Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Is this a commercial? I think this is a commercial."

by Mikey

Five years ago when I started working at Seattle's Metro Cinemas (famously named "one of Landmark's least charming theatres" by the Stranger) I didn't know shit about film. Frankly after reading posts by others on sites like this one, I realize that I still don't know shit about film. But I'm learning. For me there has been no finer crash course for this wild world of cinema than the repertory program I co-host, co-curate and co-ddle, Metro Classics.

The most obvious elements I have gleaned since starting the series are the titles, stars and entire genres that I have fallen in love with, which without Metro Classics I probably wouldn't have sought out. The Red Shoes, Ginger Rogers and Westerns jump immediately to mind. Beyond that I have also been forced to look at film from several alternate angles, separate from being a giddy audience member, which I luckily also manage to remain. How can we create an exciting calendar that manages to balance offbeat, rarely seen features (my beloved Pennies From Heaven) with surefire moneymakers (the equally awesome Forbidden Planet) to keep the show afloat? How can we weave these titles into an interesting theme that brings about new dimensions to the films and manages to put the season into some sort of perspective? How do we keep the idea of presenting repertory films exciting and fresh in a city with no shortage of revival houses (plus the greatest video store in the world)? These challenges, though vexing at times, are what keep me engaged and energetic about this two-bit enterprise when we're six weeks deep and I'm at work on my day off, spouting inane trivia questions to elderly couples who have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

A lot of my biases and preconceptions about how repertory should be run have also been thrown into question since starting the series. When we first got up and running I was one of the most vocal proponents for running as many titles as possible on 35mm. That just seemed like the biggest no-brainer. But beginning with the difference I noticed between the Searchers print we ran, which had so many splices in it that the iconic final shot was severely truncated, and the digital version we ran for the staff at midnight, I started singing a different tune. My jaw was on the floor with that digital screening. The colors were popping, the soundtrack was slamming, Monument Valley never looked so damn good.

My disillusionment with 35mm has only grown since. On two occasions we have actually had to acquire a digital replacement at the last minute because the prints we were shipped were in too poor condition to run. Unless it's something that gets played all the time or they just happened to strike a new print for an upcoming DVD release, the films are generally beaten-up, scratched and faded. For the most part studios no longer pay any attention to their archive division, if in fact they still have one. In the last year alone we have noticed a significant decrease in even the availability of prints. We always specify when we propose a calendar "35mm when available". It's telling that this go-around we only managed one out of nine when last year we had seven.

Most repertory theatres don't have a choice on what format they can run, but we've been very lucky to have a fancy Sony 4k digital projector at our disposal. I defy anyone to make the case for running 35 after they've seen something on Blu-Ray pumping out of those twin lamps (or any of the other higher end models that have been released over the last several years.)

Trust me, I understand the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to experience something you can't get at home if you're shelling out $10 to see a film that could arrive in your mailbox. That's why we try and make our screenings more of a heightened experience with giveaways, the aforementioned trivia, and the side-splitting antics of Sean and me. We're like Laurel and Hardy. We're fans of film and we just want to share these ideas and artistic achievements with people. Curating for me is like making a mixtape, it's very idiosyncratic but when done correctly can add a new layer to a universal work you already love.

If you're in Seattle anytime between now and forever, stop by the Metro and say hello.


  1. I'd love to see the colors pop in _The Searchers_ when projected. I'd love to be able to attend these shows, too!

    Hope you're not burning up over there! Maybe it's spiking ticket sales?

  2. Wednesday, when the temperature was recorded at a record-setting 103, the Metro saw its biggest attendance of the year. Despite my intense hatred of any weather over 74, I kinda wish the heat wave would come back with a vengeance next Wednesday.

  3. I'm crossing my fingers for you for all kinds of reasons.