Make mine a musical
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Although a wildly disparate lot, the phalanx of projectionists and volunteers from the Pickford Film Center has historically had one thing in common: its willingness—some might go as far as to call it eagerness—to show movies anywhere.
During my nearly 16 years as a projectionist at the Pickford, this belief that we can transform any and every locale into a temporary movie theater has led us to show films in bars, nightclubs and abandoned buildings. Fields and empty lots have also not been safe from our theatrical onslaught. We’ll set up a screen in the middle of the street if the situation calls for it. At least once, we’ve taken over a theater in town that didn’t even belong to us.
These days, when the Pickford takes its show on the road, it heads right to the roof of the downtown Bellingham Parkade, where it blows up its giant inflatable screen, builds a beer garden and invites the public to see movies at what has been dubbed appropriately as the Rooftop Cinema.
Traditionally, Rooftop Cinema films have been chosen, not along any theme or subject, but simply according to what might please the movie-going public. This year, however, the selections are musical in nature, and obviously I am here for all of it.
By the time I first watched The Wiz, the 1978 musical starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, I had seen the source material—The Wizard of Oz—roughly one million times and my mother felt the need to expose me to something other than Judy Garland and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” In this version, Dorothy hails from Harlem, the Wiz comes from Atlantic City, the Wicked Witch of the West runs a sweatshop and the Flying Monkeys are a motorcycle gang. Since it is a musical, The Wiz has a pretty sweet soundtrack—hallmarked by the Ross/Jackson duet “Ease On Down the Road”—and the movie is credited with introducing Jackson to producer Quincy Jones. Plus, Nipsey Russell is the Tin Man and the Wiz as a giant, fire-breathing metallic head played by Richard Pryor. See it Fri., July 28 or hate yourself for missing it.
With August comes a movie from two directors who are easily my favorite filmmakers working today, the Coen Brothers. O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which shows Fri., Aug. 26, might not be considered a traditional musical, but the Coens purposefully used the soundtrack as almost another character in their freewheeling reimagining of Homer’s Odyssey. The song most identified with the film, which stars George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson as three fugitives on the lam, is “Man of Constant Sorrow,” but the whole of its Grammy-winning, T-Bone-Burnett-produced soundtrack is excellent. Watch O Brother on the roof and then rent concert documentary Down From the Mountain at Film is Truth on your way home.
The final film of the 2017 Rooftop Cinema series, which takes place Fri., Sept. 8, is a music documentary I’m fairly certain the Pickford has shown more times than any other, Stop Making Sense. The concert doc, featuring the Talking Heads and directed by Jonathan Demme, has been called “one of the greatest rock movies ever” by Leonard Maltin and “close to perfection” by Pauline Kael, so it definitely comes with its critical bona fides intact. Acclaim aside, witnessing the slow build of a solo David Byrne being joined onstage by different musicians with each successive song makes the payoff of watching the full band tear into “Burning Down the House” well worth it. The first time I saw people dance in the aisles of the Pickford, it was at this movie. However, the roof of the Parkade makes for a far better dance floor.
As always, the movies of the Rooftop Cinema are free (donations are both welcome and encouraged), but food and drink is not. As well, the Pickford’s supply of folding chairs is finite, so feel free to bring your own seating. Preshow entertainment begins at 7pm, with the movie starting shortly after dusk. We will build you a theater anywhere. All you have to do is come.
The Green Frog
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