Not so silent cinema

This weekend I retested (and confirmed) my theory that there’s no better way to spend a Friday night than watching Buster Keaton on the big screen. A dear reader of this blog alerted me that some of Buster’s short films were showing with live musical accompaniment. Let’s get this straight:  Buster Keaton movies, live music, alcoholic beverages, all happening together in a building that looks like a castle? Hot damn, count me in!

The Boston-based outfit Not So Silent Cinema performed their original music for Buster’s “The High Sign,” “One Week,” and “The Goat.” You are already familiar with “The Goat” because that’s where the iconic image of Buster behind bars comes from. I wouldn’t have guessed that the banjo and clarinet would go so amazingly well with Buster’s pratfalls and pork pie hat, but their score was just… wow, it was just an amazing fit.  I’d listen to it right now if I could!  Let me know if they ever come out with an album.

The best part, though?  Sitting in a huge roomful of people, laughing and hooting and clapping together, cheering on our underdog hero as he haphazardly saves the day and gets the girl  Having spent so much time watching silent movies alone on my laptop, or  sequestered in Bowdoin’s basement library, I forget just how joyous and unifying those silent comedies can be.  Here we are, over 80 years later, still laughing at these jokes. I’m impressed anew by how much of Buster’s silent humor translates seamlessly to today (who doesn’t love sticking it to the man?), but these three movies may have been chosen just for that reason. Something tells me that the blackface bit in College (1927) wouldn’t go over too well with Camberville’s film buffs.

In conclusion, I’m experiencing a resurgence of love for Buster Keaton and Arts at the Armory.  Before I leave you, here is a gem from “The High Sign” I identify with these days:

Intertitle from "The Goat"


Cabot Street Cinema

If you live around Boston, you’re probably like me and paying too much in rent to be able to afford a decent time machine.  Lucky for us, though, we can still live our dream of going to a 1920s picture show.  Say hello to the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts.  You’d have to pry this theater’s old school glamor out of its cold, arthritic hands, because not a lot has changed since its first show on December 8, 1920.

Sign at night

Cabot Street Cinema Theatre - The sign alone is worth the drive.

Last week, my darling accomplice S. and I went to see Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, The Skin I Live In.  Upon our arrival at the theater, the oh-my-god-I’ve-traveled-back-in-time feeling set in immediately.  A doorman in a blue double breasted coat and matching fur hat welcomed us inside (he vaguely reminded me of these guys).  Nestled amid the lobby’s sea of plush red carpet, a live pianist played tunes I imagine my great-grandparents would recognize, and tuxedo clad ushers greeted us with smiles (yeah, try finding THAT at the multiplex!).  We bought popcorn and soda from the one-man concession stand and were shocked by the appropriately sized beverage containers… the small was actually kind of small.  Who knew that still happened?  The lobby is also a shrine to Le Grand David, a weekly production at the theater that’s recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running magic show.  If I make it to Le Grand David, you can bet your ass I’ll update you here.

Okay, I should stop waxing on about the refreshments and magic show memorabilia, since we haven’t yet covered the majesty of this theater’s interior.  I’m talking about a grand old theater, with ornate carvings and bas relief, an expansive stage, heavy curtains, rich reds everywhere… there are parrots hand painted on the stall doors in the ladies room, THAT’S how fancy this place is (apparently I set the bar low).  The picture below doesn’t do it justice, but it will give you an idea.


If you liked the sign, just wait 'til you see the interior.

You gotta have a sense of humor about the seats, as I fear they are too authentic for comfort, but the viewing experience more than makes up for it.  During every single preview, especially Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, I couldn’t help but whisper to S., “I want to see that!” and “I want to see that, too!”  Everything that flickers on that screen looks so damn amazing because of where you’re watching it.

Sadly, the crowds at the Cabot Street Cinema aren’t exactly overwhelming.  I hope they stay in business, though, because they offer something so unique.  For just $9, you can experience a real ’20s style movie house.  I intend to visit them more often, and urge you to as well.  Seriously, if you’re in New England, you owe yourself a trip to the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre.  Similarly, if you’re coming to visit me from an exotic Southern locale, WE ARE GOING HERE, NON-NEGOTIABLE.

I’m so excited about the theater that I almost forgot the movie.  The Skin I Live In, oh boy, where to start…Visually, it’s delectable, that’s to be expected from our man Pedro.  But the story, good lord!  Without giving anything away, I’ll just tell you that the pacing is erratic and there is too much creep and not nearly enough camp.  Multiple rape scenes aren’t really my cup of tea in the first place, and it doesn’t feel like there’s any redemption.  S. and I were so deeply disturbed afterwards that we cruised aimlessly for a while trying to forget how foul this film tasted.  A few hours later, S. had an epiphany that the story was in some ways a retelling of the Bible, and after THAT we were able to discuss the plot without wanting to retch, but no earlier.

You have been warned.