Monday, January 27, 2014

Hope For Cinema: Lessons From Sold-Out 'Music Room' Screening

As the lights began to dim, the audience at the Pacific Film Archive's screening on Saturday night of Satyajit Ray's "The Music Room" quieted their voices and an anticipatory hush filled the theater. The black-and-white credits began to roll on the screen and I was among the privileged 222 people in one of the seats for the sold-out screening.

About ten minutes before the show, I did a walk-around with my camera to record the crowd, and hopefully inspire local programmers to give us more opportunities like these, after looking at this house. Btw, the few empty purple seats were soon occupied.

This is the second Ray film to play at the PFA to a full house and many disappointed people turned away. My report and vid on the sold-out "Pather Panchali" is here. While "The World of Apu" didn't wasn't a sell-out, it was damn well-packed the previous weekend

In my view, the lessons from these screenings start with a clear indication it's the entire Ray series that is of wide interest and not just a single film or two. I expect similar full houses as the series continues and when the Apu trilogy is repeated in the summer, and believe this interest is something to build on because there is an large audience for screenings of works from the cinematic canon, and decent box office receipts to be made.

The hunger for communal cinema in the Bay Area is not limited to the significant number of maturing cineastes of a certain age, but includes a robust high number of 20- and 30-somethings (whom I've seen walk away from the PFA lobby genuinely dejected about not getting in to the Ray classics). We will turn off our computers and tablets and TV screens and other electronic devices to gather together to either see again the old works from master directors or discover them for the first time.

Thinking back to the Piers Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder series, and the Andrei Tarkovsky's "Nostalghia" restorations and new prints shown during 2013 at the PFA, the Castro Theatre, the Roxie Center and the Yerba Buena Screening Room, I recall screenings with vast numbers of seats occupied by movie lovers.

These audiences need nurturing and our savvy programming friends at the arthouses must find ways of keeping us coming back for more movies.

Maybe a series of selections from the Janus Film collection, iconic works from other distributors or thematic historical programming, say, featuring highlights from the Sight & Sound list of the 50 greatest films ever made, with the proper advance public relations would feed the hunger of film-lovers we're seeing at the PFA lately.

Support your local arthouse and keep hope for cinema alive!

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