From Bugsy, to Elmer, with love: Paul Williams hosts the first of three classic film screenings at the Granada

Screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be preceded by a conversation with guest curator Paul Williams and a composer. Courtesy photo
Screening of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be preceded by a conversation with guest curator Paul Williams and a composer.
Courtesy photo

When Paul Williams turned up on last year’s Daft Punk album a generation of folks now in their forties wondered . . . he’s still around? For the guys in Daft Punk, it was the rock opera “Phantom of the Paradise” that endeared him to them. For others, like this writer, it was watching “Bugsy Malone” and “The Muppet Movie.” For those slightly older than us, it was the hits he wrote for The Carpenters and for his solo career.

But while Mr. Williams did go away – into a haze of addiction, seclusion and then recovery some 24 years ago – he’s been back longer than his fans might know. Oh, and he’s been head of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), the industry leader in performer rights protection, since 2009. He visits Santa Barbara this Monday to kick off a series of three screenings over the course of five months honoring composer Elmer Bernstein.

The series is put on by the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, which debuted its new programming back in September with a screening of “Bugsy Malone.” Mr. Williams then curated the next three films, starting with this Monday’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” January 26’s screening of “The Great Escape” and March 30’s screening of “The Magnificent Seven.” Completely different genres, stars and directors, but all tied together with a stirring Bernstein score.

“These three are a great cross-section of the work that he did,” he says. “I was on a plane from Paris recently and I watched ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and I swear I cried for two hours and 10 minutes. It is the most remarkable film, there’s some emotional harmonic to it. It’s Gregory Peck’s performance and that fabulous score. So minimal, strong and gentle at the same time.”

If Mr. Williams had to choose two films that sparked his interest in music, he says, one would be “Blackboard Jungle” (which launched “Rock around the Clock” into pop culture) and the Elmer Bernstein-scored “The Man with the Golden Arm.”

“In both those films music is not just the score, but the environment,” he said. “‘Man with the Golden Arm’ is remarkable, and as someone who is 24 years sober, he allowed us to hear what addiction sounds like.”

For each of the three evenings, Mr. Williams is bringing along a composer to join him in the discussion. For the first, Santa Barbara resident Richard Bellis (“Stephen King’s It”) to talk about Bernstein’s methods; for the “Magnificent Seven” he will bring Bruce Broughton, who scored “Silverado” and “Tombstone.” (The third is unannounced). Mr. Williams’ own journey to scoring film was convoluted. He was a musician first, but he says after his father’s death in a car crash, the 13-year-old became obsessed with film and becoming an actor. But music kept calling and his successful string of hits – for The Carpenters, Three Dog Night – led to soundtrack work. When it first came out, “Phantom of the Paradise” was unpopular, a “film even my family didn’t go to see,” he says, but its fans over the years included the two French men behind the helmets of Daft Punk and horror movie director Guillermo del Toro, who hired Mr. Williams to write songs for the recent animated feature “Book of Life” and an upcoming musical based on “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

“The big lesson is that you can’t write something off too quickly,” he says. “Because 40 years later it may deliver success.”

Bernstein Memorial Series: “To Kill a Mockingbird”
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
Cost: $10-$20
Information: www.granadasb.org, (805) 899-2222

Jessica Lange kicks off SBIFF season: Actress honored with Kirk Douglas Award in opening film fest fundraiser

Jessica Lange poses for a photo with Demi Moore. Ms. Lange was joined by Kathy Bates and Ms. Moore for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's ninth annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, which was presented to the Academy Award-winning Ms. Lange.
Jessica Lange poses for a photo with Demi Moore. Ms. Lange was joined by Kathy Bates and Ms. Moore for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s ninth annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, which was presented to the Academy Award-winning Ms. Lange.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicked off its upcoming 2015 installment two months ahead of time with its annual fundraiser at the Bacara on Sunday. The Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film ceremony honored actress Jessica Lange for her lifetime of work in the movies and did so with a gala dinner, a series of retrospective clips, and celebrity presenters. This was the ninth year for the popular event.

Currently, Jessica Lange is riding a career high as the central character in FX’s award-winning creepshow, “American Horror Story.” Because of its season specific stories, Jessica Lange has played a different character every season, from a spooky neighbor in the first one, to a cruel Mother superior in season two, a supreme witch in season three, and now the leader of a traveling freak zone in the ongoing fourth season. While other actors are resting on their laurels in their 60s, or playing to their familiar strengths, Ms. Lange keeps stretching her abilities, pushing herself to grander and more outré directions. And while Hollywood is having a hard time finding any meaty roles for women these days, Ms. Lange has owned her corner of the television world and won two Emmys.

