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AFI Dallas: A Return for Repertory?


by Stephen Becker 27 Mar 2009

At 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, Terry Walstrom and his 18-year-old son, Nicholas, were settling into a movie at AFI Dallas. The fact that a father and son would be catching a movie together wasn’t unusual, but the movie they had picked was. The 1944 Billy Wilder classic Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Edward G. […]

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Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in Double Indemnity.

At 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, Terry Walstrom and his 18-year-old son, Nicholas, were settling into a movie at AFI Dallas. The fact that a father and son would be catching a movie together wasn’t unusual, but the movie they had picked was. The 1944 Billy Wilder classic Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck, was on the bill. Terry says he has seen the movie several times, but Nicholas had never watched. So why were they bothering to drive all the way from their home in Fort Worth to watch something they could play any time at home on DVD?

“I used to live in L.A. when they had a bunch of revival theaters where you could see films with an audience of fans of that film,” Terry said. “To see it with an audience of real movie buffs is worth the trip. There’s an electricity to an audience that has a real appreciation of the film.”

Since the adoption of the VCR in the eary 1980s, the revival theater has pretty much gone the way of the dodo. But judging by the 60 or so people who attended a show on  a weekday afternoon, there is still some appetite for repertory film in North Texas. The Inwood Theatre keeps the repertory flame burning most consistently with its midnight shows on Friday and Saturday (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is on this weekend). And the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as well as the Dallas Public Library work in older movies now and then. But it’s rare to see something as old and truly classic as Double Indemnity on the big screen in Dallas.

Film festivals like AFI Dallas primarily exist to show movies that local audiences might not ever see otherwise. But one of the side benefits is the repertory films that are sometimes added to the schedule. AFI Dallas will also show Chinatown tonight, as well as Gentleman Prefer Blondes on Wednesday and The Last Picture Show on Thursday.

Rick Worland, a professor of cinema and television at SMU, lead a question-and-answer session with MacMurray’s daughter Kate after the screening. When asked about repertory film’s place in Dallas, he conceded that it was all but dead as people become more attached to their home theaters. But he did tip his cap to the crowd in the theater.

“When you do put these films on the big screen, people do come out to see them, which is interesting because most of the people here have seen this before,” he said. “But it just goes to show that movies were made to be seen on the big screen.”

Experts will tell you that that is because of the larger picture, better sound and the communal experience. But Terry had another explanation.

“At home, you’re too much the master. In the theater, the film is the master.”

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  • “A grief shared is half a grief; a joy shared is twice a joy.”

    The above quote aptly describes the power of the “communion” experienced by an audience of filmgoers.

    There is an amplification of enjoyment and an enrichment to be had otherwise impossible with the home viewing of a DVD.

    Something to be said about the ritual of attendance is that it plugs us in to a benevolent matrix of fellow enthusiasts and bonds us to a “whole greater than the sum of its parts”.

    A great painting is static, inert and impassive in a way which a movie can never be because a film exits only in the flow of a time continuum.
    YOU MUST MOVE WITH IT THROUGH TIME in order to participate.

    A theatre experience exerts a power over us because we must bend our will and surrender our hold. We become as children sitting before a great storyteller. We are vessels of awe and mystery and adventure only in this way.

    The destruction of the movie audience has been wrought through the unintended consequence of VCR and DVD ownership transforming us from wide-eyed children to cynical home-theatre control freaks with restless appetites and little patience.

    The teen who attends films now brings no conditioned respect because a film is just another distraction self-manipulated into insignificance by jaded autonomy.

    I stopped going to movies when the new audiences began flopping into their seats checking e-mail during the film, chatting loudly with friends on cellphones and making the experience for the rest of us into a misery not worth repeating.

    What has gone wrong?

    The revival theatre and the avid fan audience well knows!
    RESPECT for the film as the “master” is what is missing.

    We who love film are willing to share the prayer, so to speak, in a silent “Amen”, amplifying our reverences and communally pooling our consciousness into a cathedral of celebration for artistry in humanity.

    Not to put too fine a point on it; AFI Film Festival screenings give us the rare chance to find out what we are missing in our own living room with the dog barking, the phone ringing and the pause button tempting us out of Eden into the wilderness.

    The last bastion of paradise is to be found seated with your peers, faces upturned like thirsty cups into which is poured the genius of artists and visionaries as the story unfolds upon the silver screen.

    If you haven’t seen your favorite film with those who love it as much as you in the setting for which it was intended, then, you are like the art enthusiast who has only seen prints of Van Gogh or Monet without having stood before the master’s canvass and gawked at the texture of paint and the redolent scent of vivid oil swirls in your nostrils.

    You wouldn’t eat wax fruit or smell a plastic flower; why deny yourself the pleasure of the electric excitement of life’s greatest pleasures?

    Run, don’t walk, to the AFI FILM FESTIVAL before your opportunity vanishes into regret. The audience is watching and listening and pumping up the empathetic neural field into a nuclear reactor of
    explosive enjoyment you can never attain in your lonely room at home.

  • Way to go Terry! Hope you come back on the show soon.