Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Film # 68: Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines: 70 mm (Aug 31)

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes

1965, 138 min.
Directed by Ken Annakin

First, I gotta say it out loud. You're probably thinking it, anyway. Is that title really necessary? That's a mouthful to say (or type). I will give it credit for one thing, however. A title like that lets me know what kind of movie I would be watching. I made no mistake. This was another 70 mm presentation, but I'm sure no one will confuse it with West Side Story or Lawrence of Arabia.

It's not really an epic film or even a grand film. Director Ken Annakin (not Skywalker) here has crafted a "big comedy," like Around The World in 80 Days or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The plot is rather simple. It's essentially a race movie, although I must say the movie's beginning showed promise. In place of an overture, there was a prologue demonstrating man's pursuit of flight. Many futile attempts are shown throughout history, skillfully blending archival footage with closeups of "the common man" (all played by Red Skelton). The sequence was amusing and set the proper tone, but then... the opening credits started, a mix of dippy animation and a truly horrendous title song. I felt my spirits sink as the title sequence carried on. It was like witnessing a crash at take-off.

The film gets back on track once the story begins. Set in 1910, a newspaper mogul, Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), announces a race from London to Paris across the English Channel with a prize of £10,000. Although sure to rise international interest, he fully expects an Englishman to win the race. After all, Britannia should establish their supremacy of the skies as well as the sea. And Rawnsley has pinned his hopes on a young lad named Richard Mays (James Fox), who has been courting his daughter, Patricia (Sarah Miles).

Before long, folks come from all over the globe to compete. Pilots arrive from Japan, Germany, France, Italy and of course, the United States. All are basically caricatures of their nationalities. I found it amusing that the American pilot, Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman), was a denim-clad portrait of a cowboy. I guess that's what foreign countries think we're like. Good thing we had leaders like Ronald Reagan and the Bushes to dispel that misconception, right?

Even before the race begins, a rivalry begins between Mays and Newton. Mind you, they don't fight over the pending race, but over Rawnsley's daughter. Really? HER? A love triangle develops between the Englishman, the annoying Patricia, and the American who looks like an extra from TV's "Gunsmoke." I guess the pickings on the British isles are slim, because Patricia is not appealing at all. She's spoiled, screechy, fickle, and resembles Rachel Dratch. Surely, these two guys can do better. Maybe not Elizabeth Hurley caliber, but perhaps a gal who looks like Kate Winslet would be more than alright in my book. Move on, guys.

Granted, this love triangle is about as complex as the film gets. It's a simple delight, and can't take any of it too seriously. The humor is abundant, but I'd say only about half is actually funny. Don't get me wrong. There are laughs, but too many obvious setups that undermine many more potential chuckles. Honestly, there's a sewage treatment plant located next to the practice air field? That's convenient for some laughs, if you're the kind of person who thinks falling in feces is funny. Hey, if you do, there's a few scenes you'll love.

I'll tell you what is fun in a movie like this, though. Booing and hissing the bad guy. And oh, does this movie have a good one. "Good" meaning "really bad." Er, well, you know what I mean. Another British racer, Sir Percy intends to win by any means necessary. And, oh, is he a nasty piece of work. From his first appearance, you just know he's the villain of the film, mostly because he has that treacherous mustache. In fact, a strange thing occurred to me as I was watched this scoundrel in action. I was reminded of an old cartoon from my youth that concerned racing. It also had an aeronautical villain in it, with a pilot's helmet, goggles and a mustachioed appearance as well. Making a mental note, I looked it up on my phone during the intermission, and discovered this guy...
His name was Dirk Dastardly, and that dog is his henchman, Muttley. They appeared in a cartoon called "Wacky Races" in the late 1960s. I figured this may have been the influence of Those Magnificent Men..., and when I dug deeper, I saw that they had a spinoff toon called... wait for it... "Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines."

Well, I guess that settles that. No wonder it all seemed so familiar, and so juvenile. Sorry, for that tangent, but I felt it was worth mentioning. If nothing else, it proves that this film is very much a cartoon come to life, and not like that terrible and hyperkinetic Speed Racer from a few years back. I'd actually let kids watch Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines without fear of an epileptic seizure.

The portrayals of the pilots and their crews are surprisingly one of the funniest things about the film. Miraculously, it's done without being offensive in racial stereotypes. I particularly got a kick out of the Germans. they come off as total clowns here, slaves to structure, pomp and circumstance. As the film drew to a close, though, I couldn't help but think that, in this timeline, the Germans were über-pissed at being made the fools. So much so, they took it out by escalating World War I a few years later. Gee, thanks a lot, Lord Rawnsley. You were responsible for this conflict, which later gave way to the rise of Hitler and then World War II. Bravo. William Randolph Hearst would be proud. As would Rupert Murdoch and his church of latter-day yellow journalism.

All jokes aside, I found many questions circulating in my head as the film progressed. Why is that one lady playing seven different roles? How the hell is that thing going to fly (I asked this numerous times)? Did I just see Benny Hill? Why is the French anthem "Frère Jacques?" Who decided the Japanese pilot needed a British accent? Most of all, WHY was this movie filmed in 70 mm format? The spectacle of the aerial photography seems a lot smaller when attached to such a juvenile screenplay. I felt like it was using high-end paint and airbrushes for a mere coloring book.

Oh well, I can't really bash the film, because it ultimately is quite harmless. It's silly entertainment, and a prime candidate for a movie to sit kids in front of while you watching after them (perhaps more so if they're boys). They'll dig on the planes and goofy humor, and the film is over 2 hours long. That way, you will have time to nap or make a meal or catch up on Facebook. Like a junk food snack, Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines is big on flavor but light on nutrition. As empty entertainment it is magnificent, but as a film it never soars to great heights.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Film # 67: Lawrence of Arabia: 70 mm (Aug 29)

Lawrence of Arabia

1962, 218 min.
Directed by David Lean

We are in the final days of this year's incredible Summer Film Fest, and it appears they have saved some of the best for last. I had talked to many who informed me that the 70mm screenings are their favorites from the previous years, and I'm beginning to agree with them. Seeing West Side Story in 70mm was an amazing experience, and tonight's was to be the litmus test. An epic like Lawrence of Arabia should look absolutely incredible in this format. Needless to say, expectations were very high for tonight's screening.

