Last night the folks at Doc Films reported that an essential component of one of their 35-millimeter projectors is broken. They hope to have it replaced in the next few days; unfortunately, they have to cancel tonight’s 35-millimeter screening of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A Time to Live and a Time to Die. (A different Hou film will be screened from DVD; admission is free.) I’m disappointed, as early Hou features rarely screen in Chicago, and even more rarely from film. But I don’t hold it against the student film society, a hardworking, volunteer-based organization that offers the most affordable tickets in town. Such snafus are an established part of the Doc Films experience—I probably encounter several technical difficulties there every year. I should note that most of these are minor, resulting in a late start or five-minute break in the film. In any case, I’ve come to appreciate them—they remind me of the teamwork behind any Doc screening and the intricate nature of film projection.
These little gaffes also have a way of individuating a screening, making it as much about the effort to revive a film as the film itself. One of the first times I went to Doc, a projector breakdown occurred 15 minutes into Raoul Walsh’s Me and My Gal; after another 15 minutes of tinkering in the booth, the volunteers had to cancel the show. I guess the movie gods just didn’t want us to see Me and My Gal that night. On a related note: how pleasant it is, at a time when movie projection is increasingly controlled by computers, to imagine Shinto-like local gods meddling with each screening depending on their fickle moods. (On those occasions they permit the movie to run at Doc, I imagine them flitting beneath the seats of the auditorium, looking to see if anyone has snuck in booze.)
I’d like to think that the gods have our best interests at heart. When Me and My Gal let out prematurely, it was a mild summer evening and the sun still hadn’t set. I took a circuitous route to Jimmy’s, drank a cold beer, then read in a nearby park until the sky was too dark. The gods had returned me into the world just when I thought I’d escape, and it felt pretty good. For our trouble, everyone who came to that evening’s show received free passes to another Doc screening. Me and My Gal would have been great fun, but there would be other films, the gods reminded us. What do you have to complain about? You just saved five bucks. Now have a drink on us.
The weather report for tonight calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-50s. After Saturday’s heavy rain, our Indian Summer seems to have subsided and the air is finally smelling like autumn. This should be a great night for stepping on dead leaves and finding out which of your neighbors have put up Halloween decorations. Is that better than seeing A Time to Live and a Time to Die? Probably not, but if you set aside the evening anyway, what better excuse to catch up with the movie you live in?