Friday, December 27, 2013

THE PROJECTIONIST

THE PROJECTIONIST (1971) is one of those cult films that I've always heard about but never had the chance to see until this afternoon (thanks to TCM). The film was a regular on the long vanished midnight movie circuit of urban movie houses in the 1970s and it embraces the love of classic Golden Age Hollywood cinema that was undergoing a resurgence of its' own during those self-same years.

Chuck McCann stars in the title role. He's a film projectionist at a grand old New York City movie theater. He lives a solitary life in the projection booth and he and the rest of the theater's staff are constantly browbeaten and berated by theater manager Rodney Dangerfield. Yes, you read that correctly. Legendary stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield made his movie debut in a semi-serious role in this film.

McCann loves movies and they fill his inner life providing a much needed escape from the drudgery of his humdrum, lonely existence. Throughout the film, he regularly lapses into cinematic revelries to play out his fantasies and dreams. These sequences are shot in the style of a black and white silent comedy in which McCann stars as would be costumed superhero Captain Flash who battles The Bat (Dangerfield) in a plot to destroy the world. Another black-and-white daydream involves McCann's courtship and budding romance with Ina Balin.

The fantasy sequences make liberal use of clips from countless classic films including CASABLANCA, THE MALTESE FALCON, CITIZEN KANE, GUNGA DIN, SGT. YORK, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, the Flash Gordon serials and many, many others along with stock footage of natural disasters and events from world history (including a ton of footage from WWII).

THE PROJECTIONIST, written and directed by Harry Hurwitz, is a low-budget, independently made film that was shot on location in and around New York City. The scenes depicting McCann wandering the nighttime streets of New York (especially the 42nd St. and Times Square parts of town, areas that have since undergone a radical transformation) provide a fascinating glimpse into a now lost world.

THE PROJECTIONIST is a clever idea of a film and it's certainly made with sincerity and earnestness. But there's no pay off to watching 88 minutes of this lonely man's inner and outer life. There's no conflict to be overcome and nothing about McCann's life appears to have changed at the end of the film. In fact the film ends so abruptly, going to black so quickly, that I thought for a moment that perhaps I had missed something or TCM had erred in some way on their end.

I can now say that I've seen THE PROJECTIONIST. And I can honestly say that it wasn't worth the forty-two year wait to do so.  

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