And yes, I know it was a line from the novel, not the film. Believe me, I know.
Last Wednesday, I headed down to Knoxville (which, as I learned from this article, is apparently referred to as "the couch,"
even though not one of the locals [or for that matter, any of us who live within a hundred-mile radius, or, as far as we can tell,
anyone except the individual who wrote the article] has ever heard, let alone used, that nickname) to work on a promotional
video, although I don't know why I just related all that because it's beside the point.
The point is, I couldn't believe my luck that the scheduling worked out so well for the Rebus, what with its endless blathering
about this being a summer of anniversaries. For, you see, it was 40 years ago Wednesday that my parents took me to Knoxville
for the finest evening at the movies I can ever hope to have.
There were giants in the earth in those days, things called roadshow engagements.
Roadshows, for those of you too young or too occupied at the moment with information that is actually useful, were limited,
reserved-seat tours that the studios did to promote their big prestige pictures before they went into general release.
Knoxville was probably the smallest city on this tour, but I'm guessing they booked the film there simply because of the facility:
the Capri-70, built in 1967 and declared at the time by Mayor Rogers to be "the greatest single tourist attraction in Knoxville."
Single-strip 70mm Cinerama (which wasn't really Cinerama, but we'll let that slide), six-channel surround, projection lenses
ground in California by Bausch & Lomb specifically for that hall, to keep razor-sharp focus across the curved screen. And, like
most great movie theaters, gone for decades now. But Google Earth showed a structure at the address that might be it, and hey,
I was in town, so I went on a search. And I found what I came looking for. Sort of:
It's now the home of Bennett Galleries. Could have been a whole lot worse. They've kept the facade pretty much like it was, and
that sign may incorporate parts of the original. Here's how it looked in the mid 80s, after it finally closed for good.
Photo by Martin McCaffery
Getting quite run-down here, but it gives you a good enough idea of how it looked when my folks dropped me off that night
(yes, dropped me off — after going to the trouble of driving me down there, they weren't allowed to attend; I mean, who wants a
movie ruined by having to sit through it with your parents? Blecchh!) and I walked in to see my first roadshow.
And, alas, my only roadshow. A uniformed usher with a flashlight showed me to my seat. There were no previews, no
commercials. The projection was timed perfectly; the traveler opened during the MGM logo so that the screen was completely
revealed, and the house lights out, by the first frame of the movie. There was an intermission. As you left the theater, an
usher handed you a program with the credits. And the movie...oh, man.
But I won't get into the movie. It's a hard sell these days. People just don't seem to get it anymore. I'm not talking about kids,
either; I know a bunch of thirty-five and forty year olds who are left cold by it. And these are die-hard film people, too. Some of them
make movies of their own. I got this one friend, he can not only sit through, but also savor, Nosferatu or Metropolis — they even
made him watch All Quiet on the Western Front at film school, and he never cried, not even a little bit — who simply cannot
make it through the thing. He's very kind about it. Hell, on top of driving me around to find the place that evening, he shot and
produced a short video commemorating the event. When he gets his high-def TV later this year, he intends to buy the Blu-ray disc
and give it one more chance. But my conversations with him and a few other friends have pretty much convinced me that
this film's true place in cinema history is as the ultimate You Had To Have Seen It At The Time movie.
Still, if you happened to have Seen It At The Time...nothing like it. Not before, not since.
I really wanted to walk around in the place once again, maybe get a few photos, maybe just stand there and remember, so
I went back the next afternoon — just like I did on the 14th all those years ago; I had somehow talked my folks into staying
overnight, so they could drop me off at the Wednesday matinee, once again not being allowed to attend. I assume my mom
went shopping downtown. My dad, who as you may recall did an editorial cartoon for the local paper, had made arrangements
to drop by and see Charlie Daniel, the Knoxville Journal's cartoonist. He had a great time, from what I heard. Charlie gave him
two of his originals, which hung in the basement den for years. I still have them somewhere around here.
I screwed up my courage and walked into Bennett Galleries, fully expecting to be looked at like I was crazy, or asked to leave,
or humored while someone pressed a hidden alarm button — and was immediately greeted by Anne, a 99th-percentile friendly
person who was genuinely interested that I had stopped in to revisit my favorite movie house. Turns out, people come by all the time,
wanting to see the place where they saw this movie or that as kids, and they all have some story to tell. "Lots of first kisses in here,
lots of breakups," Anne said. "Lots of getting fussed at to get your feet off the seatback in front of you." She's a local, and saw
all kinds of movies here when she was growing up. I turned green when I heard that, let me tell you.
Here she is, politely tolerating yet another snapshot.
The counter she's standing behind is, if not precisely, almost in the same place as the original counter where I purchased
my ticket on the afternoon of the 13th (class act — you had to reserve your seat at least thirty minutes before showtime).
Just by chance, I got E-18, fifth row, which I am convinced had to be the best vantage point in that room, dead center in
relation to the screen, with the edges just kissing the periphery of your vision. Back the next day, my mind still thoroughly
blown, I asked for and got the same seat.
And here's one of those little things that over time add up and get you to thinking that life's worth living after all:
Tuesday night, the usher tore my ticket and handed me the left half. Wednesday afternoon, a different usher tore my ticket in
exactly the same place, and handed me the right half, so that a complete ticket is easily reconstructed.
Check out how well they match up:
What are the odds?
