The third annual Screen on the Green summer film festival kicked off with a lavish pre-movie celebration at the Corcoran Gallery of Art Monday night. The evening’s French theme coincided with the screening of “An American in Paris,” an Oscar-winning film that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The focus was on making the gallery’s vaulted marble interior seem as much like an outdoor Parisian street as possible. Beret-wearing sketch artists set up shop in various corners to sketch humorous caricatures of partygoers as other guests claimed round cafe tables to feast on baby coquilles St. Jacques, wild-mushroom crepes and balsamic flank steak accompanied by French wine and champagne.
True to his independent style, Vermont’s independent Sen. James M. Jeffords was the only solon in sight. Mr. Jeffords praised the Parisian theme while eyeing the creme brulee and reported that he has gotten more praise than grief over his flight from the Republican Party.
“People still come up and congratulate me,” he said. “No one’s tried to punch me out yet.”
Staff members from Home Box Office and America Online also were in attendance, as both Time-Warner companies are co-sponsoring the summer film series. (Steve Case, chief executive officer and chairman of AOL, is a major contributor and trustee of the Corcoran.)
“We start off with the movies everyone’s heard of, but after that, we try to expose people to some they may never have seen,” said Jim Byerley, director of film evaluation for HBO. “Most people haven’t seen these films on a big screen before.”
The Screen on the Green series began two years ago in Washington with “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz” after a successful trial run in New York City. The films start at dusk, or about 9 p.m., every Monday through the summer on the lawn between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Other movies scheduled this summer include “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Meet Me In St. Louis.” All are picked with families in mind, Mr. Byerley noted.
Friends were surprised that Mr. Jeffords had never seen “An American in Paris” before, but he was hardly alone in that. A random sampling of Mall patrons found a significant number who also were seeing the musical for the first time.
Some didn’t have a clue. “It’s a musical, right?” asked Washington resident Jennifer Marshall, 27.
A musical, indeed. Famed composer George Gershwin wrote the classic score, which is still played in concert halls by major orchestras. (His brother Ira provided the witty wordplay to match the tunes.) The film, of course, boasted major stars of its day. Gene Kelly not only starred in the tale of an American painter falling in love with young dancer Leslie Caron (in her film debut) but also created the movie’s stunning choreography.
Not everyone who stayed to watch was there on purpose.
“We came to see the monuments and saw people coming over here, so we decided to sit down for a while,” said Leslie Cook, on vacation from Indiana.
Her husband, Bill, sat on the ground next to their two children, Devon, 3, and Taylor, 5. Though the parents were fans of the film, both youngsters seemed more interested in playing on the green than watching the screen.
Give them time. Now that the free summer movie festival has become a local tradition, the children will have plenty of opportunity to learn about Hollywood’s greatest films before their next trip to the nation’s capital.