy on "The Jack Paar Show."
"I was just on a natural high," said Winters, who played redneck trucker Lennie Pike. "You got to remember it was my first picture and with a handful of people like that in it, I had to be good."
Winters said he "stood on my feet and did what Stanley told me to do. We became good friends. Everyone was great to me — there wasn't a bad cat in the group."
Chase, who was Fred Astaire Merman's final dance partner, had a memorable cameo with Dick Shawn, who plays Sylvester, Merman's high-strung mama's boy son. Dressed in a black fringed-bikini, she dances the twist deadpan with Shawn in his grungy beach shack.
Though the part was small, Chase had a hard time getting a handle on it. Doing it deadpan, she said, was "just a fluke. It was not Stanley's idea."
Chase happened to be in her car one day during production and heard someone honking in the car next to her. "It was an old friend," said Chase. "We stopped and talked. I mentioned I really didn't know how to approach this because Dick was all over the place. He said, 'Well you are married to someone else and you are in a beach shack, so more than likely you are stoned.' I said, 'Perfect,' and it give me the whole handle."
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