it's a shame that it was on the same night as the general relief society meeting, because it would have been one heck of a good date activity.
while driving home from an adoption commercial a few weeks earlier, i overheard something on npr about 'buster keaton', only to learn that the capitol theatre in downtown salt lake was having a free showing of the great silent classic, 'the general'. now, if you know my theories on film viewing, you will know that the environment is just as crucial as the film itself, and in some ways, moreso. [if you don't believe me, just let me dance 'the time warp' for you] i had seen keaton's most famous work once before in a class at college, and we laughed our heads off. the movie has deservedly withstood the 75+ year test of time. sadly, watching it with a few friends in my living room cannot adequately present the movie and its funny genius.
but at the capitol theater.... this was something not to be missed.
admission was free, but we were invited to bring a donation of 'two bits'. we were also invited to dress all old timey like.
white shirt, vest, hat; we looked the part.
and yes, this would have been a great opportunity to introduce a nice young lady to the cultured of history of cinema, and to show that we are cultured young men. but all these cultured young ladies were [hopefully] listening to sister parkin that night.
there was a line outside the theatre before the doors opened, and i was very happy to see so many other people who knew greatness when they heard it.
but what made this presentation all the more awesome was that, before the presentation of the main event, there was a live, hour-long npr broadcast from the theatre, comprised of the show host, two film historians [why no dean duncan, i know not], and a man who still plays live film accompaniment, a living treasure.
i think that just about every movie should receive some degree of introduction and/or background before viewing. certainly 'citizen kane' is much, much more impressive once one understands the historic and artistic context in which it was conceived. shoot, even 'armageddon' sounds a like a classic after reading the liner notes provided by the criterion collection.
needless to type, 'the general' is no exception. listening to the program presented on stage was fascinating. we learned of the glory of the silents, anecdotes of how buster keaton got his style, the intricicies and beauty of live film accompaniment, and trivia about 'the general', sometimes found on lists of the greatest films of world cinema, and considered by orson welles to be the greatest civil war film ever.
and then the presentation began.
at the front of the theatre sat the accompanist, creating scores and sound effects in uncanny timing and accuracy [like a cannon blast]. sadly, the projection was digital and not a print [prints of 'the general' cannot be easy to come by], yet after but a few minutes i was sutured into the movie. occassionally we would 'awake' in awe, remember that all this music was being made on the spot by that one guy down in front.
we laughed, we cheered, we booed, and we really, really laughed. it felt good to hurt. and i wondered, why don't they do this more often? everyone who came loved it, and i do not doubt that those who had never seen a silent before laughed just as hard as the rest of us.
as the movie ended, the theatre errupted in appluase for both the immortality of the screen and the immediate talents of our great guest organist. home theaters have nothing on this guy.
i had the opportunity to hear him at byu a few months later, playing for one of the other penultimate classics, 'sunrise'. and i loved every minute of it again.
even to this day, if you ask either of my friends who were with me what it was like, seeing 'the general' with live accompaniment, they unwaveringly declare the highest praise, denying any hyperbole.
probably the capstone of my personal cinematic experiences, the others in the running include: seeing 'psycho' at the midnight showing at byu, the re-release of 'star wars' in high school, and the opening night of 'return of the king.'
i think it still drives jack nuts that he couldn't come.
and it should.