On Sept. 19 at 7 p.m., I was sitting in auditorium eight in the Galaxy Cinemas waiting to watch Sunset Boulevard. When I had entered the theater five minutes before, there were three other people in the room. They were scattered among the back five rows, so I went straight down the aisle to the lower half of the 166 seats. By the start of the film, there were only nine people in the audience.
Silence and a dark screen made me think back to my childhood in the ‘90s. Before theatre owners started selling ad time, before car companies attached themselves to big films, I remember going to the movies with my parents and sitting in hushed anticipation as quiet conversations buzzed around us. I was hypnotized. It wasn’t just that I was seeing Aladdin or Toy Story or Jumanji, it was that I saw the advertisements for The Mummy and Independence Day, the THX sound commercials, the glowing white-on-blue castle of the Disney logo, and the thunderous drums of 20th Century Fox. When I was a kid the theater was still an experience of unsullied magic. The Classic Film Series at the Galaxy is an opportunity to relive that feeling.
Sunset Boulevard opens with screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) floating dead in a pool. Gillis then narrates his story of how he chanced upon the house of silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Her audience has abandoned her, and she is consumed by her plan to return with a great film. She offers Gillis money and a place to stay in return for crafting a modern script from her personal “masterpiece.” As their lives become more entangled the film inevitably circles back to its beginning with Joe’s death. The final scene is Norma, lost in her delusions of being back on a film set, coming down the stairs towards the news cameras, reaching out to the audience (“Those people, out there, in the dark”).
Sunset Boulevard is one of director Billy Wilder’s best. Terrific photography and music are reason enough to watch, but Sunset Boulevard has a brilliant script and cast. The slow spiral of Joe and Norma’s relationship is a masterpiece of claustrophobic storytelling, so to experience it on a screen too large to look away from, in a dark and quiet theater, was a mesmerizing event.
And this opportunity was only taken by nine people. Perhaps it was appropriate; the audience abandoned Norma, and the audience has abandoned classic film. But the ticket price was only six dollars, including tax, and when the lights went down on that Wednesday I didn’t have to listen to another car commercial pollute a good song. I didn’t need to wait through the same two minute loop of simple trivia, celebrity birthdays, and interviews with new musicians. I was able to come into the theater to see a film crafted by filmmakers instead of focus groups, and to re-experience a film I love with beautiful remastered picture quality.
Thankfully, this Classic Film Series will continue. Oct. 21, 24, and 31 there will be a double feature of the original Dracula and Frankenstein films. On Nov. 11 and 14 they will be showing David Lean’s epic masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. And the last film currently on this year’s schedule is Miracle on 34th Street, which will be playing Dec. 9 and 12. Go to the Cineplex website <www.cineplex.com> for showtimes.
The six dollar ticket should be reason enough, but with 3D jacking ticket prices, and studios releasing more of the same broad-appeal stories, this Classic Film Series is clearly a worthwhile event.
I must admit that I have selfish motives. The Cineplex website has a full schedule through next Aug., and I desperately hope that the Galaxy will consider it worthwhile to continue hosting for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blazing Saddles, and Singin’ in the Rain. Therefore, if you have not been persuaded by the cheap ticket price, the great films, or the beautiful picture quality, then please be persuaded by a sense of charity to the film geeks like me who want to see these great films the way they were meant to be seen.