Monday, April 20, 2009

Meilenweit von Nirgendwo

Sometime in the 70's I heard about the Central Square Theater in Cambridge MA. Supposedly they were showing The King of Hearts for the fifth straight year. I saw the film at the Avon in Providence where I went frequently while I was a student at Rhode Island College. A German army retreats during World War I and they booby-trap a French town to explode. The locals flee, lunatics escape from the local asylum and take over the town. Alan Bates, Geneviève Bujold... and so on. The film was didn't attract much attention when it came out in 1966, but it resonated with a generation in the 70's that was facing it's own pointless war and gained cult status in the US.

Five years running the same film is pretty impressive. I suppose it may have gone on longer than five years, but I don't think they're showing it now, so presumably they got to a point where they thought, "Enough is enough!" Not so in Essen, where the Galerie Cinema has been showing Harold and Maude for thirty three years. The print is in pretty bad shape, but my guess is, finding another that's in the original language (English) with subtitles (Deutsch) would be impossible. So one has to put up with some dust, scratches and a few breaks that have been spliced as well as can be expected. I was there for what must be my tenth viewing yesterday and I'm convinced the film gets better every time I see it.

Harold and Maude, like The King of Hearts, was kind of a flop when it came out in 1971. I didn't see it until much later, but I can imagine that it was just too different to find its audience in a hurry. Hal Ashby was the director, an Utah boy from a big family in Ogden. He was married and already divorced by seventeen. Somewhere along the way his father killed himself. Today we would say he came from a dysfunctional family. But he found his way to Hollywood and won an Academy Award for Film Editing for In the Heat of the Night. After H&M he went on to make a number of other films, including one of my favorites, Being There. He died in 1988 after one of those "famous guy becomes recluse and younger girlfriend won't let friends visit when he gets cancer which she wants him to treat with homeopathic methods" things. A typical Malibu story.

And some of you might have caught Bud Cort, who played the role of Harold, in the latest from Wes Anderson. Mr. Cort was in a terrible car accident that took him out of acting for the last two or three decades, but I've heard that the role he has in The Life Aquatic was written specifically for him. AND he has the distinction of having lived with Groucho Marx during his last days. Groucho was at the time living with a younger woman who, you guessed it, wouldn't let friends (excepting presumably Bud Cort) visit him. What is it with these people?

So how does a theater show the same film for thirty three years and not go out of business? It might help that the theater only seats about 24 people. It's basically a roomy Wohnzimmer in a house that wouldn't strike most of us as particularly large. The projector man/ticket taker wears an old fashioned change maker. If you ask nicely, he'll get you a beer or espresso before starting the film. Or if you prefer, an ice cream. On April 19th the 5pm showing had an audience of about twelve. Not quite standing-room only, but close. I don't think anyone is getting rich showing this film, but there are no plans yet to stop. I'm looking forward to my eleventh viewing already.


Tyler Vance said...

I must be the only one in the art community who despises this film. The idea that the old woman is an endearingly "free spirit" or cute in any way is particularly irritating. At least the music is good.

Neat space though, it would have been an experience to see. I think some people went while I was there; in retrospect maybe I should have gone instead of nap.

Em said...

I've never seen this film, but now I'm quite intrigued knowing that its survived solo for 33 years. It can't be THAT bad right? Perhaps my local library has a copy...