I found the back wall of the building, made a wild guess as to how far from that the screen would have been, attempted
to take into account the 21-foot depth of the screen, and came up with this blind stab at the location of seat E-18.
Photo by Kent Edens (the guy who didn't cry about having to watch All Quiet on the Western Front)
This is the only building I know of that seems larger than it did when I was a kid.
By the way, you may be worried that I have mistakenly cropped these pictures at 2.21:1. But that's the correct aspect ratio for
Super Panavision. If you were expecting 2.35:1, that's 'Scope you're thinking of. Don't worry. It's a common enough mistake;
anyone could make it. (See? I told you we were going to be getting into some bigtime geek-out this week.)
When I got back home, I still had no picture to use with all this. I'd done some sketches and research for another picture, but it
had nothing to do with our topic this week, so I thought I might try the same thing I had done back in the day: draw a few scenes
from memory. I dug out these two pieces, which for some reason I have not burned:
The Third Satellite Ink on bristol board, 14" x 11"
Oof. Pretty embarrassing. I mean, I was thirteen. Way too old for this level of work. But if you think that's bad...
Space Station 5 Oil on canvas panel, 12" x 9"
Can't believe I'm letting you see this one. If the ink drawing was embarrassing, this one's horrifying. What's with
Earth there? Pluto got kicked out over looking more like a planet than that. And look at the date: '69. That means I was
pushing fourteen. Possibly I was fourteen, but I refuse to even consider that. There's no excuse at all for this. I've thought
now and then about submitting it to my favorite museum for consideration, but what if they rejected it? I'd be forever torn —
does that mean it's not all that bad, or that I'm obliged to kill myself now?
The first sketch I tried this time around was the one you saw at the top of the page. I abandoned it after two or three
minutes on grounds that it was too obvious, too mundane, and too all-around stupid. Next I tried a redo of the ink drawing:
But who cares, you know? So I can draw the shot more accurately now. I'm four times as old, and I have the added
advantage of...a hundred? Two hundred extra viewings of the film? Big you-know-whattin' deal, right?
So try this. It's the only idea that felt right: an attempt at a detached picture of me, 40 years ago last Wednesday,
at 8:20 p.m. by my reckoning, at the Capri-70 — Home of Cinerama! — five rows away from a seventy-two-foot wide
screen, and about a twenty-fourth of a second away from never being quite the same again:
E-18 Oil on paper, 9" x 6"
Sure, it's a toss-off, but I find it appropriate for three reasons: It features symmetrical composition, a definite requirement given
the subject matter; it has a wry connotation, much like an editorial cartoon; and it's painted on a piece of hand-made paper
from a hand-bound sketch diary purchased at Bennett Galleries. I'll call this entry complete.
No, wait, wait — I just realized we're lacking one more ingredient: The Final Enigmatic Image. Here you go:
Recognize it? It's the eye where the usher would hook that red velvet rope you used to walk by as you entered the lobby.
So there is, to my way of seeing it, a real piece of the Capri still left in a building that is, as Anne put it, one of my
"life locations." I like knowing that.
Bennett Galleries continues to maintain an important space on the Pike, 10:00-6:00 Monday–Thursday and
10:00-5:30 Friday and Saturday. Among other things, they offer fine furniture, art and sculpture, jewelry, framing,
interior design services, and the conversation of some very, very nice people.
Martin McCaffery, who was kind enough to email me the Capri I & II photo, is the Director of another
Capri Theatre, this one the only independent cinema in Montgomery, Alabama (which, coincidentally, is another city
whose inhabitants have never used or heard the nickname "the couch"). Visit their site here, and if you got a little
extra cash on you, throw some their way. Good cause.
Wanna hear about yet another anniversary? Okay. Charlie Daniel, I was delighted to discover, celebrated his 50th year
of editorial cartooning last month. He's at the Knoxville News Sentinel now. Speaking of which, if you're geekin' like me
right now, here's an ad from the News Sentinel which includes an order form for reserving your tickets.
Kent Edens has also made it all the way through several restorations of the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera — but, on
the other hand, he once fell asleep during the crop duster sequence at a VistaVision screening of North by Northwest.
I need to remember that; maybe I can score a point or two when we have our next conversation about 2001.
Next: All Summer in a Day
The Picture of the Week Archives:
08.11.08: Bottle, and a Message
07.21.08: "Are you drawing?"
07.07.08: The Rebus Returns
11.26.07: Night of the Hunter, Part II
11.19.07: Night of the Hunter, Part I
11.12.07: Hunter's Lake
11.05.07: Deconstructing October
09.17.07: Der Käfer
09.10.07: Straight Up
09.03.07: End of Summer
08.27.07: Knob Creek at Sunset
06.11.07: Forgetfulness and Blasphemy
05.21.07: Guerillas Indie Missed
05.07.07: Cat on Page 2D
04.30.07: Study for God's Linoleum
04.23.07: Pareidolia for Dummies
04.02.07: Regression Redux
03.12.07: She's Ready
02.26.07: Cold as Hell
02.12.07: The Three Faces of Suzanne
02.05.07: Progress, of a Sort
01.22.07: What I Painted
01.15.07: Art Lesson
01.08.07: Mountcastle Drive
12.24.06: Christmas Eve
12.11.06: By Way of Apology
12.04.06: Rodney Hits the Floor
11.27.06: Gondola Car and Busy Ball
11.20.06: Sketch for The Remains
11.13.06: Work in Progress: Lawn Deer
11.06.06: Two Studies for VW