An ex-projectionist and armchair
film critic reminisces...
My first cinematic experience
was in 1968 when, at the formative age of 6, I was taken to see the original
Planet of the Apes. In the darkness of the theater,
I was awestruck at how I was transported to an imaginary world, then magically
returned to reality after two hours.
I craved the cinematic experience
for the next decade, but as a child, was only seldom afforded the opportunity
to go. At an early multiplex, I once sneaked up the stairs and peered
into a dimly lit projection booth, to marvel at the film chugging through
the projectors at 24 frames per second.
my 16th birthday, with driver's license in hand and eligible for after-school
work, I applied for a $2.16/hour part-time job as usher at (now defunct)
Turnpike Cinema in Fairfax, Virginia. When the elderly couple who managed
the place offered to train me to run projectors, I eagerly accepted. Turnpike
Cinema's booth was so old, it still had the firescreens attached to strings,
to be released if the film caught fire. (Very early films were highly
flammable.) The booth had two projectors, which alternated 20-minute reels
six times or so throughout any given showing. Inside a projector, high-voltage
electricity sparked a carbon arc lamp, which reflected off a parabolic
mirror to shine light through the film, projecting the movie over the
heads of the audience and out onto the screen.
A mechanical bell would chime
toward the end of a given reel, signaling "get ready for changeover."
If the alternate projector wasn't threaded up in advance, the audience
saw the dreaded 5-4-3-2-1, then white screen. But 20 minutes is plenty
of time to thread the next reel, so it was then a matter of watching for
two changeover marks to roll by in the upper right corner of the screen.
(Watch for these, when you see your next movie.) First mark, roll the
film and open the shudder. Second mark, flip the changeover switch. With
practice, these changeovers were so seamless, the audience never noticed.
the way, I dedicate this webpage to the drive-in
movie theater, an institution sacred to yesterday's teenagers, but
sadly unknown to today's. I'd frequent the (now defunct, replaced by a
Costco and a Home Depot) Super-29 Drive-In less than a mile from my home.
After graduating high school,
I went off to college in Boulder, Colorado, where projectionists were
unionized. I scored a better paying job as relief projectionist for various
theaters, including the giant Flatirons Theater on University Hill, a
(now defunct) Art Cinema on Boulder Mall, the (also now defunct) Holiday
Drive-In on the outskirts of town, campus screenings, and others. These
more modern projection booths featured "platters," where all
reels of a given movie were spliced together into one continuous strip
of film, requiring only one projector per theater. Xenon bulbs replaced
the old carbon arc lamps. With more modern equipment, my job generally
became easier. At least, no more changeovers!
exception to this was the drive-in, which could suffer sudden mechanical
failures. Drive-in speakers are wired like Christmas tree lights, where
an outage in one speaker will affect all speakers from that point forward.
The projectionist only knows of a problem when, you guessed it, everybody
starts honking their horns. I'd hustle out to the horn-honking area with
screwdriver in hand, locate the offending speaker, and perform on-the-spot
open heart surgery. Cheers indicated success.
The experience not only paid
my way through college, it exposed me to many hundreds of films I wouldn't
otherwise have seen. After showing Reds or Raiders
of the Lost Ark all summer long, I knew the script by heart,
but still discovered nuances every time I saw the film. Others would be
part of a rapidly changing Art Cinema calendar where, like with Quadrophenia
or Gallipoli, I'd be forever moved after seeing them
Having handled so much film with
my fingers, I relate to it on a visceral level, as a mechanic would a
car, or as a doctor would a body. Movies have profoundly influenced me,
including the foreign travels I embarked upon, my musical preferences,
my spiritual and political beliefs, my understanding of individual and
societal weakness, my choice of career and spouse... basically, every
decision I've ever made in life, adding up to who I am today. Cinema is
an art medium like no other.
Having such a lifetime bond to
the cinema, it may surprise you to hear that I have vowed never to set
foot inside a movie theater again! I just got fed up with the mobile phones
going off in the audience, exorbitant ticket prices, shoddy projection
work (out-of-frame or out-of-focus), audience members talking during the
movie, perfumed audience members, the disgusting smell of buttered popcorn
(which I never did like), lax management and staff, serious scratches
running the entire length of a reel, etc. The quality of a cinema experience,
always patchy, has dropped like a rock in recent years. So what was my
solution? I got a 34-inch 16:9 flatscreen television with a DVD player
and a Netflix subscription. Now, I knock over movies in the comfort of my own living room.
