At 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, Terry Walstrom and his 18-year-old son, Nicholas, were settling into a movie at AFI Dallas. The fact that a father and son would be catching a movie together wasn’t unusual, but the movie they had picked was. The 1944 Billy Wilder classic Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck, was on the bill. Terry says he has seen the movie several times, but Nicholas had never watched. So why were they bothering to drive all the way from their home in Fort Worth to watch something they could play any time at home on DVD?
“I used to live in L.A. when they had a bunch of revival theaters where you could see films with an audience of fans of that film,” Terry said. “To see it with an audience of real movie buffs is worth the trip. There’s an electricity to an audience that has a real appreciation of the film.”
Since the adoption of the VCR in the eary 1980s, the revival theater has pretty much gone the way of the dodo. But judging by the 60 or so people who attended a show on a weekday afternoon, there is still some appetite for repertory film in North Texas. The Inwood Theatre keeps the repertory flame burning most consistently with its midnight shows on Friday and Saturday (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is on this weekend). And the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as well as the Dallas Public Library work in older movies now and then. But it’s rare to see something as old and truly classic as Double Indemnity on the big screen in Dallas.
Film festivals like AFI Dallas primarily exist to show movies that local audiences might not ever see otherwise. But one of the side benefits is the repertory films that are sometimes added to the schedule. AFI Dallas will also show Chinatown tonight, as well as Gentleman Prefer Blondes on Wednesday and The Last Picture Show on Thursday.
Rick Worland, a professor of cinema and television at SMU, lead a question-and-answer session with MacMurray’s daughter Kate after the screening. When asked about repertory film’s place in Dallas, he conceded that it was all but dead as people become more attached to their home theaters. But he did tip his cap to the crowd in the theater.
“When you do put these films on the big screen, people do come out to see them, which is interesting because most of the people here have seen this before,” he said. “But it just goes to show that movies were made to be seen on the big screen.”
Experts will tell you that that is because of the larger picture, better sound and the communal experience. But Terry had another explanation.
“At home, you’re too much the master. In the theater, the film is the master.”