Weekend Impressions (March 2008)

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page 

Notes from a movie palace weekend (March 14-16, 2008):

After enjoying the focused intimacy of the Redford Theatre (Friday, March 14, 2008) and the Detroit Film Theatre (March 15), the spaciousness of the Michigan Theater on March 16 hit me very strongly. Steven Ball’s organ playing drifted out into the Grand Foyer and the street energy of downtown Ann Arbor continued into the Michigan’s auditorium.

The powerfully deep pain of hundreds of thousands of Chinese in Nanking (DFT) and three human beings in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Michigan).  And the chillingly dispassionate way that Japanese soldiers (Nanking) and a Romanian abortionist (4 Months) had grown numb to their destruction of life.

The varied keyboard talents of musicians at all three theaters.  At the Redford, Newton Bates’ gentle melodies rode on top of a warm, peaceful rhythm.  At the DFT, David Drazin’s sharp, energetic piano playing echoed nostalgically through the auditorium, in time with an amazing 2 1/2 hours of Douglas Fairbanks silent films.  And Steven Ball’s upbeat tunes on Sunday evening helped Michigan moviegoers round out their weekend.

Watching Steve McQueen and Douglas Fairbanks perform stunts that probably made the hearts of their producers and agents skip a beat.  But which also re-inforced their powerful images as actors of style and action.

A haze of smoke drifting off of the stage of the Redford, as a deep green 2008 Bullitt Ford Mustang rolled on to the stage to deliver announcer Gregory Sumner.

Watching movie history being made in The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916), starring Douglas Fairbanks, and directed by John Emerson.  The titles were written by Emerson’s wife Anita Loos, who (according to Lewis Jacobs in his 1939 book The Rise of the American Film) was building movies out of themes, rather than plots.  ”…Anita Loos did much to broaden the range of screen subjects and refine the tone of movies,” wrote Jacobs. “It was her satire, moreover, that helped establish Douglas Fairbanks as one of the leading figures on the American screen.”

The excruciating awkwardness of the birthday party scene in 4 Months.  The varied expressions on the young lady’s face as she tried to balance a world of thoughts and emotions.  She had to put on a good face for the party, think about pressure from her boyfriend, and deal with her involvement in the abortion that she had just helped her friend carry out.

Hearing DFT Film Curator Elliot Wilhelm speak before the Douglas Fairbanks movies.  He spoke in that friendly, knowledgeable way that many people have come to enjoy at both the DFT and before the old movies that Wilhelm hosts on public television.   

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright © 2008 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.  

Leave a Reply