Full writeup of the films is a work in progress...
Check back soon for the complete blog entry!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Film # 66: West Side Story: 70mm (Aug 26)

West Side Story

1961, 151 min.
Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

with AIDS Services of Austin Happy Hour

Thursday marked one of the last events for the Summer Film Series at The Paramount. Before the screening of West Side Story on that day, there was a Happy Hour, brought to us by AIDS Services of Austin. The special admission ticket allowed access to the pre-show party (held next door at The State Theatre), which was complete with popcorn, soda, specialty champagne cocktails, a photo booth and all kinds of treats. Now, would your intrepid blogger go to such an event without his trusty camera to document? Not a chance. I was there, snapping away. Observe:

It was a fun time, and there was a lot to take in. In the photos you will see the healthy crowd that showed up, and the displays. There were simply incredible cupcakes by Austin's own Delish, and refreshments at the bar to go around. AIDS Services of Austin had information about their upcoming "Dining for Life" event, and the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival (or, aGLIFF) also had a table with information.

I'd have to say one of the cuter things I've seen in a while were the "Pride Socks" for sale. Set up at a table, they had wonderful colorful socks of all shapes and sizes. the girlfriend and I picked up a few pairs: two for kiddos and one for her. What more can I say? They're tres cool.

After about a half hour of taking in the sights and socializing, it was getting close to the start of the movie. Walking back into The Paramount, we were astonished to see the large crowds. There were even more people attending the screening than I anticipated. A hole in front of the men's room downstairs wasn't deterring anyone from coming to witness this film in 70mm glory.

One thing I absolutely love about about seeing a movie in theaters is getting to experience the overture in front of classic films. Shortly after we took our seats, the overture started, and the house lights went to a half dim. Patrons found their places and the musical medley enveloped over us all, whetting our appetites for the dish to come. When the title sequence began, I was practically salivating.

I'll admit I had never seen West Side Story before tonight, so I had no idea I was in for such a treat. I was familiar with many different films from director Robert Wise, but my mind could not grasp how his style would fit into a sing and dance musical (I also have not seen The Sound of Music, by the way). Would it work? Could the man who made The Day The Earth Stood Still (NOT the Keanu crappy remake), The Haunting (again, the original), Run Silent, Run Deep and The Andromeda Strain possibly craft a musical?

The answer is a resounding"hell, yes." A modern (for the time period) retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, it is quite simply the most ambitious and grand musical I've ever seen.

West Side Story introduces the audience to a neighborhood run by the Jets and the Sharks, two rival gangs. Basically the allegiance of the gangs depend upon one's ethnicity, since neither seems to have a leg up on the other from a socioeconomical standpoint. The Jets are a bunch of white kids led by a guy named Riff, and the Sharks are a gang of Puerto Ricans run by a guy named Bernardo. They all battle each other constantly except for when they're feeling harassed by the cops. Funny how they all play nice then. Both sides agree, however, that a big rumble should take place to establish supremacy of one or the other.

Now, as luck would have it, two people from opposite sides of the Jets/Sharks rivalry strike up an unexpected romance. Maria (Natalie Wood) is Bernardo's little sister, and falls for Tony (Richard Beymer), the best friend of Riff and former member of The Jets (the gang, not the NFL football team). Tony seems harmless enough, with his toothy grin and wardrobe that makes him look like a Century 21 real estate agent. But there is a great deal of concern for the two lovers. The strife between the warring factions may be too great to overcome; so they see each other in secret, avoiding exposure. Amidst all the singing and dancing, the situations grow more tense and threaten to break under the strain.

Watching the film, one thing that surprised me was that I was already familiar with most every song in the soundtrack. It was unexpected, and often very relieving. A "thank goodness 'Somewhere' wasn't originally done by Barbara Streisand" kind of relief. In addition, I had heard "I'm so pretty," "America," "A Boy Like That," and a couple of others as well.

But the familiarity wasn't limited to the songs alone. The crater left by West Side Story on American pop culture is deep indeed. I had watched references to the film in a million different shows without ever being the wiser. Off the top of my head, I could see this movie's influence on two Michael Jackson videos ("Beat It" and "Bad") as well as direct references in a Nike commercial featuring Maria Sharapova, an episode of "Friends" where Kathleen Turner played Chandler's transgender dad, and the rumble scene in Anchorman. Heck, I even remember Larry David carrying on about the "Officer Krupke" song in the last season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Oh, but what about the film itself? I thought it was fantastic. First and foremost, it was absolutely gorgeous to look at in the restored 70 mm print. It blew my mind how good this looked. The colors were so vivid that I could've sworn this was filmed this year in some digital IMAX ultra super-duper process in HD. A few times, I'd lose myself in the environment instead of the story. "Wow," I thought, "look at her window. It's like a box of crayolas!" Quite simply, it was beautiful. The superb direction by Wise only added to the process.

The performances are also top notch, but I found the Sharks are much more interesting as a demographic and in their characterization. Rita Moreno (an Oscar winner for this role) is great in her role as Bernardo's love interest, Anita; providing wisdom and a dark counterpoint to young Maria's newfound romance. And since I had just seen George Shakiris in The Young Girls of Rochefort a couple of weeks back, I was thrilled to see him in his Oscar-winning performance here (as best supporting actor). And, well... I've said it before, but it bears saying again, How great was Natalie Wood? Seems like everything she's touched turns to gold. Although I had difficulty buying her Latina accent at first (it at times sounded a bit like a "South Park" episode about Jennifer Lopez), she quickly won me over. She puts a stamp on heartache unlike any other actress I've ever seen. And since this is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, you know some bad things are in store.

From a sociological standpoint, West Side Story could probably fill a couple of textbooks. Of course, there are obvious topics like the class struggle that is subdivided between the two races, and the empty promise of their American life. I found it amusing also that the "Officer Krupke" song was a laundry list of excuses regarding the causes and treatments of maladjusted juvenile behavior. However, I was most taken by the gender roles depicted in the film. Yes, it was period accurate in regards to social differences of men and women that were expected. But what caught my eye was the strength of the female's roles in the picture, while the men seemed almost emasculated in their depiction (and lack of control). Although shackled by more weighty societal expectation, I could see that the young women (particularly Anita and Maria) seem more willing to try to take control of their destinies. Even a tomboyish little sister of The Jets wants to get involved in an attempt to stave off her own feeling of helplessness (but, alas, is always being sent home). The boys, however, behave in a more reactionary manner. Their actions reek of such desperation and disenchantment that street cred is all they have to live for. It's frustrating to see such self-destructive acts, and the feeling of powerlessness help feed the inevitable sense of tragedy that you see unfold.

