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May 9, 2010

St. Nick was in Rochester


Down this dark alley off East Avenue can be found the charming Little Theater annex, built upon the original cinema from 1909, which was where St. Nick unspooled on Friday afternoon. I suppose unspool is no longer the accurate terminology, but perhaps we can agree that literalism has been eclipsed by euphemism...

...even though the anachronisms of this medium were made abundantly clear to me, having just returned from from a private tour of the Eastman House and a tertiary step into the antechambers of their massive film archives. Hundreds of thousands of reels, nitrate prints in concrete sleeves, the complete collections of Scorsese and Cecil B. DeMille, the original camera negatives of The Wizard Of Oz - we saw the door beyond which all of these could be found, along with shelves of recently trafficked 35mm cannisters. Eight reels of A Woman Under The Influence sat next to Scorsese's print of The River...

...which dwarfed two auspiciously placed miniDV tapes resting alongside it. They looked clinical and pathetic, and completely outdated next to those decades-old silver cylinders. Whatever pragmatic benefits digital distribution may have, there's something impressive about making a film that is literally heavy.

But of course, the big screen is the great equalizer. My film screened off DigiBeta on Friday, and on Saturday The Red Shoes was projected from its beautifully restore celluloid print, and both formats did equivocal work in getting the heart of the matter writ upon the wall. The contexts were different: seeing the Powell & Pressburger film at the packed Dryden Theater, with an introduction by Thelma Schoonmaker and an overview of the restoration process that elicited ooohs and ahhs from an audience who might better be described as patrons rather than filmgoers, felt like a true cultural event, the sort you might put your coattails on for. My film, at the Little Theater, felt like a secret about to be discovered, something one would stumble in out of the cold from (and indeed it is cold, cold enough that it snowed last night). But shortly after the lights dimmed, context vanished and the films existed, for the extent of their running time on the same plane. You'll have to forgive my hubris here in placing my film alongside one of the great Technicolor classics - but in truth, it's the programmers' fault and not my own, and that's precisely what Iove about film festivals like this.

I'm about to go see the Laura Poitras' The Oath, and follow it up with the premiere screening of a restored print a silent adaptation of Huckleberry Finn, directed by William Desmond Taylor, whose 1922 murder scandalized Hollywood and was never solved...

Posted by David Lowery at May 9, 2010 1:33 PM