So without further ado, I present
my diverse collection of favorites. They are in alphabetical order, since
I couldn't possibly rank-order them. It's biased toward small-time foreign
art films, tragic endings, corporate responsibility, triumph-over-adversity,
and post black-and-white era films. The list is obviously work-in-progress.
Love or hate
Mel Gibson, this film is spectacular in its costumes, make-up,
cinematography, and set design. Also, very ambitious, being acted
entirely in an ancient Yucatan Mayan language. Rife with
historical inaccuracies. For starters, Mayan civilization fell centuries
before the arrival of Conquistadors. It's unlikely they'd locate an open
mass grave so close to crops. And tribes within walking distance
of a city would surely have known about it. But hey, artistic
Director Ron Fricke comments,
"I really believe that we are connected to everything, that in
a sense, I've been invited here to this planet just like you and everyone
else has, and life didn't ask anybody to approve of a guest list."
educator challenges system. To think how far this actor has progressed...
from Mork & Mindy "Nanu, Nanu" sitcom rubbish of the
late 70s, to fine flicks like this. Who would have guessed?
Jean-Dominique Bauby, charismatic editor of French magazine Elle,
suffered a massive stroke rendering his brain stem inactive. After 20
days in coma, he awoke to find himself mentally alert and with
imagination and memory intact, but a prisoner inside his own body.
He used his only means of communicating with the outside world, blinking
alphabetic code with his left eye, to write a book about his experience.
author of Last Exit to Brooklyn and the director of Pi
create bizarre, surreal, dark, and overlapping tales of addiction and its
consequences. Parents, see the unedited version with your teenagers.
Perrin comments,"For eighty million
years, birds have ruled the skies, seas and earth. Each spring, they fly
vast distances. Each fall, they fly the same route back. This film is
the result of four years following their amazing odysseys, in the
northern hemisphere and then the south, species by species, flying over
seas and continents."
"Gone with the Wind" stole all the Oscars that year. (Another good
reason not to watch the Oscars!)
available on "full screen" (4:3), not widescreen format.
Interesting Connections from Above:
Adrian Lyne directed both 9½ Weeks(1986) and Fatal Attraction(1987).
Al Pacino acted in
The Godfather, Part II(1974), Scarface(1983), Glengarry Glen Ross(1992),
and The Insider(1999).
Brad Pitt acted in both Thelma and Louise(1991) and True Romance(1993).
Charlie Sheen (who acted in Wall Street) made several Super-8
films with then schoolmate Rob Lowe (who acted in
Christopher Walken acted in both
True Romance(1993) and
Daniel Auteuil a acted in Jean de Florette(1986), Manon of the Spring(1986),
and The Widow of Saint Pierre(2000).
Denholm Eliot acted in both Raiders of the Lost Ark(1981) and The Razor's Edge(1984)
Ethan Hawke acted in both Dead Poets Society(1989) and
Snow Falling on Cedars(1999).
George Lucas directed Star Wars(1977) and co-produced Raiders of the Lost Ark(1981).
George Miller directed The Road Warrior(1981), produced Babe(1995), and
did the screenplay for both. (Imagine that!)
GuGus van Sant, Jr. directed both To Die
For(1995) and Good Will Hunting(1997).
Harrison Ford acted in both Star Wars(1977) andRaiders of the Lost Ark(1981).
Harvey Keitel acted in Thelma and Louise(1991),
The Piano(1993), and Pulp Fiction(1994).
Helen Mirren (who acted in Pascali's
Island) married Taylor Hackford (who directed
An Officer and a Gentleman).
Hugo Weaving acted in Proof(1991) and did the voice of Rex the
Male Sheepdog in Babe(1995).
Jack Nicholson acted in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest(1975), The Shining(1980),
acted as the adult Salvatore in Cinema Paradiso(1988) and directed Winged Migration(2001).
James Cromwell acted in
both Babe(1995) and Snow
Falling on Cedars(1999).
James Dearden wrote
and directed Pascali's Island(1988).
Jennifer Connelly acted in both Requiem for a Dream(2000) and Blood Diamond(2006).
Jocelyn Moorhouse (who directed Proof) is married to
Hogan (who directed Muriel's Wedding), having met at film school
John Hurt acted in both Midnight Express
(1978) and The Elephant Man(1980).
John Barry composed soundtracks for
Body Heat(1981),Frances(1982), and
Dances with Wolves(1990).
