Emerging from Vancouver’s venerable film-lovers’ utopia, Pacific Cinematheque, on the gloomy, overcast morning of Sunday, Feb. 17, I’m a bleary-eyed jumble of elation, triumph and discomfort. I feel like a survivor, a modern day movie-going warrior who’s taken the ultimate endurance test and been generously rewarded for his time, sleep deprivation and nagging leg cramps. My only regret is the knowledge that, having conquered the theatre’s thoroughly successful 40th Anniversary 24 Hour Movie Marathon, it’s going to be mighty tough to find a follow-up challenge even half as cool.
When I took my aisle seat Saturday morning, much of the event was shrouded in mystery. We knew the theme was “Movies about Movies,” and had a small fraction of the titles divulged to us, but how would they all fit together? Would there be a plethora of obvious choices (Get Shorty or Inglourious Basterds, perhaps?) or a tough slog of experimental efforts taxing us during the wee hours?
The marathon programmers, fortunately, were way ahead of us, having compiled a near flawless playlist of classics, curiosities and obscurities that touched on both the art and business of filmmaking, as well as the richness and lasting transformative effects of the cinema-going experience. After a bravura opening trio – Buster Keaton’s innovative and still jaw-dropping slapstick wonder Sherlock Jr., Francois Truffaut’s sweetly hilarious love letter to film production Day for Night and Christopher Guest’s incisive showbiz mockumentary For Your Consideration – the mood was firmly set and the audience ready to go wherever the marathon carried them.
At this point two fascinating foreign works were screened that explored the potent power cinema holds over our lives. Abbas Kiratostami’s 1990 documentary Close-Up presented the poignant true story of a down-on-his-luck Iranian man who, inspired by the art of director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, assumed the man’s identity as a means of achieving the recognition and respect he so badly yearned for. Following that touching gem was Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life, which imagines a purgatory wherein the deceased can move onto the next phase of hereafter only after recreating their most treasured memories on celluloid. Haunting and introspective, Koreeda’s meditation on cinema’s everlasting essence left viewers raving.
The energy picked up with Robert Altman’s razor-edged satire The Player – a film that is as brutally relevant today as it was back in 1992 – and Les Blank’s captivating and bizarrely hilarious documentary Burden of Dreams, a warts-and-all behind-the-scenes look at the tormented, hubris-plagued location shooting of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Then we were treated to a fantastic oldie in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, a brilliant noirish melodrama about a ruthless producer (Kirk Douglas) who alternately inspires and forever damages his creative collaborators.
Moving into the home stretch, any sleepy eyes were jolted awake by the one-two punch of Paul Thomas Anderson’s electric porn saga Boogie Nights and the campy Dario Argento-produced Demons, an ultra-gory, winking B-movie blast of silliness. The 1985 theatre-set horror flick features an army of possessed flesh-eaters, coke-snorting punkers and one extremely random helicopter crash.
Closing out the marathon were two affectionate odes to nostalgia. Giuseppe Tornatore’s adored Cinema Paradiso, a coming-of-age story centered around a small town movie theatre in post-WWII Italy, charmed in spite of the fact its leisurely pace was a bit tough for attendees running on fumes. Nonetheless, the Cinematheque crew closed with a bang, presenting the gorgeous Technicolor musical masterpiece Singin’ in the Rain. Just the sight of beaming Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds was enough to enliven the spirit, and the opulent musical numbers served as fitting final fireworks for an event celebrating the enduring beauty, innovation and importance of the film medium.
As the room brightened, and the 50 of us or so who made it to the end dazedly gathered up our scattered pillows, blankets, energy drink cans and complimentary marathon survival kits, there was a palpable feeling in the air that we had shared in something very special. And, you know something; given a few hours of catch-up sleep, I’m confident many would have been game to do it all over again.
Here’s hoping the good folks at Pacific Cinematheque felt the same way.
By Cam Smith