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How Do You Make A Movie Screening Into An Event?

How Do You Make A Movie Screening Into An Event?

Eventize. It’s a goal of filmmakers and programmers alike these days. And it isn’t really even a word yet. With all the different options out there competing for our leisure time attention, a movie has trouble standing on it’s own feet these days. We struggle with what we can do to make it pop. How to give our screenings that extra oomph?

Today, Shade Rupe shares a few of his experiences as both a fan and an organizer in making the most of a movie to transform it into a memorable event.

There just ain’t nothin’ like a good show! As Edgar Wright so displayed with his sequel to his previous triumphant week of screenings at the New Beverly Cinema, and reported at his website, kids just love comin’ out for the movies, especially if you give them something to come out for: an event!

I long ago likened myself to Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel, the father of the grand experience of the movie palace, and the namesake for the original Roxy Theater at 50th and 7th, the Cathedral of the Motion Picture. Roxy managed the grand screens of Broadway including the Strand, Rialto, and Capitol, and opened Radio City Music Hall with his “Roxyettes,” later dubbed The Rockettes. Sharing all three initials with my unmet forefather, my love for the dark of the movie theater grows and grows even during the diminuation of those black spaces where excitement and imagination unfurl.

Roxy’s main purpose in life was to heighten the movie-going experience, including the innovation of syncing music to silent films and seamlessly melding separate reels of film by using multiple projectors. Roxy cared about his audience. Today there are several of us lovers of filmstrips, haulers of heavy film cans, locaters of rare prints, and we love nothing more than hosting film presentations on the nation’s single-screens, at venues ranging from 60 seats to 3000. Los Angeles hosts the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian and Aero theaters, wonderful huge rooms for the flickers to ignite our passions, the cinephiliac-run Silent Movie Theatre, and the homey New Beverly Cinema, passionately run for years by the great Sherman Torgan and now helmed by his son Michael. Quentin Tarantino honored his filmic passions with a two-month preamble of ’70s-era grindhouse films in 2007 before becoming the new landlord in 2008, and New York is gifted with Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade, one of the best facilities in the country, second only to the Academy screening room in Santa Monica. Managed by a cinema-loving staff, the 268-seat, stadium-seating venue hosted the grand Ken Russell during his Russellmania! summer tour, selling out all nine director-attended screenings with surprise guests, and loving fans.

And this is where you experience the real prize of live motion-picture exhibition. Walking into the auditorium with 83-year-old Mr. Russell first created a stir of silence, a mass intake of breath. As we made our way to the reserved seats, the clapping began. Which grew into thunderous applause. Ken turned and faced his appreciative audience for opening night, a rare 35mm print screening of his masterwork The Devils, and waved. They clapped, stood, and cheered. Ken took the mic and introduced the woman sitting next to him: Ms. Vanessa Redgrave. The applause was deafening. She stood up, waved towards the front, swirled herself in a circle and the entire crowd was elevated. Ms. Redgrave’s appearance was a marvel of luck. Amazingly, Vanessa was in town for one night only, the night of our screening, and she chose to spend it with us. Lincoln Center made the next call to Mr. Tommy Tune for The Boy Friend. Tommy was so happy to experience the film with his friend and mentor, Ken was able to convince Tommy to take the stage and dance one of his numbers from the film.

More healthy applause. While the audiences kept lining up, selling out show after show, the final night, Tommy, included a performance from local artist Bliss Blood with a ukelele serenade to Ken with a song from The Boy Friend.

And while all of these events seared the neurons of all who attended, the most memorable moments, even stronger than talented celebrity guests, were the films themselves. Ken Russell’s films are events in themselves. Well before the lazy scourge of computer graphics, well before cell phones interrupted film sets, masters like Ken Russell were able to create their art. For the first time in my filmgoing life, well over thirty years now, and for many in the auditorium during the screening of The Music Lovers, we knew what it was to be human. To feel. To know. Sitting next to Ken, as Tchaikovsky’s strings filled the room and images of a couple strolling through a sunlit forest greeted our retinas, I felt the film. A surge of warmth, and coolness, started from my groin and worked up through my heart, and by the happy sobs around me, I knew I was not alone, and I let the tears come out. All of us, everyone at the screening, felt the movie. We didn’t need loud sounds or digital relays. We had the film, and filmmaker, the man who knows how to interact with millions by the use of a camera, and actors, and music. The film as event in itself. With an audience.

Many more films and screenings have occurred since then, having now helmed several midnight-movie introductions at the Landmark Sunshine, including a great screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with a new special intro written by Edgar Wright for us to read out, and moderating a spirited Q&A with Gaspar Noé over his extended cut of Enter the Void at the IFC Center. Yet the one that still haunts me is that evening double feature of The Music Lovers and Women in Love. The one where we all further learned what it is to be alive. It’s something that doesn’t happen with a portable digital viewing device. It happens in the theater. With an audience.

— Shade Rupe
Shade Rupe is the author of Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms (Headpress, 2011), a 568-page collection of 24 years of interviews with Tura Satana, Divine, Crispin Glover, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and 23 more innovative creators. He presents and attends theatrical film events in New York and abroad.

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