Thursday, December 03, 2009

There's never a vacation from the movies!

The French Quarter? Hah. Compared to the attractions I saw Wednesday, it's more like the French Nickel.

I'm on vacation in New Orleans, I'll be going to the Quarter on Thursday, but I honestly doubt I'll have as much fun there as I did Wednesday at the Prytania Theatre and the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art, both of which centered around - you guessed it - movies!

The Prytania Theatre is the ONLY single-screen theater left not only in New Orleans, but in ALL of Louisiana. Places like this are a dying breed, and that's such a shame because these sorts of theaters have something today's megaplexes are sorely missing - personality.

The Prytanina is literally a neighborhood theater - it's smack dab in the middle of a residential district. There aren't even many businesses right nearby. The layout is basically house, house, house, house, theater, house, house, house and house. In location and general appearance it reminded me of the late and lamented Dabel Theatre in East Dayton.

Dad and I trekked there to catch a showing of Miracle on 34th Street. (Tis the season, you know, even with palm trees and temperatures in the 60s.) When we arrived, the owner, Rene Brunet, greeted us warmly, with a big smile, and with a Looney Tunes tie on.

Some movie theaters have character, but the Prytania has  character in Rene, who was an absolute charmer. Introducing the movie, he self-effacingly cracked, "The real miracle will be to get me to shut up." He didn't have to, I could have listened to the guy for hours. He has as many stories about movie theaters as I do Beatle lyrics jammed in my head.

Upon entering the theater, we were treated to a very strange selection of French animated shorts. It was hard to get a glimpse of these; the digital projector they used kept skipping around the titles; turned out they were testing the equipment. The most amusing short we see is a CG one of an elephant jumping and somersaulting on a trampoline.

Just at the classic movie series in Dayton does, our program started with a cartoon, which was Bully for Bugs - that's the one where Mr. Bunny tangles with a bull after failing to make that left turn at Albuquerque. ("Stop steamin' up my tail! What are ya tryin' ta do, wrinkle it?")  It's projected via a DVD, and I am briefly amused when the projector selects the audio commentary track from animation historian Michael Barrier. It's Looney Tunes with a PBS edge - for about five seconds, anyway.

I am initially disappointed to learn that Miracle on 34th Street will also be projected digitally, but am relieved to learn they have a high-resolution projector, not one of those crappy ones that makes it look like you're watching the movie through a screen door. I will always prefer a good-quality film print,  but I recognize those are harder and harder to come by - if digital projection must be done, this is the way to do it.

And the film? It's one of my five favorite Christmas movies, and really, it should be anybody's. Edmund Gwenn  richly deserved his Oscar for playing Santa - it's the best performance in a Christmas movie this side of Alistair Sim. The movie always gets to a sap like me, who really belives in those "lovely intangibles."  After all, they're the only things that are worthwhile.

After the movie, I chit-chat with a few fellow patrons, regaling them with trivia about how Gwenn won an Oscar and helping to clarify lines from the film. More importantly, I introduce myself to Rene, who really seems touched by my interest in the place. He gives me a copy of Preservation Magazine, which features a profile of him, which he has autographed.  It's my first souvenir of my trip - and surely my favorite. I'm only sorry I can't return here this weekend when Rear Window is playing. But I WILL be back when I return to NOLA.

After that, Dad and I venture to the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art, which has an exhibit called "Dreams Come True," which features original artwork from Disney's fairy tale movies, from Snow White to The Princess and the Frog, which is timely, considering the latter is set in New Orleans. The artwork ranges from concept art to rough animation to finished stills.

Predictably,  I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside, and that handicaps me here. Skilled writer through I may be, no prose of mine can adequately convey the power of the imagery on display. Suffice it to say that for a Disney nut like me, this was absolute bliss. Just seeing ORIGINAL works by legends like Les Clark, Norm Ferguson, Mary Blair, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Glen Keane and so many more was thrilling. In my mind's eye, I felt like I was at the studio while these drawings were created. And the clips displayed on hi-res TVs throughout the exhibit looked absolutely stunning.

The exhibit also has those little audio guides you carry around with you - these look like early cell phones that are about the size of a baton. The audio clips, including sound bites from Walt, are fun, but I've always felt these devices make the tours a little less personal because you get sucked into the audio and not into the people around you. Luckily, my dad alleviates this. Being a graphic artist himself, he points out aspects of the drawings I would have never spotted on my own, such as lightly drawn grids that help dertermine the sense of space.

The exhibit does have one MAJOR mis-step. It omits Aladdin entirely, and I can't figure out why. Aladdin does have a princess, so it counts as a fairy tale. Considering it was made by John Musker and Ron Clements, who also directed The Princess and the Frog, Aladdin's absence is especially unfortunate.

That aside, the exhibit is a marvel. It ends with a teaser of sorts - a single painting from their next fairy tale, Rapunzel, due in theaters next year. If only I could see The Princess and the Frog in the very city in which it is set, but that will have to wait till next weekend. It is the film of the holiday season I am most eager to see.

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