Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Sept. 23
4th row center: Opening night a MoPA
It's been almost 14 years. Enough time has passed. Let's laugh about it.
I arrived in San Diego on January 15, 2000 to assume the position of inaugural film curator at the Museum of Photographic Arts. A brand-spanking new, million dollar state of the art movie theatre, located in Kane's Xanadu, was being placed in my care. It was like winning the lottery without ever purchasing a ticket. How could I miss?
Easy. I crash landed in San Diego, a sleepy, sun-baked burg that doesn't give a rat's colon about art, and that goes triple for movies released prior to yesterday.
A friend (who shall remain nameless) recommended a friend of his (who shall also remain nameless) for the job of projectionist. The applicant, call him Clark, had the chops and a fairly extensive knowledge of film history. If nothing else, I'd have someone to talk to between shows.
Are there tweakers in Chicago? There must be, but prior to moving to SD my knowledge of meth addicts was limited to Abel Ferrara pictures. It wasn't until a night owl friend introduced me to Lestat's on Adams that I was first able to put a face to the addiction.
To help take the edge off his strict methamphetamine diet, Clark sought the medicinal aid of Peppermint Schnapps. The latter addiction caused the museum director to note, "He's the only projectionist I've ever seen that sweat 80 proof." That last line was delivered just moments before Clark was issued his walking papers.
Opening night was a big to-do for MoPA. The higher-up's suggestion to make it a black tie affair didn't set well with this moviegoer. Unless Marty puts in a personal appearance, there is no way in hell that I am going to put on a monkey suit to watch a movie. It's not natural!
The incomparable Mr. and Mrs. Joan and Irwin Jacobs, the theatre's benefactors, were there to help christen the auditorium named in their honor, along with 200 other well-heeled supporters, none of whom seemed too happy with the prospect of once again having their pockets picked by MoPA's director. Even my mother, who had lived long enough to finally see her kid make good, was in attendance.
It was up to me to make a good first impression.
In honor of the new build, I booked a series of early short films made by future directorial superstars. Among the titles chosen for the inaugural program were Francois Truffaut's Les Mistons, David Lynch's The Grandmother, Jane Campion's Peel, and, of course, Marty's It's Not Just You, Murray.
At the time I owned a small collection of 16mm prints, most of which were stored in MoPA's booth. One of my prize pieces was a dye transfer print of the opening credit reel for Garfield Goose and Friends, a long defunct, locally produced Chicago television program for kids that ran on WGN-TV in the '60's.
After a sumptuous supper in the atrium, prepared by Waters Catering (I'm beginning to sound like the late Burl Stiff), the audience retired to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theatre for the evening's entertainment.
I welcomed the crowd, opened with a few jokes, and let them know what was in store for them. The knuckleheads who wired MoPA's auditorium for sound were the same team that installed the public address system at Qualcomm Stadium. In their eagerness to make the theatre sound like a sporting venue, they had failed to provide any means of communication between the booth and the auditorium. To make matters worse, there was no direct access to the booth. It took at least two minutes to exit the theatre and run a slalom course to the second floor.
To make up for this glaring omission, we were provided a pair of walkie-talkies on which to communicate. I delivered my intro to Murray, signaled for the house light to dim, and proceeded up the aisle to stand in the back of the sold out crowd.
Before making it to the fourth row, a familiar song began wafting through the auditorium. Instead of Italian opera or a Stones tune so often associated with Marty's work, it was the perky strains of Monkey of a String, aka the theme to The Garfield Goose Show, that set the crowd a-rocking.
The nimrod in the booth had put up the wrong reel. It was an easy mistake to make, especially when you consider that THE FILM IN QUESTION WAS IN BLACK-AND WHITE AND THE HOPPED-UP RUMMY HAD THREADED UP A REEL OF COLOR STOCK?! Helen Keller could have done a better job that night.
Not wanting to ruin the lines in my suit, I decided to leave the walkie-talkie at the front desk. The assistant director grabbed my arm as I ran past. "What's going on?" he asked.
"I'm going upstairs," I barked, unable to stop as my eyes turned and accidentally made contact with Mrs. Jacobs who was seated to the left of the exit door, "to strangle my fucking projectionist."
Suffice it to say that a first impression was definitely made.
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