Walter Mencken 9:21 p.m., Oct. 20
4th row center: Last Tango in Paris
The date stamped on the roadshow, reserved seat ticket for the opening week showing of Last Tango in Paris at Chicago’s magnificent McClurg Court Theatre -- think Mission Valley’s late Cinema 21 only grander -- just happened to coincide with the night on my senior prom. I couldn’t get a prom date if I stood under the streetlight on the corner of Clark and Division holding a fistful of hundreds. When friends asked, “Marks, you taking anyone to prom?” I’d hold out a palm and say, “Can’t. I have tickets for the theatre.”
I probably saw Tango a dozen times on it’s initial release, but the last viewing remains a standout. It was 1975 and the film was playing 4th run houses and on its last legs. The poster outside the Bryn Mawr Theatre warned potential patrons, “You’ll never see the most acclaimed film of our time on television. This may be your last chance to see it in a theatre.” It was a time when seeing a movie on a screen and in a theatre still meant something.
The BM was a toilet with 790 seats, but the price was right. Admission was 60-cents at all times when my mother first took me there to see The Glass Bottom Boat on its initial release. Tango set me back 75-cents.
Located next to the Bryn Mawr elevated stop, patrons were guaranteed to have at least three scenes drown out by passing trains. There was nothing like experiencing the shooting of Terry Lennox in The Long Goodbye or Chuck Heston damning apes to hell underscored by a suspension-of-belief-destroying train whistle.
It was a Tuesday evening when a friend and I took in the screening at the Bryn Mawr. By now the initial furor over the film had all but died down. Even Lucille Ball had finally shut her yap. America’s favorite redhead mounted a campaign against the film, going so far as to produce the wholesome sludgefest, Mame, so that audiences might have an antidote to pernicious filth like Tango.
There weren’t many in attendance and per usual, I sat fourth row, center. Scoping the place out revealed an elderly couple six seats to my right, and no one behind me for at least ten rows. A peaceful presentation seemed all but cemented.
A third of the film is in French and an echo soon began to bounce about the room. In a flat, loud voice, void of drama and emotion, the older gentleman begins to read along with the subtitles. The initial disturbance soon gave way to a second audio track sent from heaven, particularly during the bluer passages.
All good things must come to an end as I eventually tired of the chatter. “Would you please,” I said leaning in their direction. The reason for the recital became apparent before I could finish the sentence. “You’ll have to excuse me,” his wife said, the reflection from the screen bouncing off her sunglasses, “but I’m blind and we didn't know the movie was in French.”
The translation halted. I wanted to occupy the seat to her right and continue reading, but instead got up and moved to the back of the hall to let them enjoy the rest of their moviegoing experience minus the noisy purist in the crowd.
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