Witness for the Prosecution

On a cold night in January, I picked Witness for the Prosecution because it appears on 7 lists on icheckmovies (I’m now only 1 movie away from getting a bronze award for 1950s, yay!).  It’s a well known classic shot in black and white, a courtroom drama featuring a strong female character… hallmarks of a movie I’d normally love.  Yet, it took me three three tries to get through this movie.  Why?  Was it boring?  Nope.  Was I extremely busy?  Nuh-uh.  Did Marlene Dietrich remind me so much of my wicked stepmother that I could only stomach her for minutes at a time?  Ding ding ding!

This was actually the first movie I’d seen Marlene Dietrich in, though I’ve seen her image countless times and am familiar with her genderbending cabaret schtick.  I was waiting for her to sweep into the scene and wow me.  And she did, for a moment, until she opened her mouth.  Then I got the heebie jeebies and gazed at the screen in horror.  The bleached blonde hair, slim hips and square build, that gravelly voice and dreadful accent (pronouncing “married” like “may-weed”).  It was too much!  I compulsively checked IMDB see if it was possible that Marlene Dietrich was alive and hiding out in Florida, making some pensioner miserable.  I was able to verify that she did in fact die in Paris in 1992, and I also realized that when Witness for the Prosecution was filmed, Marlene Dietrich was 56 years old and looking freakishly good for her age (magical blend of soft focus, caked-on make up, and superior genetics?)

If you’ve ever heard me mention my father’s wife, you probably have an idea of why seeing visage on screen was such an unwelcome surprise.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing about that chainsmoking, lifeforce-sucking Berliner with sloppy eyeliner, allow me to catch you up to speed: drunken and verbally abusive voicemails (if you knew her, you wouldn’t answer her calls either), barbs directed at my mother/father/me, outright lies, and clumsy, relentless attempts to prevent my father from seeing me or spending any money on me.  And by “spending any money,” I do mean spending ANY money.  For my 21st birthday, they gave me a used fannypack that looked like it had been picked out of someone’s trash. I looked through it to see if there was somehow something more to it and, joy of all joys, found a dollar bill crumpled up in an inside pocket.  If they’d found it before me, I’m sure they would have kept it, but as it was, I pocketed the dollar and threw away the fannypack.  Happy birthday to me.

Anyways, back to the movie… the movie… this movie is… and… nevermind, I can’t do it.  I can’t separate this movie from awful associations with my stepmother.  Watch the movie if you find black and white courtroom dramas appealing.  Also, you lovers of camp will want to check out one of the hammiest scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of guffawing at.  Click it, I beg you, it’s 19 seconds well spent and don’t worry, no spoilers except that Marlene Dietrich’s character appears on the stand as a witness for… you guessed it, the prosecution.


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.