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Chris Hicks: Classic films offer a learning experience

When you're a movie buff, the biggest thrill is the thrill of discovery. Experiencing a fabulous film for the first time.

And the only things that come close to that thrill are introducing someone else to a great movie, talking about a great movie . . . and watching a great movie again.

John Schulian gets to do all those things every week through December as he runs — or "hosts," as he puts it — a University of Utah film series.

The free movies are shown each Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Room 1110 of the Language and Communication Building. "There are 125 to 150 padded seats, it's really comfortable, with a nice-size screen and everything."

Next week he's showing "The Quiet Man," starring John Wayne. After that:

— "Casablanca," with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman

— "Sullivan's Travels," Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake

— "On the Waterfront," Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger

— "Some Like It Hot," Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe

— "Pickup on South Street" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

— "The Wild Bunch," William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan

— Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest," Cary Grant

— "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross

And it's not just for students.

"People who happen to be in the neighborhood and want to come over and see a great old movie are welcome," Schulian said. "I babble a little bit at the start, give an introduction. Then I talk about it a little bit afterward, have a little Q&A."

But mostly, he says, it's just great old movies — classics ranging from the 1940s through the 1960s.

The choices for the series came by a process of elimination. "Initially, I had a couple from the '30s, but moviemaking was so primitive back then. I love 'Gunga Din,' but I wasn't sure how it would look to an audience in 2004. I also thought of 'Stagecoach' — there are a million movies just from 1939 . . . But ultimately, I settled on just the '40s, '50s and '60s."

Schulian is only here for the fall semester, teaching a couple of film-related classes and "hosting" this series, doing his bit to keep classic films alive in young minds.

His home is in Pasadena, Calif., where he has been polishing his first novel, after a pair of lengthy careers in journalism and TV screenwriting.

Born in California, Schulian came to Utah as a teenager and later graduated from the U. before moving on to Northwestern University in Illinois for his Master's in journalism. Then he covered cops, wrote features, did a weekly rock 'n' roll column — you name it — at the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, the Chicago Sun-Times. . . .

Ultimately he settled into sportswriting and freelanced on the side for Sports Illustrated. (He's gathered together his best baseball stories from various publications for "Twilight of the Long-Ball Gods," a book to be published next year.)

In 1986, on a lark, Schulian wrote a letter and sent some clips to TV writer/producer Steven Bochco, who was doing "L.A. Law" at the time. Schulian had no screenwriting experience and was surprised that Bochco hired him. "He took a flier on me; he liked my writing."

If you're any good, one thing leads to another in Hollywood, and during the '80s and '90s, Schulian found himself working on "Miami Vice," "JAG" and a number of other shows. When he was writing "Hercules," he came up with "Xena," who, of course, would go on to get her own show.

Aside from his fall tenure at the U., Schulian is consumed by his novel. But he confesses that it's hard to resist Holywood. "The money is so good that you can't not listen to them. I may have had my brains beaten out in Hollywood, but I'm still smart enough to know they can put a lot of money in my bank account in a hurry."

So why the teaching gig? "Well, it's not really teaching. I don't look at myself as a film scholar. I'm just a guy who likes movies."

There's also a bit of nostalgia involved. Schulian says he grew up learning about movies by watching them with his father in Southern California, where they'd check out double-bills of golden oldies with Bogart or John Wayne or the Marx Brothers. "I was getting an education in American cinema without ever knowing it."


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com