With a sigh of regret, but a note of hope, the chairperson of the Friends of Detroit Film Theatre, Margaret Thomas, spoke to the DFT audience on December 10, 2006. It was the last film of the Fall/Winter 2006 season, but in two months, the DFT would re-open with its auditorium renovation complete.
“When you come through those doors, it will be absolutely beautiful,” said Thomas, whose enthusiastic friendliness has become a familiar part of DFT presentations. Her announcement about new seats was greeted with strong applause by audience members who would no longer have to shift around uncomfortably during movies.
The last DFT films until February 15, 2007 were a fascinating pair of old films that honored special anniversaries and gave patrons the chance to compare the visual splendor of two movies where no English words were heard.
First up was the 1929 German silent film Pandora’s Box, with a stunning lead performance by Louise Brooks, who was born 100 years ago (November 14, 1906). DFT visitors were treated to a pre-film speech by Thomas Gladysz, director of the Louise Brooks Society. Gladysz, a Detroit area native, noted that Brooks had performed as a dancer at Orchestra Hall in Detroit in 1923 and 1924, and at the Blossom Heath Inn in St. Clair Shores in 1934.
In Pandora’s Box, Brooks gave one of the most dynamic performances that has ever graced the DFT screen. The well-crafted images of director G.W. Pabst added mystery and depth. And the poignant use of Christmas music at the end of the film gave a interesting shade to the holiday season.
Afterwards, in the Crystal Gallery Cafe, I enjoyed some chili and an orange-flavored chocolate bar. In the cozy dimness, a candle flickered on my table as early evening settled outside the ornate windows of the cafe. Around me, others seemed to savor this last visit to the DFT in 2006. Nearby, a discussion group compared impressions of Pandora’s Box.
Mizoguchi Series Ends
Soon, I was back in the DFT auditorium, waiting for the second feature, the last film in a seven-week tribute to Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi, who died 50 years ago (August 24, 1956). As some big band music echoed throughout the auditorium, I enjoyed one last look at screen images from the American Music exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts—intriguing portraits of Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Emmylou Harris, and The White Stripes.
A few minutes later, the lights went down for Mizoguchi’s last film, Street of Shame (1956). Interestingly, this film shared themes with Pandora’s Box, including sexual manipulation and the unpredictable consequences of temptation. Like other films in the Mizoguchi series, Street of Shame was a sympathetic look at the roles of women in Japanese society.
The Mizoguchi tribute started in late October and was the third DFT series in the last few years to pay homage to a group of directors known as the “Japanese Masters”. The Monday night program of the Fall/Winter 2002 season included 11 films from Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon), whose epic dramas of the 1950s and 1960s helped create a worldwide audience for Japanese movies.
In December 2003, the DFT honored the 100th anniversary of the birth of Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story) with a weekend that included four of his films. Later, in the Winter/Spring 2004 season, 10 more Ozu films were shown on Monday nights, with DFT Curator Elliot Wilhelm introducing each movie. I greatly admire Ozu’s serene, contemplative style, and this tribute was one of my most satisfying experiences at the DFT.
Mizoguchi’s drama is less theatrical than Kurosawa’s but more animated than Ozu’s. He builds his stories out of personal interactions that are often set against a historical background. Almost every movie in the DFT series climaxed with a powerfully emotional scene where characters faced profound truths.
As “The End” to Street of Shame flashed on the screen, I found myself reflecting on different endings—the current DFT season, the Mizoguchi film series, Mizoguchi’s last film. I thought back to the many pleasurable Sunday nights I had spent in the company of this Japanese Master. One more time, I drove home, winding down the weekend, getting ready for another work week, enriched by another great film.
Soon these memories will fade into my history of DFT experiences, and a new season will fill me with anticipation and wonder.
Copyright 2006 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.