As I try to keep my comments short, I feel I can not express the power of this film. Even the knowledge of Shakespeare's original story (a reeeeal bummer) can't dilute the joy of the songs and dancing. The choreography and the fluid camera movements make the screen come alive. It's all so incredibly dazzling and filled with exclamation. My senses were overwhelmed by the visual extravaganza of West Side Story. For never was a story of more whoooa, than this of a Juliet and her Romeo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Film # 65: Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Aug 24)

Mr. Hulot's Holiday

1954, 83 min.
Directed by Jacques Tati

Although not a double feature night, I was watching two films on Tuesday, the 24th. Thematically there were no real similarities, except for maybe neither was going to have spoken English in them. Sunrise was a silent film that had just ended minutes before, and next was a French comedy. Still feeling a bit drained emotionally from the silent film, I ventured downstairs to grab a drink and snap a few pictures of the tunneling taking place in the lobby. Although at first I was just intending to write a paragraph or two about the dig in this entry or the Sunrise entry, I realized that all of my jumbled ideas could warrant a separate entry. A crazy, manic kind of blog that took a life all its own. Digging into my messenger bag and taking out my notebook, I scribbled furiously until the next feature began.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday promised to be much lighter fare. It's a minimalist comedy about some vacationers at a beach resort. As the film begins it spends some time leisurely introducing us to several of the characters, many of whom can't seem to put aside their work or politics long enough to enjoy themselves. I mean, God forbid one actually relaxes on their vacation, huh? Comment terrible, non?

Some are enjoying themselves the best they can, socializing, playing cards or the like. Enter Mr. Hulot himself (played by writer/director Jacques Tati), a pipe-smoking Frenchman also there to enjoy a summer respite. Although unintentional, he steps in like a force of nature. Once he arrives, forecast goes from sunny to partly clumsy with a chance of calamity.

Hulot is, to put it delicately, a bit of a klutz. Give this man a wide berth, because most things that he touches ends up broken or disheveled. Never malicious in his mischief, he's more like a wide-eyed child that reminded me of classic clowns from the silent film era. Chaplain, Keaton, Lloyd; you know the type. In many ways, it's like watching Disney's Goofy in a live-action setting. The comedy, because of the large numbers of vacationers in many of the shots, is clearly meticulously choreographed. Hulot's misadventures on the beach are a precursor of the comedic style we are familiar with from more modern bumblers like Mr. Bean, Inspector Clouseau, or Kramer from "Seinfeld."

Now, when I referred to the comedy as "minimalist" earlier, I didn't mean that the laughs were few. It's the style that I was actually referencing. Dialogue is at a minimum, and the atmosphere is driven by a combination of sight gags and ambient background noise. Mr. Hulot's Holiday is like a hybrid of silent and sound films.

There's a bit of social commentary to be found in the film also. Combing this beach will reveal some hidden treasures of critique on the modern society. The scenes where the portly businessman is constantly taking calls from his stock broker made me grin. I just couldn't help thinking of all those people who can't unplug themselves today (like those who constantly text). Is this what technology has wrought? All of the wifi in the world hasn't helped most of us become untethered from our responsibilities. If anything, it's become more intrusive. Why can't we just relax (as Frankie Goes to Hollywood would say)? Why not just simply let go of things and enjoy a vacation? Relaxation is not just another job to multitask. I couldn't help but think Tati would find the irony even more hilarious and relevant today than back then.

At it's heart, Mr. Hulot's Holiday is a silly piece of film, but has a good deal of charm. The use of the jazzy little number "Quel temps fait-il à Paris" for practically every scene gets old rather quickly, but damn if it isn't catchy. It's likely still playing in my head as your read this. In a way, this is a microcosm of the film's experience. The movie is a bit repetitive in throwing out sight gags and improbable scenes one after the other, but you can't stop grinning. It's like eating a whole meal of nothing but dessert. I know I shouldn't keep eating these sweets, but- huh? Why, yes! More please!

On this beach, Tati makes his own little sand castle of a movie, and it's fun to watch him play. One thing I found interesting was the foreword before the film, explaining that Tati himself re-tweaked the film by editing numerous times over the years, and that this restored print was based on his final re-edit in 1978. I found it odd that something enjoyed by so many when it first came out would warrant a plethora of revisiting and re-assembly by its creator. And here I thought messing with popular movies was a more modern convention. But I guess that made Tati the first George Lucas, huh? Thank goodness, however, that Mr. Hulot was endearing to watch. I couldn't imagine tolerating this if the character was more like, say... Jar Jar Binks.

While I found the humor to be more ridiculous and silly than outright hilarious, I was nevertheless delighted by the gangly Mr. Hulot. Jacques Tati has constructed a comedy with the joy of clowns (without all the scary makeup), and a sense of minimalist efficiency right out of Ikea. It proves that, when done well, misadventures and clumsy antics can be a universal form of entertainment. Mr. Hulot's Holiday made for a light and refreshing experience at The Theatre that evening. The title character may a bit of a mess, but the film itself is no disaster. I left with a smile as big as la lune and as warm as le soleil.

Film # 64: Sunrise (Aug 24)


1927, 87 min.
Directed by F.W. Murnau

Approximately 60 days ago, I didn't even know this film existed. After watching Wings here at The Paramount earlier this summer, I did a little research because I knew that it won the first Best Picture Oscar in 1927 and wanted to know what it was up against. In the course of this investigation, I noticed that a film called Sunrise had won "Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production" while Wings won "Best Picture, Production." Reading further, I saw that it was a film directed by renown German director F.W. Murnau. That made me pause. You see, Murnau is the man responsible for years of my childhood trauma. At an obviously way-too early age, I watched Nosferatu and it scared the bejezzus out of me. To this day, when I try to watch the movie, I can still feel my pulse pound in my ears, my palms get sweaty, and I find myself holding my breath until I'm blue in the face. Knowing that I was about to partake of another film by the man who created my nightmare fuel, I was hoping it would not be another horrifying experience.

Sunrise is a silent movie, and is now one of the more powerful films I have ever seen. In many ways, it is a purely visual fable. All characters are without names, and title cards appear practically at a minimum. While there are few of these cards to provide scattered dialogue, at no point does the viewer seem lost. You know exactly what's going on at all times, and you can imagine dialogue in your mind. More importantly, you can feel every emotion the characters are going through. And boy, do they run the gamut; from depression and guilt to happiness and celebration.

The story starts out rather melancholy, painting a picture of a farmer and his wife that have drifted apart. It is said that they were once happy "like children," but now he is shown to be having an affair with another woman, leaving his wife and child alone in the dead of night to meet her. She is a woman from the city, and is a siren for the urban lifestyle, seducing him away from what has always been his home and emotional refuge.

