16 September, 2016

The Brotherhood Of The Popcorn

               
                 Do you love old movies?  Of course you do, that’s probably why you’re reading this.  Well, do I have a Saturday morning for you.

But first …

Movies are best as a shared experience.  We’ve all watched something by ourselves -- and what with being able to watch on the likes of our phones, the ease of that is getting better or worse (depending on your point of view) -- but nothing matches sitting with someone as the lights dim.  Friend, family, lover, doesn’t matter;  movies are made for an audience.  Jokes want a laugh, scares want a gasp, tears want to be handed a handkerchief.  And not solo, we as a crowd thrive on the camaraderie.  [I’m proof myself.  When my wife Diana and I went to see Double Indemnity (1944) at The New Beverly last month -- a movie we’ve both seen many times before -- I was consciously reminded how funny it is simply because of everyone laughing around us.  I knew the jokes were coming and I knew they were funny but hearing people laugh … didn’t improve the movie but … freshened it all over again.]  Nope, a phone can’t give you that.  (In fact, I can personally example this yet again:  When Diana and I fly somewhere, we often split the audio jack on the same iPad so we can watch this or that together.  ‘Cause it is more fun that way;  laughing, gasping … she hands me the handkerchief.  And we bring the iPad so we can bring our titles;  titles from the 30s, 40s and 50s.  But I digress.) 

                Movies are best when they’re shared.

                Well, few people have elevated this to the level it deserves like Woody Wise and his Cliffhangers.  For the past thirty-five years, Wise and seven friends have met twice a month on Saturday mornings to watch movies.  And let me say that again if I need to:  twice a month, for thirty-five years.  They meet at Wise’s home, where he has a small theatre (look at that beauty below, complete with three-sheets!).  They have coffee and bagels and sandwiches and talk about life and movies and their lives with movies and then they sneak off to those theatre seats -- each of the eight Cliffhangers have their regular own -- to watch that Saturday’s lineup:  usually a Double Feature, often with a Cartoon, always with a Cliffhanger (hence their club name;  one of their club names but more on that in a bit).  What’s a Cliffhanger?  A Saturday afternoon Serial from the 30s and 40s;  12 or 15 Chaptered Adventures where at the end of each the hero is inescapably trapped … until the next episode.  Glorious staples for the theatre going kids in those golden years (and as-glorious to kids of all ages today).

Well, Cinematographer-Editor-Director Inda Reid [The Making Of The Nutcracker (2009)] found Woody Wise and his Cliffhangers so charming that she made the 2014 Documentary The Brotherhood Of The Popcorn, an almost-hour-and-a-half look at the eight gentlemen and their Saturdays (and there’s their other club name I was talking about):  The Brotherhood Of The Popcorn (named – like Lauren Bacall’s Rat Pack – by Wise’s wife Sandy).  To call Ms. Reid’s Documentary charming doesn’t do it justice though Wise and friends are just that, from meeting them individually to getting to spend some time at those special Saturdays, both around the kitchen table and in the theatre.  And they’re quite the individuals including a Truck Driver, House Painter, Teacher, two Animators, a Rockabilly Crooner and an Irishman (that’s how he’s tagged) in the mix.  The youngster in the group?  68 this year.  Not that age seems to matter.  All past is indeed prologue to friends getting together to watch movies. 

Reid herself wrote, “For over thirty-five years, Woody and The Cliffhangers have met to watch a double-feature (with a break between for a cliffhanger serial and lunch).  They talk about everything under the sun:  movies, stars, family, their kids, their pets, their surgeries, lives and loves.  And although the rules state that one cannot talk about religion or politics, they end up talking about that too.  Their unique personalities and individual life stories are just as interesting as the movies they watch.  We hope you will join us in the support of this special film that celebrates tradition, friendship, nostalgia and films the good ol’ fashioned way, with some good ol’ fashioned gentlemen.  They definitely don’t make ‘em like they used to!”  (And how easy it is to see how warmly she means the men and their movies.)

