S t. Louis summers may be hot and humid, but they’re also full of pleasures, many of them free. One of the best, if you’re a lover of classic films, is the annual Art Hill Film Series put on by the Saint Louis Art Museum. This year, the theme is “Epic Quests,” which ties neatly in with the blockbuster exhibit Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds now at the museum (and seriously, if you haven’t seen Sunken Cities, do so at your earliest opportunity, because it’s a fascinating show with a fascinating story behind it).
The series kicks off on July 13 with Steven Spielberg’s 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first entry in what has since become a franchise. If you’ve only seen the more recent films and find them somewhat wanting, you owe it to yourself to check out the original to see how fresh and original these blockbuster films once felt. Raiders of the Lost Ark stars Harrison Ford as archaeologist/action hero Indiana Jones, who is on a mission to rescue the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis get it. Other characters include Karen Allen as Indiana’s former girlfriend Marion Ravenwood, John Rhys-Davies as Indiana’s sidekick Sallah, and Paul Freeman as a rival archaeologist, Rene Belloq. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the highest-grossing film of 1981 and won five Oscars, plus a nomination for Best Picture, in 1982.
Four epic quests are central to Theodore Melfi’s 2016 Hidden Figures.The most obvious one is NASA’s efforts to beat the Soviet Union in the Space Race, but equally important to the film are the quests of three black female mathematicians to achieve professional respect and career advancement appropriate to their talents. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, who calculated the flight trajectories for, among other things, Project Mercury. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, an early adopter of the FORTRAN programming language and supervisor of the human “computers” who did the calculations for space missions. Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, the first black woman to become a NASA engineer. Supporting actors include Kevin Costner as a NASA supervisor, Jim Parsons as a NASA engineer, Glenn Powell as astronaut John Glenn, and Mahershala Ali as a military officer. Hidden Figures was nominated for three Academy Awards and was the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee of 2016.
The series goes back to the origins of an even longer-running franchise on June 27 with Terence Young’s Dr. No, starring Sean Connery as “Bond, James Bond.” As with Indiana Jones, if you’ve given up on the many iterations of the Bond franchise, it’s worth shaking off all that adaptation decay and going back to the original, which is more fun and less sexist than many of the later films. Dr. No sees Bond tracking down the evil Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) in Jamaica, where he place to disrupt an American space launch. Partly shot in Jamaica, the cast of Dr. No includes Ursula Andress as a shell diver who shuts Bond down in a hurry when he tries to condescend to her, Jack Lord as a CIA operative, John Kitzmiller as a boat operator, and of course Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and Bernard Lee as M.
Finally, on August 3 Wolfgang Petersen’s 1982 The NeverEnding Story takes viewers back to a pre-CGI era when fantastic beasts and amazing worlds were created on screen using puppets and models. The story involves a shy kid named Bastian Balthazar Bux (Barret Olivier) who “borrows” a story book from a shop run by Mr. Coreander (Thomas Hill). He finds himself transported by the story of the world of the fantastic land of Fantasia, which is threatened by an evil force called “The Nothing.” Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), a boy of Bastian’s own age, is tasked with finding a cure for the mysterious illness plaguing the Empress of Fantasia, and along the way he encounters various fantastic creatures out to help or hurt him and must complete various trials (this is the most straightforward “hero’s journey” film among the four). The NeverEnding Story was Wolfgang Petersen’s first English-language film, and at the time had the largest budget of any film produced outside the United States or the Soviet Union.
Movies in the Art Hill Film Series will be shown beginning at 9 pm on the designated evenings, with pre-show entertainment beginning at 6 pm. It’s free and out of doors, so bring your favorite picnic blanket and settle down for some classic movies in a stunning location. | Sarah Boslaugh