In trying to seal the deal and claim him as her own, the woman from the city suggests that the farmer murder his wife by staging a fake boating accident. Wow, this is dark subject matter, I thought to myself. Shouldn't this have been in a film noir double feature? Although initially appalled at the thought, he quickly gives in and plots the killing. The next day, the wife is enthused at the prospect of a boat ride alone with her husband, eager to spend time with him again. She does note that something is off because of his abnormal behavior, and when he finally stops the boat and prepares to kill her... well, he just can't do it.

And that was just the first act. If I had to identify one overriding directoral tool that Murnau uses to perfection, I'd have to say it's the power of misdirection. After the scene of the attempted drowning at the conclusion of the first act, I had no clue where this story was going to take me.

I will say this, though. The rest of the film deals with the remainder of the evening between the married couple. Environments change and there are many scenes of mirth, silliness, and sentiment. I can safely say that after the first act I could never have predicted scenes of carnivals, weddings, barbershops, portrait sittings, and a drunken piglet.

That's right, I said "drunken piglet." In one of the most bizarre but humorous scenes in the movie, a pig escapes from a pen and runs rampant through several buildings, eventually ending up in a restaurant kitchen. Startling the chef into dropping a bottle of vino, the pig begins to lap it up off the floor. Take a look for yourself at the pictures on the left, including the closeup shot of the intoxicated swine. Like I said, it was unexpected and surreal, but I couldn't stop laughing as the pig was slipping and sliding around on the floor. When the piglet is finally corralled, it's a great moment for the jovial audience, and many around me expressed that joy by cheering at the big screen. Who knew a drunk pig could be so much fun?

Sunrise is a great time at the movies precisely because of the bold directions it takes, eventually becoming an allegory of what a marriage can be. Moments of the bitter and the sweet are found throughout, revealing itself to be a true rare gem of cinematic art.

Not to say that it became mere frivolity. The film is so gripping and emotional that at a few key moments I was driven to tears. Sunrise's power comes from several aspects. One of the first things that struck me was how beautiful the film was. It was originally released as "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans," and while I thought that was an incredibly pretentious title at first, I can see how it fits. There's a real sense of poetry and rhythm in the shots. With this restored print one can find many subtleties in the lighting and shadows, making this landmark film a true marvel to behold visually.

Technically, the film is amazing. Murnau uses several different visual and optical effects to augment the experience. Most are utilized during daydream or fantasy sequences, and nearly all hold up just as well today, eighty-plus years after this film was released. I was particularly moved by one sequence where the man and wife are walking down the street, oblivious to the world around them. In what must have been an optical effect that resembles a type of blue screen sequence, the setting around them dissolves to a countryside. It's serene and gorgeous, until a honking horn snaps the image back to the street setting. I still grin now thinking about its execution. Sunrise is full of moments this, with breathtaking visual effects that are never "showy" for their own sake. Each trick has a purpose, whether it's to ratchet up the emotion or augment an idea. In addition, the score and sound effects are also great supporting players, creating ambiance while always allowing the story and characters to carry the load.

I still find it curious that some people refuse to watch silent movies because they consider it an incomplete version of a film. That, to me, is one of the more ludicrous things I've ever heard. If anyone honestly believes that assertion, it must only be because they haven't witnessed what a properly made silent film can accomplish. Sunrise is such an example. I can easily seen how it merited such attention, even in the presence of an expensive and sprawling epic like Wings. Wow. 1927 must have been a great time to be alive and at the movie house. Sigh.

Murnau's Sunrise is very powerful stuff, and can make a romantic out of the most jaded viewer. I loved that a film's dark and moody first half can do an about face and become a tale of rejuvenation. Love is like a magic elixir in films like these, turning back the clock and making us appreciate what we are blessed with. What we do with our days and nights is our own call to make, but life has a way of reminding us that every flaw and mistake can be amended. A new beginning is found with every daybreak, and even the coldest heart can be warmed with the first rays of each sunrise.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cleaning the Pipes! (No, literally...)

It was Tuesday, and as I was procrastinating work early in the day I decided to check Facebook. Scrolling through, I see the usual stuff for this week. People hating their jobs, people talking about first week of school, etc. Grrr. Another farm game? How many times do I have to block this crap? All of a sudden, my eyes scan this:
Dude. What the? Did I just read that correctly?

I immediately assumed the worst. Was there some kind of cave-in or sinkhole? Did this happen when some guy flushed the toilet? Did this same poor schmuck on the john fall in? These were the kinds of questions filling my head.

Wait. There were two films screening tonight that I was planning to attend: Sunrise and Mr. Hulot's Holiday. Were they still going to show them? I check my e-mail to see if I've received any notice about the evening's screenings, and in my inbox is a message. It contains some info about what happened.

"At approximately 10AM this morning, construction crews began jack-hammering inside the Paramount Theatre.

That’s right! Work is being done to repair plumbing problems that require immediate attention. The carpeting outside of the downstairs men’s lounge at the Paramount Theatre has been pulled back and a hole is being drilled into the concrete floor in order to gain access to plumbing that is nearly 100 years old...

...During this time, all of our regular programming is still going on as scheduled. I’ll make sure to keep you updated with photos and information on this important project."

Jeez. That sounds serious. I know The Paramount is an old building, but it seems so well-equipped that I realized I took its delicacy for granted. In essence, the venue was just served with one of these.
When playing Monopoly, I haaaated drawing that card. I can only imagine how crappy it is to deal with this in real life. Mostly because I knew it wouldn't be cheap. My mind boggled at the concept of digging into the floor to first find the pipe to deal with a problem. In no way does that sound like a good time.

It seemed like a blind dig. Like looking for buried treasure or that jar of pennies you buried when you were a kid. Or perhaps archeology. Images swam in my head of an army of jackhammers plowing into decades of concrete, excavating untold rewards as they search for leaky plumbing. That concept of blind digging led my mind to an old video game from my youth: Dig Dug. For some reason, I remember I was obsessed with that game back in the day. Looking back now, I see the premise is completely absurd. A fake Smurf guy goes tunneling in the ground to kill dragons and something that I can only describe as a tennis ball with goggles. You can pick flowers and kill creatures with big rocks that look like a chocolate peanut cluster. Oh, and your only weapon was a bicycle pump that you hooked up to the critters and make them explode. Now that's effed up. How high was the person who came up with that one?

So after tracking down an emulator and playing Dig Dug for about an hour on my computer, I made my way to the theater. As I made my way to the seats, I passed by the downstairs men's room.

