It was decided, about halfway through the phone interview, that there was absolutely no way to finish a conversation about film with writer/actor/director Ed Burns, probably still best known for his breakout indie, “The Brothers McMullen.” He’s the kind of guy you want to sit down and enjoy a couple of slices with, and just yak about classic movies for hours and hours.
Pizza notwithstanding, lucky ticketholders will be able to listen to Burns wax on about one of his all-time faves, Peter Bogdanovich’s brilliant coming-of-age, coming-of-war 1971 film, “The Last Picture Show” on Sunday, February 9, at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, part of the “Here Comes The Cinema” series heralding the reopening of the Sag Harbor Cinema.
Bogdanovich’s first feature, “Targets,” was featured earlier in the series, but his second, based on the Larry McMurty novel “is in my top five of all time,” Burns said. “Along with ‘The Godfather, I and II,’ at the top, and ‘Goodfellas’ in there as well.”
Then we talked about “Goodfellas” for a little while. That shot? Outside the Copa? THE BEST.
“But,” Burns continued, “my one outlier is ‘The Last Picture Show.’”
Why is it so high on his list? “It’s a film I saw when I was at film school and I immediately fell in love with it. I watch it at least once or twice a year. It’s been a constant source of inspiration to me. When I saw it the first time, I was close to the age of the two protagonists, Jeff Bridges and Tim Bottoms, and while it was set in a more rural community in Texas — I grew up upisland in Valley Stream in a working-class community — the kids reminded me of me and my friends, with the same struggles, thinking about what the future is going to hold.”
But it’s more than that. “It was the only movie I had seen at that point that had cast teenager characters that felt honest. It wasn’t trying to be jokey or funny. They painted an honest portrait; they didn’t ask you to fall in love with them, because they do some pretty ugly things throughout the movie.”
Then we went off on a tangent and talked about teenager movies, most of all “American Graffiti,” for a little while.
Which brought Burns to the movie he has coming out late summer, which kind of brings things full-circle to his film school days watching “Picture Show,” and still with the small-town, suburban family themes for which he’s best known.
“It’s called ‘Summertime,’ and it’s my attempt at an ‘American Graffiti,’” he said. “It’s set in 1983 on the South Shore of Long Island. I think it’s turned out great. We got a great cast of young actors. Unlike ‘American Graffiti,’ which takes place over the course, I think, of one day, this is over the course of three weekends, beginning with Memorial Day, when they start their summer jobs. Then there’s the Fourth of July, while summer is in full swing, and then Labor Day weekend, when they all need to say goodbye to one another.”
And speaking of summer jobs, Burns was no stranger to the East End, even before he and his family moved out here in 1995. “I’ve been coming out to the East End since I’m a kid. We used to go out and spend a couple of weeks at Hither Hills when I was a child. And then about the time I’m in film school, I would come out in the summers and work different jobs — cleaning pools, landscaping, working in restaurants. And that coincides with me becoming a film buff and an art movie house buff.”
In his limited time off, Burns would go over to the Sag Harbor Cinema to see what was on the bill, and so, when the movie house burned down in December of 2016, “I was devastated, like everyone else,” he said. “It’s where you went to see art films or indie movies, and I had been going there since ’88 or ’89. It was my go-to theater.”
Burns said he was overjoyed “when I heard the great news that some folks had gotten together and were determined to raise enough money to restore the theater.” He met those folks through his friend, screenwriter and Sag Cinema board member Bill Collage. “It was a no-brainer to say yes.”
Most astounding, perhaps, Burns is still full of unfettered amazement that he gets to do what he loves. “I am so lucky,” he said. “I remember back in film school, I wasn’t even really thinking about directing, just writing. And acting? That wasn’t even on the radar,” he said with a laugh. “I would have felt like I had hit a home run just to have someone interested in one of my scripts, just to get it read and maybe considered. This,” he said of his success, “this is just crazytown.”
Tickets are available for the Sunday, 2 PM, screening and talk at www.sagharborcinema.org.