This week in arts and entertainment history saw the premieres of two monumental movie classics and two radical moves by legendary artists. Here are five anniversaries of iconic moments in pop culture history.
“Singin’ in the Rain” premieres at Radio City Music Hall (3/27/52)
Hollywood has a proud history of movie musicals, and one of the most beloved and influential is undoubtedly “Singin’ in the Rain.” The Gene Kelly-led production made its premiere at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall this week in 1952, capturing all the spectacle, romance and movie magic that audiences love about a night at the theater.
The film follows Kelly, a popular silent movie star battling to stay relevant as Hollywood shifts to “talkies.” Debbie Reynolds (“The Mating Game”) and Donald O’Connor (“There’s No Business Like Show Business”) star alongside the iconic dancer. Filled with bright, fun show-tunes and colorful visuals, “Singin’ in the Rain” remains one of the great movie musicals of all time.
“Ben-Hur” wins the most Oscars in history (4/4/60)
Director William Wyler’s (“Roman Holiday,” “The Best Years of Our Lives”) sprawling epic about a Palestinian Jew battling the Roman Empire in the time of Christ, “Ben-Hur,” dominated the 32nd annual Academy Awards. The film took home 11 Oscars, which remains the most in history, although “Titanic” (1997) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) have since tied the record.
With a runtime well over three hours, “Ben-Hur” is truly an epic film. Its expansive scope and lush cinematography demands it be seen on the big screen, and it’s a captivating story of romance, corruption and revenge.
Jimi Hendrix lights his guitar on fire for the first time (3/31/67)
Plenty of guitarists destroy their instruments after particularly intense rocking out, from The Who’s Pete Townshend to The Clash’s Paul Simonon, but few set their instrument ablaze mid-song. Jimi Hendrix did just that at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.
In an effort to reportedly out-do Townshend’s iconic guitar smashing earlier in the day, Hendrix doused his guitar in lighter fluid, lit a match and let it burst into flames. Today, the image of Hendrix summoning the flames from his broken Stratocaster remains an unforgettable staple of rock-and-roll history.
“2001: A Space Odyssey” baffles critics at its world premiere (4/2/68)
Two days before its Hollywood premiere, “2001: A Space Odyssey” played at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. at its full length. Director Stanley Kubrick (“The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket”) chose to remove 17 minutes from the film after its first premiere before screening in Hollywood.
“2001: A Space Odyssey” stunned its opening night audience, for better or worse. The film’s slow, dense pacing through a mind-bending, sci-fi narrative remains polarizing 50 years later, but the film stands in rare company as one of the truly unique film-going experiences.
Marlon Brando rejects Oscar for “The Godfather” (3/27/73)
After a quick rise to stardom in the 1950s with films such as “On the Waterfront” (1954) and “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), Marlon Brando’s career declined rapidly in the 1960s with flops such as “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961). By 1973, Brando was no longer a superstar, and director Francis Ford Coppola (“Apocalypse Now”) had to fight to cast him as Vito Corleone in his next film, “The Godfather.”
When “The Godfather” hit theaters, it became an immediate hit and Brando earned himself an Oscar nomination for his legendary performance as the elderly crime lord. The night of the 45th Academy Awards, Brando’s name was called for Best Actor, but he didn’t accept the award in protest of Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. Instead, Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage and explained Brando’s decision.