(image c/o Cinema Treasures)
Continuation of the series that began here.
Of Westerns, Dramas, and JAWS
I continue to reflect on the movie side of my experience of working as a projectionist at the Warner Huntington Park Theater, circa 1976 – 77. For many of these films, I can still see the associated cue marks in my head from that span of time. And they’ve left a dent in this memory of mine. So, before they disappear from my mind and this world, here are some of them.
Easily my favorite among all in this distinct film genre that I had the privilege to project was the early Clint Eastwood great, The Outlaw Josey Wales. We showed it during its initial run, the very first week. Not a rare outing for us, but it did not happen as often as many of us there would have liked. The film played for only a week at our theater. It’d be a long while till another of his directorial efforts would surpass this western.
One of Eastwood mentors, Don Siegel offered the meaningful The Shootist that had a couple of us western lovers quite wistful. A late work by this director, you could spot the unmistakable influence it had on Eastwood’s later films. I can’t forget to mention Clint’s second stint as director in High Plains Drifter brought in movie ticket buyers, even in revival. Plus, it was the first supernatural western I ever saw.
The very serviceable The Return of a Man Called Horse was a decent follow-up to the original. Surprisingly, The Last Hard Men offered more of a hard-hitting, Peckinpah-styled film than was expected. In the same vein, this was followed by the uneven but unusually watchable The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. I’d find and read the Marilyn Durham novel, which was the basis of the film, directly due to its screening.
However, I daresay the most underrated among these was the last western I ever projected on the premises, a few weeks before I’d make my exit. The rueful and intriguing Charles Bronson vehicle by J. Lee Thompson, The White Buffalo. It would take decades till I’d get to re-watch the film, this time via disc from an overseas Region 4 DVD. It was still worth it.
Image via Wikipedia
Out of the few dramas, crime or otherwise, that the theater showed, a few of them left rather large impressions. None more so than Sam Peckinpah‘s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. My first projection of it had my jaw on the floor. The subsequent screenings simply had me amazed, as this film continues to do. The man could make great movies (even Peckinpah’s flawed The Killer Elite left an entertaining impression).
Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver had the entire projection crew repeating De Niro’s dialogue and talking about the film through its week-long, second-run stint there. Yet, the best directorial debut, hands down among those in the booth, though, went to Walter Hill for his undervalued film, Hard Times, as the ‘B’ feature of a double-bill no one now remembers. The headline movie long since forgotten.
The films that turned our opinions 180° during their runs: Shampoo, The Late Show, and Mother, Jugs & Speed. Each grew on us so much, as prototypical 70s fare, we became their champions. I know I was sad to see them leave.
Additionally, I also grew quite fond of William Friedkin‘s highly criticized (at the time) Sorcerer. Like a few others, I actually saw this first outside, at another movie theater, before it arrived one Wednesday morning at our venue. It made quite a mark on me back then. Finally, Brian De Palma‘s Obsession had the best twist ending out of all of the films I ever projected on to our theater’s screen.
The Undisputed Champ
The theater owner booked this blockbuster for the summer of ’76 (a year after it debuted) in the hopes that it would somehow work its box office (and concession stand) magic for him. It absolutely surprised the hell out of me by doing just that. It played at the theater for not one, two, or three weeks… but SIX straight weeks!
Even my brother (the same guy who hired and trained me at the theater) came back to watch this (without paying for a ticket, of course*). For my entire stint there, I can count on one hand the number of times we were allowed to open up the balcony for patrons. We did that for the first couple of weekends on this film run.
By week three, all of the working projectionists could perform a changeover without watching for cue marks. We knew the movie so well we could do it by listening to the soundtrack and dialog alone. No one was happier to see it go than the crew in the booth (we were so sick of it). I couldn’t re-watch that movie again till sometime in the 90s.
Note: I went into more of my personal history with regard to this one film in a piece written last year: A Journey…With JAWS.
* I am sure I’ll surprise no one by revealing some in the booth would sneak in their friends (or family) to watch a movie without benefit of a ticket. And without others of the crew knowing. It was done by having ‘guests’ walk up the external stairway (via the rear parking lot) used by the theater’s balcony exit. Since the section was rarely used, and was closed to patrons, the projectionist could open the door unobtrusively to let them in. They’d view the film stealthily from the balcony and exit the same way.
To be continued…
The entire Warner Theatre Project series can be found here.