I was surprised at how nondescript it was. Now, I wasn't expecting the crew to still be hammering away (that would not exactly make an ideal environment for exhibition, would it?), but I guess I was expecting more debris or mess. All I saw was a plastic curtain over the doorway and a roped off area with "caution" tape (or "cuidado," if you prefer Spanish). Almost like the remnants of a crime scene, only without the chalk outline or... you know, a body. There was also a small sign posted. I leaned in to read the print.

Ah. Well that's yet another reason I love The Paramount. It's always so professional. I continued up the stairs to my normal seat in the mezzanine. Saving my spot, I then went back downstairs to get my customary Dr. Pepper and popcorn.

Sitting in anticipation of the first movie, I kept thinking about the quote from the Facebook post. The one from Executive Director Ken Stein that said:

"Considering we were built on the site of the old Avenue Hotel and the War Department of the Republic of Texas, who knows what they might find before locating the pipe."

So what could someone stumble upon while tunneling beneath the floor looking for pipes that are a century old? This is beginning to sound like the plot of a creepy short story, or a Goonies type adventure. Either way, I had way too much time on my hands sitting there in the upper level (See? This is why I don't get places early!). Just what would they find down there? My movie-soaked brain began to postulate some wild theories... Let's take a look, shall we?

(cue the wavy imagery and the dreamy music from a harp)

Theory #1:

Now that would solve the money issues involved, wouldn't it? Oil takes care of a lot of problems (ask Jett Rink, from Giant), but it also makes much bigger ones. In addition to environmental disasters, you run the risk of becoming a megalomaniac like the fellow in the photo above. Hide your milkshakes.

Theory #2:
Warp Zones

Tip for the crew: always go to World 4. Everything else is a waste of damn time.

Theory #3:

This is a little shout out to fans of cheesy, somewhat obscure '80s horror films. It's about kids who dig and find the gate to hell in their backyard (or something like that). You know, now that I think about it, how come no one remakes this?? Hollywood can remake Clash of the Titans and The Karate Kid, but not this? Has anyone even attempted to make a similar story? Amongst the bajillion books Stephen King has written (or even the 5000 he's published since he ruined The Dark Tower series), you'll telling me he has nothing like this in his bibliography? The time is ripe for a new "digging to hell" story. I'm just hoping it's not here in my favorite theater.

Theory #4:
The Sarlacc

Damn. That thing's really nasty... and kind of obscene looking for something from the Star Wars universe. If the crew per chance happen to find the Sarlacc beneath The Paramount, then the 7-year old version of me would've ask them to say hi to Boba Fett for me. Of course, the present-day version of me just can't help thinking that this was the safest picture of the creature I could find to post. Seriously, I look at it and all I can see is a gross orifice thing that may get the IT department to block your computer (and possibly get you fired just for looking at it). Trust me, i searched for a long time before settling on this one. All other pictures were definitely in the NSFW territory. If I did get you in trouble for this picture... try and use the jedi mind trick on the IT guy. Or tell him you'll find him a date with a gal dressed in Princess Leia's gold bikini. That should get you off the hook.

Theory #5:
The Holy Grail

Plausible. Maybe. I mean, no one knows what happened to the Grail, right? And no, I don't think it's really a bloodline that ends up being Amelie in that Tom Hanks movie where he has bad hair (or Linda Fiorentino in Dogma). I'm talking about the cup. The one in that silly sequel that some people think is the best Indiana Jones movie. In all seriousness, it's not. Don't get me wrong. It's entertaining, but it's not very good. That scene where the cup heals the bullet wound? When I first saw that, what came to mind was hydrogen peroxide. That's the Grail's power? I can get that for like a buck at the CVS down the street! I guess it does have its merits, though. After all, I do base my horrendous Sean Connery accent on his role in this movie. "You call this archeologeee?" My advice to the digging crew? Let the Grail go, or you'll fall like that chick from A View To A Kill.

Theory #6:
The River of Slime

Speaking of subpar sequels...
Even as a kid, I thought Ghostbusters II was crippity crap. I haven't seen it in almost 20 years, but I remember a dancing toaster, some dude named "Vigo" (not Mortensen), and The Statue of Liberty walking. Oh, and the river of slime. They found it while digging under a street if I recall correctly, so this is just a heads up for the diggers. Careful, you may end up dangling above this pink stuff. And watch out for Vigo, too. You are like the buzzing of flies to him.

Theory #7:

Now, if it were me digging down there, this is my worse nightmare. Say I'm jack-hammering away and hit a pipe and the hole floods. Then, let's say a skeleton pops up, like above (from Poltergeist, by the way). If so, I would magically turn into Jo Beth Williams there. I'd scream bloody murder. Like a little girl. With a skinned knee. Who all of a sudden is swimming with a corpse. Here's hoping that amongst all the places that have stood where The Paramount now calls home, a cemetery wasn't one of them.

(end of daydream sequence)

So I come to, finding that I've been staring off into space like The Hubble for the last few minutes. I glance around quickly to make sure I'm not attracting strange looks. Okay. All clear.
The first movie is about to start, so it's time to discard these nonsensical thoughts and focus on the film in front of me.

Oh! And before I forget. The Paramount sure could use your help right now. This is an expensive project (approx $10-20,000), and they're not likely to find oil. So, if you'd like to donate and help the cause, you can click here. Doing so would make you feel good about yourself, like when you play Monopoly and get that awesome Community Chest card. You know the one I'm talking about. No, not the second place in the beauty contest one; I mean the card about the bank error. Cha-ching!
It's also good karma. And if you contribute $250 or more you can even choose a DVD of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House or The Money Pit (a Tom Hanks movie much better than The Da Vinci Code). I thought that was a cute touch, and shows that The Paramount can still maintain a sense of humor, even if they do likely feel like this at the moment:

Yes, that is from The Money Pit. Young Tom Hanks is awesome. Where are your Oscars, Shelly Long?

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to download an emulator app for my cell phone. That way, if I have free time in the future, I won't daydream about such ridiculous notions... I'll just play Dig Dug.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Film # 63: Breathless: 50th Anniversary Print! (Aug 21)


1960, 87 min.
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Full writeup of the films is a work in progress...
Check back soon for the complete blog entry!

Film # 62: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Aug 21)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

1953, 133 min.
Directed by Howard Hawks

Dang it. I swear sometimes that I'm cursed to always run late. We actually departed rather early for the afternoon feature, but an obstruction of South Congress, traffic and construction downtown (and lack of available parking) took longer than we expected. The film was slated to start at 3 pm, and we parked the car at 3:08.