                  And what movies!  Look at the lineups for their last three get-togethers -- 

                  Saturday, 9/10/16
                  Chicago (2002)
                  The Falcon In Hollywood
                  Chapter 8 of King Of The Texas Rangers

                  Saturday, 8/27/16
                  The Front Page (1974)
                  Saps At Sea
                  Chapter 7 of King Of The Texas Rangers

                  Saturday, 8/13/16
                  My Darling Clementine
                  Charlie Chan At The Olympics
                  Chapter 6 of King Of The Texas Rangers

                  Sorry, I’m having so much fun typing these, here are two more --

                  Saturday, 7/30/16
                  Murder, My Sweet
                  Horse Feathers (1932)
                  Sylvester & Tweety in Canary Row
                  Chapter 5 of King Of The Texas Rangers

                  Saturday, 7/16/2016
                  The Thin Man (1934)
                  Spite Marriage
                  Tom & Jerry in Texas Tom
                  Chapter 4 of King Of The Texas Rangers

                  I don’t know about you, but I’m jealous;  I want to sit in that theatre on a Saturday morning and watch those Cartoons and Cliffhangers and Double Features!  I’m a big Falcon fan (particularly the Tom Conways), plus you have a quintessential Noir, Murder, My Sweet, and a quintessential Ford, My Darling Clementine (not to mention my wife Diana is a big Buster Keaton fan and you have his final Silent, Spite Marriage).  Plus Billy Wilder?  And Sylvester & Tweety and Tom & Jerry?  I thank you.  [I might pass on Chicago but “Nobody’s perfect.”  That said I do like that it’s not just the 30s, 40s & 50s in there, and a quick glance at other Saturdays (Wise posts each lineup on the Brotherhood Of The Popcorn Facebook Page) shows a healthy dose of James Bond (always a treat).] 

                 Speaking of their Facebook Page, that’s how I first came across this Documentary and, believe it or not, Wise himself.  [I say believe it or not here because Wise has been involved with The Lone Pine Film Festival for twenty years and I didn’t know it until this year (I write embarrassingly).]  The Brotherhood Facebook Page was suggested to me in my feed;  probably because most of the pages I like circle Movies, Theatres, Los Angeles and Conservancy:  Nostalgia (including, yes, the great-if-you’re-a-fan Character Actors In Classic Films).  I “liked” Brotherhood on Facebook and started to see the Saturday lineups:  all these great titles scrolling by.  And I learned about The Documentary and wanted to get to a screening -- it’s been awarded at many Festivals -- but kept missing it.  Well, then there was a post on the Lone Pine Film Festival’s Facebook Page that Rawhide (1951) would be screening this year.  I’d done a write-up on that for my TyronePower Top 5, so I commented with a link.  And who should write back that he enjoyed it?  Mr. Woody Wise … who has been running films at The Festival for twenty years.  Woody and I started chatting and he was very kind to send me The Documentary on Blu Ray.



                 If you read my Blog regularly at all -- and I thank you -- you know I’m not one to particularly critique anything.  I’m continuing my Top 5s with Janet Leigh because I like them and want to share.  That’s it.  [Dad did the same with his Lone Ranger book (From Out Of The Past:  A Pictorial History Of The Lone Ranger), Lone Pine book (On Location In Lone Pine) and – particularly – two Lone Pine videos (On Location In Lone Pine, Vols 1 & 2).  I don’t think he disparages anything in any of them.  And what’s wrong with simply sharing?]  Well, if there’s a critique to be made at all with Brotherhood Of The Popcorn, it’s that I wish a little more time was spent at a given Saturday;  especially in the theatre.  Hearing more of their chatting.  More of their favorite Stars, Genres, Serials.  Those wonderful “arguments” that come out of days like these.  Their sitting in the theatre right after a screening and hearing them talk about those Films, that Serial.  As charming as the gentlemen are -- those Saturdays are -- I just wanted more there.  And maybe I’m being picky.  Maybe I am just jealous I don’t get to sit there too.  To listen … and talk with … and learn. 

What Inda Reid set out to document -- and she accomplishes it beautifully -- is herself share the charm of it all;  and, yes, there’s that word again.  I don’t know what else to call it but charming.  As Leonard Maltin himself wrote, it’s “An affectionate portrait of friends from a wide range of backgrounds whose common interest is a love of old movies.  Brotherhood Of The Popcorn is disarming and enjoyable, especially if you happen to share that love.”  Disarming?  Perhaps in how enjoyable you find a seemingly simple subject as this to be for the almost-hour-and-a-half.  This is not groundbreaking cinema, nor should it be.  Where Reid & Co excel is in appreciating the material, knowing their audience, and writing a love letter to both at the same time.

That we get to be Reid’s audience and therefore – even if just by proxy – get to sit with Woody Wise and his Cliffhangers? 

That’s a happy Saturday morning indeed.