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A Sainted Devil 

Happy 108th birthday to the late Rudolph Valentino, screen lover extraordinaire

Wednesday, Apr 30 2003
Tuesday marks the 108th birthday of the immortal Rudolph Valentino, the Italian-born actor who brought sophisticated sexuality to the silent screen -- and the United States out of the 19th century. "Valentino helped deflower America," declares Emily W. Leider, the S.F. author of the new, meticulously researched biography Dark Lover (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). "He helped make us more a part of the world. Even people who'd never been to Europe were Europeanized by him."

Men went to The Sheik and Blood and Sand to learn how to behave like a Continental, while women went, well, to swoon. "Valentino stirred a tremendous debate about lovemaking," Leider states. "He accused the American male of not being a lover, and said they resented him because he brought exquisiteness to the bedroom. He wouldn't just kiss a woman's hand, he would kiss the palm of her hand." Are you listening, Ben Affleck?

Valentino's abiding appeal -- his movies still draw crowds around the block in London, New York, and San Francisco, and hundreds gather in Hollywood each year to commemorate his death -- is inextricably woven into the timelessness of his era, Leider suggests. "I think the '20s are the beginning of now. We're still obsessed with youth, with celebrity, with media and fun and cheap thrills. They didn't have television, but they had tabloids, and we're still in the tabloid era." And let's not underestimate the allure of chic, beautiful people: "Valentino and his second wife, Natacha, epitomized a certain kind of glamour and style, a look, that we wish we still had: the cars, the suits, the luggage, the way they could wear a dog."

Admittedly, the ongoing fascination with Valentino also stems from his premature demise at age 31 in 1926. "To die when you're young, beautiful, and famous is to remain that way," Leider muses. "You become a comet." Leider, who also wrote Becoming Mae West, reads from Dark Lover at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, at the Booksmith, 1644 Haight St.

Event Horizon Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Lumiere Theatre will be closing shortly for seismic retrofitting and renovation. "It could happen in June, it could happen in July, it could happen in August," says Michael Collier, Northern California area manager for Landmark Theatres. "It will happen this year." There's no single party to blame for the false starts and delays up to this point, Collier says. "Between us, the landlord, and the city, and getting bids from building contractors, there are a lot of people in the mix." He's buoyed, however, by Landmark's lengthy but ultimately lustrous renovation of the California Theatre in Berkeley. "I'm not frustrated, because I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's going to be beautiful," he promises.

The work at the Lumiere will include the installation of a digital projector, in line with the art-house chain's recently announced decision to implement digital distribution at its 53 theaters. (The Embarcadero Center Cinema already has the gear.) Smaller distributors, which typically can afford to strike only a few prints, should benefit the most from the technology, Collier asserts. "Those films that normally would come to San Francisco but wouldn't play in Berkeley or Palo Alto -- or San Diego or Texas -- we'd be able to show them." And, he says, since it's hard to find excellent 35mm prints of many not-so-old films -- either they don't exist or they're owned by archives or studios that rarely (if ever) make them available for commercial bookings -- "it will especially help out in the area of our midnight films" at the Clay.

A Tale of Springtime Clint Eastwood's latest divertissement, Mystic River, starring Sean Penn, will premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. ... Former S.F. International Film Festival Associate Programmer Marie-Pierre Macia, who left to head up the "Director's Fortnight" program at Cannes, has resurfaced as the artistic director of Paris Cinema, a brand-new film festival that will run the first two weeks of July in theaters all over the City of Light.

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Michael Fox


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