A midsummer weekend turned into a cinematic journey through different eras, genres, and techniques when I visited the latest screenings in four classic movie programs on July 13, 14, and 15, 2012.
It started on a lucky Friday the 13th when I visited the Ohio Theatre in Columbus for an evening showing of the 1922 silent film Robin Hood. The next afternoon, I stopped in at the Detroit Film Theatre for the DFT 101 screening of the 1931 French musical comedy À Nous la Liberté. Saturday evening, I visited the Redford Theatre to see the 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz. My classic film fest finished on Sunday afternoon at the Michigan Theater for a screening of the 1962 drama To Kill a Mockingbird.
One of the many pleasures of this weekend was the chance to see these four classic films in the order in which they were released. It was a sampling of movie history that helped me better understand the changes through the years.
The history lesson began in the silent era with the Douglas Fairbanks adventure Robin Hood. I imagined it was 1922 again, and it was perfectly natural to watch a movie with intertitles and live musical accompaniment.
Then it was the early sound era as I watched À Nous la Liberté. This film still used a lot of silent film techniques, such as general soundtrack music over active, carefully choreographed visuals that were not limited by hovering microphones. But you could also see progress into the sound era, with witty dialogue that wouldn’t have been possible with intertitles.
After that came the early Technicolor of The Wizard of Oz, with smooth integration of sight and sound, and state of the art special effects. Sound engineering had advanced to the point that voices were electronically created for some of the Munchkins.
Then finally, the widescreen To Kill a Mockingbird. Its use of black and white photography decades after the introduction of color film was a wise choice for its serious subject matter. Only a few years later, commercial pressures would force almost every film to be shot in color.
The Ohio Theatre is Columbus’s version of the Fox Theatre. It’s a large downtown movie palace where a variety of live events are held. Every summer, it hosts a Summer Movie Series that includes one silent film with accompaniment by house organist Clark Wilson on the Ohio’s Morton theater organ. Clark appeared at the Redford Theatre in 2003, when he accompanied the silent movie Wings, as part of the Redford’s 75th anniversary.
Detroit Film Theatre
This summer, the DFT is temporarily screening films in the Lecture Hall of the Detroit Institute of Arts, while restoration work is performed on the back steps of the DIA auditorium where DFT movies are usually shown. The Lecture Hall has its own low key elegance, and DFT basics have continued, like program notes, creative publicity, helpful staff, and film introductions by DFT founder Elliot Wilhelm. When you leave a movie, you’re right in the middle of the DIA and it’s easy to go straight to different exhibits, including the nearby puppet, photography, and graphic arts exhibits.
Redford fans lined up on July 13 and 14, 2012 for one of the movies selected by visitors in a poll last fall, The Wizard of Oz. Adding to the fun were visitors who dressed up like Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. At intermission, one of the Dorothy look-alikes stood on stage, tapped her shoes together, and said, “There’s no place like the Redford Theatre, there’s no place like the Redford Theatre.” Larry the T-Shirt Guy and his staff sold Wizard of Oz t-shirts, and the always-entertaining display case by the piano included publicity from the different movie versions of the Wizard of Oz story.
Michigan Theater members got an extra treat before the July 15, 2012 showing of To Kill a Mockingbird. Movie co-sponsor Grand Traverse Pie Company provided free sandwiches and desserts to theater members, who enjoyed these treats in the main auditorium, in the balcony, and on the steps of the elegant stairways of the Grand Foyer. After the movie, visitors lingered in the Grand Foyer to discuss the film and talk about other summer activities, including the annual Ann Arbor art fairs which would start a few days later.
Copyright © 2012 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.