Friday, July 13, 2012

Hollywood or bust

"Well, things went wrong... If you just get the technical end straightened out..."

So says Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden at just about the hour mark in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain" as she's trying to comfort Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood character about the impending failure of his latest film.

It was also somewhat prophetic Thursday night in terms of a 60th anniversary, one-night-only showing of the film. About three minutes after that line, and just before the exuberant "Good Morning" number with Gene, Debbie and Donald O'Connor, there was a blip in the film and it jumped about 17 minutes ahead, landing in the "Broadway Melody" segment right before Gene has his first dance with Cyd Charisse, skipping both "Good Morning" and, more importantly, the titular number itself, "Singin' in the Rain", in their entirety.

Oh, the irony.

But let me backtrack a little and explain. Loving classic films as I do, I'm (surprise, surprise) on Turner Classic Movie's email list. Periodically, they partner with another company to bring classic films to the big screen again, usually for one night (in March "Casablanca" got a similar treatment, for example, and later this year, "The Birds" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" are planned), but none were ever in my area. Still, when I first got the email telling me "Singin' in the Rain" was going to be in theaters on July 12th, I immediately went to the event website to check for the nearest location. Alas, the closest venue was in Tampa, making it impossible to for me to see it unless I took time off work to drive up there.

But the reminder emails kept coming. On Tuesday morning, I got another one and, just for giggles, decided to check for the closest theater. Lo and behold, they'd added several, including the one right here in Port Charlotte. Laughing gleefully to myself, I immediately went to Fandango and bought a ticket for Thursday's showing. I don't even think it was 8 a.m. yet.

Yes, I was excited. You might think it's silly to get worked up over a movie that's 60 years old, even if it is considered by many to be the best musical film ever made, a movie I'd watched more times than I could count (in fact, I'd caught it on TV no more than two weeks previously) and which I also own.

See, thanks to my kindergarten music teacher, Mrs. Spots (who, back in 1983, loved wearing scarves knotted jauntily at the neck and still wore her hair in a pouffy beehive), "Singin' in the Rain" is the first song I remember knowing by heart (songs by Whitney Houston and Phil Collins/Genesis would soon follow, but I digress), along with the "Glory Be" and guardian angel prayers. I even remember being a little girl in bed, allowed to stay up and read for a while before lights out, and lying on my stomach with a book and my dolly Kimberly next to me singing the song to myself. At the time, I didn't know it came from a movie (and in fact is even older than that, having been written in 1929), but when I discovered that later, the film became a favorite.

So as today wore on, I prayed I wouldn't get stuck too late at the office, and I'd brought jeans to change into before I left. I made it to the theater with plenty of time to spare, allowing me to buy the "small" soda for $4 before making my way to a seat. For a while, I was the youngest person in the theater, until several people in their 20s, some young college students I recognized as recent graduates and drama club members from one of the local high schools and one or two families with younger kids made their way in.

It was a happy bunch. Retirees near me joked about whether or not there would be a newsreel or cartoons before the feature. One woman, there with several friends, told them she'd never actually seen the film. Trivia questions about the movie ("What was used to make the rain more visible while Gene Kelly sang and danced his way around in it?" The correct answer is milk, oddly enough) played on the screen while we waited. Then came an introduction including a mix of interviews with some of the cast members, most of whom, aside from Debbie Reynolds and Rita Moreno (who had a small role as a character actress named Zelda) are now deceased. A woman next to me, a smart-alecky lady in her early 70s, grumbled about when the actual movie would start: "Don't they know us old folks have a curfew and need to be home by 9?" she joked. The theater was practically full before the lights went out.

When movie started, everyone laughed and sang along and clapped at the end of certain dance numbers. I could hear people around me occasionally and in low voices recite the dialog along with the actors on screen. I did the same, bopping along to the "Moses Supposes" number. I couldn't stop smiling.

And then, the film jumped. People immediately started grumbling. Several went to tell management about the problem and, within minutes, a theater employee came in and said they were going to restart the movie from just before the problem area. The crowd murmured their relief, happy they would still be able to see the best part of the movie. When the screen went black, several used the short pause for a bathroom break. The sarcastic woman to my right checked the time on her phone and said laughingly to her friends "Yep, we definitely won't be home by 9 now."

The theater erupted in applause when the film resumed. But we were only to have our hopes dashed when the same thing happened yet again, at the very same spot. This time, while several people again got up to complain, most everyone kept their seats, watching what remained of the movie and still breaking into applause at "The End."

As the lights rose, a manager came in and addressed the crowd, apologizing profusely for the problem. He'd tried to fix it, he said, but there wasn't any way to correct what seemed to be a bad download/transfer, and he couldn't reschedule since it was a one-time only event. But he did give everyone a free movie pass and was applauded himself for the gesture. What else could he do, really? As we lined up to collect our vouchers, some audience members began singing the title song. Others chatted to each other that they were headed home to pop in their DVD copy and watch the minutes that we missed (yep, I did it, too). Snarky woman to my right said it wouldn't be the same, since she'd come to see it on the big screen. "I saw it 60 years ago, but I'm certainly not going to wait another 60 years to see it on the big screen again," she said.

Still, even with the technical difficulties, it was beyond neat to see a film I've only watched on the small screen become larger than life. I learned that Gene Kelly, who co-directed the film with Stanley Donan, took 40 takes of the "Good Morning" number, starting in the a.m. and not finishing until it was dark and Debbie Reynold's shoes were "filled with blood," she said in an interview (though I've heard the same thing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers), then proceeded to use the very first take in the finished film. The colors seemed brighter, and I noticed a few background details I hadn't seen before. Although I found myself thinking it would have been nice to have a friend along, there's just something about watching a film in the theater and the camaraderie of the crowd that makes it so different from seeing it on TV.

The only thing I'm left wondering now is if I can use my free movie voucher for the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" next Thursday night. My initial hunch is probably not. :)
Regal spells theater the European way.


Jason Elek said...

I would love to see The Birds on the big screen! (Lauren obviously would not!) Is that one playing nearby?

Anne said...

I checked and there isn't a date or locations listed yet. Since I get the email updates, I can keep an eye out, though.

I've seen "The Birds" on the big screen once. My high school, the Polk Theater, and old movie palace built in the 20s, held a haunted house around Halloween and myself and some of my classmates volunteered to dress up (some as witches, vampires, mummies). I was a gypsy fortune teller and my friend Nicole was a waitress killed by birds in a set up of diner scene. They showed "The Birds" (on the reel!) several nights in a row, and I will never forget sitting high up on the faded velvet seats in the balcony and watching it. It was such a cool experience, and I'd love to see it again, too!

Anne said...

I meant to say when I was in high school, the Polk Theater...