Thursday, August 4, 2016

Oh, my God, I’m home! You maniacs! You blew it up!

I recently saw Planet of the Apes (1968) on the big screen at the local cinema as part of the Fantom Events partnership with Turner Classic Movies. This has apparently been a popular series, with several releases every year for the past few years, bringing the novelty of classic film viewing back to the big screen.

This is part eight of our year-long monthly series on the current state of the classic film fan.

Though I regard a 1968 film as “too new” to be a classic, in this respect, I think I was not alone: the age demographic of the audience surprised me. I had expected a larger audience of young male sci-fi geeks. Instead, there were mostly middle-aged and senior citizens, I would say equally divided as to gender. Along with a younger couple that brought a few kids, the total audience numbered probably 25 people. 

It was a fun experience, and Ben Mankiewicz’s interview with “Dr. Zaius” before and after the movie made me laugh.  Except for the crack about Dr. Zira going to Smith College, which brought a few chuckles from the audience (Smith College is in my neck of the woods), I think I was the only one really laughing my head off through the whole thing. A rather dour mob. New Englanders. Probably brooding over the winter to come.

The other thing that surprised me was how the themes in this much-parodied pop culture movie-turned-“franchise” have remained relevant: the ape council’s rejection of science because it threatens the power of a fundamentalist government, the refusal to acknowledge truths that are not politically convenient, the cycle of prejudice and subjugation. Rod Serling wrote the script based on Pierre Boulle’s novel, and Serling's introspective and intellectual imprint is all over this movie.  There is a late 1960s feeling of the exhilaration of rebellion, without all the tired dystopian bilge we are beaten over the head with today.

When Charlton Heston comes upon the half-buried Statue of Liberty and screams his last lines, I’m sure all in the theater were quite familiar with the end of the movie, but there was still an awed silence, then the audience erupted in applause.  Though I enjoyed Mr. Mankiewicz’s and “Dr. Zaius’” vaudeville act at the end, it sort of wrenched one out of the really stunned moment at the end of the movie.  I think I would have preferred the TCM studio-filmed epilogue played straighter and not for laughs at this point, maybe an interview with someone connected with the production.

I have seen the other “apes” films, including the newer ones that are really nothing but CGI, lightweight and without the, forgive me, “human” feeling of the original series, and missing the theatricality of the original.  I can remember seeing one of them where computer animated characters bounced through a traffic jam of cars on a bridge, and the image was so irritating – like someone flicking something in your face to grab your attention – I closed my eyes. I like being able to explore the screen, drink in the image, and not have to flinch at constantly flashing images created by people who apparently have attention deficit syndrome and must think I do, too. 

I don’t.  Knock it off.

They are meant to appeal to a younger generation where video games are the main entertainment, and who apparently have a fondness for gray tones.  And revenge.

I wonder how many other people in the audience were regular viewers of TCM? Were any of them wondering who this guy was interviewing “Dr. Zaius”? Would the teen and twenty-something male sci-fi geeks whom I had expected to be there have any familiarity with TCM? Would they understand that I could enjoy the novelty of seeing a movie from my childhood nearly 50 years ago, on the big screen, and yet not call it a classic because it was too new?

How many of you have attended any of these Fantom Events series of classic films in your local cinemas? What did you think?

My local cinema is actually in another town.  My town once had some four or five second-run movie theaters, favorite haunts of three generations, small quaint palaces of enchantment, and all gone now.  We had a drive-in, too, once, but gone now.  I drive back across the river to my own town without any movie theaters.  (“Oh, my God, I’m home! You maniacs! You blew it up!”)

Just the word “Cineplex” depresses me.

Not that I mind watching classic films on TV; that’s where I first discovered them.  I think I’ve mentioned here before that when I was a very young child, I imagined what would be my perfect old movie watching experience: I would have a big cardboard box where there would be a screen inside on one wall, and a little low seat inside for me to sit and watch.  A door I could close.  I could press a button and watch any movie in the world I wanted.  There would be another button to push that would dispense any kind of candy.

I think I came up with this idea when that inevitable sadness overtook me after watching a movie to the end credits and knowing I might not ever see it again.

What strikes me is that I seem to have envisioned something like a VCR-function of this box to play movies at will; and that I apparently created what would be a solitary environment, though there were many movies (like the Three Stooges shorts) that I preferred to watch with my twin brother.  I could never have imagined watching them on a big screen with many other people in the audience, like in the old days.