I always hate missing any part of a film screening, but I was also disappointed that we missed an event before the film. Like the screening of Auntie Mame, The Paramount was to have their very own Marilyn Monroe parading around, clad in diamonds from Austin's own Kruger's Jewelers. The jewelry store is located across the street from the theatre, so as we approached I glanced up and noted the time. 3:10. Not too bad. I then bustled with my girlfriend and made it into the theatre, stepping out of the grasp of the scorching Texas sun. Dude. Is it September yet? Can we get back to the double-digit figures, please? Between my vacation to Vegas last month and outdoor temps that threaten to turn me into a dish from The Salt Lick, I've definitely had my fill of 100+ degree heat. I know some like it hot, but sometimes gentlemen prefer air conditioning.

Like an oasis in the desert, we appreciated the respite from the heat. First stop, refreshment bar. Ah, an old favorite; Dr. Pepper and popcorn for both us. As we stepped towards the entry doors, we found ourselves face-to-face with The Paramount's Marilyn Monroe. Still in character, she sweetly told us that she was waiting for us before the show, and it was a shame we were late. We demurely smiled and offered our apologies (but no excuses!). As she turned to leave, she then returned her gaze to my girlfriend and complemented her on her outfit and accessories. Blushing slightly, my girlfriend offered her thanks. With that, Marilyn was gone. I practically bounded up the stairs after that. A Marilyn Monroe impersonator (who was just wearing a fortune in diamonds) gave kudos to my love about her fashion before a Saturday matinee. Yep, I'm a very lucky guy.

I grabbed a program as we made our way to our seats. It occurred to me that I had never seen a Marilyn Monroe film before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Glancing at the program before entering the dark auditorium, I was stunned to see Howard Hawks had directed the movie. Howard Hawks? I associated the man with somewhat heavier fare. I knew he had directed The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, Sergeant York, and Scarface (the 1932 version), but had no idea this was also in his filmography. A musical? This could be interesting.

Alas, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is not so much a musical as it is a female buddy picture. I'd call it a comedy with a couple of song and dance numbers. Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) and Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) are a showgirl duo that are best friends. Fitting into a cliche that often rings true, they are a duo where there's a sassy one and a sexy one.

Both seem to have an eye on eligible men, but Lorelei has hooked herself a whale. Her fiance, Gus Esmond, is a wealthy man with a disapproving father. He distrusts Lorelei and views her as gold digging after his son. The assessment is correct, but she does claim to love him. The engaged couple plan a trip to France to wed, but daddy puts the kibosh on that plan. Instead, Lorelei and Dorothy travel together on the ship with Gus remaining behind and providing a line of credit for them to live on.

A line of credit? That's a mistake, bro. Not to mention Gus is the jealous type. Doesn't this sound like a healthy relationship? Heck, he starts to freak out about an Olympic team that's about to set sail with the girls. Note to Gus, it's Marilyn Monroe. Don't worry about the athletes, she was already in her "Joe DiMaggio" phase. I'd be more worried if there were any Kennedys on board.

Dorothy has a blast with the Olympic team, who happen to train and work out in nothing more than flesh-colored underwear. When she has a song-and-dance number with the hard-bodied gents, it's like watching the world's first Lady Gaga video. Their skimpy attire hints that these gentlemen might actually prefer other men. Oh well, at least she's having fun.

But it seems Lorelei is having some flirty fun as well. On board is Sir Francis "Piggy" Beekman, an owner of a diamond mine who might as well have a huge target painted on him. An older fellow, he's like a cross between Planter's Mr. Peanut and the Monopoly game's Uncle Moneybags. You can practically hear the "cha-ching" sound whenever she hovers around him. Too bad Lorelei doesn't know she's being watched. You see, Papa Esmond hired a private investigator to tail her in hopes of uncovering improper behavior and scuttle the wedding. And she gives him plenty to work with.

Now I ain't saying she a gold digger... well, wait. I guess that I am. As Lorelei constantly is weighing and measuring men like an old gold prospector, I started to hear something in my head...

"She take my money, well I'm in need
Yeah she's a triflin' friend indeed
Oh she's a gold digger way over time
That digs on me

Get down girl, go 'head get down.
Get down girl, go 'head get down.
Get down girl, go 'head get down."

Thanks, Kanye.

Before long, incriminating photos are taken and the girls plot to get that film back in their possession. But wait! Dorothy is starting to fall for the investigator. Oh goodness. Dare I say it? Hijinx ensue.

The ladies actually work very well together, and you genuinely believe the friendship of this unlikely duo. It's no Laurel and Hardy, but it is along the lines of Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate in The Sweetest Thing... or perhaps even Romy and Michelle. Either way, it works. As alluring as Monroe is in this film, it's Russell who carries the plot on her shoulders. She's clearly a better actress than Monroe, and so she's given all the juicy lines and most of the silliness that propels the film forward.

Monroe does carry the audience's attention, however. As Blondes played on, I found myself unable to take my eyes off of her. Whether I was mesmerized by her beauty, her costumes, or simply trying to figure out how why she was squinting her eyes so much when she shared the screen with a male co-star, I felt that everything about her screen persona was a construct. Then it quickly occurred to me that it was a chicken and egg dilemma. Was I looking at her because she was sculpted for the screen? Or was she sculpted to augment that indefinable appeal? The deconstruction of Marilyn Monroe is a topic that could go on and on, but ultimately... her image is why she was cast here. This was a breakout role for her as a movie star and as a pop icon. One along the lines of Holly Golightly (and we all know what I thought of her), so it's no coincidence we view Marilyn as the original material girl. As someone who grew up in the 1980s, this was reinforced at an early age...

"They can beg and they can plead
But they can't see the light, that's right
'Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right, 'cause we are

Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl."

As a kid, I knew Madonna's video was an homage to Marilyn, but didn't know why. Today, I can finally see what the big deal is about Marilyn Monroe. Acting-wise, she'll never be confused with Meryl Streep, but that's not the point. There's not been a screen idol like Monroe ever since.

Gentlemen Prefers Blondes is silly, but enjoyable. The audience certainly had a blast, and so did we. Making our way back downstairs, I noticed a large crowd around a table just inside the lobby.

Some supporters were present to enlist the help of Paramount patrons in voting for the "This Place Matters" community challenge. A competition by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it rewards the top vote getter with a $25,000 prize to help preserve this legendary theater. One can vote online (at the link I've provided above) or vote in person at The Paramount Theatre itself. I know I may be a little biased, but this movie palace is a beautiful landmark here in Austin. Heck, I've practically lived here this summer, so the least I can do is give a shout out on the theatre's behalf. My beloved and I had already voted online, but were pleased to see so many enthusiastically vote.

