In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

25. Submarine

Pacific Film Archive Theater
UC Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive Theater is an example in utilitarianism. Its shape and corrugated metal siding are reminiscent of a garage or army barracks. The theater lacks a marquee; its name is painted directly on the front of the building. The bathrooms are outside the theater; the approach is concrete.

Once inside, I realized that this isn't so much a theater as just an auditorium that shows film. The 222 purple seats are each equipped with a fold out 'desk', those tiny slabs of wood just large enough to support a piece of paper and pin your leg to the seat in an uncomfortable way. Perhaps because of the space occupied by the fold-out desks, the seats are too narrow; I felt wedged in.

No concessions are sold, but neither are any allowed in the theater, so consider this a dry establishment. Except for the air; the auditorium was quite humid. As a movie theater, the PFA is lacking; it has no magic about it. Aesthetically, this theater is a one- or two-star building.

The website claims that the theater shows an awesome 600+ programs per year (a brochure cites a more modest 500 annual screenings). That figure might include shorts, lectures, and other non-movies, but in looking at their excellent Art & Film Notes program, I count at least thirty-six movies shown in January, more than were available in any other single theater in the Bay Area during the same month (even besting the Castro's impressive twenty-six movies and the twenty-nine titles shown at the AMC Mercado 20). For nearly every film shown, the PFA will be the film's only Bay Area (and probably national) engagement during the year.

The theater's collection holds more than 10,000 titles (more movies than I will see in my lifetime), many of which are unique to the PFA. These are shown throughout the year in various series, focusing on directors, actors, or other themes. As a resource for seeing and appreciating world cinema, the PFA is a four- or five-star theater.

The PFA offers various membership levels, all of which confer discounted admissions. (I'd be interested in a theater offering an all-you-can-watch membership. Pay one price, and see as many movies throughout the year as you like. I'm guessing this isn't done because of the danger of someone lending their membership to others, but it sure would be fun.) My friend David, a graphic artist and screenwriter, is a member, and is responsible for bringing this theater to my attention.

Part of the series Before "Capraesque": Early Frank Capra, the silent film was accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano (Judith is an instructor at Mills College, so I've heard her play at many dance performances).



Submarine (1928)

As my friend Stefanie said after the film, Submarine is perhaps the first bromance. Jack Dorgan (Jack Holt) and Bob Mason (Ralph Graves) are fellow Navy men who constantly fight, argue, and spit at each other, and yet they seem to prefer each other's company to everyone else's. Jack Dorgan is a famous diver, sinking to record depths in his scuba suit without passing out. Bob is Jack's topside man, ensuring Jack gets enough air. Bob is quick to deride Jack to his face, but when Jack is underwater and out of earshot, Bob sings his praises to the rest of the crew, bragging about how deep Jack can go. Jack is no less envious of Bob, who has great success with the ladies.

The two are separated when Jack is granted shore leave but Bob's assignment is extended by a month. Despite Bob's joke that Jack should be careful not to get married while ashore, Jack does just that. At a dance club (where men buy tickets, mill around in a parlor looking for a partner, and pay a ticket to the attendant when they hit the dance floor), Jack meets Bessie. Bessie endears herself to Jack by swiping a drag from his cigarette, which in the 1920s was probably code for "you're going to get lucky tonight". The two hit it off and are married and settled into a new home within just a few weeks. Jack is as happy as can be, but Bessie is immediately stir crazy, yearning for the early days of their relationship (so, so long ago!) when they used to go dancing. Soon Jack's shore leave is up, just as Bob is ending his assignment, and when Bob comes ashore looking for a good time you'll never guess who he meets.

I won't spoil the rest. The movie is about the enduring friendship between Jack and Bob, so naturally that friendship will be tested. They love each other, though they are too manly to say it. In one scene, a withheld handshake, when finally given, all but takes the place of a sentimental goodbye kiss. The two roughhouse with each other the way schoolboys flirt with girls, playing little pranks to shyly get their attention. In addition to the physical humor, the movie's captions are often quite funny, and without them we'd never know that Bessie has a tendency to refer to men as her 'Big Boy'.

I began to suspect that the movie's title was either a metaphor, or an archaic word for diver. Eventually an actual submarine does manifest, setting the stage for the movie's final conflict and catharsis. Much of the plot feels familiar, but I've seen very, very few movies that predate this one, so I can't accuse Submarine of being the imitator. Imagine Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett in Pearl Harbor, but funny, and Kate Beckinsale, but remorseless, and you'll get the idea.

These are the days when newspapers are published hourly, women wear garters, and men receive a manicure with their haircut. People punch each other in the face and laugh about it afterward. A plane is still called a 'plane. And there is nothing more refreshing after a deep dive than a golf-ball-sized wad of chewing tobacco. Any older movie is fascinating for its window into the past, but this movie succeeds by being humorous and, despite how many times we've seen these moments since, tense.

1 comment:

  1. The 222 purple seats are each equipped with a fold out 'desk', those tiny slabs of wood just large enough to support a piece of paper and pin your leg to the seat in an uncomfortable way.

    Somewhere and at sometime I actually had this type of desk for school. They were terribly uncomfterable, especially for us tall guys.