A DIA Benefit

Membership in the Detroit Institute of Arts qualifies you for free admission to the current major exhibition Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. It also gets you in free to the DFT 101 Saturday afternoon film series at the Detroit Film Theatre.

Since debuting in March 2010, DFT 101 has entertained and enlightened visitors with older movies that have stood the test of time as cinematic achievements. DFT 101 adds value to these screenings with insightful introductions by DFT founder Elliot Wilhelm and other film experts.

Movies have included well-known works and rediscovered gems from both the United States and other countries.

For example, July 2011 brought these five alternatives to the summer blockbuster season:

  • Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)
  • German director F. W. Murnau’s silent film Faust (1926), accompanied by pianist David Drazin
  • It’s a Gift (1934), with W. C. Fields
  • Diary of a Country Priest (1950), a somber drama from French director Robert Bresson
  • John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), starring John Wayne

Elliot Wilhelm’s introductions have helped add perspective and understanding to each patron’s viewing of the movies, even with films that they’ve seen before. At the screening of Stagecoach, he started off with a humorous anecdote:

“On my way into the theater a while ago, someone was coming in, and I presume is still here, and he said to me, ‘You’re showing a John Wayne western today. That’s not exactly high art,’ [audience laughter] and I immediately said, ‘It’s as high as it comes.’ And I thought about it for a second after I made my little, relatively witless, quip, and realized I meant it. And when you see Stagecoach today, you’re going to see the birth of a great form of American motion picture storytelling.”

DFT 101 probably introduced many people to Yasujiro Ozu’s profoundly moving Tokyo Story, which took about 20 years to be released in the United States after it opened in Japan in 1953. Elliot’s introduction included these remarks:

“One of the bizarre anomalies, I guess, of the way things work in the distribution system is that it was always felt by the importers of films from other countries that Ozu, in particular, was a director who was ‘too Japanese’ for American audiences to enjoy, and that is there wasn’t enough action in his films, that there wasn’t enough swordplay (there isn’t any), but that the films were about universal situations.

“Generally, the great films of the last period of his life were about family life, and it turns out that that yes, they are very Japanese in terms of their style, but that they are absolutely universal in terms of what it is they have to say, about universal truths, about family, about death, about parents and children, and the parting of parents and children, and the changes that families undergo over time.”

DIA/DFT Partnership

DFT 101 is part of a continuing effort to merge the DIA and the DFT experiences. It has probably introduced many people to either the DIA or the DFT, after years of visits to only one or the other. The showings are usually at 4 p.m., which overlaps with the hours that the DIA is open on Saturdays.

I confess it led me to finally get a DIA membership, after years of mainly stopping in for just special exhibitions. Now many of my Saturdays include the usual weekend chores, followed by a late afternoon at the movies where all I have to do to see a classic movie in the beautiful DFT auditorium is flash my DIA member card.

Once you’re seated for your DFT 101 movie, you’ll see a series of slides advertising the wide variety of activities in the DIA, including workshops and music performances. (These slides have also included much-appreciated advertisements for this web site and the other two theaters that it publicizes, the Michigan Theater and the Redford Theatre.)

Attending DFT 101 movies might lead visitors to attend other DFT shows, usually new documentaries or foreign language films. It’s very easy to make a double feature out of a DFT 101 film and the 7 p.m. movie. And you can easily fill this time with a relaxing visit to the elegant Crystal Gallery Café, behind the balcony.

What’s Next?

After looking over two years’ worth of DFT 101 movies, you wonder what next will be shown.

Both Charlie Chaplin (The Circus) and Buster Keaton (The Cameraman) have been well-represented from the golden age of silent comedy. Maybe next we will see something from Harold Lloyd or the lesser-known Harry Langdon.

I’ve seen Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane many times on the big screen, but I’ve never seen a theater showing of his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons. That movie is a rich source of discussion about both the art and commerce of movie making.

Max Ophüls’ opulent camera style has been on display recently for DFT showings of two of his 1950s masterpieces (The Earrings of Madame De… and Lola Montès). He also did some great work in the late 1940s in the United States, especially with Letter from an Unknown Woman.

I discovered Raymond Bernard’s powerful 1932 World War I drama Wooden Crosses at a DFT 101 showing on April 30, 2011. It made me think of a similar film released at about the same time, The Last Flight, which film historian David Shipman once called “the rare example of a film years in advance of its time (one can only speculate on the consequences had it been successful).”

Elliot Wilhelm’s World Cinema has been a handy “textbook” for many of the DFT 101 films. That book includes special praise for the 1978 Italian drama The Tree of Wooden Clogs:

“People who saw it [at the DFT] still come up to me at the museum and request that it be shown again; they remember moments from it, and they want to take people they know—some born long after that weekend—to see it as well.”

DFT 101 helped me rediscover the German film Wings of Desire—the very first movie that I saw at the DFT, in 1988.

Another possibility is a double bill of both old and new films from a country, with the old movie at 4 p.m. as the DFT 101 film, and the new film in the evening.

The next DFT 101 series includes the January 21, 2012 showing of the 1936 drama Rembrandt, starring Charles Laughton. That promises to be a memorable day, since that movie will tie in with the current DIA Rembrandt exhibition, as well as the new DFT film The Mill and the Cross, about the creation of a Flemish painting.

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright © 2011 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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