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Stars by Starlight: The crowd at Cinema San Pedro enjoys big-screen entertainment without the impediment of a roof.

Sit-In Drive-In

Cinema San Pedro screens the classics in the great outdoors in downtown San Jose

By Richard von Busack

SAY WHAT YOU WILL about San Jose, but it has a proud tradition of outdoor cinema. San Pedro Street was sealed off last Wednesday as the Cinema San Pedro series, hosted by Populus Presents, re-created a drive-in with everything but the cars and the lousy Woody Woodpecker cartoon. There may not have been any of the huge metal speakers, but some viewers were chattering on cell phones, which almost counted as speakers, so the basic layout was similar to one of the valley's many martyred ozoners. Children skittered up the rows between the resin lawn chairs. Some, wrapped in plaid-pattern sleeping bags, faced a regulation-size movie screen, glowing mauve with the words "VCR.STOP." The bill of fare: one of the most extreme items Hollywood's hallucination factories ever concocted, the 1933 version of King Kong.

At the row of restaurants on the west side of the street, diners sat basking under propane torches, finishing dinner and starting cocktails. Descending 707s buzzed the roofs. It was a reminder of how airports and drive-ins used to go together, as well as a harbinger of the planes that would soon be trying to scrape one big monkey off the side of the Empire State Building. José Garcia of Cinema San Pedro was manning the beer booth. He said that the crowd had been a little larger for the first night of the current series, when the The Big Night played for 350 people. "Opening night of the circus tonight," he observed. "It might have cut into the attendance." But about 200 people had turned up, snuggling into their chairs as the sun set.

The slow part of the show began. An expedition sets out for Skull Island, with a crew of bilge rats, a girl in a blonde wig and one egregious Chinese stereotype cook. An outdoor movie needs a larger-than-life character. As we waited for him to turn up, audience participation began. A wiseguy whistled "The Sailor's Hornpipe" at the shot of a ship at sea; later he called out, "Where's my little girl?" when Kong made an all-too-human leer at the fleeing Fay Wray.

The free screenings continue through the summer and into October (including the complementary Gypsy Cinema at Circle of Palms, which runs Fridays once a month through December in the plaza between the San Jose Museum of Art and the Fairmont Hotel). This week's offering is Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). It's a film about a group of scroungers in Manhattan during the Kennedy era, when (as author John Cheever claimed) there was a Benny Goodman quartet playing on the radio of every stationery store, and the city was filled with river light. The male lead is George Peppard, as bland as a jar of Hellman's mayo. The real star is Audrey Hepburn, as the elfin courtesan Holly Golightly. Like the cat she bears on her shoulders, Holly seeks shelter without work, and love without responsibility. We may not be as lucky, but we can at least get entertainment without paying for it.


Gypsy Cinema presents Breakfast at Tiffany's, Wednesday (Sept. 4) at 8:30pm outside at San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. Bring you own lawn chair; no outside food or drink. Free. (408.286.1212)


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From the August 29-September 4, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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