The most beautiful fraud in the world
I saw recently that Eric Rohmer died. He was a filmmaker I might never have encountered in my youth had it not been for a completely preposterous little art house cinema in my hometown. I can't think what possessed anyone to think there was a market for foreign language films in a provincial Midwestern American city. Nevertheless, for a few years while I was in my 20s, one actually existed. Each week I would drive across town to this crummy strip center multiplex to watch films by Rohmer, Godard, Wertmuller, and Bergman. The theater was called, reductively enough, "Movies." That's it. Just Movies.
There were three or four films running at a time on tiny screens, some no bigger than a garage door. The smallest of the theaters might only have seated 30 people, which was not a problem because I was often the only one in the place. The films changed each week and were a mixture of new and classic European cinema. You might be watching a completely incomprehensible late-Godard work one week and then a charming, sophisticated love comedy like Rohmer's Le Genou de Claire the next. I remember watching La Belle Noiseuse, a nearly four-hour film that just flew by (mostly because it featured long scenes of a mesmerizing and mostly disrobed Emmanuelle Beart).
They would occasionally show classic Hollywood movies and the odd Woody Allen film (Shadows and Fog, Stardust Memories). Growing up in the Midwest, Allen's films had a special meaning for me. They were the periodic reassurances that clever, nervous, sophistication-starved kids could get out, that there was a more interesting conversation somewhere else, and that a world existed where our bookish intellects and odd senses of humor wouldn’t be obstacles to falling in love. All this was nonsense, but out of some sense of fidelity to that time in my life I’ve stayed quietly loyal to Allen, dutifully ignoring his messy press, going to all of his films, mostly by myself.
I confess that I had forgotten about that odd little art house in a working class neighborhood until I saw Rohmer's obituary in the Times. Keep in mind, that place existed years before Netflix, video on demand, or even a good rental joint with a quality foreign film section. It may only have lasted a few years, but while it existed it was like having discovered something rare and wonderful that only you knew about and could appreciate. Jean-Luc Godard called film "the most beautiful fraud in the world." He was right, of course. Movies are a sham. Even so, just to be there, young and alone on a lonely Tuesday night, wrapped in the darkness and staring up at the screen, hoping to be fooled again...