I wish I had the time and the house to do something like this. Amazingly well constructed and lined up to fit the frame. This is what I call a true Home Projectionist!
You may love your big screen television, but it can end up being a looming, intrusive, and not-so-attractive presence in your living room, den, bedroom, or even your garage. You may prefer to leave it front and center as a room-ruling monolith, but it doesn’t necessarily have to get all of the attention.
Houzz’s recent article, “Decorate With Intention: Helping Your TV Blend In,” provides some camouflage tips, from thoughtful placement options to how to balance the big black screen with other objects.
A conversation with the Music Box Theatre’s head projectionist, Doug McLaren, is featured in this week’s Chicago Reader.
Ben Sachs writes, “The Music Box makes a point of showing both new and old films, so the theater has no intention of scrapping its 35-millimeter projectors as many of the multiplexes have.”
When picking movies for people to see I always try to go with something fast paced, with lots of good lines that people can remember afterwards, and at least one gasp worthy moment. Detour, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer in 1945 hits the mark every time. This film has floated around in the public domain for years. You can see it for free on YouTube, pick it up at the local dollar store, or stumble across a dusty VHS at any garage sale. It’s one of those movies that once you’ve seen it you’ll never forget it.
It’s the quintessential Film Noir, with economical cinematography, dark shadows, impressionistic set pieces, and a story of a man caught up in situations that drive him deeper and deeper into a web of lies that he can never get out. As he says: Yes. Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me for no good
reason at all.
Tom Neal plays Al, the down on his luck piano player who tries to hitchhike across the country to see his girl. Ann Savage, plays the pick-up whose seen it all and who is looking for the quick way out of her terrible life. “Life’s like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you find it’s the ninth inning.”
Detour is one of the quickest 68 minutes that I’ve ever seen. Like its name it starts out on the straight and narrow like a B-movie romance and quickly turns off into a dangerous side road filled with twists, turns and a lot of bumps. Add to the film’s history that Tom Neal ended up shooting his own wife in the head, and his son played the same role in a 1992 remake, and you have a true Noir classic that defines the genre.
“What’d you do, kiss him with a wrench?”
In addition, the extreme close-ups, and odd angles of the film look fantastic when projected. Just try to find a good copy. I recommend the Alpha Video version. It seems to be the most complete.
You can watch the full movie here on YouTube.
Recently I wrote about a great double feature movie night when I showed Night of the Lepus and The Thing with Two Heads. However, there is a flip side to being a host of a movie night; when everything you’ve planned somehow turns out to be the wrong decision.
I had one of these nights a few years ago. It all started when a friend of mine, the famous Cynthia Plaster Caster, was asked by Tribeca Films to be a ‘Style Setter.” This is an ingenious idea where they find people in major cities who are either well known or well connected and they give them advance copies of an upcoming film; they are then expected to have a party where the film is shown, guests are asked to post comments on their social media pages, take photos of the festivities at the home screenings, thereby generating a buzz for people to see the film. Cynthia asked me if we could use my home living theatre to have a screening of the film “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.”
The word from people who had seen the film at art house screenings was that it was hysterical. It’s a documentary about an Appalachian family related to the famous mountain dancer Jesco White, the star of the short film “The Dancing Outlaw.” I’ve seen that short film and it is very funny. Jesco, in-between fighting with his wife outside their trailer, dances on pieces of wood, drinks moonshine. But he is dedicated to a rare and unique form of dancing that was born and has been passed down through generations in the White family.
Cynthia had her list of people who she wanted to come see the film, some of which had never been to a video night at my house. One of the guests was bringing her sister whom we were all warned was very uptight and conservative. We all needed to be on our best behavior, no talking about sex, try not to swear, etc. Already it was going to be a stress filled evening.
I usually show two films when it’s a Saturday night, plus a couple people were coming later so I thought something to fill an hour or so would be good. Recently, my friend Dan gave me for my birthday a copy of Connie Steven’s 1974 TV movie The Sex Symbol.
In it Connie plays a thinly disguised Marilyn Monroe. Rumor has it that she was so proud of this performance that she tried to get it submitted as a contender for an Academy Award. Connie tears the scenery to bits as she stumbles around drunk, sleeps with man after man; all the while Shelley Winters as a thinly disgusted Luella Parsons trashes her on her TV show. I’d only watched the first ten minutes of the movie and it was non-stop camp. I thought, this is going to be perfect. Plus, I had been having a series of TV movie nights, all of which were pretty successful. The TV movie is its own style of filmmaking and it lends itself to group watching.
People arrived, drinks flowed. I got the first group of people to settle down and I started by showing a vintage Soundee, called Satan Is a Woman.
