Unbelievable Summers at the Paramount

The most unforgettable moments from this year’s classics of cinema

Unbelievable Summers at the Paramount

For 42 lazy, hazy, Central Texas summers, the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series has given viewers refuge from the sun-blasted outdoors, and a few hours of cool respite under the glow of the projector, as classic movies flicker past. But within each of those carefully curated titles, there are moments that will stun and amaze, scenes that you will never forget. We asked the Chronicle staff and film writers to select some of those glittering sequences from this year's selection that have stayed with them forever. – Richard Whittaker


D: Jim Henson; with David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly (1986)


"Did you say hello?"

"No, I said 'ello, but that's close enough."

Jim Henson's Labyrinth begins nearly 15 minutes before the iconic back-and-forth between the worm and Sarah (not me, the other one played by Jennifer Connelly) takes place. But there's no doubt about it: In a film full of the unbelievable, it's this exchange that lays the groundwork of what's to come (spoiler alert: It's muppets). Worm is the first mythical muppet Sarah meets on her journey through David Bowie's labyrinth of oddities, magic, and Henson-creature creations to save her baby brother. The quote itself is catchy, but what likely struck me as a child was the amazing absurdity of a girl, with my name, talking to a fuzzy blue worm with an accent. I loved it because I, too, every now and again – for no reason at all – need these creatures and this adventure in my life. – Sarah Marloff

Tue., June 5, 7pm, Paramount

Pulp Fiction

D: Quentin Tarantino; with John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis (1994)

Pulp Fiction astonished the movie world upon its release in 1994. Bursting with a cinema geek's love for the movies, the Quentin Tarantino masterwork elicited instant shock, laughs, and awe from viewers while also securing an immediate place as one of the freshest and most memorable movies ever made. Among so many signature sequences that populate the film, one stands out as the craziest and most unbelievable of all: the scene in which John Travolta's Vincent Vega rushes his OD'd date Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) to the home of his heroin dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz). After much hysteria and fumbling, they administer a shot of adrenaline directly into her heart, whereupon the lifeless Mia immediately rises up and reacts as if she's been injected with rocket fuel. "That was fucking trippy," observes Lance's girlfriend Jody (Rosanna Arquette) with understated wonderment at the end of the sequence. – Marjorie Baumgarten

Fri., Aug. 10, 7:30pm, Stateside

Mad Max

D: George Miller; with Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, and Hugh Keays-Byrne (1979)

I first caught George Miller's now legendary Mad Max in 1980, when I was an impressionable, 13-year-old film-geek-in-the-making. Home alone on a Sunday afternoon with nothing but HBO to keep me company, I sat transfixed in front of our old boxy TV as Max morphed from loving family man into a leather-clad avenger with a bum leg. The film's final, brilliant scene, in which Max, trusty Zippo lighter in hand, cuffs Johnny the Boy's ankle to a petrol-leaking, overturned truck, hands the terrified scumbag a hacksaw, and then informs the sniveling kid that, "The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. ... If you're lucky, you can hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go." Cue screaming as Max pulls his V8 Interceptor out of frame and a tremendous fireball erupts behind him. I had nightmares for weeks. – Marc Savlov

Sat., June 23, 4:15pm, Stateside

Mary Poppins 

D: Robert Stevenson; with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Ed Wynn, David Tomlinson, and Glynis Johns (1964)

For a movie in which we pop through pavement pictures and party with penguins, chim-chim-cheree with Cockney sweeps and laugh up to Uncle Albert's ceiling – all of it practically perfect in every way – most everything qualifies as fantastic. But the scene in Mary Poppins that's truly unbelievable has no smokestack acrobatics, no animated antics, no jolly holiday with Mary, no enchantingly enigmatic nanny at all. The only character in it is Mr. Banks, Jane and Michael's starchy, stuffy, disapproving father and, prior to this, just a comic foil for our Ms. P. Then, for 100 seconds – an eternity on film! – we watch him walk down dark, deserted London streets, accompanied only by an orchestral reprise of "Feed the Birds." It's an extraordinary break in this funny, busy picture, a quiet and contemplative one showing us not just a dramatic shift in Banks' character (due to the subtle artistry of actor David Tomlinson), but a shift in the axis of the film, revealing that it isn't about instructing the children but redeeming their dad. A silent stroll that transforms your view of the whole movie – now, that's magic. – Robert Faires

Sun., July 1, 1pm, Paramount

The Silence of the Lambs

D: Jonathan Demme; with Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, and Scott Glenn (1991)

It's on page 342 of my dog-eared 1989 mass-market paperback, and unfolds at the hour-and-40-minute mark in the film: a moment that was such a shock, a brilliant reveal in a novel that was so economical, yet so evocative, and (for better or worse) ignited a renaissance of our collective obsession with serial killers. FBI cadet Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) rings the doorbell of a potential lead and descends into hell as she realizes she has stumbled into the lair of Buffalo Bill. That director Jonathan Demme – with screenwriter Ted Tally – was able to successfully translate that moment into one of the most harrowing and thrilling sequences shot on film in the last 30 years is no small feat. Sure, Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter gets most of the spotlight from literally chewing the scenery (and by scenery, I mean people), but the pacing and structure of the film is the work of a filmmaker at the top of his game. – Josh Kupecki

Wed., July 11, 7pm, and Thu., July 12, 9:35pm, Paramount

Blade Runner

D: Ridley Scott; with Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Brion James, and James Hong (1982)

Eyes, they say, are the windows to the soul. And maybe it was Philip K. Dick's third eye that allowed him to look, prophetwise, into the soul of a new machine. And so, while much of the subtext of Ridley Scott's 1982 Blade Runner questions whether manufactured "replicants" have souls or not – never mind if humans do, right? because, religion? – the movie's surface is studded with eyes themselves, no more unnervingly than when replicant Leon fucks with opto-specialist Chew by placing a few of those moist and glabrous organs on the technician's shoulders during a shakedown. It's another vivid cinematic moment that one can't unsee. – Wayne Alan Brenner

Sun., June 24, 3pm, Paramount


D: Jules Dassin; with Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, and Robert Manuel (1955)

Borrowing its name from French, film noir was one of midcentury America's most singular triumphs and significant exports (you're welcome, nouvelle vague). That makes it bitterly fitting, then, that one of noir's greatest practitioners, Jules Dassin, had to go all the way to France to make his masterpiece, Rififi. Discarded by Hollywood by way of the blacklist, Dassin landed in Paris and cast himself in a supporting part, playing a devilish safecracker who shows up to the big heist in a formal tux. That heist – in contrast to the genre's contemporary tendencies toward bouncy and hyperverbal – unfurls in near-silence and almost real-time, as four small-time hoods communicate in hand signals and head bobs on a job so meticulously plotted it supposedly inspired a rash of copycat burglaries. Ever wondered how long you can hold your breath? Well, Rififi's nail-bite heist takes roughly 30 minutes, so there, you've got your answer. – Kimberley Jones

Tue., Aug. 7, 7pm, Paramount

Once Upon a Time in the West

D: Sergio Leone; with Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, and Charles Bronson (1968)

John Ford may have invented the American Western, but Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone made it sing. Once Upon a Time in the West is his grand opera of greed and revenge set in an Old West slowly imprinted by the tracks of the steam locomotive. You cannot speak about this film without referencing Ennio Morricone's film score, arguably the most beautiful ever written. When an impeccably cheekboned Claudia Cardinale enters the train station of an outpost town after her new husband fails to meet her, Leone's camera stops short of accompanying her inside, pausing at an open window. As it slowly pans upward, Morricone's soundtrack shifts from Edda Dell'Orso's angelic aria to an emotional orchestral swell, the camera cresting to reveal a vista of bustling streets on the other side. There's nothing intrinsically dramatic about this moment, but damn if I don't weep every time I see it. – Steve Davis

Thu., Aug. 30, 7pm, Paramount


D: William Friedkin; with Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou (1977)

Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 adaptation of French novel The Wages of Fear, based on the real-life South American misadventures of Henri Girard, only ever ran second to its 1977 U.S. remake on a Stephen King listicle, but the original can't eclipse Sorcerer's true achievement in filmmaking. Running away with a Best Director Oscar for 1971's The French Connection then unleashing The Exorcist two years later, William Friedkin's 10-month shoot here culminated in what he's compared to the pre-CGI insanity of Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo. Three months in the jungles of the Dominican Republic, where the tale of four damned criminals transporting nitroglycerin comes to an unforgettable and truly iconic head when their trucks try crossing a rope bridge during a tropical depression, becomes a last gasp of Seventies noir as scored in their Hollywood debut by Krautrock kings Tangerine Dream. Unreal. – Raoul Hernandez

Mon., July 16, 7:30pm, Paramount


D: Miloš Forman; with F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, and Jeffrey Jones (1984)

"Why would God choose an obscene child to be his instrument?" That's the furious thought that plagues Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) since the first moment he first set eyes on the prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Miloš Forman's Oscar-winning adaptation of Peter Shaffer's one-sided feud between the serious-minded mediocrity and his unwitting genius nemesis sets up the rivalry with the infant Wolfy playing blindfolded musical tricks at his father's behest. But the battle is lost forever as Mozart (played as arrested development personified by Tom Hulce) blithely rips Salieri's dour march apart and rewrites it on the fly, in front of an ecstatic Emperor Joseph. Abraham's stony face can never disguise the fluttering eyes and dropping stomach of a man who knows he is overshadowed eternally. – Richard Whittaker

Wed., July 25, 7:30pm, Paramount

Thelma & Louise

D: Ridley Scott: with Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and Brad Pitt (1991)

At the end of Thelma & Louise the two characters are pursued by police as they are wanted for armed robbery and murder. Rather than be caught, they decide (non-explicitly) to drive right over the edge of the Grand Canyon. The final frame shows the car in midair, so viewers don't know exactly what happens afterward, but it's implied that this is a double suicide. It's a bold move for sure, but the strikingly incongruous element is that this is no solemn pact. The women embrace the idea of dying; Louise is nearly giddy about it. In a culture where passive sad girls are romanticized (even fetishized perhaps) – à la Sylvia Plath's head in the oven – it's jarring (in a good way?) to see women taking control of their fate, even if it happens to be one of self-destruction. – Danielle White

Tue., July 10, 7:30pm, Paramount


D: Gregory Nava: with Jennifer Lopez, Jackie Guerra, Jon Seda, and Edward James Olmos (1997)

It dawned on me that I'd have to out myself as an Xennial – aka part of the Oregon Trail Generation and Generation Catalano – to fully explain how important Selena's 1995 album Dreaming of You was to me. I wore out that cassette tape twice, and I still remember every lyric. So when the eponymous film hit theatres, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on Jennifer Lopez to breathe life into our beloved "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" crossover superstar. The eerily accurate portrayal launched Lopez's megacareer, so every time I mention the film I'm shocked by how many people have missed it. From bedazzled bustiers to the sensitive way director Gregory Nava handled the tragic death scene, the performance-peppered script delivers quite a few wow moments. Yet for some reason, the scene seared into my brain is that in which Selena's "typical Mexican father" Abraham Quintanilla, played by a stern Edward James Olmos, flies out of bed in a fit of predawn rage, and reveals his startling white briefs. I was 15, okay? "Anything for Selenas." – Jessi Cape

Thu., July 26, 7:30pm, Paramount

The 43rd Paramount Summer Classic Film Series runs May 24-Sept. 1 at the Paramount and Stateside theatres. Tickets and info at www.austintheatre.org.

For more on the series, check out the Paramount's complete guide.

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Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, Summer Fun 2018, Blade Runner, Rififi, Sorcerer, Mary Poppins, Labyrinth, Once Upon a Time in the West, Pulp Fiction, Amadeus, Mad Max, The Silence of the Lambs, Selena, Thelma & Louise

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