Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plaza Classic Film Festival 2009: An Introduction

 

It's good to see movies being shown at the Plaza Theater again. The first festival was sensational (although the Western-themed opening light show did get on my nerves after the fifth time). In any case, we're at it again, and I intend to report on the films I see. Last year, it was seven. This year, I've got tickets to four already. If all goes well, I might go for nine! I really should ask for vacation time in early August.

What's great about the festival is that people get a chance to be exposed to GREAT films in a great setting. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have nothing against multiplexes. However, they strip away some of the elegance that there was to seeing a movie. Movies used to be an event, something you did that was to be savored. Today, it seems the most important thing is how much money a film made the first week-end, as if the total it takes in equals the quality. Seeing a movie in a Movie Palace like the Plaza and seeing it in a multiplex is like the difference between making love and having sex: both are the same activity, but the first involves passion, the second merely mechanics.

 

It's unfortunate that too many people nowadays have been robbed of a true Movie Watching Experience. Places like the Plaza Theater remind people that once, not too long ago, the cinema wasn't a place where one sat passively and let the images ooze into your brain. Rather, YOU became a participant in the joys, pains, struggles, and/or triumphs of the characters on the screen. We laughed WITH the Marx Brothers, wept WITH Davis & Crawford, sang & danced WITH Mickey & Judy, fell in love WITH and ALONGSIDE Bogart & Bacall.

Think on 1940: an audience could laugh about Hitler via Chaplin (The Great Dictator), rage or sympathize (even empathize) against the injustice that the Joad family struggled against (The Grapes of Wrath), and/or tremble as the fearsome Mrs. Danvers tormented the second Mrs. DeWinter (Rebecca). Will one have the same emotional connection to Optimus Prime as one can have with any of the above? I doubt it.

Yes, I might be a touch prejudiced in this matter, but I get the sense that the films that will be shown at the Plaza these eleven days are great because they allow for audience participation (and in the case of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the participation is quite literal). Even the more recent fare (such as The Terminator and Alien) rank among the greatest made because they follow one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Creating Empathetic Characters Will Almost Always Guarantee a Great Film. One can enjoy a movie with no real value (I, for example, am unrepentant about liking Eurotrip and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Don't even get me started on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians). However, I recognize they aren't in the same league as Some Like It Hot, Roman Holiday, Vertigo, Cabaret, or The Hidden Fortress.

That leads me to my second point. These films should be seen by everyone, and to those who've never seen them but are going to, you're in for a real treat. You'll discover movies can be good AS WELL AS fun. Tragically, many people won't go, not because they can't but because they don't "want to be bored". They've judged something without even knowing what it is they're condemning. I've actually heard all the following complaints verbatim:

"Some Like It Hot? A black-and-white movie with a bunch of dead people in it?" (For the record, as of this writing Tony Curtis is very much alive).
 
"Roman Holiday, that's a chick-flick, but I bet it's not as good as Made of Honor".

"The 400 Blows? Sounds like a porno (he-he). The Hidden Fortress? That sounds interesting, though. What? Both are NOT IN ENGLISH?! Then I'm DEFINITELY NOT watching those! I can't watch a movie AND read subtitles AT THE SAME TIME!" (Curious, that never stopped anyone from watching The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II. Funny that).

Frankly my dears, I don't give a damn. Those who think this, in my view, are narrow-minded and stupid. "Look at me; I can bench-press my weight, but I'm scared of Liza Minnelli! I'm so frightened of kids speaking French!" Wimps. Free your mind/and the rest will follow. Well, c'est la vie.

For myself, I hope to enjoy movies I've loved on the BIG screen, and maybe discover one or two I have only heard about.  I look forward to this year's Plaza Classic Film Festival, and many more.

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