Autumn Allure – A Season of Classic Films in Canberra
Next year, The Birth of a Nation, Hollywood’s first feature-length film, is going to reach its centenary. That’s, by most measures of human endeavour, old. In a recent article for the New York Review of Books, Geoffrey O’Brien mused that while once the span of movies could be measured in a single lifetime, by now that month-old baby who the Lumiere Brothers shot being dangled in the arms of someone while the train that chugged past in L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, circa 1896, has most certainly been put to rest in the cold earth. The movies can no longer be encompassed by a generation or two; instead, the movies have a history now. Film as a medium, an art form, is getting old.
All of a sudden, people are talking about “the classics”; critics draw up lists of the “Greatest Movies of All Time” and a few curious first-years sign up to something called Film History 101. Film becomes academic, and reels of dust-worn tape are put under scrutiny and argued over as if each film had some greater significance than merely entertaining an audience and raking in cash for however long the studios can flog it. People watch old movies for disparate reasons: the film nerd is looking for cache, the old geezer next to him is recalling his wasted adolescence, others are just curious. There is no universal reason for the appeal, and the great thing is, there doesn’t have to be.
Until recently there wasn’t much opportunity to see old movies on the big screen in Canberra. The Arc is great, when it doesn’t forget itself, mistaking obscurity for merit. Otherwise your hopes were pretty dire. Then Dendy launched its first season of classic Hollywood cinema, Autumn Allure. At $7.50 for Club Dendy members, suddenly my friends and I had a reason to go to the cinema every Monday night because we were guaranteed at least a good movie, if not a great one.
This was watching film in its natural element, as it should be: nestled amongst a tumultuous crowd, the film score echoing throughout the auditorium, Clark Cable and Orson Welles standing monolithic upon the giant screen. It wasn’t long for the realization to come that some people sitting down hadn’t seen these movies before. You could feel it. The anticipation, the shock of the unexpected was electric, contagious. People gasped when they finally discovered what “Rosebud’” meant; they cheered when Rhett Butler finally, frankly couldn’t give a damn; and they hummed along while Gene Kelly sung in the rain and didn’t watch Sam play it again. And it was history. A great history of moments that had once brought whole audiences together in unified awe, being revisited, the layers of recycled pop allusions torn away to expose that one original, glorious moment.
Alas, for those interested in joining in, the Autumn season has almost petered out, with the exhausting torpor that is Cleopatra the sole remaining flick. However, such has been the rabid enthusiasm of the run, Dendy has just announced its Hitchcock-heavy Winter Wonderlands season. Do yourself a favour and find out why these celluloid relics still matter.