The candy angle to my invention needs no explanation.

If you had your druthers, and could watch a classic film in any format, what would you like?  A subscription service where you could pick your choice out of hundreds of titles?  Watching on your computer, your iPad, your TV? Do you prefer Blu-ray, or DVD? Is large screen, or portability more important to you?

Would you attend classic film festivals if they were smaller, less expensive, and closer to your hometowns? What would you like to see programmed at these festivals?

Or would you just rather sit inside a cardboard box and watch Manhattan Melodrama (1934) in complete solitude, with any kind of candy you want?  Do you want to do the programming?

Past posts in this series here:

Part 1 of the year-long series on the current state of the classic film buff is here: A Classic Film Manifesto. 

Part 2 is here: Cliff Aliperti’s new book on Helen Twelvetrees.

Part 3 is here: An interview with Kay Noske of Movie Star Makeover.

Part 4 is here: Evolution of the Classic Film Fan.

Part 5 is here: Gathering of the Clan at Classic Film Festivals.

Part 6 is here: John Greco’s new book of film criticism: Lessons in the Dark.

Part 7 is here: Tiffany Vazquez, new TCM host.

Come back next week when we continue our series on the depiction of fascism in classic films with Keeper of the Flame (1942).


My audio book version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., narrated by Toni Lewis, is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.


Caftan Woman said...

"A rather dour mob. New Englanders. Probably brooding over the winter to come."


Toronto is a great movie town with Silent Revue, The Toronto Silent Film Festival, The Toronto Film Society and year-round classic screenings via TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). Although if Fantom Screenings wanted to branch into Canada, I certainly wouldn't turn them away.

I grew up watching the classic movies I love on television and in many ways I like that private experience. However, I have also experienced a genuine sense of discovery and revelation viewing those same films in a theatre. Occasionally I have run across less than respectful audience members who mar my enjoyment of that communal experience. It is always in the back of my mind when deciding to spend the money and make the effort.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I envy you your film festivals, CW. Maybe some day I'll find my way up there. I promise to be respectful. Maybe even share my popcorn.

John is the real "Apes" fan, and he really enjoyed the experience, saying he noticed things that he hadn't before on TV (which surprised me, as I think he's seen the movie a gazillion times). I think he knows more about that series than anybody.

Caftan Woman said...

It would be great to share a movie experience with both you and John. I wouldn't even take too much of the popcorn.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

You're a pal.

Silver Screenings said...

The nearest city to us (an hour's drive) shows one classic film per month, and I always try to make the journey – weather permitting. They've been showing a lot of newer films lately, such as Indiana Jones & Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, and (this month's feature) Field of Dreams.

The audience turn-out is usually quite slim, usually about 20 people. I often think of printing handbills to give to folks before they come into the cineplex, to try to convince them to watch an older film! ;)

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Ruth, I guess you've got to be a diehard fan to travel that distance to see an old movie. Making a party of it might attract more. As we know, watching an old movie is as much a social event as it is an appreciation of an art form.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I live in a big city, so there are plenty of cinemas. Very few single screen cinemas - my local, which has been around since the 1930s, nearly went out of business because the distributors wouldn't let it have new films till after the cineplexes had finished with them. It was saved by a "Friends Of" group. It now does have about six screens, but remains a cosy local with a candy bar where you can also buy hot food and a lobby with tables to sit and eat it or drink coffee while you use the free wifi. It has film festivals AND new movies. Another local 1930s cinema with a single screen, the largest in the state, was saved by a small franchise which has left it as it was, with a mixture of classic movies and newish ones(they don't need brand new released-yesterday movies as they mostly show old ones, so we use it to catch up to the ones we missed). When the elderly cinema cat died they gave her a tribute on-screen and replaced her with a young black and white male cat adopted from an animal shelter, so you can still walk in and have a cat sit on your lap on the sofa in the lobby or watch it walk across the row of seats in front.... The candy bar also sells wine and coffee with the popcorn and ice cream.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Sue, that local movie house with the cat sounds great! I'm always so pleased when Depression-era movie theaters can be saved for future generations to enjoy. There is no experience quite like them -- you just don't get the same ambience as in a modern Cineplex. Especially if they show classic films! You're lucky.

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