Maneuvering our way through the crowds, we take a slight break from The Paramount for a few hours. It had been a "date afternoon" of sorts thus far, and now was the time for dinner. The night would then continue with an evening's screening of Breathless. Exiting the lobby and re-entering the afternoon sun, I couldn't help but smile. It had been a great time at the movies and I had a beautiful woman on my arm. Those gentlemen can keep their blondes. I'll always prefer what I'm blessed with already.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Films # 60 & 61: French Musicals! (Aug 18)

The Young Girls of Rochefort
1967, 120 min.
Directed by Jacques Demy

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
1964, 91 min.
Directed by Jacques Demy

Summer is in the final stretch, and special events for the remainder of The Summer Film Series were few in number. There was to be one on Tuesday, August 17th, and it was one I was looking forward to. before the first film there was to be a performance by interpretive dance group Little Stolen Moments. It would've gone a little something like this...

...but with umbrellas.

Instead, the theatre was selected to view the pilot of some new television series by ABC. It's called "My Generation" (effing horrible title) and looks like a modern version of "Thirtysomething" or "Quarterlife" or whatever pre mid-life crisis series that gets made every ten years or so. This, despite the marketing itself as something "you've never seen before." Right. I hate to dignify it with publicity, but I want to make clear that this is something I already loathe.

So how awful and contrived does that look? Ugh. I give it about eight weeks before America is annoyed and it's canceled. Wait? In 2009, how long did "Hank" last? Or "Eastwick?"

Grr. But I digress.
Wednesday arrived with a chance of rain. I brought my umbrella, just in case. You know how it goes. The one time you forget your umbrella it pours down, right? I was taking no chances.

As I entered and moved to take my seat upstairs, I noticed some wayward glances. There were even a couple of smiles in the lobby. Wondering what could possibly have been attracting attention, I started to subtly take an inventory. Was my hair messed up? No more than usual. Was my fly open? Nope. Was my shoe untied? Negative. Finally it hit me. Oh! The umbrella! No, ladies and gents, I wasn't being thematic. I swear.

The Young Girls of Rochefort is a great and energetic musical, full of serendipity and love. Its the story of a weekend in the French seaport and takes place mostly near the town square. A fair is set for Sunday, and the coming event has an effect on a few of its citizens. The story centers two non-identical two sisters, Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) and Solange (Françoise Dorléac) who, like most girls who grow up in a small community want to move on to bigger and better things. Their mother owns a cafe near the town square, and they help their mother in whatever method they can from day to day. Ah, but these two femmes are looking for true love. Delphine is about to break off a relationship with a pretentious snob, and both aim to move to Paris the following week, in pursuit of amour and joie de vivre.

During this weekend, those whose lives intersect with the duo are slowly revealed to have destinies together. Either they share a past unwittingly, or they are to share a future. The audience begins to see who should end up with whom, and part of the fun is seeing when and how the stars will align during these few days. The rest of the fun, of course, is provided by the musical numbers.

The rhythm and music in Rochefort are irresistible, and have that late 1960s Quincy Jones kind of vibe. Everything is so shiny, colorful and sweet. The movie's like a big French bag of Skittles. I found myself smiling and beaming, taking in the subtitled lyrics onscreen and the beautiful fluidity of the French language. Better yet, when a character would break the fourth wall and sing to the audience, the connection felt all the warmer. You just didn't want to sit there watching the film. You wanted to sing and dance, even glide with them.

Visuals in the film are so vivid that it feels like a beautiful dream. Colors were bright, but I couldn't help but think to myself, "if this had been filmed in Technicolor and had been restored like The Red Shoes, my eyes would melt!" In classic Hollywood musical form, the secondary characters and the passing crowds would engage in the choreography.

Gene Kelly even shows up, and although not exactly an "American in Paris" this time, his character is en route to the City of Lights. His detour through Rochefort during this magical weekend impacts not only the lives of these characters, but the audience's enjoyment as well. I could practically hear the crowd around me swoon as his part in this love story played out. But come on. It's Gene Kelly dancing and singing (although later overdubbed) in French! What's not to love?

As the film reached its climax the near misses graduated from amusing and whimsical to near excruciating. I wanted to scream at the screen. "What? They missed crossing paths again? Oh no! Turn around! True love is right behind you!!" It's a testament to the charm of this movie that you don't want it to end. You want the paths to cross and then follow their lives for more than the weekend depicted. What more can I say? The Young Girls of Rochefort is funny, sweet, lovely and endearing. Afterwards, all I could do was sit back and glow with delight. Ah... C'est l'amour.

But oh, what a different kind of romanticism was to be found in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. This was a title I was, in fact, familiar with. Years ago, when I worked at a small town video and book store, there was a customer who came in and rented Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Every. Single. Week. This went on for months, and I always wondered why he revisited this film so frequently. I simply assumed he was a rabid Catherine Deneuve fan with an unhealthy obsession. Was that the case, or is the movie really that good?

So tonight the mystery would be finally put to rest. I was going to find out what the big deal was with this Jacques Remy film. But after Rochefort, my expectations were high. Was this also to be another beautiful and sunny musical? One that would make me fall in love with Catherine Deneuve also?

For the most part, sure. But there is one big no. This is NOT a sunny musical. The film taps into the pangs of youthful love and indecision, creating a work of musical genius. In fact, musical isn't really the right word here. Opera would be more apt.

Umbrellas is not what one would call a "sing songy" kind of movie. It doesn't have the structure of a typical musical, where there are scenes of dialogue occasionally punctuated with song and/or dance. No. Here, every line of dialogue throughout the movie is in fact, sung. As mentioned before, it's operatic in nearly every sense. Everything is elevated a notch: the colors, the passion, the emotion, the drama, the tragedy. The melodies are often subtle, but there are major themes and songs that I identified from subsequent other films or shows.

The film is broken into three parts (not quite acts): departure, absence and return. The story is about young 17-year old Geneviève (Deneuve) who lives with her mother and works at her umbrella store. She is madly in love with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), a noble 20-year old auto mechanic. Her mother disapproves of her daughter seeing anyone, but particularly one who she feels can't properly provide a "better life." Seeing one another in secret, they finally begin to take some steps towards a life together when he is drafted in to the French army. Devastated at the prospect of two years apart, they sleep together before he ships off...

Parts two and three are told over the following few years, and are about the consequences of life decisions and of anchoring one's life to a far away lover. As it often does, life presents a shuffle of the cards that is unforeseen and demanding. When Guy finally returns, he finds many things have changed. Absence does drive many people towards a variety of actions, after all. It's a hard lesson that both young lovers are forced to learn.