Continue reading Jessica Lange kicks off SBIFF season: Actress honored with Kirk Douglas Award in opening film fest fundraiser

Portrait of the artist as a lanky lad: John Cleese has a new autobiography and a show at the Granada

Former Montecito resident John Cleese has a new autobiography. Andy Gotts photo
Former Montecito resident John Cleese has a new autobiography.
Andy Gotts photo

Comedian John Cleese opens his autobiography “So, Anyway” with a memory of his first “public appearance,” running a gauntlet of taunting schoolboys as he made his way to the nurse’s office. Standing five-foot-three at the age of 8, his height made him stand out, which, coupled with a weedy physique and an “ineffectual” disposition, led to teasing. Like many a good comic, Mr. Cleese would go on to turn his weakness into a strength, and that gangly physique would get a workout with his Minister for Silly Walks on the groundbreaking “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and the manic Basil Fawlty on “Fawlty Towers.”

Mr. Cleese stops by Santa Barbara, one of his former homes during the ’90s, for a Wednesday evening at the Granada, through UCSB’s Arts & Lectures. He’s got a solo show and the book to promote and, as he has been reminding fans for many years now, alimony payments to make.

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Rules of the game: SBCC’s premiere play takes on internet addiction

Samantha Demangate and Sabrina Wagner have roles in "Ten Red Kings." Ben Crop photo
Samantha Demangate and Sabrina Wagner have roles in “Ten Red Kings.”
Ben Crop photo

An infrequent but special occurrence in City College Theatre history is on tap with “Ten Red Kings,” the premiere of a brand spanking new play, copyrighted this year. Penned by author Mark Rigney, “Ten Red Kings” takes on Internet gaming addiction and the special camps where parents often send their addicted teens to give them a dose of outdoorsy medicine. It opens at the Jurkowitz Theatre Wednesday.

Sabrina Wagner stars as Margot , a young college freshman who is still grieving the death of her sister. Her one way of coping is spending hours immersed in the fantasy online game World of Warcraft, but her parents have other ideas and she is sent off to a summer camp, and unplugged from her online world. Now she must deal with fellow gaming addicts, counselors and creatures from her virtual world that creep into her reality.

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Fall of the Berlin Wall: On historic event’s anniversary, a family remembers East Berlin

Celeste Barber and her son Eric Friedman hold pieces of the Berlin Wall. The two lived in East Germany for six months in 1988. IANA BOROVA/NEWS-PRESS
Celeste Barber and her son Eric Friedman hold pieces of the Berlin Wall. The two lived in East Germany for six months in 1988.
IANA BOROVA/NEWS-PRESS

Twenty-five years ago today the Berlin Wall fell, an event that was as sudden and surprising as it would be historically important.

A Santa Barbara mother and her son, Celeste Barber and Eric Friedman, have a chunk of the wall in their possession, a reminder of their days spent living in Communist-controlled East Berlin, and will soon be releasing a memoir of that life-changing time.

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The power of myth Boxtales celebrates 20 years of innovative theater

Twenty years ago in 1994, a 30-year-old Michael Andrews was a successful plumbing contractor with the itch to move on to a completely different place in his life, to follow his passions in the theater world and the music scene. And he managed to do both. His band Area 51 is still playing around town, and the company he helped create, Boxtales, celebrates two decades of bringing the world of myth and storytelling to audiences young and old. Boxtales will do so starting this Thursday with a three-day celebration of its best work.

They’ll return to the Lobero with “Prince Rama & the Monkey King,” “The Odyssey,” “Leyendas de Duende” and “B’rer Rabbit and Other Trickster Tales.” The shows have all the hallmarks that have made Boxtales a success: imaginative masks, great costumes, clever stage design, and original adaptations of classic myths that streamline the sometimes convoluted stories down to their entertaining essence.

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Beauty and thrills: David Holbrooke’s Mountainfilm in Telluride on Tour film fest returns to UCSB with some local flavor

In "The Balloon Highline" slacklining no longer seems to need the expanse of trees, crevasses or other earthbound objects — only some kind of helium and a cool buzz. Montaz-Rosset Film
In “The Balloon Highline” slacklining no longer seems to need the expanse of trees, crevasses or other earthbound objects — only some kind of helium and a cool buzz.
Montaz-Rosset Film

David Holbrooke, the director of the “Mountainfilm in Telluride Festival,” appropriately enough lives high on a steep mountain in the town of the same name. When we talk on the phone he’s bouncing back and forth from this interview to the hordes of trick-or-treaters making their way to his door, and he’s convincing them that the climb is worth it. Much in the same way, his festival — a selection of which comes to UCSB on Wednesday — sets out to convince people to get outside and enjoy life.

“Get up and out!” he says. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. I want people to enjoy.”

Continue reading Beauty and thrills: David Holbrooke’s Mountainfilm in Telluride on Tour film fest returns to UCSB with some local flavor