So now it’s New Year’s Day, 2017, in the unbelievable (to me back in 1977) twenty-first century, itself almost a fifth over. Is it the crossing of millennial bridges that generates backward reflections of a slightly nostalgic flavor? It’s no accident that I’m reading (in an audio format, finally!) Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past, if you prefer). He was writing from the vantage point of 1913, looking back on the previous century, his vanished childhood. Does the latter twentieth century, with its movie palaces, carbon arc projectors that utilized actual fire, wooden booths with dial phones, and analogue everything else seem as impossible to me now — endearingly simple — as candlelight, carriages and whalebone corsets seemed to the grown-up Marcel Proust?
Of all the movies we showed in our year as movie theater operators, perhaps only Mel Brooks’ classic, Silent Movie, plays to the theme of time as something slippery and variable, the way it seems to me now, looking back. Brooks’ comedic tour de force pulls the rug out from under our idea of time, purporting to take place in the present, but observing (with one notable exception) the form of a 1920’s silent film. There are sound effects galore, which truly silent movies didn’t have, but the endless stream of sight-gags is pure silent comedy, reminiscent of Sennet and Chaplin. The only spoken word in the movie is delivered by a mime, Marcel Marceau. How ghostly it seemed, this return to lost time, in an almost–empty 1920’s house. We showed it in cold November, the month our theater landlord began shutting off the heat. I sat for a while in the dark and tried to pretend I wasn’t freezing, sipping a coffee that had gone cold. I’d like to revisit Silent Movie with warm toes sometime.
Movies that toy with the idea of time are my faves, like Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey in which Keir Dullea visits the Theory of Relativity and morphs into a celestial baby, or my favorite all-time romance, Stanley Donan’s Two for the Road, that cuts forward and backward almost randomly from a couple’s present to their near and distant past as lovers at various times on the road. We never showed either of them at the St. George, but we could have; I wish we had.
I am sometimes maddened by the absence of a movie screen, when I enter the St. George Theatre nowadays, a working live performance house. Blink; look again: it’s as if I can will the screen, with its beloved grape soda stains back into existence. But then, I would be 28, and I don’t think I could bear to live my life all over again.
So leave it in the past: the unstained screen of my imagination will do well enough.