Happy Birthday to Kirk Douglas

December 9, 2015

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Above: Kirk Douglas accepting the 2011 SFJFF Freedom of Expression Award at the Castro Theatre. The FOE Award honors the unfettered imagination and its contributions to a free, just, and open society.

We’re wishing a Happy 99th Birthday to the inimitable Kirk Douglas, whose life spent in front of the camera has made a lasting impression on #cinema of the 20th century, and gave us such lasting titles as Spartacus, Paths of Glory, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Seven Days in May.

Though he has professed to having a complicated upbringing with Judaism, Douglas embraced his personal history later in life and even celebrated a second Bar-Mitzvah in 1999 at age 83 (a story which he gleefully recounted to an SFJFF audience at the Castro). His stage presence at the 2011 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival was felt in the farthest corners of the Castro.

“I went to pick up that year’s (2011) Freedom of Expression recipient, the legendary Kirk Douglas, at the airport, who was arriving on a private jet,” said JFI Program Director Jay Rosenblatt. “I was expecting a frail 94 year old man. Instead, he charged down the stairs and shook my hand so firmly it hurt and blurted out “where’s the bathroom?”

To celebrate Douglas’s 99th year of an extraordinary life, JFI Programmer Joshua Moore has compiled a short lift of some choice Douglas films:

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ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) Billy Wilder’s scathing masterpiece on the dangers and callousness of the American media culture is anchored by Kirk’s fiery performance as a washed up journalist who will do whatever it takes to spin a story to boost his career. Douglas is completely fearless as an actor here, not giving a dam whether the audience will like him or not, and it is why Ace in the Hole remains as powerful now as it was when first released in 1951.

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PATHS OF GLORY (1957) Kirk’s first pairing with Stanley Kubrick resulted in one of the best anti-war films ever made. Both on the battlefield and in the courtroom, Douglas’s Col. Dax embodies our collective sympathies, frustrations, and sorrows of the absurdity of war. His hallowed face lingering in the very last shot of film says it all.

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SPARTACUS (1960) As the slave Spartacus who leads a revolt against the Romans, Kirk’s trademark grit and determination are in full sweaty force as he delivers one of his most passionate and iconic performances, and helped break the Hollywood Blacklist in the process. It’s the role he’ll always be remembered for and seeing him on the Castro stage at SFJFF 31 was a festival moment I’ll always cherish.

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