John Giedgud acted in both
The Elephant Man(1980) and
John Williams composed
soundtracks for Star Wars(1977),
Raiders of the Lost Ark(1981), and
Jonathan Demme directed both
Something Wild(1986) and
Swimming to Cambodia(1987).
Julianne Moore (who acted in Safe) and
Michael Moore (who
acted in and directed Roger and Me, and appeared in The
Corporation) are not related.
Max von Sydow acted in both
Snow Falling on Cedars(1999) and The Diving Bell
and the Butterfly(2007).
Mel Gibson acted in Gallipoli(1981) and directed Apocalypto(2006).
Michael Douglas acted in
Fatal Attraction(1987),Wall Street(1987),and The Game(1997).
Michael Moore directed Roger and Me(1989) and appeared in
Michael Nyman composed soundtracks for both
and The Piano(1993).
Miloš Forman directed both One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
Nicole Kidman acted in both To Die
Quentin Tarantino did the screenplay for
True Romance(1993), and
directed Pulp Fiction(1994).
Oliver Stone did the screenplay for both Midnight Express (1978)
and Scarface(1983), and
directed both Wall Street(1987) and
Peter Wier directed The Last Wave(1977), Gallipoli(1981), and Dead Poets Society(1989).
Philip Glass composed soundtracks
for for both Powaqqatsi(1988) and Kundun(1997).
wrote the screenplay for True Romance
(1993), and co-wrote and directed Pulp Fiction(1994).
Rebecca de Mornay acted in both Risky Business(1983) and The Trip to
Ridley Scott directed both Alien(1979) and Thelma and Louise(1991).
Robert Duvall acted in The Godfather (1972), The Godfather,
Robert Duvall and
Dustin Hoffman are close friends since their
struggling actor days, and once roomed together while looking for
Robert Duvall is not related to
Shelley Duvall, although her
father is named Robert.
Robert Richardson was
cinematographer for Wall Street
(1987), JFK(1991), and
Snow Falling on Cedars(1999).
Robin Williams acted in both Dead Poets Society(1989) and Good Will Hunting(1997).
Russell Crowe acted in both Proof (1991)and The Insider(1999).
Samuel L. Jackson acted in both
Pulp Fiction(1994) and
The Red Violin(1997).
Sean Penn acted in The Game(1997) and directed
Into the Wild(2007).
Sean Penn co-owns a Parisian restaurant-bar with
(who acted in The Object of Beauty)
called "Man Ray."
Stephen King wrote books from which The Shining(1980) and
The Shawshank Redemption(1994)were adapted.
Tom Cruise acted in both Risky Business(1983)and Rain Man(1988).
Tom Hanks acted in both Forrest Gump(1994)and Charlie Wilson's War (2007), and
for Woody in Toy Story(1995) and Toy
Story, Part 2(1999).
Tony Scott (director of True Romance) is brother of Ridley
Scott (director of Alien and Thelma and Louise).
William Baldwin (who acted in Glengarry Glen Ross) married and
divorced Kim Basinger (who acted in
William Hurt acted in both Body Heat(1981) andInto the Wild(2007).
William Hurt and
John Hurt are not
William Pohlad co-directed The Object of Beauty(1991) and co-produced Into the Wild(2007).
Powaqqatsi (1988) and
Baraka(1993) are both non-verbal films (i.e.,
contain no dialog).
Swimming to Cambodia(1987) deals with actor
experience on the set of The Killing Fields(1984).
Actors Alec Guiness,
John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins,
Kingsley, John Hurt,
Julie Walters, and
Denholm Elliot have all been knighted.
Alan Parker, Ridley Scott, and
William Pohlad have all been knighted.
And the award goes
Babe, Bad Boy Bubby, , Breaker Morant,Cane Toads,
Gallipoli, The Last Wave, Muriel's Wedding,
The Piano, Proof, The Road
Warrior (plus directors like Peter Weir,Jane Campion, and Scott Hicks;
cinematographers like Dean Semler; actors like
Nicole Kidman, Russell
Crowe, and Toni Collette, etc.
