Let Me Paint You a Picture

Movies were made to be shared


Close to Heaven

Three films birthed my cinematic POV, beyond an early excursion to Pinocchio. They survive first in my memory perhaps only because they impressed above all others. Either way, they're the father, son, and Holy Ghost of my silver screen, only substitute mama bear for the head honcho. Mine. She who wouldn't let me watch television (see "Greener Pastures," May 10, 2002). She whose grandmother mapped every last alley of my native San Francisco for her in its movie houses of the 1940s and 1950s, a woman who still today consumes movies as if the nitrate might disintegrate. Maybe The Maltese Falcon and/or King Kong drew first blood (and how), but even then – 3, 5, 10 years old, I don't know – they were obviously adventure, fantasy. Sabrina introduced me to men and women and what happens between them.

There was Falcon-eer Humphrey Bogart again, and wherever Sabrina really truly falls on my chronological film life index – somewhere between Bogey touchstones The Petrified Forest and The African Queen – I understood intrinsically that he had been cast against type here. Like Tootsie cast against type. Not golden playboy William Holden, of course. And the triangle, the high society brothers suddenly aware of the chauffeur's daughter – Audrey Hepburn in her second starring role, all of 24, 25 years old. What a setup. There's a scene late in the last act where Hepburn and Bogey have a meal in his Madison Avenue skyscraper. I learned more biology in those few minutes than in all of high school. And the olives. Mother and I almost peed ourselves laughing. Sabrina was rom-com king until my parents ventured our pod to deepest, darkest Oakland for a Woody Allen triple bill, and there again love-play cut as fast and grinning as Errol Flynn in early favorites Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Several years ago in San Francisco – on Haight Street – I found a copy of Sabrina Fair, the 1953 play whose author, Samuel Taylor, shares a screenwriting credit on the film alongside its director Billy Wilder and genius Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, West Side Story). Its prologue translated mostly unscathed: "Once upon a time, in a part of America called the North Shore of Long Island, not far from New York, lived a very small girl on a very large estate. ... Life was pleasant here, for this was about as close to heaven as one could get on Long Island."

Sabrina screens Saturday, May 21, 8:25pm, and Sunday, May 22, 2 & 6:40pm.

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