Monday, March 31, 2008

White Mane and The Red Balloon

On Thursday, my husband picked up a flier at school for two classic French films to be screened at the Journal Square Loews. He offered to stay home during the toddler’s nap so that the big girl and I could go.

As the kids say, OMG! I have never been to a theater like that before: decrepit it may be, but it was never wrecked and it is huge, ornate, and just crying out for its restoration to continue. The oval-shaped lobby has marble floors and columns and a balcony. The theater itself is amazingly high-ceilinged with a balcony. The pipe organ is fully restored, ivory with gilt and red accents.

And then an organist played, starting the show off with a sing-along to “Take me out to the ballgame,” “Bob the Builder” and other preschool favorites. The retirees in the audience joined in with gusto, though I would have preferred a hipper mix of tunes. Still, it was festive and very homey.

I had never seen “White Mane” (1953) before. Like “The Red Balloon,” it has very little dialogue and all is translated by the English narrator, Peter Strauss. It’s a black and white film about a gorgeous wild horse in the South of France, where the Rhone meets the sea. The horse, the head of his pack, is the target of wranglers (French cowboys! in flat-topped hats, ascots, and velvet jackets!) and beloved by a young boy.

My daughter was disappointed that the movie was “gray” and didn’t have any talking, but once her plaints were voiced, she was riveted. The story is amazingly poignant: the horse who cannot remain wild, but chooses to be tamed by the kind boy rather than the greedy wranglers and the ending is riveting, disturbing, and moving. As the boy and the horse ride out to sea, gradually sinking beneath the waves, the narrator announced that they were going off to a land in which horses and boys could be friends together forever…

As I already knew (and knew that “The Red Balloon” would confirm), it’s tough to be a child in post-war France. Best just to float away--on the waves or in a gorgeous hammock of balloons.

Oh, “The Red Balloon.” It does not disappoint.

“The Red Balloon,” a movie I’ve seen many, many times and love (my elementary school must have owned a print: I feel like it was an annual event) was the favorite with my girl and her best friend. They claimed not to understand what was happening even though they talked their way through figuring it all out (thank goodness for patient neighbors): "What is happening? Is it a magic balloon? Is it following him to school? Are those big boys trying to take his balloon? " although I overheard this in the film’s opening moments:

My daughter: “I don’t like these movies without much talking.”
Her friend: “Yeah, and no princesses.”


Lisa Romeo said...

Wow - I thought I knew all the horse movies, even the "gray" ones. Thanks for the tip.

I love, love the old theaters, fast disappearing.

Richard said...

The Journal Square Loew's was truly magnificent in its heyday. As you probably know, it was one of the five Wonder Theaters that Loew's built in the New York City area in 1929 and 1930.

I've written a lot about my beloved Loew's Kings on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn (by the early 1970s, I sometimes found that my friends and myself were among only a handful of people in that mammoth, luxe auditorium), which has been a decaying hulk for decades now (currently there's a glimmer of hope with yet another promised plan for redevelopment, though many have fallen through in recent years).

The three sister Wonder Theaters to the Jersey and the Kings are the 175th Street in Manhattan, now mostly a church but also home as of last year to music shows as the United Palace Theater (I saw Modest Mouse there last spring, and though the acoustics aren't superb, the place looks terrific); the Valencia in Jamaica, well-preserved by the church that is now headquartered there; and the Paradise on the Grand Concourse, which the last time I went there in the early 1980s had become an ugly quad, the four screening rooms completely hiding the baroque beauty of the theater. Luckily, it's been lovingly restored and is now open as a venue for boxing matches and shows by artists like Mo'nique, Patti LaBelle and Tracy Morgan.

These movie palaces were among the finest cinemas ever constructed. I only hope there's still hope for the Kings, where as a boy on Saturday mornings in the early 1960s, I enjoyed such movies as "Goldfinger" and "It's a Hard Day's Night."

Having occasionally worked in Journal Square (for New Jersey Online) in the early 1990s when the theater was a closed wreck, I'm thrilled that you and your daughter could experience that incredible movie palace. I've heard the organ is amazing and your post made me eager to go there again.