Archive for November 8, 2010

RIP Movie Night

November 8, 2010

For the past couple of years, I’ve hosted a Movie Night at the local library on (usually) the first Monday night of the month, at 7:00pm. The first film I showed was, I believe, Sherlock Jr. That enjoyed a decent if unimpressive turn-out — twenty-plus people. The first six-month series didn’t really have a theme; I just showed classics.

Then I started doing themes. War movies. Comedies. Sci-fi movies. Horror movies. Usually I’d pick by decade; the typical six-film series might start in the ’30s and end in the ’80s. These would be shown on DVD, projected onto a screen, with a decent, if not Bose, stereo system. I noticed that comedies and horror movies got the best turn-outs. The war series and the concert-film series got diminishing returns. I showed cream-of-the-crop stuff: Vertigo, Rashomon, M. Hulot’s Holiday, Sullivan’s Travels, Paths of Glory, Eyes Without a Face, Nosferatu. Occasional fun stuff like Buckaroo Banzai and Gojira.

Whenever possible I showed the best available transfers, which got us noticed in a bad way by Kino Video when we advertised that we were showing the restored, remastered Metropolis (this was a couple years before the really restored Metropolis). The shitheads at Kino snootily informed us that we didn’t have a license to show their versions of films. (We pay yearly for licenses to show films owned by various movie studios. We started that so that the children’s librarian could legally show, say, Harry Potter. That’s when I said, hey, if we have the licenses anyway, why not do a movie night for grownups?) Anyway, we replied to Kino that (a) we were showing films for free and (b) the audience was probably going to be, like, ten people. They let it slide. From then on, though, we never mentioned in the advertising which version of anything we were going to show. Kino owns their remastered version of Nosferatu, but the film itself is in the public domain, so we showed — for all Kino knew — a fuzzy public-domain transfer of it. But, yeah, we showed the Kino version.

Aside from being good movies, I had one practical criterion for the movies selected for Movie Night: they had to be two hours or under. Preferably under. We had metal folding chairs. You don’t want to be sitting in those things for Seven Samurai or Solaris. I also had an increasingly ill mother at home to worry about. When she started needing help just to get off the couch to go to a commode fifteen feet away, Movie Night started feeling self-indulgent. A couple of times, I snuck out in the middle of a movie to go home and see if Mom needed anything.

Mom passed in July, and the first movie thereafter was Double Indemnity, the first of the film noir series. I started to see the writing on the wall: there were maybe five, six people. The series went on: The Killing, four people. Shock Corridor, the same. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, three people. And then tonight, I got everything set up to show Angel Heart. 7:00 came and went. Crickets. Empty chairs. I gave it another ten minutes, then disassembled. Then I made a probably spiteful-sounding notice for the library’s front doors:

Due to lack of public interest, the Millicent Library Movie Night has been discontinued.

The last movie in the series would have been Wolfgang Petersen’s overlooked, sublimely ridiculous Shattered. After that, in January, I would’ve started a silent-film series: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Battleship Potemkin, Safety Last, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Diary of a Lost Girl, City Lights. After that, a western series, but not just any westerns — the five Anthony Mann/James Stewart westerns, along with a sixth Mann western sans Jimmy, The Furies.

As I said, Movie Night started out well — the novelty drew people: free movies! At the library! I saw fairly early, when I screened E.T. for a sparse crowd, that I couldn’t show movies that people had seen a hundred times. But you get into a catch-22 (coincidentally, another film I showed). If you show stuff everyone’s seen or stuff that gets shown on TV every weekend, you get no audience. If you show stuff nobody’s heard of, you get no audience. The best bet is to show stuff few people have seen that has actors everyone knows. Or stuff a lot of people have seen, but not for years, and remember with pleasure and would like to see again. My audiences tended to skew Boomer.

I fully expect to hear from patrons who are sad that Movie Night is done. They will say they should’ve gone more often. This, by the way, is the story of every small-town movie theater that isn’t part of a chain. We had a cool theater in town for a number of years. It would close, then open again a few years later, then close, then open. For a while it focused on foreign films. Then it was a second-run theater. Then it became an indie theater — I certainly wouldn’t have gotten to see American Splendor on the big screen otherwise, or Frida, or even Amelie. People loved the place, but not enough people. It closed in 2004 and has remained shuttered.

Would I, a movie geek, have attended Movie Night if I weren’t hosting it? I have to look facts in the face and say, probably not. I have a nice home-entertainment set-up, and a good assortment of DVDs and Blu-rays to watch, and Netflix Instant Watch, and five Redboxes in town. I can sit in a comfortable chair and watch what I want when I want. I hate to be banal and say that the same tech that allows film buffs to have a huge chunk of cinema history at their fingertips is also killing movies as a communal experience. But sometimes banal is also true.