Baltimore is one city where crowds come out in the heat of the night to take in open-air movies.
In mid-July last year, when the thermometer was hitting 95 in the day and stalling in the 80s past midnight, fun-seekers swarmed to Federal Hill to watch (what else?) "Some Like It Hot." A month later, when it was 89 in the day and 80 throughout the evening, Baltimoreans in search of a Mediterranean getaway turned up in Little Italy for "Nine."
Even when Charm City itself isn't charming, its outdoor summer film festivals are, largely because of their block-party feeling. The homey BYOBC (bring-your-own-beach-chair) atmosphere and the show-must-go-on spirit (it takes the most drenching downpour to create a rain-out) combine with take-out cuisine from nearby restaurants, food trucks and music by local bands to create a community experience you can't get in a refrigerated megaplex.
Our biggest open-air festivals thrive on both innovation and tradition. Here's a guide to something old, something new, something borrowed and even, surprisingly, something blue — the venerable Little Italy festival will be showing two classy R-rated movies while Films on the Pier includes the raunchy "Bridesmaids."
Fridays: The Little Italy Outdoor Film Festival
Although "The Godfather" and the Little Italy Outdoor Film Festival should go together as well as sausage and peppers, organizers had qualms about putting the R-rated Italian-American crime epic on their PG-13-and-under slate. But this year, the Little Italy Restaurant Association opened nominations to the public — and "The Godfather" received the most votes in the suggestion jar at Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop. When organizers scheduled "a toned-down version," supporters of the Corleone saga insisted on the original, which will unspool at the corner of High and Stiles streets in all its violent glory on July 13, the second night of the season. ("The Talented Mr. Ripley," also R-rated, won the August 17 slot.) In a puckish bit of programming, "From Here to Eternity" screens the week after "The Godfather," thanks to Little Italy resident and festival-goer Jerry "D" Dziecichowicz, a semi-retired medical examiner's office administrator who is himself a sort of movie star — he appeared in the documentary "Of Dolls and Murder." Jerry "D" told neighbor Mary Ann Cricchio, owner of Da Mimmo's, that "Eternity" would be the perfect follow-up, since everyone knows that Don Corleone's favorite singer, Johnny Fontane, was based on Frank Sinatra.
Thursdays: Flicks on the Hill
With a giant golden hand holding a 30-foot-wide screen in front of Federal Hill's natural amphitheater, the Flicks on the Hill series, like its mother institution, the American Visionary Art Museum, has its own splashy ebullience. In sync with AVAM's exhibit "All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs & Karma," this year's program features discs, globes and spirals of all kinds, concluding with the hypnotically circular "Citizen Kane." Two Mel Brooks movies make the list — the opening-night "Star Wars" parody "Spaceballs" and the Hitchcock parody "High Anxiety," featuring an acting bit by co-writer Barry Levinson — along with Hitchcock's own "Vertigo" and two inspired bicycle movies, the American classic "Breaking Away" and the wild French cartoon about the Tour de France, "The Triplets of Belleville." AVAM and Race Pace Bicycles in Federal Hill will co-sponsor a neighborhood bike ride — "Grand Pre-Flicks: Tour de Federal Hill" — before the "Breaking Away" screening, offering audiences a richer three-dimensional experience than they'd get at any 3D summer blockbuster. The museum is always free from 5 p.m. until showtime on movie nights.
Wednesdays: Films on the Pier
Films On The Pier got started four years ago when Sound Garden owner Bryan Burkert, savoring the gritty beauty of Fells Point's Broadway pier, decided not enough people were taking advantage of "one of the best places to be in Baltimore." Burkert and Su Casa furniture-store owner Nick Johnson figured if they'd put films on the pier, people would come. Thanks to Burkert's commitment to audiovisual quality and cutting-edge pop culture — he sometimes shows a concert video before the film starts at dusk — the result has been one of the city's grooviest and best-attended series. Because the pier is slightly angled up from the waterfront, the sight lines make it easy for everyone to see the films, which Burkert picks partly for their pace and edge. This year kicks off July 11 with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." In the middle of the schedule come back-to-back Ryan Gosling titles "Crazy Stupid Love" and "Drive" (August 1 and 8, respectively). "The only Gosling from last year that we don't have is 'The Ides of March,'" said Burkert, and from the title on down, that's hardly a summer movie, anyway.
Tuesdays: Free Movies & Live Music in the Dell
At Wyman Park Dell, rock and rock movies get equal weight. The live concert/film double-bills include tonight's match of Muscle Twin & Track & Stream with "The Fearless Freaks: The Wondrously Improbably Story of the Flaming Lips;" Jaabs + Squaaks with "A Hard Day's Night" (June 26); and Deep Cuts & Puddle with "Urgh! A Music War" (July 3).
Mondays and Fridays: The Lakefront Film Festival
Mondays are for G or PG movies. Fridays are for PG-13s, and even then, Tom Brzezinski, who has hosted Columbia's Lakefront Film Festival for over four decades, shies away from "the harder PG-13 titles."
"I feel good about showing Alan Shankman's 'Hairspray,'" he wrote in an e-mail, "but would have a harder time justifying his newer film, 'Rock of Ages.' "
He still has managed to showcase some of the most honored mainstream films of recent years, including "The Artist," "'The Help," "Hugo," "True Grit" and "The Adventures of Tintin." And the schedule also boasts a Baltimore-area premiere: Rob Reiner's youthful relationship movie, "Flipped," which suffered a rainout last season.