Monday, January 27, 2014

Return of the prodigal

It was barely noticed. It happened about a week ago now. One of the survivors of an alleged golden age, Paramount Pictures (bought and sold a few times since its founding), quietly announced that they were no longer releasing their product on film. The age of celluloid is ending; it is now an analog to digital, but the age of 'analog' is dead too. It gets confusing.

Two weeks ago, I was quite touched to receive notification that Delores had posted here, noting that I was, more or less, missing in action, and hoping that I was okay. An immediate reply was called for, I headed towards a response... and got sidetracked. Every day. For two weeks.

Its' not like I haven't been busy. I haven't really, but I do always seem to be occupied with something or other, even though I can't always say what that something or other is or was. I do remember some of what I was doing around the time Delores wrote.

I rarely go to the movies anymore. It's not that I don't want to. They are just so damned expensive now. One of the movie theatres here in Brattleboro closed a little while back. To tell the truth, it wasn't much of a move theatre.
From Jerry Lewis Twin, to First Cinema, to the Kipling... 
a former manager (my friend Brayton who tried to save it)
stands in front of the closed theatre, since torn down
 to make way for a discount supermarket.
It started life as a Jerry Lewis twin. At one point it was owned by a vice-president at Warners, and the subject of lawsuits. It was a bit of fun as long as your entertainment didn't need to be the movie. It was from the days not so long ago when screens were put at the end of hallways, some seats thrown in, sound of dubious quality added, and Lo! the suckers were separated from their cash. Our other theatre, the Latchis, is one of the survivors of an age when there was a bit more showmanship involved in everything from the auditorium's architecture to the presentation of vaudeville entertainments with a movie. Since the Kipling closed, it has moved from a concentration of what used to be thought of as art house product to standard commercial releases. Not the standard commercial releases of its heyday. The Saturday afternoon serials and B pictures of those days are now the A product, the major releases. Most have little more substance than comic books. Glorious comic books, to be sure. The special effects are great. But most of the product is empty headed nonsense. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But as much as I like corn, I can't eat a steady diet of it. And I can't say that I'm all that enthused about seeing movies like "12 Years a Slave", which from what I heard borders on what has been termed "torture porn".
The Latchis main auditorium, its ceiling restored, with the first new seats since it opened in 1938.

The thing of it is, two weeks ago I went to the movies - twice. The first was at our local library to see Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train", the start of an every other week film noir series. The host tapped to discuss the movies shown is a screenwriter who moved into the area a little while back. His main claim to fame is a co-author credit for the script of "Revenge of the Nerds".

Farley Granger and Robert Walker in "Strangers On A Train"
(If merry-go-rounds make you nervous, do not see this movie.)
A few days later, there was a special show at the Latchis of "Lawrence of Arabia" as a memorial to the late Peter O'Toole. I had mixed feelings about seeing it again. It's a wonderful movie, one I refuse to watch on tv. (So here's the trailer on an even smaller screen.) It really needs a big screen. A friend wanted to go and asked me to accompany him, otherwise I might have passed on it. I saw it when it was first released. I used to have a 16mm print which had been subtitled for the deaf. I always found it odd that it had the best sound of any 16mm print I ever owned.

I worked for Columbia (its releasing studio) when the 1989 restoration was done. That work started under studio honcho and filmmaker David Puttnam. His philosophy was to make only one or two big budget titles a year, with lots of little movies, all of which stood excellent chances at turning a profit. Of course they fired him - he had, after all, refused to make Ghostbusters 2. Dawn Steele was brought in to run the studio. She was famous for putting pictures of dollar bills on toilet paper. That's marketing, not filmmaking. She cancelled the restoration. In response, Martin Scorsese headed up a group of directors who forced a meeting in which it was very clearly stated that unless the project went forward, neither Columbia nor TriStar (sort of a sister studio - it's complicated) would ever release a picture from that group again. The work resumed. I saw the results in Boston in a 70mm print on a very, very large screen. I didn't want to disturb that memory. By the way, there was a special award for the restoration given at the next Academy Awards. It was accepted by Dawn Steele, who took all the credit for the project.

The reason I'm going on about all this is simple - both movies were presented via digital projection with their source material DVD's. Digital projection is okay, but it just isn't the same. The rich blacks of the film noir era in "Strangers on a Train" were mostly gray. And not very many shades of it, at that. (In those days, release prints had well over 20 shades of gray in them.) The image on Lawrence was a little less than it should have been as well. It wasn't helped by a problem the theatre has with one of its digital projectors which creates an image "artifact", looking sort of like the kind of streak created by dirty rollers and cheap chemicals in old style celluloid processing. The same streak, in the same place, was present in the new Hobbit movie over a month before. It amazes me that no one has seen to fixing it.

This week, I'll be running off to the library for the next title in the film noir series, "The Big Sleep". It's one of those projects where the story of the making of the film is as entertaining as the movie itself. Bogart, Bacall, a Raymond Chandler tale that makes no sense, a script partly written by William Faulkner...

Bacall : I don't like your manners.
Bogart:  I'm not crazy about yours. I didn't ask to see you. I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings...

It is really wonderful to be able to see these movies on a screen. When I was young, if you wanted to see something like this you studied the tv guide and probably stayed up late one night to catch it. I started collecting movies on 8mm and eventually 16mm just to have access to some titles. I worked in the revival and repertory business. Suddenly, in the 1980's, we were able to video tape movies off of tv on Beta and VHS. Then the studios released them in those formats, and laser discs, and DVDs. Now they are available online, streaming. The trailers and posters collectors spent years trying to track down can now be seen with a few taps on a touch screen. It's such a different world for movie buffs, for those who care. And luckily, here in Brattleboro, we have a library and a movie theatre which show them in public on occasions. No, it's not the same, but it will do.

to be continued...
(I hope)
P.S. Hi, Delores!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi yourself...I'm glad it was just busyness and not sickness that kept you away. Think I'll go pop some popcorn now and take in a good movie.