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Dim projections
Loews and the HFA lose focus
BY GERALD PEARY

I pledge allegiance to beautiful 35mm prints shown on the big screen. Under God? More important: in focus. Letís hope that the good people at Loews desist from their lockout of union projectionists at Boston houses including Copley Place and Harvard Square. Machinery, however state-of-the-art smooth, canít replace the expertise of skilled projectionists.

Whenever Iím in a moviehouse and some screening problem arises, I get up and see that the projectionist is informed about it. Are you similarly pro-active? Management might argue that audiences rarely speak up, so maintaining a live projectionist is an indulgence. Is there something to this cynical view? People I know will spend weekends fussing with their flowers, hours choosing in a wine emporium, and then sit through a movie thatís completely out of focus.

Steve Livernash, veteran projectionist at the Harvard Film Archive, is the shining example of why Loews needs its accomplished projection staff. Hereís what you get: a University of Chicago graduate, a most knowledgeable film historian, and someone obsessed with the preservation of vintage 35mm prints. Between reel changes, Steve spends his booth time (this is gratis) cleaning and repairing damaged footage. When you attend the Harvard Film Archive, you are receiving old-fashioned service, caring and personal, from Steve and from Clayton Mattos. Does it matter that both projectionists are movie-crazy and have unerring taste? Somehow, it does.

The lockout wasnít the only bad news Steve had when he called; he also informed me that John Gianvito, who has served (brilliantly, in my opinion) first as acting curator (before my own tenure in í98-í99) and then as associate curator of the Harvard Film Archive for five years, will not have his contract renewed. Iíve heard from Harvard students, HFA patrons, Johnís employees, and Harvard filmmaking faculty, and theyíre all upset that heís being let go. He has been an original programmer, someone consumed with making the HFA both a place for the discovery of unique films and visionary filmmakers and a friendly, democratic place. Almost any night you could find him at his desk, working long after others had left. Increasingly concerned with the finances of the HFA, he became a self-appointed watchdog struggling to keep down spending. Now it appears heís being sent packing so the HFA can save a bit of money by replacing him, if at all, with a "junior curator."

The Gianvito-less HFA is currently running my favorite series of each year, "A to Z: Treasures from the Harvard Film Archive," vintage 35mm prints pulled from the vaults. This summer, actors are being spotlighted, from Bibi Andersson to Mai Zetterling; and this weekend, the alphabet takes us from K (Boris Karloff) to N (Nick Nolte and Paul Newman).

In The Lost Patrol (1934; July 18 and 20 at 7 p.m.), the post-Frankenstein Karloff plays a lunatic religious zealot bugging the rest of a British troop as they try to keep a stiff upper lip while being picked off one by one by Arab marksmen in the Mesopotamian desert during World War I. Itís a minor work written by Dudley Nichols, directed by Americaís greatest filmmaker, John Ford, and starring Victor McLaglen ó months before the three would triumph with the multi-Oscar winner The Informer. The desert cinematography is The Lost Patrolís greatest triumph, with Yuma standing in for Mesopotamia.

In Whoíll Stop the Rain (1978; July 22 at 7 p.m.), Nolte is stupendous as an ex-Marine finding the stench of Vietnam warmongering all over sun-dazed California as he races from Berkeley to LA to Mexico with his friendís doped-out wife (Tuesday Weld) and several pounds of heroin, one step ahead of devilish US government agents. Robert Stone co-authored the script, which is based on his masterly novel Dog Soldiers, and with the help of director Karel Reisz he sneaks in telling movie references to those American classics of avarice, Greed and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Finally, Cool Hand Luke (1967; July 22 at 9:15 p.m.) has Newman as a paradigmatic í60s anti-hero, an ex-serviceman who canít help standing up to the establishment, even when it takes the form of sadistic cops in charge of a chain gang. Old-fashioned studio entertainment from Stuart Rosenberg, this one includes the irresistible scene where Newmanís Luke wagers he can devour 50 hardboiled eggs. The ending? Surprisingly ambiguous and dark ó theyíd never get away with it in featherweight Hollywood 2002.

Gerald Peary can be reached at gpeary@world.std.com

Issue Date: July 18 - 25, 2002
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