Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Dying of the Light

This film makes me glad to live in the Boston area, because that's where all the projectionists in it who talk about running film in the present tense as opposed to the past are. Sure, this is in part a function of filmmaker Peter Flynn being based in the area, but it's worth noting anyway - we don't quite have an opportunity to see film every night here, but it's closer than you might expect. We're lucky that way, in large part because we have a pretty good range of theaters that don't just passively note that they're running film, but actively promote themselves as showing it. The Somerville Theatre, for instance, didn't upgrade to 70mm for The Hateful Eight; they'd been putting the system together for years because they wanted to show 70mm film, and the community has started to respond to it.

I'm there often enough that writing this review was a little odd, seeing as the place's head projectionist David Kornfeld is one of the most prominent talking heads in The Dying of the Light, and I was a bit nervous that I'd be getting the stinkeye from him when I went there. It's not the first time I've watched and written about a movie that someone I knew was involved with, but the first time outside a festival shorts program in recent memory. It was a little odd to me not to see the pricklier side of him emerge until later on, but this is a project that is fairly-well calculated to play to what he's enthusiastic about.

Oddly, I felt a bit of a twinge when he was visiting the remains of the Sutton Motor-In during the film, although I don't think I've ever been there (not a big drive-in guy, what with the not driving). We'd drive past it a lot on the way to visit my grandparents in Sutton when I was a kid, though, and the odd visual of just seeing a running film outside as part of the landscape has stuck in my head for a while.

It's always a bit odd to see a movie in the theater where parts of it take place, and the irony of seeing it in the Coolidge's GoldScreen room using digital projection (though I believe it's now DCP-quality projectors in the two smaller rooms) is kind of stark - it's a small room maybe without a proper booth, and a certain amount of what's lost when going from film to digital is clear when a black scene still faintly glows. It also means there's no respite from the senior citizens behind you who just won't stop talking during the movie.

Ah, well. One more night of it at the Coolidge, and well worth checking out if this is something that interests you.

The Dying of the Light

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 April 2016 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre Gold Screen (first-run, digital) (yes, the irony is noted)

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the protectionist at my neighborhood theater by name when talking to a co-worker, and he took the fact that I knew him by name as a sign that maybe I spent a little too much time there. I doubt he'll see The Dying of the Light - documentaries about the last generation of people to regularly handle actual film in theaters are kind of the definition of a specialty production - but if he does, he'll maybe wonder if they should not have been so invisible. The picture does an admirable job of informing without wallowing in things-were-better-back-in-the-day nostalgia, enough that maybe the switch from film to digital would have been a bigger deal had audiences known these guys.

They did once - as the movie relates early on, the protectionist and his equipment were very visible when moron pictures were primarily exhibited in tents and public halls by traveling showmen at the turn off the Twentieth Century, with permanent "picture palaces" and their booths a later innovation. It's a tradition, one historian notes, that has its roots in magic lantern shows that go back to the mid-1600s, although director Peter Flynn spends much more time talking about the changes in technology that came afterward. Xenon bulbs replaced carbon arcs, switching between projectors whose reels held twenty minutes of film was automated and then made unnecessary by player systems, different types of sounds arrived, and 70mm was one of many ways theaters combated competition from television.

Many of these innovations are explained by David Kornfeld, one of the film's technical advisers and head protectionist at the Somerville Theatre (and, yes, the guy I referred to earlier, as that theater is about a block away from my apartment). David, as most Boston-area film fans will tell you, knows his stuff, and he does a good job relaying the information without it being too dry. As the movie goes on, one gets a sense of how passionate he is about his profession and how a lot of people with specialized skills can have a difficult relationship with the new, way of things that make his job harder but equally disgusting of the ones that make things easier, last they make him and his like obsolete.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: