Last night The Minister's Rebellious Daughter, Axel Feldheim and I saw Hitchcock's Rebecca at Oakland's gorgeous Paramount Theater. Beforehand, the MRD and I grabbed a bite at Flora around the corner and when we left to go over to the theater I was stunned by how many people were outside lined up to buy tickets. The huge theater seats 3000 people and I would estimate it was at least 80% full. Is this an effect of the recession (the tickets are only $5)? Is Hitchcock that popular? Or was it the allure of an inexpensive but fun night out in a grand movie palace that drew such a large crowd?
The Paramount certainly knows how to do these nights right. As you enter the theater the Wurlizter is being played, they show old newsreels and coming attractions before the movie, feature a cartoon, and of course there's the ever-popular Deco-Win! spinning-wheel raffle. The bars in the lobbies are open and you can bring in your drinks. The theater is impeccably clean and elegant. For $5, there probably isn't a better value in the entire Bay Area. Maybe that's why it was so crowded on a night that promised a huge rain storm.
As for Rebecca, this was the first time I've seen it in a theater. Among almost three thousand people and on a large screen the film is quite a different experience than it is watching it at home alone. The movie won the Best Picture and Cinematography Oscars in 1940 and the leads were all nominated as well. Based on Daphne Du Maurier's gothic mystery, 70 years later certain elements that may have seen melodramatic came across as pretty campy to a contemporary audience. We were split on whether this is because so many of the film's methods and themes have since become clichés and been parodied so many times since or whether the filmmakers and audiences of old knowingly knew some of these elements were almost absurd and just wanted to have a little fun with them. I'm in the latter camp, while Axel and the MRD are in the former. I just give the old timers a bit more credit for being subversive and hip then most people I think, largely because while I know the culture has changed tremendously, in many ways I suspect people motivations and emotions have not. And that's why we still appreciate and adore these old movies not as artifacts but as relevant works that still have the ability to entertain or engage us. Laurence Olivier at his fey best, Joan Fontaine (now I remember whom Scarlette Johannson reminds me of) and Judith Anderson as the creepy and malevolent personal maid of the dead title character, lead the film's solid cast.
This was the first film David O. Selznick produced after Gone with the Wind. It was touted as "the most glamorous movie ever made" in the trailers. I don't know about that, since neither Claudette Colbert nor Carole Lombard is anywhere to be found, and it's far from my favorite Hitchcock film, but if you haven't seen it, it's part The Turn of the Screw, part Jane Eyre and that makes it pretty good fun.
Next up in series is Orson Welles' brilliant The Lady From Shanghai (1947) on 02/19. After Citizen Kane, I think this is Welles' best film- and it has Rita Hayworth in it! On March 5th Audrey Hepburn is terrorized in 1967's Wait Until Dark and on March 26th the greatest swashbuckling pirate of all, Errol Flynn, splashes across the screen in 1937's Captain Blood.