February 7, 2007

A Tribute To Old Hollywood

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Nowadays, it seems like the quality of blockbluster hit movies just isn’t up to par with that of older times. When someone wants to see a film that is written, directed and acted well, he or she has to find the nearest independent film theater. For that reason, most of the contenders for this year’s Academy Awards are independent/art house films and the people associated with them. Something about Hollywood and mainstream high-budget films have lost their genuineness and allure. Cornell Cinema, realizing this, paid a tribute to the old allure of Hollywood this past Saturday night with their Third Annual Elegant Winter Party.
The event, which featured the 1934 film The Thin Man, also included an array of entertainment and social festivities. Held in the Straight’s Cinema, the theater was decorated in a style reminiscent of the 1920s and ’30s. Most of the attendees were also dressed in the fashions of those eras, with many of the women in long, flowing black dresses and elbow length gloves and the men in suits and even some top hats.
Cornell Cinema provided the guests with hors d’oeuvres and desserts from several Ithaca venders, including Taste of Thai, Just a Taste, Moosewood’s and Greenwood’s Cooperative Market.
As people enjoyed the food and mingled with one another, the 1935 film Top Hat played silently in the background. On stage, a piano was played in concordance with the musical numbers of the film. Top Hat, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, follows the budding romance between Jerry (Astaire) and Dale (Rogers) through song and dance. Cornell Cinema’s decision to use live music instead of simply playing Top Hat with its original score added to the ambience of the evening.
To many, especially those who attended the event, Top Hat is a reminder of how enchanting Hollywood films once were. The scene in Top Hat when Astaire dances over Rogers’ hotel room is remembered and alluded to by many, including those in our own generation. Despite the fact that the words of the songs in Top Hat were inaudible, the live music embodied a nostalgia for the live performances and musicals of the 1930s era. Following Top Hat, Cornell Cinema raffled off several prizes, including gift certificates to local restaurants, such as Dijon French Restaurant, as well as boxed wine sets from local vineyards.
The main event of the evening was the showing of The Thin Man (1934). The film is a black-and-white murder mystery starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. It focuses around the disappearance of an inventor named Clyde Wynant, also known as the “thin man,” who later is suspected of murdering his mistress and the man who witnessed her murder.
The Thin Man is in large part remembered for the comedic and endearing relationship of Nick and Nora Charles, along with their dog, Asta. Nick is a retired detective who once knew Clyde Wynant. When Wynant does not return for his daughter’s wedding, as he had promised, his daughter, Dorothy (Maureen O’Sullivan), enlists the help of Nick. Around the time Dorothy solicits Nick’s help, Clyde’s mistress turns up dead and, not soon after, so does the man who witnessed her murder.
Nick is reluctant to get involved with the case, having been retired from the detective business for four years. His wife, however, begs him to take the case, telling him that their lives would be a little more interesting with a murder mystery to solve.
Persuaded by Nora, Nick becomes involved with the case, and ends up discovering the body of Clyde. Nick, as per usual, then solves the mystery of the murders with ease, and invites all of the suspected killers to a dinner party, where he plans to reveal the true identity of the killer.
The film was charming, enthralling and still rather comedic — impressive considering it was first released over 70 years ago — and highly engaged the audience, who applauded and cheered at its end. The last time I experienced this sort of reaction to a movie was when I saw Step Up on its opening day in my hometown. Now, since Step Up obviously cannot compare with many of even today’s acclaimed films, much less those of older times like The Thin Man, I find it ironic that both audiences had the same reaction. What does that say about our taste in movies today?
If anything, the entire night made one miss the magic that the film industry once had. Cornell Cinema plans to show restored art house films by Janus Films in the months to come.
Hopefully, even those who missed the Elegant Winter Party can experience a similar magic by choosing to see these films in the near future. There’s only so much one can gain from seeing the latest blockbuster hit.