The Last Wave (1977), Gallipoli (1981), Witness (1985), The Mosquito Coast (1986),
Dead Poets Society (1989), Greencard (1990)
Shine (1996), Snow Falling on Cedars
The Player (1992),
Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco
The Graduate (1967),
Midnight Cowboy (1969),
Straw Dogs (1971), Papillon (1973),
All the President's Men (1974),
Marathon Man (1976),
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979),
Death of a Salesman (1985),
Rain Man (1988)
Easy Rider (1967),
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975),
The Shining (1980),
A Few Good Men (1992)
Lon Chaney, Sr.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The
Phantom of the Opera (1925), Mr. Wu (1927) ... Died of lung cancer at age 47.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Before the Devil Knows you're Dead (2007),
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Max von Sydow
The Seventh Seal (1957), The Exorcist
(1973), Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)
Haley Joel Osment, Keanu Reeves, Macaulay Culkin, Patrick Swayze,
Paul Hogan, Tom Selleck
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Sophie's Choice (1982),
Silkwood (1983), Out of Africa (1985), A Cry in
the Dark (1988)
Dead Calm (1989),
To Die For (1995),
Moulin Rouge (2001),
Birthday Girl (2001)
actors I personally can't stand
Who foresaw Jeff Spicoli maturing to be a
powerhouse director chairing the Cannes Festival jury?
I watched Crowe during the 90s in
Australian movie theaters... Proof(1991),
Spotswood(1992), Romper Stomper(1992), Hammers over the Anvil(1993), The Sum of Us(1994),
again, who would have guessed?
Talented but somewhat unidimensional
David Duchovny, John Cusack,
Spacey, Richard Gere
by Dean Semler
Cinematic maestro from South Australia.
by Ron Fricke
And in 70mm, too. Gorgeous.
Dances with Wolves
by Dean Semler
Obviously, the best cinematographer to ever walk the
by Chris Menges
I need to visit Iguasu Falls!
The Road Warrior
by Dean Semler
Whether it's sweeping vistas or high-speed pursuits in
jalopies, Dean is the man!
Falling on Cedars
by Robert Richardson
What a stunningly gorgeous piece of film-making this is!
by Robert Rodriguez
Somebody did a count of the number of individual cuts
which make up this film. Lots!
by Hank Corwin,
No wonder it took 3 editors to piece this legendary
by Marina Rodbyl
Screens embedded one within another, fancy
cursive script rolling across the screen. Stunning.
Snow Falling on Cedars
by Hank Corwin
Weaves 3 stories perfectly.
Could have been cheesy and sleazy given the subject
matter. Lighting made it downright artistic.
Snow Falling on Cedars
Atmospheric. Whether indoors or outdoors, the lighting
is rich and ideal to the scene.
by Michael Nyman
A modern musical masterpiece which ranks alongside
anything a classical composer ever wrote.
by The Who
Based on a1973 rock opera by Pete Townshend.
Best Set Design /
by Carlos Benassini
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
by Harry Pottle
by Roger Christian
The Wizard of Oz
by Edwin B. Willis
Best Non-Verbal Films
Shot at 152 locations in 24 countries.
An exploration of technologically developing nations
and the effect the transition to Western-style modernization has had on
Movies I showed as projectionist
in theaters (which
are on my Favorites List today)
The Atomic Cafe(1982),
The Elephant Man(1980),
The Last Wave(1977), Midnight Express(1978),
Quadrophenia(1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981),
Reds (1981), The Road Warrior (1981)
Movies I saw at international
film festivals (which
are on my Favorites List today)
Jean de Florette(1986),
Manon of the Spring(1986),
Roger and Me(1989),
Sister my Sister(1994)
Movies which feature my
The Blue Max
A WWI fighter pilot named "Bauer" is featured on the
German squadron's tally board.
Dances with Wolves
Sgt. Bauer (portrayed by Larry Joshua) beats Lt. John
Dunbar (Kevin Costner) while transporting him to his execution
at Fort Sedgwick. (I was born in Sedgwick County, Kansas.)
Driving Miss Daisy
Miss Daisy (portrayed by Jessica Tandy) instructs
chauffer Hoke (Morgan Freeman) to locate a gravestone which reads
Tom Hanks and John Candy portray brothers Allen and
Pure celluloid poetry. God, I envy whoever got to shoot
Who would have expected a film this beautiful from the
same director as Eraserhead?
The Killing Fields
Why is genocide still happening in the world after
masterpiece movies like this?
Loosely based on a true story
OK, you found it... my #1 greatest film of all time.
Jane Campion, you nailed it!
I saw the trailer for this at a Who concert in 1979.
The ultimate teen angst film. Very classy.
Falling on Cedars
Every aspect of this film came together magically.
Alan J. Pakula
I sat there, stunned, for several minutes after
watching this on a
13" black & white TV in college.
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