The 20th annual Ciné Salon is turning back the clock — literally. On Monday, October 24, the Hanover, N.H.-based film series will screen the Vincente Minnelli classic The Clock. The 1945 comedy-drama stars the director's future wife, Judy Garland, as a secretary who falls in love with a soldier (Robert Walker) during his two-day leave in New York City. Released during the waning days of World War II, it's a quintessential love story from Hollywood's golden age.
There's just one catch: The version of The Clock that will be screened at the Howe Library is a digital reconstruction of a 16mm dual-screen projection that film critic and former Dartmouth College professor David Thomson sprung on a class of unsuspecting students in 1978. The 90-minute film was cut roughly in half for the Dartmouth screening and was simultaneously shown forward and backward. The left-hand projection was played forward with sound; the right-hand side was projected silently in reverse. The effect was an experimental presentation of a thoroughly traditional movie.
"There's all these Hollywood elements coming together in a completely new context with the two screens," says Ciné Salon founder and curator Bruce Posner, who co-supervised the digital reconstruction. "It does this thing where these elements that were meant to be an epiphany in one way are now an epiphany in another way. That's what's wonderful about it."
Thomson, who will join Posner for a FaceTime discussion following the screening, called the original two-screen projection perhaps "the most exciting film show I have ever seen" in his 2012 book The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. He wrote, "This was a fusion of narrative, cinema, and technology that no one had witnessed before."
The two-screen The Clock will be shown as part of a 20th-anniversary Ciné Salon celebration that Posner is calling "The Pip Dip Film Clip Party." It's the sixth installment in a 13-week series of Monday movie nights that began on September 19 and will conclude on December 12.
In a clever touch that's typical of Posner's eclectic programming tastes, the "Pip Dip" event takes its name from a scene in the 1944 Woody Woodpecker animated short "The Barber of Seville." The cartoon spoof of the Rossini opera will be paired with another tonsorial romp: a rare outtake from Charlie Chaplin's 1919 short "Sunnyside," in which the Little Tramp makes a futile attempt at a shave and haircut. The Chaplin outtake will feature live piano accompaniment of a new score by composer Bob Merrill, a South Pomfret resident.
Subsequent entries in the series are similarly wide-ranging, from a pair of "bad girl" cult exploitation flicks on November 14 to a program of milestones in early queer cinema on December 5. And on any given night, a Posner film program is subject to the improvisatory whims of the moment.
"I'm known for infamous three- to four-hour-long digressions," Posner says, breaking into a characteristic ebullient laugh.
Posner singles out the November 7 program of films restored by David Shepard (his partner in preservation on a pair of mammoth video sets chronicling early avant-garde and experimental American cinema) as an example of Ciné Salon's twofold mission of film exhibition and preservation. The evening will be headlined by a screening of Raoul Walsh's Regeneration (1915) — one of Hollywood's earliest forays into the gangster genre — featuring a Skype chat with Shepard.
The inaugural Ciné Salon took place in October 1996, during the tail end of the VHS and LaserDisc era, when the DVD format was in development and movie theaters still projected films in 35mm. Posner likens the decline of 35mm film production and projection to the end of a love affair or a death in the family. But, though he's nostalgic for the sound of flickering film reels in a darkened theater, he isn't dismissive of new forms of digital filmmaking. He says the "fantastic selection" of 15-second Instagram clips compiled by experimental filmmaker Barron Sherer — to be shown at the "Pip Dip" party — is reminiscent of Thomson's ecstatic writings about the 1978 Dartmouth screening of The Clock.
"Looking at the screen was miraculous again," the critic recalled in his book. "And if that sensation ever disappears, then our whole adventure with the movies and the screen is over."