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Earlier this week, I had the luxury of catching Down By Law at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which is my favorite place in the world. I love going to the movies in general, but there’s something special about Coolidge. It’s not just that they sell beer, although that doesn’t hurt. It’s not just that they show movies on actual film — I know some people get really psyched on that, but I don’t know enough about the mechanics of film to understand why so many people think 35mm is the be-all end-all of the moviegoing experience. That doesn’t mean too much to me. I’ll admit, though, it is really satisfying when they run an old copy of a classic and it pops and hisses and crackles like a dusty vinyl record. There’s definitely something more “alive” about the slow degradation of an analog artifact vs the predictable permanence of a digital file. A bunch of us caught The Shining in Somerville last year, and it looked like they’d left the film on someone’s dashboard since 1980, which only made it scarier and more awesome. When a file gets corrupted, it’s unusable. When a record or a film strip gets corrupted, it builds character. There’s something to that. Anyways.
It’s a beautifully restored theater — “art deco,” I’ve been told, though I don’t really know about such things. They keep it old fashioned: Beautiful marquee, curtained screens, ticket window, real butter on the popcorn (probably), tickets and concessions that don’t require a second mortgage. They often play honky tonk country music before the movie starts. But it’s not about nostalgia. First and foremost, it’s about the love and preservation of great film. We need that! Regal’s not doing that. I guess Netflix is, to some extent. But they’re certainly not in it for the love of the game. Coolidge is. Whoever curates the Big Screen Classics series, which runs old movies on Monday nights for most of the year, has impeccable taste. Providing the chance to see old favorites the way they were meant to be seen — in a dark theater, with your phone on silent, sometimes at midnight — is a great service. I mean, here’s a sampling of the movies that I’ve seen there on Monday nights over the last year: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, The Apartment, Dr. Strangelove, Se7en, The Big Lebowski, and the list goes on and on. The list of ones I’ve regrettably had to miss is even longer and better.
I had watched Down By Law probably four or five years earlier for the first time, along with Stranger Than Paradise, during my “watch every important film by every important director” phase, which I guess is still going on and will probably never end. I liked them, and I like pretty much every other Jim Jarmusch movie that I’ve seen, but all I could remember about either was that everything about them was exceptionally “cool” and that Paradise prominently featured my favorite song of all time: “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. What really grabbed me about Down By Law this time is Roberto Benigni. He would later blow up with his own international hit, Life is Beautiful (which I still haven’t seen), but Down By Law was his first appearance in an American film. His role here, as an English-deprived Italian tourist who gets tied up with two lovable losers, is more than comic relief. It’s one of the finest, most heartfelt comedic performances of all time. It’s the heart of the film. The riffs on his bad English are hysterical, but I might have to go and use the word “expressionistic” to describe the power of his body language. He’s got the screen presence of, like, Buster Keaton or something. Check out his introduction. Five or six lines, two minutes, that’s it. But it’s indelible, and it’s hilarious:
I wrote about 80s sci-fi slasher flick Chopping Mall — and remembering to appreciate B movies and the folks behind them — for Network Awesome.
Well, it turned out that Fiona Apple rightfully ended up on a whole bunch of year-end lists and I honestly don’t even know what lists I had looked at that didn’t have her on it that inspired me to write that last post, but I’m standing by it because I think it came out pretty well anyway. Forest chest! You know? You know.
Anyway, right now I’m listening to my turntable with headphones for literally the first time, which is crazy for a few reasons: