Free March Films in the Vault Feature Wastelands, Natalie Wood

In Patton Oswalt's new book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, the literate comedian divides his friends from childhood into three categories: worshippers of zombie-flick sire George Romero; Star Wars geeks; and Mad Max maniacs. This is the month for that last group – teenage "Wastelands" – at the Library, with a film series including the post-apocalyptic epic that introduced leather-clad Mel Gibson to the American teen psyche.

For those seeking gentler fare, there's a series highlighting the early film career of the great American actress Natalie Wood.

Oswalt's right. An imagined worldwide holocaust can make for a good story (also in agreement: Pulitzer Prize-winner Cormac McCarthy). Post-apocalytptic films offer unforgettable images of scarred and broken worlds as well as the unforgettable struggles of survivors. The Badlands film series complements Altered States, the Kansas City Public Library’s 2011 Adult Winter Reading Program, which concludes on March 13.

The Kansas City Public Library screens Badlands on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. throughout March 2011 in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

All screenings are free. The film line-up includes: 

On the Beach (1959) on March 7. In the aftermath of a nuclear war, survivors in Australia await their inescapable fate. Based on the novel by Nevil Shute, this classic plea against the devastation of war studies the ways in which the survivors face their inevitable end. Starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire. Not rated. (134 min.)

Mad Max (1979) on March 14. In a desolate near-future, police cannot keep up with roving gangs of diabolical drivers that prey on the innocent. A disillusioned cop quits the force, only to see his wife and child murdered by vicious cyclists – setting him on a high speed course for revenge. This action-packed thriller shows a crumbling society where sadistic law enforcement and marauding motorcyclists battle for control of the highways in a never-ending apocalyptic game of death. Starring Mel Gibson. Rated R. (93 min.)

I am Legend (2007) on March 21. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is a scientist and the lone survivor of a virus that has decimated the planet, mutating its human victims into blood-thirsty nocturnal creatures. Rated PG-13. (101 min.)

12 Monkeys (1995) on March 28. In a future society where mankind dwells underground to escape a killer plague, a convict (Bruce Willis) volunteers for a time travel experiment with the goal of destroying the plague at its source. Directed by Terry Gilliam, with Brad Pitt and Madeline Stowe. Rated R. (129 min.)

The Adult Winter Reading Program is aimed at encouraging leisure reading among adults. Readers may participate by reading any five books and submitting these titles on a Reading Log, available at all Library locations and online. Details on participation and related activities are available at

Natalie Wood worked nearly every year starting at age 7 until her death in 1981, and earned her first of three Oscar nominations for Best Actress by 17. But 1961 was her year—earning a Best Actress nomination for Splendor in the Grass and a starring role in the Best Picture-winning West Side Story.  The Kansas City Public Library offers a Natalie Wood film retrospective on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. throughout March 2011 in the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Admission for all screenings is free. The film line-up features:

Rebel without a Cause on March 5. With a legendary performance by James Dean, this 1950s screen classic follows a young man alienated from the adult world and even from most of his peers. The film examines the inarticulate frustrations and rage of three teenagers (including Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo) that erupt in violence and tragedy. Not rated. (111 min.)

Splendor in the Grass on March 12. A rich oil town in a remote part of Kansas is the setting for this dramatic story of young love, starring Warren Beatty opposite Natalie Wood (nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award) as a high school couple struggling with individual and societal expectations. William Inge won an Oscar for this original screenplay, directed by Elia Kazan. Not rated. (124 min.)

West Side Story on March 19. With biting lyrics by Stephen Sondheim set to a magical Leonard Bernstein score, this classic musical adapts the basic conflicts of Romeo and Juliet to the rivalry of New York City street gangs. Won the 1962 Oscar for Best Picture. Not rated. (152 min.)

Gypsy on March 26. Wood stars in this biopic of burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, forced into a stage career by her domineering mother. Based on the Broadway musical, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. With Rosalind Russell and Karl Malden. Earned Wood her third Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Not rated. (143 min.)