Since I last wrote you, I attended screenings at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Film Forum.
Last night, MOMA screened a selection of D.W. Griffith Biograph shorts, with piano accompaniment, in one theater, and Alfred Hitchcock’s only romantic comedy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, in the other theater. A difficult choice, but schedule considerations and the preferences to my movie-going companion made me pick the later.
The theater was large, with a screen that felt equal to that at Lincoln Center. The seats were okay. I noticed squares along the sides of the walls that looked like mountings where surround speakers used to go. I don’t know why they were gone. Since the movie was in mono, it wasn’t an issue.
But speakers do not a good-sounding theater make. The underground MOMA theater sits too close to a subway line, and the film’s audio universe was frequently interrupted by the rumble of trains going passed. Since the movie was set in New York, one could argue that it added realism, but it didn’t.
About the movie: The 1941 Mr. & Mrs. Smith (not to be confused with the recent picture of the same name) gets a bum rap by the auteurists because it’s not what we think of as an Alfred Hitchcock film. It’s not suspenseful, no one commits murder, and there’s little in the way of original photography. The one Hitchcockian moment, when the camera dollies back across the street, prepares us for his cameo. But Norman Krasna wrote a very witty screenplay about a married couple who discover they’re not actually married, Carole Lombard gave one of her best performances, and Hitchcock directs it all with the appropriate light touch. The result isn’t a great screwball comedy, but it’s a good one.
Today I visited the Film Forum and saw Le Doulos, a 1962 French thriller by Jean-Pierre Melville of Army of Darkness fame. The theater (one of three in the facility) wasn’t as impressive as MOMA’s or Lincoln Center’s. It felt small, and was kept dark before the movie. The screen wasn’t particularly large, and there was no curtain. The seats didn’t conform well to my aging back.
But the projection was fine, they got the European widescreen aspect ratio (1.66×1) right, and the place has a great concession stand.
Why have I never seen a French film noir before? True, Americans invented the genre, but the French named it. Le Doulos doesn’t add anything really new and exciting to the genre (besides some brief nudity–something that wasn’t allowed on American screens in 1962), but it’s a darkly fun story of double-crosses and quadruple-crosses amongst hardened criminals. The story confused me a few times, but it all comes together in some surprising ways at the end.
Speaking of ends, I’m flying back to the Bay Area tomorrow.