You can dream all you want about action and adventure, about bullwhips and treasures lost beneath the sand, about light sabers and robots and space travel, about traveling back and forth in time and taking that Joseph Cambellesque hero’s journey. For my money, and for my time, I get a new adventure every single year, and it’s called The James River Film Festival.
This year’s festival, the eighteenth, saw some incredible cinematic treasures. Isn’t that the joy of going to a festival? You and I can’t possibly scour Europe and Asia, tread carefully through the catacombs of South America, looking for incredible relics, so we turn instead to this film-festival-that-could, and marvel that there’s some incredible movies that we all know we haven’t seen.
Like Hiroshima, Mon Amour. I’m going to divulge part of a secret here, but the 35mm print of that astounding movie was the only one of its ilk in this continent, and probably in this hemisphere. No one honestly knows where the hell all the prints vanished to. No one knows where the boys from James River knew where to get their print, and they’re not telling, either.
What makes this intriguing is that Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a film that should only be watched in a theater, and on film. The opening shot, of dust, or snow, or radioactive ash, descending on the lovers in question… well, it is rich, warm, it feels as if it is falling upon our bare shoulders–in the theater. Watch it at home, with the TV glaring into your eyes, and it is simply not the same. Not the same at all.
So, too, was our presentation of Charles Laughton’s incredible debut feature, The Night of the Hunter. I have to toot my own horn here a bit, because I have to say that I’ve never introduced a film or had a reading that went as beautifully as my intro that Sunday night. It was late, 9:00, but the Grace Street Theater was crowded with souls eager to see Robert Mitchum’s insane, tattooed Preacher. And they were kind and forgiving, allowing me license to ramble on about the question that hovers over the movie, namely, why did Laughton give up on directing after making such an accomplished debut?
The answer lies, I think, in the book, from which I read and which the crowd kindly indulged this book-crazed fool. But they loved it–and Chop Suey sold out its stack of Davis Grubb novels, and the crowd was eager to talk and compare, well after the movie ended. (You can always order yours–and I encourage you to do so, it’s amazing.)
But that’s the joy of the James River Film Festival, isn’t it? Treasure–the vast treasure of seeing a new movie for the first time, something you’ll never see again (Hiroshima on the big screen, the Spanish Dracula at the Byrd), movies you’d never think to see (Françoise Romand’s Mix-up, introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum, the films of Peggy Ahwesh), newer independents (Rick Alverson’s profound New Jerusalem, my favorite movie of the year) or classics you simply want to see on the big screen, whether you’ve seen them before or not (Taxi Driver, Modern Times).
But more than the specific films are the people themselves. That’s the treasure, isn’t it? Talking about the movie before and after, listening to Rosenbaum, Ahwesh, Alverson (or myself, I guess) discuss the movies they made or the movies that moved them.
For I’ve seen The Night of the Hunter many times, including a couple of times at home in the weeks prior to the festival. But the one screening that will stay with me was the one from that Sunday night. Each year’s the same–I may have seen better movies during the year, but the treasured moment, the moment that makes me amazed and moved by the movies, happen at the James River Film Festival. Hopefully we’ll see you next year.