I love this song with it’s over the top male baritone singing about the woman who did him wrong, but for some reason no one else thought it was anything special. After it was over, dead silence. I can’t remember what I put on after that, but it equally fell flat on the floor where people poked at it with their shoes. You’re batting a thousand with these clips…” was one comment.
I thought I better get the first feature on. So I started “The Sex Symbol.” The first ten minutes were great. Connie throws a screaming tantrum, her assistant calls her a drunk and a vodka bottle gets thrown through Shelley Winters’ image on the TV. The famous composer Francis Lai (A Man and a Woman, Love Story) wrote the theme which actually gives the beginning the feel of a big budget movie, however the overall quality of the production is up there with a Marshall Owen, Counselor at Law episode.
Everyone was engaged as Connie (aka, faux Marilyn) sleeps her way up the celebrity ladder. However, after a half hour it really started to drag like a Ford Pinto trying to get up a hill hauling a trailer full of bowling balls. I looked over at the timer on the DVD player and it was at 40 minutes. Usually TV movies time out around 72 minutes. ‘This opus couldn’t possibility be over in a half hour…” I thought. Connie was just rolling around on bed after bed, spilling vodka all over the silk sheets and (gasp) showing her breasts. Yikes, and the uptight sister that we all supposed to be on our best behavior for was sitting front and center. Then it dawned on me; this wasn’t the TV movie but the theatrical version Connie was trying to get into the running for the Academy Awards. Running Time 120 minutes! We brave souls trudged on but the rumblings started to get louder and louder… Finally, when I went to the kitchen to fortify myself with another glass of wine, Paul and Chris followed me in there and cornered me. “ You’ve got to shut this movie off… everyone wants The Wild Whites…!” “I know, but Cynthia made me promise to wait for a couple people…” I said trying to save face. I knew this was a disaster. I went in to the room and said, ‘…there’s been a consensus to shut this off…” Many signs of relief, but a couple people said, ‘Oh, I want to see the whole thing…’ This movie might have been good with a couple people who really wanted to see Connie try really, really hard to be a dramatic actress, but everyone else was bored silly.
Even though some of the special guests hadn’t arrived I started the “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.” Now it was time for some wacky hysterical, hillbilly hilarity. Bring on the drunks! I was looking forward to seeing some real domestic screaming from the White family. And we did… and then some.
The family is a mess: drug addicts, incest, broken homes, a meth making grandmother doing smack in her rocking chair. Their casual talk about robbing grocery stores and doing drugs starts out as amusing in that gonzo sort of way. The thing was as this movie went on it became less and less funny; it was just really sad. One of my guests got up after a few minutes and apologized because she had to leave. She explained her brother had so many of the similar drug problems she didn’t think it was funny and she didn’t want to watch it. “Usually I show fun movies. Come back again…” I said.
Each one of the Whites goes deeper down the hole of despair. This wasn’t your parents Beverly Hillbillies, these people had generational issues of poverty and substance abuse that were killing them one by one and destroying he people around them. Hysterical right… I longed for Connie rolling around on the silk sheets again.
That’s not saying that the documentary wasn’t well made and fascinating, but the subject matter was so bleak and depressing, but it was advertised as a ‘crazy’ wild romp from the producers of “Jackass”; people living on the edge. Woo-hoo cool. I felt like I wanted to take a shower right afterwards. I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a Trend Setter. Because I didn’t have much to say about it afterwards; I felt a little embarrassed that I hadn’t known how intense the documentary was going to be. Everyone left soon after the film was over. Although some people were enthusiastic about the film making, overall it was a soul crushing downer of an evening.
So lesson learned: Always watch or at least preview your movies beforehand.
The constant and breathtaking innovation in projection and display technologies is mind boggling and happening faster than the speed of light. The flexible, stretchable glass display technologies will surely impact the way we live our daily lives in ways we can’t even imagine — and , of course, the way we watch movies at home. And then there’s the sort of loopy, fun — and my personal new favorite — the outdoor inflatable movie screen. Some are four stories high, and some can be used in your own backyard.
Refreshingly opposite the high-tech screen, there are still ways to have your own in-home big screen by doing it yourself. YouTube has an array of videos on ways to craft your own screen on a super tight budget, by constructing one with canvas and pvc pipe to using screen paint on plain old drywall.
Innovation thrives no matter where you are, from Silicon Valley to your own basement.
From the simple:
To the sublime:
One of the best film group nights I had was several years ago when I first got my projection system. The odd thing about showing movies to large groups is that you have to hit a middle ground that everyone can somehow relate too. I’ve had movie nights where I’d shown classic movies that are on the AFC Best Movies Lists and they were received with just tepid responses. Recently, at an outdoor movie night I showed The Thin Man. A movie that I’d not seen recently, but remembered liking at a revival showing. It wasn’t a total bomb, but by the middle of the film people were restless, constantly getting up to change seats, getting drinks, a ten-year old gave up half way through to go to sleep in the house, and another attendee told me afterwards, “You know, no matter how many times I see that movie I’ve no idea what the hell is going on…”
This was not the case with my double feature of The Night of Lepus and The Thing With Two Heads.
