For moviegoers, the early months of a new year can be a tough time. Theaters are filled with year-end releases that you’ve already seen, and many new films get only one or two stars from the critics.
But this past week, all three Detroit Movie Palaces came to the rescue with films that helped patrons escape the snow and cold of the bleak midwinter.
Heartfelt Fun at the Michigan
For several years, visitors to the Michigan Theater have spent Valentine’s Day with Audrey Hepburn in a special night of treats and prizes. Last year, the Michigan screened her Oscar-winning performance in Roman Holiday (1953), and this year showed Sabrina (1954).
Before the film, members of the Michigan enjoyed chocolate bars that were stamped with the theater’s logo and wrapped with a red ribbon. They also sipped sparkling wine as they drifted around the auditorium, lobbies and staircases, making friendly conversation. Staff members dressed in red handed out information about the benefits of membership at the Michigan.
Organist Steven Ball entertained the audience with romantic songs like “Hello Young Lovers” from The King and I. With the large red stage curtain as the perfect backdrop, Executive Director/CEO Russ Collins and Annual Gifts/Membership Director Laura Barnes held drawings for several holiday-related prizes. They also promoted upcoming events like the Oscar telecast viewing party on February 25 and the March 16 premiere of the family adventure The Last Mimzy.
Soon, the lights went down, and the style and magnetism of Audrey Hepburn once again enthralled an audience. Also starring was Humphrey Bogart, who had played a much different role in another 1954 film (The Caine Mutiny) that played at the Redford on January 19-20. Different audience reactions greeted Bogart’s line about spending only 35 minutes in Paris because “I was on the way to Iraq for an oil deal.”
The film ended with its theme song “La Vie en Rose”, which merged magically with strong, appreciative applause, which was then followed by a captivating reprise of the song by organist Steven Ball. After that, the deep cold and fresh snowfall from the night before didn’t seem so bad.
Opening Night at the DFT
The next evening (February 15), the Detroit Film Theatre showed its first film of the Winter/Spring 2007 season—Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1966), from French director Jean-Luc Godard.
It was also the first chance for DFT visitors to enjoy the beauty and comfort of the new dark blue seats that are currently being installed. Like many others, I savored the pleasure of sitting in these plush seats for the first time. The fresh smell of the new seats and the upbeat anticipation of the audience made this a unique evening.
The seats have a striped velour pattern that, with the dark wood backing, give the theater a much different look and feel compared to the previous maroon color scheme. The seat installation is still in progress, and is scheduled to be finished by March 15.
Loud applause filled the air when DFT Membership Chairperson Margaret Thomas asked the audience how they liked the new seats. She said it was fun watching the theater renovation take shape and invited “First Night” visitors to take home a souvenir—a “THIS TAG NOT TO BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY THE CONSUMER” tag from under one of the seats.
The Opening Night film seemed appropriate for the dynamic changes going on at the DFT. It was filled with a collage of images and sounds and sensations that challenged the audience’s expectations about the purpose of film. The observations on politics, sex, and societal change were part of a trend noted in Roger Manvell’s 1966 book, New Cinema in Europe:
“The main movement of the period has been towards greater realism in subjects, characterization and technique, and following this towards a more imaginative understanding of what realism can mean when it is taken beyond mere superficial ‘likeness’ in the portrayal of people and places.”
In trying to understand this film, I also took comfort in these words about Godard from Eric Rhode’s 1976 book, A History of the Cinema from its Origins to 1970: “It is significant that the admiration and hostility aroused by his films has usually been directed not at his characters or plots but at the director himself. He can no longer rely on story or mood to captivate his public.”
So began another season at the DFT, with a creative, rewarding invitation to something different—both on and off the screen.
Saturday Night at the Redford
A sudden burst of large snow flakes reflected the friendly glow of the Redford marquee. In the front lobby, different theater volunteers greeted visitors. The energetic melodies of the Barton organ filtered through the inner lobby, as the magic of the Redford took hold of me and other patrons.
On this cold February 17 evening, many parts of the Redford had the welcome feel of a cozy fireplace. The concession stand was the bright focus of the inner lobby. In the auditorium, the spotlight fell on organist Dave Calendine, whose selections included “That’s Entertainment”, “The Syncopated Clock”, “Hold That Tiger”, and “Seventy Six Trombones”.
From the balcony, the golden glow of the grille areas on both sides of the stage added to the warmth of the evening. And the CinemaScope and Eastmancolor of the night’s film (Pillow Talk) blanketed the audience with the comedy and music of Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Pillow Talk (1959) was a witty romantic comedy that showed the different changes in film content and technology since Sabrina was released only five years earlier. The color and widescreen was one big difference, as well as the more explicit double entendres.
Interestingly, the lead actresses in both films (Audrey Hepburn and Doris Day) had shades of innocence that both attracted men and made those men want to open these women up to a wider world. And the film imagery of women and romantic relationships was one of many things commented upon in the Godard film, released seven years after Pillow Talk.
I gained a new appreciation for the singing talents of Doris Day, especially with the catchy title tune (which organist Dave Calendine played as the audience left the theater). The music of Pillow Talk inspired me to flip through the 50-cent record rack in the front lobby.
I’ve found many fascinating albums in this rack, which has nicely enhanced the nostalgic texture of the Redford. That night, I walked home with two 1950s-era albums—Just You Just Me, by Jaye P. Morgan; and I Wish You Love, by Carmen Cavallaro (“The Poet of the Piano”).
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.