Monday, September 23, 2013
(December 2001, U.S.)
Director Frank Capra was considered a film maker who greatly personified the "American dream" greater than any other of his era...and he was Italian! His films often carried a clear message about basic goodness in human nature, and showed the value of unselfishness and hard work. His wholesome, feel-good themes inevitably led some to term his style as the term "Capraesque". Since then, film critics, scholars and fans have looked for that "Esque" in as many modern film as we could identify. A prime example from the last twenty years would be Rob Reiner's THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995). At the time I originally saw that film, I personally thought the "Esque" that so many speak of would never be repeated that well again. I was wrong. The next effort (and superior to the previously mentioned example) came from two unlikely sources; Frank Darabont, whom as director had more-than-proven he could tackle the stories of Stephen King successfully with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) and THE GREEN MILE (1999) and Jim Carrey who had yet to prove that he could continue to offer dramatic performances beyond THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998). This film was also released three months after September 11th of that year, so it's quite safe to say that a feel-good movie with that "Capraesque" flavor was just what American filmgoers needed...well, at least that's what I needed.
THE MAJESTIC, set in the year 1951, not only exemplifies a period of the Golden Age of Movies, but also the period of "McCarthyism" blacklisting of those in Hollywood who would not cooperate with the Congressional Committee on un-American activities. When we meet Peter Appleton (played by Carrey), he's young, in love and successfully working in the movies with his first screen credit for a new "B" movie just released in theaters. Almost overnight, however, he learns that he's been accused of being a Communist because he once attended an antiwar meeting in college years before, a meeting he claims he only attended to impress a girl. In that instant, his new film is pushed back for months, the credit is given to someone else, his movie star girlfriend leaves him, and his contract with the studio is dropped. So what to do? He gets drunk, drives up the California coast and accidentally drives his car off a bridge, into a river and is knocked unconscious. When he wakes up, he's on a beach in a small town called Lawson and can't remember his identity or his past. Lawson, I might point out, is the perfect little hamlet by the sea where everybody knows everybody and kindness is spread around like a bad disease...almost like being a guest at Disney World! Immediately Peter is believed to be a long-lost World War II soldier missing in action for over nine years called Luke Trimble, particularly by Luke's surviving father Harry (played by Martin Landau in a wonderful performance). Not knowing or remembering any better, Peter has no reason not to believe that he's Luke, as well. The town needs Luke to be alive and Peter needs to reconnect with a past and people, so the unbeknownst hoax continues to take its toll as time goes on.
But let's get to the real focus of the film and that's the Majestic movie house. Here's what it looks like...
This great theater not only gloried the social essence of the town of Lawson, but also the glorious magic of the movies and what they exemplified for those who needed the escape of great motion picture entertainment. Upon Peter/Luke's return to Lawson, the Majestic theater is reopened and through a wonderful montage, we watch not only the dilapidated and decrepit building come to life again, but we also watch the people of this wonderful town come alive again with the spirit of hope for their community and for what the movies means to them. By the time the Majestic opens again, classic films of the 1950s like AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL have brought life, love and fun back to the town of Lawson. What, I ask you, could be more "Capraesque" than that?? In fact, when we listen to Harry verbally describe and glorify what the Majestic once meant to Lawson and himself, we truly believe the genuine history that Martin Landau is sharing with us because we know the actor is old enough to have lived through the experience that was once the magic of the movies, as well as the pain of loss from World War II.
Ah, but wait! If you know the work of the great Frank Capra well, then you know that the good things that make up the lives of his films don't last very long. Trouble brews, trouble strikes and for a time, all hope and goodness seems lost. This happens when not only Luke Trimble suddenly remembers that he's really Peter Appleton (by seeing his name on the poster of his own movie, for Christ sakes!), but also when the federal authorities finally catch up with him and serve him a subpoena to appear before Congress. Lawson is broken all over again and Peter must decide what he'll ultimately stand for in the end. The true "Esque" comes full circle to true form when in the great spirit of James Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), Peter holds up the Constitution of the United States and Medal of Honor that belonged to Luke Trimble to the very unfriendly Committee and impassionately declares that as a true American and patriot, he will stand by and uphold his ideals as a free human being. Victory is won and Peter turns his back on Hollywood forever to return to Lawson (as a hero) and the great Majestic movie palace. As a lover of the movies, the old movie palaces of yesterday and small towns by the sea, no ending could have been more perfect for someone who was trying to get over 9/11.
Now, on a very personal note, let me share with you my own personal Majestic. If you've been reading my work for a long time, then you've probably read that I've spent every summer since the year 1978 in a small seaside town known as Westhampton Beach on Long Island. This town actually had two movie theaters, but the one I want to call your attention to is this one, now known as the Westhampton Beach Theater of Performing Arts. Take a look at this great night time picture...
If one can claim to have a favorite movie theater (complete with upper balcony that still exists today) from either their childhood or in the present day, then it's THIS theater that's always held my most precious movie going memories. It's here that I saw childhood favorites like STAR WARS (1977), JAWS 2 (1978), ROCKY II and MOONRAKER (1979) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). It's here that I saw some great films as a young adult like WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988), BATMAN (1989), DIE HARD 2 and GOODFELLAS (both 1990), TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991), THE FUGITIVE (1993) and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996). It's here that I saw some real stinkers, too, like COBRA (1986), JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987), THE FLINTSTONES (1994) and BATMAN FOREVER (1995). Finally, it's here that I saw the last film the theater would ever show, THE FAN (1996) before shutting it's doors for what seemed like forever and then miraculously re-opening as a live performance theater. Today, this theater still shows independent art and foreign film on the occasional night that there's no live performance. The last film I saw here was a one night revival of Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA in 1997. Still, though, I'm very glad the theater is still standing for me to look at and remember some wonderful, glorious memories of my own movie going magic. Like I said, it's MY Majestic and I love it!
One last thing...I'd like to share a wonderful website with you that celebrates and glorifies all the movie theaters of the world; past and present, open and closed. Perhaps you have a favorite of your own...www.cinematreasures.com. Check it out! It's worth your time!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Harry Trimble: "That's why we call it The Majestic. Any man, woman, child could buy their ticket, walk right in. Here they'd be, here we'd be. "Yes sir, yes ma'am. Enjoy the show." And in they'd come entering a palace, like in a dream, like in heaven. Maybe you had worries and problems out there, but once you came through those doors, they didn't matter anymore. And you know why? Chaplin, that's why. And Keaton and Lloyd. Garbo, Gable, and Lombard, and Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Cagney. Fred and Ginger. They were gods. And they lived up there. That was Olympus. Would you remember if I told you how lucky we felt just to be here? To have the privilege of watching them. I mean, this television thing. Why would you want to stay at home and watch a little box? Because it's convenient? Because you don't have to get dressed up, because you could just sit there? I mean, how can you call that entertainment, alone in your living room? Where's the other people? Where's the audience? Where's the magic? I'll tell you, in a place like this, the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it."
I have to say that's it's very sad to have to come to terms with that fact that the magic the character of Harry Trimble shares with us simply doesn't exist anymore. The great movie palaces of America have been replaced with amusement park-style multiplexes that serve cold, stale popcorn! The so-called "gods" of the big screen have been replaced with underage idiots that can't act worth a damn! Even television, which once replaced the experience of going to the movies so many decades ago, has turned to total shit with nothing but reality TV at every turn. In other words, Olympus has truly fallen!