As part of the publicity campaign for Pedro Almodovar's latest film, Volver, Sony Pictures Classics launched one of the finest film promotions I've ever seen: a retrospective of Almodovar's work traveled from town to town playing in actual movie theaters just before Volver's release. Classy. It made so much sense, I can't believe it really happened.
Last year's New York Film Festival featured a sidebar celebrating 50 years of Janus Films, a name you may recognize from many a Criterion DVD. Now those films, 31 international classics, are also making their way to select cities. Any one of these movies would be an event, but together they're staggering.
This kind of thing happens in film festivals and at cinematheques, but we're talking regular movie theaters, albeit the smaller ones. We can only hope it continues.
In 1991, when I was in college in Indiana, Citizen Kane played for one night only at a local multiplex. It was Kane's 50th anniversary. I'll never understand how it came to our town, and the theater chain seemed just as perplexed, doing next to nothing to promote it, but I did my best to talk people into going. I didn't have much luck, but two friends agreed to come with me and one of them said she'd bring her roommate.
So there we were on a Friday night — my two friends, my friend's roommate, and me — the only four people in the theater. I remember this because when the crummy print would jump out of alignment I'd have to run to the lobby to tell the inattentive staff: Yo, picture. Even the projectionist was out of range.
But dirty print and all, the film was stunning. I'd seen it on video tape, but this movie about a bigger-than-life character was designed for a bigger-than-life screen. Up there, the optical illusions created by Orson Welles and Gregg Toland have maximum effect, the fireplace with logs the size of trees, the windows that jump from near to far, the sudden shot of a squawking parrot, and the fantastic opening montage. My little TV couldn't do it justice.
My two friends, I'll admit, were politely bored, but the roommate and I loved it. We talked until dawn and ate a bleary-eyed breakfast, which we still do from time to time, because shortly after that evening I did the only reasonable thing and married her, whisked her off to San Francisco, and stood with her on the Twin Peaks gazing at the city lights and the ocean, two never-ending sources of wonder to midwesterners like us.
And so she has been my cinematic valentine from that very first evening, and I'm not sure I've ever sat next to her in a movie without stealing a brief glance at her soft smile, each time a little surprised to find her still there. If I were a filmmaker I'd try to capture that smile the way Jean-luc Godard shot Anna Karina and Leos Carax shot Juliette Binoche. Faces. Or maybe my camera would watch her at work. She paints. It's a kinetic art form, a visual medium. You can see the artist in the work, of course, but I imagine my restless camera would eventually move around to the other side of the canvas and watch the face instead of the paint, once again stealing glances mid-stream.
But I'm no filmmaker, and if I were I wouldn't be a good enough one. Still, I can aspire, and what better place to aspire than the cinema itself, from the other side, from the seats? Popcorn at home is nice on a chilly winter night, but the blue beam of the TV isn’t much compared to the light that comes from a giant silver screen to illuminate my cinematic valentine, sitting close, eyes aglow, nor even compared to the shine of shop windows that back-light the same face an hour later as we walk down city sidewalks abuzz with the day's chatter, ours about the movie, its shape, its boom, its imprint, its light. Her cheek becomes a sliver of moon, her smile becomes a yawn, her yawn becomes a smile.
And before you know it, the night becomes dawn, popcorn becomes pop tarts. Raising orange juice glasses high, we clink them together. Here's to one more night at the movies, and a thousand more.