Sunday, April 14, 2013

The 16mm... Shrine?

On March 11 of this year, Portland’s historic Hollywood Theatre hosted a rather unique program. Local film archivist Dennis Nyback presented three classic Twilight Zone episodes on 16mm film, from his private collection, called (appropriately enough) Twilight Zone! Twilight Zone! Twilight Zone!, complete with vintage commercials. The episodes shown were “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “The Fugitive,” and “The Eye of the Beholder.” I found about it… well, a day or two after that date. D’oh!

However, on April 8 (last Monday), Nyback presented another three episodes (“The Trade-Ins,” “The Prime Mover,” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”). This time I knew about it in advance, and this time I made damned sure I was there.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the Hollywood’s lobby was the selection of beers available. TZ and beer? Was this heaven? As I made my way into the actual theater, I was surprised to see Nyback himself setting up his 16mm projector in the back of the theater, out in front of the projection booth.Maybe somebody can chime in and educate me, but can’t 35mm projectors run 16mm film?

Note the projector shadow on the screen.

I was one of the first people to arrive. I sat in the fourth row. As he was setting up a large speaker at the front of the theater, Nyback smiled and thanked me for “coming to his show.” I told him that I missed the first one, but I wasn’t about to miss this one. I then asked him if any more of these events were planned, and was delighted to hear that there’d be one each month for the next six months. I was almost giddy at the prospect.

The place got pretty full as the magic hour (7:30 pm) approached. As a hardcore TZ fan who frequently feels a bit isolated within this particular passion, it was heartwarming to see so many people turn up. At 7:30, Nyback addressed the crowd, the lights dimmed, and the projector came to life.  I must’ve been grinning like a kid on Christmas as the 3-2-1 countdown appeared.

Unfortunately, the presentation left a great deal to be desired.  Either Nyback’s prints are in rough shape, or his projector is way past its prime.  I’m inclined to suspect the latter for several reasons: first, there was a pretty constant jitter throughout the entire program (particularly during “The Trade-Ins”). After a technical problem delayed the start of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” by about ten minutes, much of the episode was distractingly blurry around the edges (I have no idea what would cause that). And finally, the audio was horrendous throughout all three episodes.  I mean really horrendous.  I feel sorry for anyone in that audience who wasn’t already familiar with these episodes, as much of the dialogue was unintelligible.

So what was good? “The Prime Mover” looked pretty decent by comparison, and the sight of the prologue’s shocking car accident up on the big screen was certainly impactful.  Happily, all three episodes were complete and uncut (so these weren't syndication prints). The single best thing about the evening, however, was the vintage commercials:  Crisco, Gleem toothpaste, Folgers, 9-Lives cat food and many, many others. It appears that Nyback spliced the vintage commercials in, so it’s highly doubtful that they were the actual commercials that originally aired with the episodes, which wouldn't be a problem except that, at one point, the ABC logo popped up (!).

Nyback’s next installment screens on May 20 (the episodes haven’t been announced yet), and I've gotta say, I’m seriously torn here. I want to support anything that draws attention to The Twilight Zone, and I really believe that the concept is sound (showing episodes on the big screen). But I can’t deny that the presentation left me pretty cold, especially since I can screen my blu-rays on my 60” plasma set at home and they look (and sound) stunning. And I can probably find an endless supply of vintage TV commercials on YouTube, so there’s really no reason for me to go back.

But... I still might, though.

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