Sing a song, quote-along, and be a part of the party – at the movies.

Going to the movies has long been considered a mostly passive experience where you quietly sit in darkness to be carried off by a visual experience. A growing number of small exhibitors, however, are changing their tune. Instead of telling their customers to stay quiet during the film, they have been actively encouraging everyone at specific shows to sing-along, quote-along, and even share their texted heckles to hecklable-ready films via HECKLEVISION. There will, of course, always be new ways to have fun at the expense of poorly made films, but I’m more interested in the first two categories because of their celebratory nature. To sing a song from a film with other devotees, or to quote its lines in chorus, these add a rather touching and joyous element that one can easily imagine would warm the hearts of those who worked hard to make the film in question. Having missed my chance to attend a recent Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along, I’m looking forward to a pending screening in my area, made possible by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, of a Labyrinth Sing-Along. I recently had the opportunity to ask Greg MacLennan, the Director of Interactive Programming at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, some questions about some of the other films that are currently enjoying revivals thanks to different forms of crowd participation.

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Properly equipped for a new era.

After the movie, the lights come on.  I’m sitting in a very comfortable chair stuffed with memory foam.  On the walls are murals by Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975). During the film you can’t see the murals on either side because curtains automatically cover them during the show, so as to not distract viewers with any peripheral glare. The side speakers are also out of sight – they’re hidden within the elegant and long chandelier lights that hang like Japanese lanterns next to the walls of this very spacious and recently renovated theater. I walk up the carpeted hall and meet Manny Knowles, the Assistant Director for Cinema Systems/Operations. We walk into the lobby and from there we take an elevator up a couple floors and the doors open directly into the projection booth, one outfitted with what I would guess to be about two million dollars worth of equipment. 4K, 2K, 3D, 35mm, 16mm, projectors for all these formats are comfortably spaced out in an immaculately clean booth where you can see white gloves hanging from the rewind bench. I am presented with the hard-drive that contained that night’s movie (Melancholia). A small square you could hide in a purse. Next to me are 35mm canisters for Night Train to Terror. It was obtained thanks to the kind permission of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, which I think is fascinating because I didn’t even know they had a film archive, much less one that contained such fun titles as Night Train to Terror (or Café Flesh, or The Stewardesses, which also screened here).  [...MORE]

THE END

In case you haven’t heard; 2012 will be known as the official date when most celluloid projection will be tossed into a fiery and remote pit.  Film, “reel” film, the stuff made of organic emulsion that unspools through a projector at 24-frames-a-second, is going the way of the dodo bird. Roger Ebert wrote a eulogy on November 2nd (Chicago Sun Times; The sudden death of film). A.O. Scott followed his lead a couple weeks later on Nov 18th (N.Y. Times; Film Is Dead? What Else Is New?). Leo Enticknap, a cinema director at the University of Leeds in the U.K., went even further on Nov. 20th (INDIEwire; The 35mm Battle Continues) when he facetiously ridiculed a recent petition to save 35mm film with this opening salvo: “OK, and let’s petition Ford to reopen the Model T production line, and ban all performances of Mozart’s piano concertos on anything other than an eighteenth century fortepiano while we’re at it.” (Links to all three essays are provided at the bottom of my post.)

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Musketeering

Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers has been adapted countless times for the screen, most of them forgotten. There is a 1911 Edison production, a modernized 1933 Mascot serial that starred John Wayne as a French Foreign Legionnaire,  and now a newfangled 3D version crafted by Paul W.S. Anderson. Left out of this un-illustrious list are the canonical Douglas Fairbanks interpretation of 1924, and the popular jokey two-parter from Richard Lester in ’73 and ’74, but alas, it seems the latest Dumas gloss will go the way of Edison’s and the Duke’s, filed away as rote remake and quietly ignored thereafter. Garnering a variety of gleeful pans and disappointing box-office returns, Anderson’s Three Musketeers nevertheless abounds in visual riches and confirms the director as one of the few to fully explore the possibilities of new 3D technologies.

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To Save and Project: The Movie Orgy (1968) and Afraid to Talk (1932)

For nine years running, MoMA’s To Save and Project international festival of film preservation has showcased the latest celluloid surgery jobs by archives the world over. It’s the one place where film stock is still a fetish, each new print ogled with the entitled leer of a sozzled Miss Universe judge. So I was sent to my oft-used fainting couch when it was announced that a digital restoration would open this year’s fest (which runs through Nov. 25th).   This prestigious pole-position was granted to Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy (1968), a delirious mash-up of pop culture detritus, from psychotic b-movies to baffling Bufferin commercials.

