Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Seeing The Master

I never thought I'd need to frame a Rorschach test.
Last night I was fortunate to attend an advanced screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, The Master, which was shown in its 70mm glory in the gorgeous Castro Theatre in San Francisco. That it was held as a benefit for The Film Foundation was a fitting bonus, giving the venue and format. Aside from my proper review, I would like to comment on the “event” itself, as I could not have been more excited for it and it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal. Anderson is my favorite filmmaker, and made my favorite film, Magnolia. I saw Sydney on tape (!) just before Boogie Nights was released, and I’ve been going to opening night shows of Anderson’s films ever since.

I had been simultaneously trying to avoid any marketing or information about The Master while also tracking its release information, especially when these advanced screenings started to happen. Cigarettes & Red Vines has been an invaluable resource (for years and years) on all things PTA and just really cool about making sure everybody is aware of how they can see this film. When my friend Pat was able to go to a screening last week in Chicago, I was very envious but happy for him. You can read his non-spoiler review. By that point I had seen that the Castro had an opening for last night, and I hoped like a kid before Christmas that the film would screen there. So now then. The screening was announced on Monday, I got my ticket, and that night I packed my shooting script of Magnolia (first edition hardcover) just in case I might get a chance to “meet” Anderson. On Tuesday, this tweet fueled my anticipation further. When I got to the Castro after work, about 45 minutes before doors opened at 7pm, the ticket-holders line was around the block. 

It was the longest line I’ve stood in for a film since The Empire Strikes Back. Once I got in, I noticed a merchandise table in the lobby and bought a poster, and sensed some commotion behind me on the stairs to the balcony. There was a man with graying brown hair in a blue hooded sweatshirt who people were gathered around.

That’s him. This is it. 

I got out the script and a Sharpie and headed up the stairs, tentative, not sure if he was willingly posing for pictures or if fans were just encroaching on him. I saw his lovely partner Maya Rudolph on the stairs landing and she started to head down, so I figured I should just go ahead and approach or I might miss the opportunity. I’m pretty confident that I said “Excuse me, Paul, this is my favorite film, would you please…?” as I presented the book.

We may be through with the past...
He had his own Sharpie ready. “Thank you,” he said, so I technically spoke with my favorite filmmaker, and I closed with “Thank you so much for doing this.” He nodded and descended to join Maya, I did a quick self-diagnostic to make sure I wouldn’t pass out, and then I went to find a seat downstairs. The place was packed with seemingly every row sporadically filled with people saving seats, and after a few minutes of dissatisfaction in an end seat on the far edge of the screen, I left to try my luck up top. In the lobby I got to briefly compliment Rudolph, she was gracious. My luck continued when I got to the balcony seats – dead center, second row:

The organist played beautifully, for about 20 minutes before the film, and I’m fairly sure that one of the pieces was from Punch-Drunk Love. After his performance, there was a brief announcement about electronic devices and such, then the lights dimmed and the curtain parted, and the projector cut through the darkness without any word of Anderson being there.


As the final image went to black, I was the first to clap, appreciative and enthusiastic, and I had a brief fear that there would be more to the film after some prolonged darkness, that I would have committed The Ultimate Power Lloyd Cinema Foul, the perfect way to ruin the experience for myself and everybody, but it was indeed the end and the rest of the theatre joined in. There were no end credits; the curtains closed and the lights came up, and people started to file out.

In the lobby, I noticed that some posters had been signed during the film, and the people at the table were kind enough to exchange mine for one. Anderson and Rudolph were nowhere to be seen, so I had been very lucky to have a few seconds with them before the film. A large crowd was waiting on the sidewalk, talking about the film, taking pictures of the marquee, and making plans with friends. I left to finally eat something (it was just after 10:30pm) at a pizza place across the street, and reveled in what I got to experience. It was by far the best, most unique time I’ve had at a movie theater. I’ll have to make an amendment to my Top 10 Cinema Experiences post.

I’ll be back to the Castro Theatre this next week for 2001: A Space Odyssey and another 70mm projection, Vertigo. Then when The Master comes back to play in 70mm at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland on September 21st, I’ll see it again on opening night, and I will probably revise my review after a less heady viewing.

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