[blue rare]—A Slice of Cake: In Praise of the Magic of Film

[blue rare]—A Slice of Cake: In Praise of the Magic of Film

When I was in high school, there was a repertory movie house where you could see a double bill of classic or notable older films for just a couple of dollars.  My friends and I would go there pretty often on Friday and Saturday nights, whenever we either weren’t working dishwashing, waitering or busing dishes at the local Bino’s Restaurant, or else too stoned to leave the basement.  We didn’t get invited to many of the cool parties, so a night of movies, followed by five-pin bowling, pinball and arcade games, rounded out with coffee and donuts, was a classic weekend entertainment.

The thing I loved most about this theater was that the owner or manager, or whoever curated the film selections, had fantastic taste (I don’t recall ever seeing a bad film there).  Also, the fact that the double bills were nearly always combinations of very divergent films.  For instance, I remember seeing Stanley Kubrick’s neo-noir masterpiece Chinatown paired with Flesh Gordon, a 1970s soft porn sci-fi flick.  Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein’s Russian classic from the 1920s, was shown alongside a Marx Brothers film; Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was coupled with Jean Luc Godard’s Jules et Jim; Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns cozied up beside silent era farces.

I enjoyed all the movies I saw there, but the ones that impacted me the most were not necessarily the most tasteful or intellectual films, but rather the ones that offered up something visceral, romantic, and extravagant.  Unforgettable images, bucketloads of operatic excess, unique ways of envisioning heaven and hell on Earth: to this day, these are the things I hope for in films.  To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, perhaps the greatest auteur of all, I wanted a “slice of cake” rather more than a “slice of life.” The beautiful, brutal westerns of Sam Peckinpah, and the horrifying fever dream of Ken Russell’s The Witches of Loudon, for instance, are burned into my memory banks.

I suppose we all have a special, indelible connection to those moments in our youth when we are exposed to ideas and viewpoints that widen our horizons and shift our perspectives in significant ways.  Seeing such an idiosyncratic kaleidoscope of old movies gave me exposure to many vivid and vastly different depictions of the world.  Art is one vital way that mankind attempts to explore and understand this strange existence we find ourselves in.  For people such as myself, who have no religious convictions, the artistic vision, presented through words, music, visual images, is possibly the most significant way to approach the ineffable.  Those high school weekend outings turned me into an ardent, lifelong cinephile.  For one thing, they prompted me to dive, however erratically, sporadically, and unsystematically, into the history of film.  To me, great filmmaking is one of the highest forms of human endeavour, encompassing at its best an excellence in so many crafts.  For better or worse, films such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, The Exorcist, Beetlejuice, Annie Hall, Titanic, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Cape Fear, Blue Velvet, Eyes Wide Shut, and Hereditary have all had a significant impact on me, and enriched my knowledge and enjoyment beyond measure.

I also believe that, like milkshakes and sunsets, films are best when they’re shared; streaming Netflix at home is a poor substitute for a night at the movies.  There are many soul-satisfying ways for human beings to enjoy each other’s company.  I think one of my favourites is to gather together in a darkened theatre with one or two friends and room full of strangers, and watch a feat of luminous magic unfold before our eyes.