In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

17. Sabrina

Alameda Theatre and Cineplex

The Alameda Theatre was built in 1932 as a single screen, 2168 seat palace, designed by the same architect as the Paramount Theatre in Oakland and the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The city of Alameda had already seen at least four theaters come and go, and the Alameda Theatre joined three other theaters already in operation, when the city's population was just above 35,000. In 1975 the theater's upper mezzanine was separated from the main auditorium to create two smaller auditoriums, and the theater closed shortly after in 1979. Thanks to the hard work of many community activists and skilled crafts people, the theater was reopened in 2008, its original auditorium restored, and a seven-screen complex built adjacent to the existing structure.

The theater is located within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. To the side of the theater is a parking garage; paying for the garage during the day (50¢/hr.) but less for your matinee movie ticket works out to be about the same as parking for free at night (or Sunday) but paying more for your ticket. Inside the theater you may obtain a coupon good for 3 hours free parking on your next visit (not quite as good as immediate validation, but still good; I'm not sure if this is available even during non-metered hours). There is a great view from the top of the garage.

The marquee looks great, especially from underneath. Perhaps owing to the island's history as a naval base, military personnel (like children and seniors) receive the matinee price at all times.

The lobby is stunning. (I've applied a black-and-white filter to my photos, to hide the yellow tinting, but you can see much better photos here.) Red and gold are the dominant colors. Anywhere you turn your eye you will be rewarded with rich detail in the form of reliefs, designs, and molding. An attractive balcony rings the lobby's upper half, accessed from two mirroring stairways, but, unfortunately, is off limits.

The ticket taker is at the back of the lobby, just before the concession stand, so visitors are welcome to enter the lobby even without a ticket. There are several benches where you could sit to just absorb the wonderful ambiance. In large letters above the front doors, which you might not see until you exit, read "Take the magic with you". I love it. It's like what counselors tell their kids at the end of an inspirational camp, to go out and change the world for the better.

On a table in the center of the lobby I found some freebies, include posters for upcoming The Bounty Hunter, and a schedule for the theater's Classic Film Series. I was visiting the theater for that same film series, and there are some great films coming up, all to be shown in the main auditorium. If you are local, I'd definitely recommend looking over the schedule. Also on the table is a flyer for a Valentine's Day benefit concert (on the 13th) with proceeds going to local organizations and to Haiti relief. A similar party was sold out on New Year's Eve, so if you're interested, buy tickets soon. Finally, a contest to describe your first kiss (if it was at the Alameda Theatre); I don't recall the prize, but a first kiss in a theater like this is prize enough, isn't it?

The "Aisle 2" and "Aisle 3" signs now lead you to the concession stand, recessed into what was probably once part of the main auditorium. No Red Vines for me! Directly across from the two remaining entrances to the main screen (aisles 1 and 4) are the restrooms. The men's room has a foyer with chairs, very rarely seen.

The main auditorium, which now seats 484, is quite fetching. Gold and red are the dominant colors here as well. The screen is large, and the seats comfortable with plenty of legroom. Music from Star Wars and Indiana Jones plays while the slideshow runs trivia and ads for local merchants. Unfortunately, the curtains do not close and reopen prior to the start of the movie.

Because this film is part of a film series, we were treated to a special introduction by the theater's manager (don't expect this every time), lit up by a spot-light. He started off with a caveat that the film was originally shot in black-and-white and mono-sound, so that from an "archival film" we could expect an "archival experience". He then proceeded to dish out some trivia, with free concessions and movie tickets as the prizes. (Red Vines, getting their full due, were represented as the "Humphrey Bogart of American snacks", always fresh from nearby Union City.)

The theater's schedule identifies which films are in the main auditorium (the "Historic Alameda Theatre). The other films are shown in the seven newer screens, collectively seating 1042, accessible from the hallway just past aisle 1 of the main auditorium. I have been to the Alameda Theatre seven times prior to this visit, and all seven of my visits were to one of their upstairs auditoriums (I've seen four 3-D films here). I've never seen the upstairs concession stand open, but directly across from it you'll enjoy a nice view looking west over the neighborhood. The newer screens are modern with bare walls and stadium seating, like in a typical multiplex, but with the added benefit of being fronted by the classic lobby. It's the most elegant solution I've seen to accommodating more screens in a existing location.


The Godfather
This is an older trailer, consisting almost entirely of stills from the film. It's not the trailer celebrating the 25th anniversary release, but I can't imagine it is the original trailer, as it seems to rely on our pre-existing interest in the plot. The sequence of stills, ordered chronologically, tell the entire story of the film in just a few minutes, including the important shots of who kills whom. I admire the trailer for its unconventional approach, but seeing a slideshow for a movie is rather dull. The plus, if you've already seen the movie, is that it gives you a tiny taste, and all to the wonderful score. Cuts unknown.

