Today, over 200 art-house and independent movie theaters in the United States are screening 1984, the 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel directed by Michael Radford. The theaters are doing so to stand up for “freedom of speech, respect for our fellow human beings, and the simple truth that there are no such things as ‘alternative facts,'” according to the United State of Cinema website.
Film scholars have been pretty insensitive to the myriad ways you can watch films. Most of the earliest film scholars watched in a theater with a group of people. They assumed that would be the only way to watch films, primarily because it was the only way to watch films. In some cases, a particular screening would have been a one-and-done situation. Consequently, they wrote about the film so that it survived beyond the evanescence of a theatrical exhibition.
This is a good weekend to be a film geek because you can watch films in ways that might seem novel or even foreign to most viewers today. Sure, you can watch a film at the New York Film Festival and pay as much as $25 to watch a film that will be out in New York–area theaters anyway. However, that’s not the case for the Views from the Avant-Garde series, which I plan on attending this Friday. For a more worthwhile glimpse at film exhibition, you could recreate the experience of watching a silent film in a movie palace and compare it to watching a film at a drive-in theater. Here’s how.
I’m a big fan of the Loew’s Jersey. Built in 1929, it is a landmark movie palace that has been restored over the years to resemble its original state. Whereas most movie palaces have been divided into multiplexes, altered beyond recognition, transformed into retail stores or churches, or are simply torn down, this one has remained a viable venue for film screenings and live performances.
The Friends of Loew’s Jersey will be screening two films on Sunday, October 5, beginning at 3:00 PM. My Best Girl (1926) stars Mary Pickford and the man she married after Douglas Fairbanks, Charles “Buddy” Rogers. To add to the authentic experience of the show, there will be live organ accompaniment during the screening. Neat! There will also be a short film, Movie Night, starring Charlie Chase. It’s a rare chance to watch silent films as they would have been seen in their day. And if you don’t mind breaking from the authentic 1920s experience, go get Indian food after the show.
Starting this Friday, October 4, you can see films in a “drive-in” theater at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The Empire Drive-In is more of an art installation than a bona-fide drive-in movie theater. The installation is open during the hall’s regular hours, but on select days, it transforms into a drive-in theater. To create the drive-in experience, there are sixty cars and trucks, salvaged from a nearby junkyard, installed to accommodate visitors. The screenings run from October 4 through October 20, although you should check the schedule because they’re screenings films only on select days. On those days, the installation is only open until 2:00 PM, presumably to allow time to prepare that evening’s screening.
The fine folks at the Loew’s Jersey in Jersey City launched their annual tribute to Halloween with a Friday night screening of the William Castle classic, The House on Haunted Hill (1956). The tribute continues tonight with separate-admission screenings of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). The latter film, a German silent expressionist masterpiece, will be screened with live organ accompaniment.
Last night’s screening had two treats for architectural nerds. The first is the building itself at the Loews Jersey. It opened in 1929 as an outpost of the MGM-Loews movie empire and at a reported cost of $2 million, it was an example of the picture palaces that not only screened movies but sought to give audiences a transformative experience. The architectural style appears a little behind the times, as it borrows heavily from Gothic, cathedral structures that were common at the turn of the century. By the 1920s, it was more common to see Art Deco as the dominant style, but aside from old Radio City Music Hall, which opened a few short years later, most movie theater architecture remained unchanged since the end of the 1910s.
The second treat came from the movie itself. Sarah and I found that the exterior of the titular house looked familiar, and very similar to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House in Hollywood. Poking around the Internet Commons, I found that the exterior shots were of Ennis House, a Lloyd Wright work and has been compared to Hollyhock (below).
The house has also been used in several movies, including Blade Runner and L.A. Confidential, and it has often been the home and lair of movie villains, an assessment I remember encountering in Thom Anderson’s essay film, Los Angeles Plays Itself. It seems a bit odd that the trip to Jersey City really seem to evoke sentimental feelings to L.A. Maybe it’s time I take a trip to L.A. for more than four hours.
Having just taught a class last week on the advent of widescreen cinema to compete with television in the 1950s, it is very tempting to see Forbidden Planet this Friday and Saturday at the restored Loew’s Jersey theater in Jersey City. Even if you’ve seen this film before, you’ve probably never seen it on the BIG, w-i-d-e Cinemascope screen.
I’ve been wanting to see a film there since it’s been completely restored to its old Nicholas Schenck-glory days, although I won’t not be able to make it, as I’ll be out of town for “fake” Thanksgiving.
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