Summer Arts at the Movies

When I was a boy and then a teenager growing up in Southern California, seeing a summer movie usually meant escaping the sweltering heat while being totally absorbed by whatever was on the screen, generally something scary.  I recall sinking deeper and deeper into my red cushioned seat during the suspenseful opening scenes of Alien.  When the slimy creature burst out from a man’s belly, I screamed and practically leapt out of my chair with sympathetic horror, giving my brother, who was sitting next to me, a double scare.  My mom dropped my best friend Stewart and I off one afternoon in Canoga Park to see Magic, a creepy flick about an evil puppet starring Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margaret.  We were in a strange mood after the movie, and as we waited outside the theater for my mom we fantasized about getting a ride from a disturbed stranger and leaving Los Angeles to have an adventure.  Then mom arrived and we went to Farrell’s for ice cream sundaes. 

When cousin Amy visited from Missouri, she and I went on a date to see The Deep.  I was thirteen.  It was my first time at the movies alone with a girl.  I was happy to be with Amy, but I recall my internal struggle to convince myself that one day I would be like the older boys I saw there with their girlfriends, on a path that would eventually lead to marriage.  Looking at these boy-girl couples with their arms around each other in the air-conditioned theater in Sherman Oaks, the problem, as I saw it, was that I already knew I wanted to be in the arms of another boy.

A year later, I went to see The Wiz in Santa Monica with my first boy crush.  My father, unaware of our budding romance, parked and told us he would meet us back at the car in two hours.  I have no memory of the film, because just moments before entering the theater the boy and I had kissed in the parking garage elevator across the street; inside, my adolescent body was still thrumming with desire.  Surrounded by illuminated darkness, I wanted to touch him, but he was too nervous someone would see us.  I ignored the movie and kept staring at him, anxious to get out of the theater and continue what we’d started.

That was a long time ago.  It’s been years since I’ve made an effort to see what are considered “summer movies,” the special effects-driven blockbusters, the endless sequels, prequels and franchise reboots (Spiderman again?)  that fill the screen with lots of noisy action and very little character development.

Yet a new summer wind of change is blowing into the multiplex, or perhaps we should call it a modest and pleasing artistic breeze.  This July and August, at the Del Monte Cineplex in Monterey, a beguiling schedule of dance, opera and classic films offers several occasions to while away a summer evening or afternoon, enjoying the arts in the spacious comfort of the movie theater.

Here are a few highlights:

Dance performances include the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty and La Fille Mal Gardée, and the Bolshoi’s Bright Stream and Raymonda.  I’m especially excited to see Bright Stream (photo above), featuring music by Shostakovich and choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, called “the most fascinating choreographer alive” by the New York Times.

The Metropolitan Opera will be broadcasting encore performances of its most recent season, including Les Contes d’Hoffman, Lucia di Lammermoor, and, most notably, Der Rosenkavalier, starring Renée Fleming and Susan Graham.  I saw this pair of exceptional singers in San Francisco Opera’s production of Strauss’s majestic opera several years ago, and it remains one of my most cherished musical memories.

Remember when some movie theaters showed a different movie every night?  The sense of abundance suggested by the large printed calendar of West LA’s Nu-Art Theatre, a favorite haunt of my youth, was much more rousing and enticing than the endless Netflix queues of today, because to see the movie you actually went somewhere.  The Castro Theatre, in San Francisco, still offers a wide repertory of classic and contemporary films, but this summer in Monterey we can enjoy Singing in the Rain, A Clockwork Orange, North by Northwest, and Cabaret.  For those of us who have gotten used to seeing these great films on our television screens, or worse, computer screens, the chance to experience such classics in a real movie theater on a large screen is a summer treat not to be missed.

And if you’re lucky, someone will take you out afterwards for ice cream.


Sunday, July 8, 12:00 pm, Romeo & Juliet: Royal Ballet

Sunday, July 22, 12:00 pm, The Bright Stream: Bolshoi

Sunday, July 29, 12:00 pm, Sleeping Beauty: Royal Ballet

Sunday, August 12, 12:00 pm, La Fille Mal Gardée: Royal Ballet


Wednesday, July 11, 6:30 pm, Les Contes d’Hoffman, Metropolitan Opera

Wednesday, July 18, 6:30 pm, Lucia di Lammermoor, Metropolitan Opera

Wednesday, July 25, 6:30 pm, Der Rosenkavalier, Metropolitan Opera


Wednesday, July 11, 2:00 and 7:00 pm, A Clockwork Orange

Thursday, July 12, 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm, Singing in the Rain

Wednesday, July 18, 2:00 and 7:00 pm, North by Northwest

Wednesday, July 25, 2:00 and 7:00 pm, Cabaret


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