The Godfather, Part II
I've only been paying attention to trailers for the past ten years, once they were available from Apple. I seem to recall developing the opinion in my late teens that trailers were beginning to show too much of the advertised film, leaving nothing to surprise. Anyone who watches a modern trailer probably is of that opinion. But when I see trailers from the seventies, like this one and that for Get Carter, I realize that trailers have shown too much for longer than I've been alive, but at least they've gotten better. This trailer, promoted at the time as "the final chapter" in the series (we now know better), is terrible. It shows too much, yet doesn't make any sense; scenes are spliced awkwardly together; important plot points (again, who kills whom) are disclosed, juxtaposed with moments that are as meaningless in the film as in the trailer. This trailer gives me new appreciation for the modern style. Cuts unknown.

Sabrina (1954)
In 1954, Billy Wilder wanted to make a romance about a chauffeur's daughter, in love with the charming but emotionally reckless younger son of her father's employer, who ultimately falls in love with the older son, a corporate shark. Harrison Ford was still too young, and neither Julia Ormond nor Greg Kinnear were born yet, so Wilder had to make do with the actors on hand: Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden. The result is a delightful comedy but a miscast romance.

The first half of the movie, a fairytale, is consistently funny. Sabrina's suicide note is a wry, patient joke. Linus dictates an amusing inter-office memo to remind his aloof brother of the address of their office building, and of the location of David's office. While in Paris Sabrina's cooking antics are predictable but fun.

When Sabrina returns (looking basically the same as when she left, except better dressed), she sets the Larrabee family all aflutter. She catches David's eye as he passes her at the rail station; he is so taken with her that in a trance he follows her directions to take her home, and only after pulling into the driveway of his own home (where, of course, Sabrina's father also lives) wakes enough to declare, "Hey, you don't live here; I live here!" Arriving at the party that night, Sabrina looks smashing in an absolutely beautiful dress. She finally gets to dance with David, and the way she pets his neck and nuzzles his cheek, I absolutely melted. No man, least of all the perennially flighty David, could resist her charms, and soon he is ready to call off his engagement (not his idea in the first place) and devote himself to the girl he hardly noticed until that day. Sabrina is caught up in her own fairytale; when chastised by her father that she shouldn't reach for the moon, she replies that, au contraire, now "the moon is reaching for me."

David's parents and his brother Linus are equally moved by Sabrina's coming out, but only to intercede on behalf of David's engagement. David's fiance is the daughter of a tycoon who, among other holdings, controls an interest in the sugarcane market, which will benefit the Larrabee Corporation's development of a promising new plastic, with sugarcane as its key component. Old man Larrabee is played for comic relief, but Humphrey Bogart's Linus coldly calculates to woo Sabrina away from David, and back to Paris, alone.

This is where the movie begins to break down, and it's all because of Bogart. Linus is too old and crotchety for Sabrina. She is not only young, but is naive for her age, and the two together make a depressing match. Anyone could be attracted to Sabrina; what's not to like? But she's immature and not terribly interesting; other than youthfulness, what does the veteran Linus see in her? His transformation from wanting to dupe her to actually wanting her doesn't make any more sense than does her quick and miraculous switch from yearning for the charismatic David (whom she's loved, in her own worshipful way, all her life) to being content with his brooding older brother. Linus is no looker, and neither is he particularly charming. From the moment he says, "It's all in the family" and kisses her, I was creeped out.

The film takes pains to portray David as a capricious, irresponsible lover. Still, he is the better match for Sabrina. They are at opposite ends of the experience spectrum, but are both passionate and joyful. Better to love well yet briefly with David, than settle for the reserved Linus. David is sure to break Sabrina's heart, but Linus could never warm it.

As a romance, the movie fails. But as a comedy, it is entertaining throughout. I laughed out loud quite frequently and would gladly see it again.

Sabrina (1995)
I came home and immediately rewatched Sydney Pollack's 1995 remake (my fourth viewing). The manager at the Alameda Theatre spoke ill of it in his introduction to the original. I haven't found too many who enjoy it. It's risky business remaking a classic, but directors like Pollack are probably catering to people like me, who have never seen the original, so what do they have to lose?

In rewatching this film, I began keeping tracking of interesting similarities and differences between the original and remake, but soon found myself just documenting all the superb moment's in the newer movie. The remake is funny, but from the opening voice-over to the very last shot the remake is more serious, eschewing humor for emotion. If I had to put all the leads on a spectrum from light and fluffy to dark and serious, it would go like this: Holden, Hepburn, Kinnear, Ormond, Ford, Bogart. The original was too extreme in its caricatures; the remake is just right.

