Humans are quirky beasts. One night, we’re lining up outside an Apple store in a frenzy to have the latest little digital marvel ahead of anyone else; a day later, we’re seized with nostalgia and scouring eBay for the simple, authentic technology of the “good old days.”
In the world of sound, the path from record albums to CDs to digital super perfection has given us gains in clarity, accessibility and permanence, but lost us the ineffable urgency of an LP’s scratchy soul. In what used to be called “moving pictures,” we’ve gone from Edison’s peephole kinetoscope to cumbersome reels of fragile film, then to pristine digital hyper realism. But at what cost?
Beginning Saturday (Sept. 16), the Taos Center for the Arts will be recapturing the magic of pre-digital cinema with a weeklong “35mm Film Bash.” Its “new” vintage 35-millimeter equipment will be showcased with four very different films from bygone eras at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. (The Taos Community Auditorium is owned by the town of Taos, but managed and operated by special arrangement with the Taos Center for the Arts nonprofit organization.)
Following the recent community-funded upgrade to a digital theater system and 35-foot screen, the acquisition of this new machinery brings the auditorium full circle. It now has the capacity to present the best quality cinema in digital, DVD and Blu-Ray formats, while still keeping film alive.
“This is sort of a rollout and welcome back to the capability of doing 35-millimeter film,” said Taos Center for the Arts Executive Director Deborah McLean. “Its readiness was right at the time of our second annual membership drive. Last year, our base was 500 members and the goal was 700, and we got close to 800. Now, we’re going for 1,000.”
You can get a basic membership for $45 or a student membership for $25. Members get discounts on the center’s weekly film series offerings and presentations, such as the Metropolitan Opera Live and the National Theatre events.
McLean spoke appreciatively about the community support that keeps the center thriving. “There is so much that needs to be done, and we are really fortunate to have dedicated and talented volunteers. I’ve been on many boards and been responsible to boards before. This one is by far the best. They’re together, they’re collaborative, they know how to provide direction. We want to serve the community with a good balance of visual media and performing arts. We work with promoters and other presenters around town so as not to duplicate because we want to complement, not compete.”
She credited the center’s film programmer and projectionist, Peter Halter, with making the “35mm Film Bash” possible. “Peter was instrumental in the whole process – our expansion to digital before – and now this new equipment that allows us to show treasures of archival film. Peter chooses all our films, and he is so well networked in the industry and so very knowledgeable about all aspects of film. He’s in demand year-round at festivals, so we’re lucky that Taos is his home base and we have him with us as much as we do.”
Halter began honing his projectionist skills at the auditorium 23 years ago. His work with the film festival circuit now has him traveling annually to Sundance Film Festival; Sarasota, Florida; the Hamptons; and as far as Doha in Qatar.
He said that “35-millimeter film has become a specialty niche market because they’re not striking prints anymore. We had to get a double system to run the movie continuously because they don’t want you to cut the film. It’s a different medium. The science behind film was mechanical – versus bytes of computer metadata. The digital image is flatter, whereas in film, you have 24 frames a second and your eye gets a rest. You get that rest because the shutter has blades. You don’t consciously see it, but it’s there. It creates a REM (rapid eye movement) state in the brain, compared to digital, which is more like television. It’s a different experience. This is a real throwback with the films we’ve got for the ‘[35mm] Film Bash’ – real prints, not pristine restored versions.”
The four films being showcased at the festival span a wide spectrum of genres across more than three decades of filmmaking. “We just decided it would be a fun collection of prints. It’s a fun mix to show off the new 35-millimeter system we have set up. They’re all such classics, I feel like each one stands on its own,” Halter said.
• Roger Vadim’s 1968 science fiction film, “Barbarella” (Saturday, Sept. 16, then Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22-23, 9 p.m.), could be seen as a metaphor for the clash of old and new technologies. Jane Fonda’s title character inhabits a 41st-century Earth where human sexuality has been replaced by “exaltation-transference” pills. She rediscovers “old-fashioned sex” on an expedition to the less-advanced 16th planet of Tau Ceti. Her adventures bring her in contact with various attractive partners, some of whom stick around to help her escape such terrifying perils as steel-toothed animatronic dolls, “excessive pleasure machines” and Anita Pallenberg.
• Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway star in Roman Polanski’s post-noir mystery, “Chinatown” (6 p.m. Saturday, Sept.16; 7 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, Sept. 17-19). The 1974 film brought unprecedented public awareness to the shady political maneuvers, land grabs and water rights thefts that accompanied the growth of the modern city of Los Angeles.
• Wednesday (Sept. 20) begins a four-night run of Mel Brooks’ classic parody Western, “Blazing Saddles,” with shows at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The 1974 film was co-written with legendary comedian Richard Pryor. It has a stellar ensemble cast – including Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman and Brooks himself – and features a gloriously random cameo by the entire Count Basie Orchestra.
• Since its release in 1942, Walt Disney’s “Bambi” has enchanted generations of children with its colorful animation and friendly forest creatures (albeit after first traumatizing them with the terror of being suddenly, violently orphaned). “Bambi” will be presented free of charge at 2 p.m. on Sunday (Sept. 17) and again on Saturday (Sept. 23). Bring hankies and be prepared for questions from little ones.
Halter spoke of his experiences revisiting the films in preparation for the festival. “Running this projector is an art in itself, doing the changeovers with both machines on and making a seamless transition. When it’s done right, you shouldn’t notice the transition at all, so I’ve been running these to get ready and watching them from in and out of the booth. It’s been really fun. The campiness of ‘Barbarella,’ this dated ‘60s fantasy; the seriousness of ‘Chinatown’ and those water issues that are so topical; ‘Blazing Saddles’ – some of the things Mel Brooks was poking fun at are still issues today; and ‘Bambi’ – well, it still makes me cry.”
He will be on hand to introduce the films and chat informally about them afterward. “It’s a splash from the past, something that we’re losing, that’s going away. My goal is to keep it alive. There’s something about the mechanical nature of film. Even the sound is different than the digital projector, the mechanics of the machine running – and you have to kind of ride it. We have great films coming up that we bring every week. I want more people to enjoy them and come out and see what they’re missing.”
Admission for screenings other than “Bambi” is $8.50, $7 for Taos Center for the Arts members, $5 for youth 17 and under. For more information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.