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[whitespace] Crime and Sacrament

Hitchcock's religious thriller 'I Confess' winds up two Gypsy Cinema events this weekend

By Richard von Busack

ABOUT 500 DRIVE-IN SCREENS are left in North America, and the only way the custom of seeing movies outdoors survives in the year 2000 is through sheer sentiment. Fortunately, that sentiment is alive in San Jose. Summer's outdoor screenings hosted by Gypsy Cinema have outgrown several earlier venues and are now moving on to new, larger locations. This weekend is a double shot of Gypsy Cinema in two locations. First, there's Friday's regularly scheduled screening on the grounds of the recently renamed History Park (formerly the San Jose Historical Museum), for a bring-your-own-chair revival of John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven, the wide-screen adaptation of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, with Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner, and Steve "Tao of Steve" McQueen.

More interesting perhaps is the Sunday night showing of Hitchcock's Bressonish I Confess. It's scheduled to be projected on a screen at the back of the St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown San Jose and watched from the lawn at the rear.

At first, the 1952 film seems to be a straightforward mystery, with the old favorite Hitchcock theme of an innocent man accused. In Canada, a priest named Father Michael hears the confession of his sexton (Otto E. Hasse) who has committed a murder. The priest's vow of silence in the confessional keeps him from informing the police--a plot point Protestants may not understand, as Hitchcock complained to François Truffaut years later. The padre is the best suspect, and he's jailed.

I Confess is good stuff, if undervillained--there's a reason why Otto E. Hasse isn't a household name. What makes I Confess especially interesting is the atmosphere. It was shot in Quebec City, a gritty, poor, serious place, which can be a picturesque locale--Alain Rudolph used it as a double, albeit it a dark double, for Paris in his film The Moderns. However in the '50s, in Quebec, church and state were partners--occasionally to the point of scandal, as when the government covered up a case of priestly rapine, as told in the Canadian film The Boys of Saint Vincent. Hitchcock, a practicing, guilty-to-the-marrow Catholic, must have been a bundle of nerves in such a holy country. The many church towers of the town are shot at off-plumb angles that make them look as if they're about to swat the viewer. When Father Michael (Montgomery Clift at his most tormented) stands trial, it's in a courtroom dominated by an enormous crucifix. On the one hand, the cross may comfort a troubled priest. To the secular viewer, a cross in a courtroom suggests that the judges consider themselves the instruments of God--and that the proceedings aren't a fair trial, but an inquisition. Seeing this film on the grounds of a Catholic church has to be one of the most complex viewing experiences you'll ever have.

Gypsy Cinema screens The Magnificent Seven at dusk on Friday, Sept 15, at History Park, formerly the San Jose Historical Museum, 1600 Senter Rd, San Jose; I Confess plays at dusk on Sunday, Sept 17, at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose. Free. Bring your own lounge chair; no outside food or drink allowed. 408.286.1313.

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From the September 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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