Kinnear, unfortunately, can't hold up to William Holden. Holden's David is an absolute playboy; he isn't cruel in his leaps of fancy, just too self-absorbed to see the wreckage he leaves behind him. Kinnear's David should know better. He comes across as a schemer, who knows all the right steps to get a girl into bed. There is never a moment when he is worthy of Sabrina's love. However, some augmentations to the script better redeem him by film's end than in the original. In the original, he is forgotten halfway through, and only appears as a deus ex machina to alleviate Linus of his corporate duties. In the 1995 version, we see a few extra moments toward the end that help us recognize David's transformation; he doesn't just do the right thing, he grows up.

Ford's Linus has it all over Bogart. He's much better looking, and that's nothing to sneeze at in a romance. Inspired by Sabrina's journey, he reflects on his own life, but comes across as introspective rather than broody. He's even more vicious in the conference room than Bogart is, but is genuinely human when off work. From his first duplicitous outing with Sabrina I can see him falling in love with her. He checks in with his mom over the phone and reports, "Here? Lousy. So far I'm more affected than she is. I damn near cried. Twice." Whereas Bogart's emotions puzzled me even at the end, Ford only missteps by too clearly showing his love, such that I couldn't believe he would still try to go through with his trick to get Sabrina back to Paris.

Julia Ormand brings the heat. She isn't trying to compete with the heavenly Hepburn when it comes to looking like a princess. Instead, she reacts. Ormand is so emotional that her every facial movement is to be watched. Watch her when Sabrina asks David what happens after they meet in the solarium (i.e. after they sleep together). Kinnear, to his credit, conveys David's discomfort at being asked so directly about his intentions, and his struggle to answer honestly but without coming across as a jerk. Ormand is perfect. Her face shows that she still wants him even though she's falling for Linus; that she'll sleep with him even though she knows he'll discard her; that she's happy to get what she's always wanted, but the experience has been tainted by the realization that she has grown up, while David hasn't. She is both happy and hurt at the same time, disappointed in David, but also in herself for being willing to settle for a diminished prize.

When I watch Sabrina, I can see her mind cycling through scenarios, trying to figure out the intentions of others, what they want, what she wants, how she should respond. Everything is a struggle with her, not because she is awkward, but because she is aware of what's at stake with simple decisions. Linus asks her to the theater, and she looks at him for a long moment contemplating; she knows what's happening, knows that she is being played and also that he genuinely likes being with her, and she must decide whether to collude with Linus toward her own destruction.

In many ways the plot of the remake follows the plot of the original scene-for-scene, down to similar lines of dialog and even choreography (the way David looks around as he happily places the champagne glasses in his pockets). But this newer screenplay is much stronger, and I'm not surprised to learn that it was co-written by one of the writers of The Big Chill. The script increased the roles for Sabrina's father, David's fiance (Elizabeth), and both of Elizabeth's parents, giving good lines and admirable characteristics to all. Linus's role has been augmented with some of the funniest lines, but also with dialog that is brutal. David, incensed at Linus's deception of Sabrina, asks him, "What makes you think you have the right?" Linus replies, "Habit". It's neither a defense nor an apology, just the cold truth. When he first explains his plan to his mother he says, "I like Sabrina. I always have. But I'm not about to kiss off a billion dollars; I don't care what she did to her hair." Ouch.

The script throws in a bit of fairytale, that Sabrina's father is rich, to regain some of the magic lost from the original. But mostly it focuses its efforts on delivering a complex romance mired in real emotions with believable consequences. At the end of the original, Sabrina greets Linus on the boat as if the worst thing in the world hadn't just happened to her. In the remake, Sabrina makes it all the way to Paris before seeing Linus again, and when she does see him, she's not nearly as happy. She loves him, and they will be together, but he has already broken her heart. The ending isn't tragic, though. Sabrina is also overjoyed at Linus's reversal. These competing emotions co-exist in Sabrina just as they do in all of us, and that is the film's tremendous success: Sabrina feels.


  1. 17/27*365 = 229.8

    You're on pace for 229 movies.

  2. I hope to write up something in a few days to touch on a few strategies I'm employing toward accomplishing my goal. For various reasons January was destined to be a heavy month; February will be much lighter.

    On another note, my movie database kindly informs me how many days a movie has been in release before I saw it. I started tracking this so I could better answer survey questions about whether I tend to see movies in the first week of release, the second release etc. Sabrina was in release 20,202 days before I saw it.

  3. I love both Sabrina's, I think I lean more towards the first as I have been a fan of Audrey Hepburn movies since childhood. There is something I get a kick out of the older movies and the way of the times reflected in them. I particularly enjoy the scene where Linus has an entire crew of “secretaries” bounce up and down on the new fangled “high tech” sheet of plastic. How would you like to see that happen in corporate America today and to think plastic may have actually been high tech then!!