The Searchers — ★★★★
I think this was my third or fourth viewing of The Searchers, and the first on the big screen. As usual, bigger is better. When John Wayne is up there and you suddenly notice the scale of him — that he’s towering over you at Big Tex proportions instead of on a two-foot-tall TV screen — you’re aware that you’re seeing him the way he was meant to be seen, the way people saw him when he was one of the world’s top stars and icons, and it’s a “wow” moment.
What struck me on this viewing is how funny The Searchers is. The humor doesn’t kick in in a big way until the final third, around the time that Martin Pawley and Charlie McCorry start their fisticuffs, but from then on there are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, and the audience at the Paramount obliged heartily.
The Searchers is brazenly politically incorrect from start to finish, but never without a reason, and never without undercutting itself with some sly, progressive flip-side. I don’t think The Searchers is a revisionist western; I think it’s a traditional western that is intentionally probing the boundaries of the genre and unknowingly foreshadowing the great revisionist works yet to come. The fact that it represents an in-between stage of evolution, enjoying the strengths but nodding toward the gaps of the great American film genre, and doing so with a light touch, is part of what makes it arguably the best western of all time.
The Paramount Theater showed Labyrinth tonight in honor of the late David Bowie, and we went to see it. It was one of my wife’s favorite childhood movies, so we’ve watched it together a lot of times, but all my viewings have been as an adult. I’ve never really loved it. The puppetry isn’t that impressive to my eye, director Jim Henson fails to bring much out of the teenaged Jennifer Connelly, and Bowie’s soundtrack is only intermittently catchy. It’s never a painful watch, but it’s the kind of movie I’m sometimes at risk of falling asleep during.
But not on the big screen, on film, the way the Paramount showed it tonight. The screening was marred by this summer’s recurring projector-outage bogeyman, but they got it back on track in fairly short order without switching to digital. I was genuinely impressed with Labyrinth. I certainly believe that all movies are better on the big screen, and many that were shot on film are better on film, but I would not have expected Labyrinth to provide such a clear illustration of those truisms. One of my major criticisms of the film, that the sets look like sets, is totally disarmed when high-definition isn’t an issue. Through the grain of film, the sets look pretty dang good! Classical and fantasy-like. I’m sure our DVD is in the original widescreen format, but seeing it at full scale showed me little Easter eggs I hadn’t noticed before, mostly in Connelly’s bedroom: she has an album or book cover with a drawing of the tunnel-cleaning machine that’s an early obstacle in the movie’s titular maze.
So, projection issues aside, the Paramount has given me yet another favorite viewing of an old familiar film.
Random thoughts, because after a double feature this good, that’s all I can muster:
- During the opening credits of Casablanca, the music briefly becomes La Marseillaise, and someone in the crowd yelled out “Viva la France!” That was my favorite audience reaction, though of course everyone in the theater was highly appreciative of Claude Rains’ moments.
- The 35mm film print of Casablanca was gorgeous, in great condition, though the projector lightbulb went out during the third or fourth scene (something, anyway, went wrong and caused the screen to go dark). They fixed it in about a minute, though.
- I enjoyed Casablanca more than ever before, and that’s saying something, since it’s always been among my ten favorite movies. I could watch it again tomorrow, it’s that good and that enjoyable. I think I’ve noticed just about everything there is to notice at this point (including the fact that if Ilsa would have explained her situation to Rick in Paris, the whole movie would have been needless), but this time I more closely observed the running gag in the opening scenes with the French officer lecturing the Italian officer.
- The Maltese Falcon, well-cast and well-paced as it is, really is a silly little movie. It probably suffers from being watched immediately after the endlessly rich Casablanca, but on the other hand, it’s interesting to think about how its DNA found its way into later films. Other John Huston movies, Chinatown, and many of the Coen brothers’ movies all owe a lot to it. And Sydney Greenstreet’s comedic chops are all the more apparent when projected at a theatrical scale.
- The Paramount showed a digital restoration of Maltese Falcon, and for most or all of the double features during this year’s Summer Classic Film Series they’ll be pairing a film print with a digital restoration to show off their new digital projector. I always prefer film when possible, but the fact is that not all movies are readily available in that format, so I’m happy to expand the pool.
I’ve had a lot of good experiences at the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series here in Austin, Texas. My first viewing of Woody Allen’s Sleeper was there, and it cemented my nascent Allen fandom. My fourth or fifth viewing of Lawrence of Arabia was there, but on 70mm film. I’ve seen great movies I might not have seen otherwise, like The Late Show, and thanks to double features I’ve made connections I might not have made otherwise, like between Pan’s Labyrinth and The Spirit of the Beehive.
Continue reading Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is starting this week!