Dante and Jon Davison edited the entire feature by hand, splicing in new scenes when intriguing material passed their way. Eventually the project ballooned to 7 hours, but with its broad humor, broads, and critique of the military-industrial complex, it toured college campuses under a Schlitz beer sponsorship. By the end of its run the print had more stitches than Frankenstein’s monster, without the salve of Karloff’s soulful stare. It would be unlikely to survive another trip through a projector. So Dante shoved the benighted thing through a film-to-tape transfer, and after some screenings on the West coast has finally brought his beast to the East. Now at a svelte 4 1/2 hours, it’s a marvel of gonzo editing. It contains an actual narrative, collapsing the apocalypses  of a bunch of sci-fi/teen rebel/horror cheapies into one mega-Armageddon, while finding time for mini-comedies and grace(less)-notes in between.

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INDY CIRCUIT CONTENDERS

I’m in the process of assembling a spreadsheet of films that I’d like to bring to my fall calendar program. As an exhibitor, I wish I could give all (or, at least, most or many) of these films a home. But as the market place keeps shrinking the theatrical windows, and as V.O.D. becomes more rampant, the harsh reality is that a balance has to be struck between viable money-makers and smaller niche titles that are very interesting and compelling but lack high-profile visibility, this despite being top-shelf items. In the former category are titles such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In the latter category are movies like Marwencol or Bill Cunningham New York. I never need to see advance screeners for films in the former category as, for the most part, it’s pretty obvious what the big hitters are. In the latter category, however, it’s essential to watch the preview screeners sent to me by distributors because I really need to know if the material stands a chance of connecting with the audience in our area despite a low profile. Or, at very least, whether it resonates so strongly with me that I’m willing to champion it personally in the hopes that I might, despite long odds, find it an audience. Here’s what I’ve got queued up for the coming week. [...MORE]

Sundance 2011: 20 paragraphs for 20 films

Last week I saw 20 films in five days at Sundance. With just over 200 films listed in the index, that means I barely covered 10% of the slate. Documentaries are a Sundance forté, so it’s not surprising that almost half of the films I screened fall into this category. Similarly, as most docs these days never get transferred to film that accounts for why about half of all my screenings were digital projections. Happily, despite many rumblings by industry pundits regarding the eminent death of 35mm film, most of the narrative features were still on celluloid. Huzzah! [...MORE]

CRIB NOTES, PART 1 OF 2

I celebrated the new year by proofing a final mock-up of my Spring arthouse calendar film series program. It will screen about 50 films. Some new. Some old. The selection usually nets an equal amount of praise and criticism. I put out a sneak preview of coming attractions on my FaceBook page the other day and within a few minutes received one enthusiastic remark from a reader looking forward to the latest Steven Soderbergh documentary about Spalding Gray (that one called And Everything Is Going Fine) while simultaneously getting one smack-down from a reader wanting to know why I won’t be screening González Iñárritu’s Biutiful, or Charles’ Ferguson’s excellent documentary regarding the details of our recent financial collapse, Inside Job, or even something so obviously winning as L’illusionist, which displays the latest animation of Sylvain Chomet of The Triplets of Belleville fame – especially as it is working from an unpublished screenplay by Jacques Tati. What could be more perfect for an arthouse theater? For those curious how this particular film curator made his final choices, here are my answers. [...MORE]

Dimensional Musings

Jackass 3D had a gigantic opening weekend, bringing in $50 million, almost twice as much as its predecessor. Two weeks previously I watched Joe Dante’s The Hole 3D at the New York Film Festival, which is still without a distributor. The bump in the Jackass money is not only attributable to the 3D premium pricing, it attracted more admissions than its first two entries as well, as Ben Fritz reported in the L.A. Times.  Regardless of the flak the technology receives from critics like Roger Ebert, it draws crowds, and thus will be a part of the cinematic landscape for some time to come. And while muddy-looking 3D conversions will surely mar theaters in the future, there are plenty of productions that are producing fascinating depth effects with the new technology.

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The 48th New York Film Festival, Part 2

The Social Network, the opening night selection at the 2010 New York Film Festival (and opening nationwide October 1st), consists of men (and one girl) talking in rooms and around tables. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg)  is the reluctant participant in these discussions, hunched over and bristling, much preferring the inscrutable company of his own mind. The essential opacity of these thoughts to his friends and foes, Zuckerberg’s intractable isolation, is the nexus around which director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin spin their tale of mis-communication and betrayal.

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