The Night of the Lepus was an early 70’s MGM Horror movie starring Janet Leigh and Stewart Whitman. Remember the horror of the giant bug movies of the 50’s, such as Them or Tarantula? Now think of one of those movies, except with bunnies!
Director William F. Claxton was mainly a television director, so maybe that’s why this film has the feel of a TV movie. It’s quick and snappy and totally ridiculous.
The 2nd feature of the evening, The Thing With Two Heads is a what my mother would have called ‘a hoot’.
Directed by one of the most talented exploitation cinema directors, Lee Front, The Thing with Two Heads has Oscar-winning actor Ray Milland as a bigoted millionaire who has his head grafted on the body of a death row inmate played by NFL star Rosie Grier. This movie is what I like to call a camptacular. It has everything; 70’s blaxploitation meets Sci-Fi, over the top acting by Milland, and a message of why-can’t-we-all-get-along. The film rolls like a runaway train that has jumped the tracks. It really isn’t going anywhere, but you can’t take your eyes off of it because you want to see the crash. And it’s extremely fun!
The Summer Solstice is many things to many people. The true start of summer, a pagan’s day to rejoice in the sun, to dream a Midsummer’s Night Dream filled with gods and fairies. However for a Home Projectionist with windows in their viewing room it is the day when the shortest viewing opportunities can be had. Every year as the days grow longer and longer I find my movie watching ability is shorter and shorter. In the Fall and Winter I can come home from a long day’s work, make a little dinner and settle down by no later than 7 in the evening for a nice relaxing film. At these times of the year I can watch something extremely long like Doctor Zhivago or maybe 3 episodes in a row of Mad Men. By the time I’m finished them movie it’s 9:30 or 10. If I have people over on the weekends for a group watch we can even have a double feature since we can start by 7:30 or even earlier as I used to do on Sunday afternoons.
Then comes the dreaded summer: Not only does the projector become yet another source of heat blowing into the room, but movies really can’t begin until 8:45 at the earliest. And even then there is the faint glow of the setting sun shining through the windows. Even closing the blinds doesn’t help because I have a west exposure. Having had a projection system for eight years now I’ve naturally begun to make seasonal viewing changes. Summer has been a time to rest the projector. I cut my Netflix movies to two out at a time instead of four. I hardly ever have people over during the summer for a group movie night. My apartment is too warm and by the time the sun sets there is barely enough time for one movie, let alone a cartoon or a short. If I do watch something it’s a short film never more than 90 minutes, especially during the week.
By late July I usually drag the projector outside for outdoor yard movies at a friend’s house. We’ve had many a lovely night under the stars watching Cat People, The General or My Man Godfrey. There is nothing like watching a movie outside. It brings a different dimension to whatever you are watching. Whether it’s the view of the sky behind the screen blending with the sky on the projection or just the feeling of lying down on the grass; It is one of my favorite things of the summer. I guess that’s why it is so exciting to go to a drive-in. Have you noticed that even the worst movie seems better at a drive-in?
So I wish you a happy Summer Solstice. May you have a lovely summer and many star filled, big screen nights.
It has now been nearly ten years since I moved from a cathode ray tube television to a projector. Once you’ve gone to a projector, you can never go back. I’ve always been fascinated by projectors: my family had an extensive home movie collection. And I used to save my money and order 8mm versions of classic films through Blackhawk films out of Davenport, Iowa. I would spend hours going through their catalog wondering if I should get a Laurel and Hardy short or a ten minute version of DeMille’s Cleopatra. (Cleopatra won) . I would watch them over and over, showing them multiple times to friends. Trying out different music scores.
And then there was my Talking View Master projector which I spent hours looking at the same discs of The Brady Bunch, Yogi Bear and The Flintstones. and I’m pretty sure one of my neighbors had a Give A Show projector flashlight.
I don’t recall when I first heard of projection televisions, but as a teenager I remember experimenting. I would take my father’s big magnifier workshop bench map and put up our old home movie screen. Then put the magnifying glass a few inches away from against my ten inch b/w television set. It would shoot a dim reflection of the movie. Albeit an upside down image, but in a totally darkened basement you could sort of see what was going on. I would lay on the couch with my head hanging over the edge to see it right side up. After several minutes though I would start to get dizzy so it wasn’t the most ideal set up. (It was hard to turn the b/w tv upside down, because then the rabbit ears were in the way.)
I remember when kits were advertised in Popular Science Magazine to build these boxes. I’m surprised at myself that I never gave this a try. Does anyone have a story about trying these boxes? This was years of 480i resolution! We’ve come a long way baby.