As I watched the years pass in the lives of these two, I couldn't help but feel their tragic circumstance could (and probably has) happened to countless people in the real world. Not specifically their story, mind you, but the matter of choice. Logic versus heart is never an easy decision, and rarely benefits from compromise. Life cannot be placed on pause, and even the best-laid plans are often modified or thrown away completely in acquiescence. Like Splendor in the Grass, the depiction of young love is recognizable, as is the despair. Do we submit to these trials? Stand our ground? Or try and grow from them?

The film is powerful and poetic. And yes, it really is that good. While similar thematically to The Young Girls of Rochefort, it could not have been a more different tale. When the final bittersweet scene gave way to the end credits, the melancholy lingered in the theatre even as we all accepted that what we just watched was beautiful as it was tragic. Afterwards, all I could do was sit back and exhale the heartbroken feeling in my chest. Sigh... C'est l'amour.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Film # 59: The Red Shoes. Newly Restored! (Aug 14)

The Red Shoes

1948, 133 min.
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

"Why do you want to dance?"
"Why do you want to live?"
"Well, I don't know exactly why, but... I must."
"That's my answer too."

an exchange between Boris Lermontov and Victoria Page in The Red Shoes

After Ran, the ushers cleared out the auditorium. As I waited in the lobby, I noticed a healthy-sized crowd through the glass. Walking outside, I discovered there were dozens of people waiting to get inside. Folk of all different ages and walks of life. There was a giddy excitement in the air, and I could tell those in attendance really wanted to see this film. Clearly, The Red Shoes was an experience not to be missed. I've always heard great things about the film, and everyone I knew personally who knew it was screening today were disappointed they could not make it. Even my girlfriend had expressed regret at missing this weekend's screenings.

The Paramount Theatre was running a promotion in conjunction with this event, asking patrons to bring in used shoes for charity. It was a noble way for people to give back and provide for others. The front doors opened, and the excited masses started to pile in. A few milled around in the lobby, perusing the memorabilia cart and getting refreshments before the show, but most hurried into the auditorium to snag prime seating.

Now as I mentioned, The Red Shoes was one of those movies I had always heard about, but had never seen. I knew it was highly acclaimed, but I couldn't fathom why. Wasn't this about a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen story? How good can it possibly be? Such were the thoughts of a clueless youth. As my life went on, I found certain friends (usually with a dance or theater background) who swore by this movie. Based on the demographic, I could accept these people loving the film. Then I recall reading a few years back that Martin Scorsese was spearheading a campaign to restore this film. That, my friends, piqued my curiosity. It took the efforts of one of my favorite directors to finally place this film on my "must see" list. When the restored print made its debut last year, I knew I had to see it on the big screen if at all possible. On Saturday, that day had arrived. Replacing my camera back in my bag, I also ascended the stairs quickly so I could claim my seat as well. By the time the house lights dimmed, I was already grinning in anticipation.

Yes, The Red Shoes is about a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, but it is also soooo much more than that. It starts as a somewhat typical behind-the-scenes glimpse into a ballet company. A young dancer, Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), is looking for a break into the industry. The head of the Ballet Lermontov, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) receives a solicitation from a well-to-do relative of hers to see her perform (i.e.- audition), which he refuses to do. He does extend an invite to his company, but she quickly learns that can be a bit of an empty gesture. Standing along the back wall with other "invitees," she witnesses how frantic the business can be, and how easy it is to be lost in the shuffle. She finally succeeds in making an impression on Lermontov, when he sneaks into the audience to glimpse her perform a matinee of "Swan Lake." It's the breakthrough she desired, and is invited to tour with the company.

At the same time, Lermontov recruits a young and talented composer, Julian Craster (Marius Goring), to be an orchestral coach. Young and ambitious as Ms. Page, he sets out to impress the cold ballet impresario; often overstepping his bounds in the process.

A calculating man with an uncompromising passion for the arts, Lermontov reveals the extent of his beliefs when his prized pupil marries and has to withdraw from the company to start a new life. Embittered, he begins to eye Page as a worthy successor. He aims to produce a ballet based on "The Red Shoes," with Page as its star and music composed by Craster.

And that's about as much about the plot as I dare reveal at this point. All of the narrative is a setup for the brilliance that follows. The film itself becomes a staggering work of genius. I was astonished to see a work from this time be so "meta" and self-referential in its execution. Anyone who thinks Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman broke down barriers in 2002's Adaptation needs to see this film. Co-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made an adaptation of the classic tale about people who are staging a production of the very same story. The reason it works in this film is because the players aren't aware of the parallels, but they slowly become apparent to the audience. In addition, the performances, choreography and photography combine into a beautiful medley.

The crowning achievement of the film is the ballet of "The Red Shoes" itself. It's presented as a 15 minute sequence in the middle of the movie, and it is glorious. What starts as a straight-forward presentation of the ballet on stage slowly integrates visual signatures of the cinematic medium, beginning with simple editing and progressing to visual tricks. Those effects are used for maximum impact, and the results are truly magical. Music, dance and cinema blend into a high art and majesty few can ever hope to attain. It's surrealistic and arresting. Slightly reminiscent (at times) of a live-action sequence from Disney's Fantasia, I can safely say I've never seen anything quite like that before. This ballet blew me (a seasoned movie-goer) away, now, in 2010. I can only imagine what it did to audiences back in 1948. It's a pure form of joy, and became one of the most striking sequences I've ever witnessed in a movie theater.

Staring at the screen, mouth agape at the gorgeous imagery in front of me, I was ever so grateful for the restoration of the film itself. The Red Shoes is awash in the inventiveness of the Technicolor process, drowning the senses in a sea of colors and hues. God bless Martin Scorsese and his long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who was married to director Michael Powell for several years before his death) for preserving such a seminal piece of cinema history. The work really showed with this stunning print on the big screen. I'm sure it does on blu-ray at home also, but I can't think of any presentation that can top what I saw on Saturday. The colors pop in a way that only the finest in Technicolor can provide. I was struck in particular by Shearer's beauty, whose red hair was so vivid it almost seemed afire. The ginger dancer was mesmerizing whether she was onscreen dancing or being guided by her own red shoes. In fact, the image was so remarkable that the entire film feels alive.

As the movie neared its climax, one could sense the impending doom and feel the anguish of a person torn between the passion of dance and the love of another soul. By the time the credits rolled, I suspect there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Tears or no, the audience showered the auditorium in applause. It was a wonderful experience for me, seeing this landmark combination of dance and film in a proper movie palace. The presentation was incredible, the story was sublime and The Red Shoes carried me to places I could have never imagined. Films like this are the moments I love to discover. And for this amazing evening at The Paramount... I am forever grateful and elated.