Classic Movies at the Brattle Theatre

sunset-blvd Norma Desmond-1-586
From June 8th-June 16th, the Brattle Theatre screened noir films in its repertory series, “Prime Noir of the 1950s.” The series includes dark classics like Touch of Evil, Smell of Success, and The Asphalt Jungle.

I enjoyed the Saturday night screening of Sunset Boulevard. For those who have not heard of this Oscar-winning masterpiece, here is a summary from the Brattle Theatre post about the film:

“This highly stylized film noir treat is the story of an out-of-work screenwriter (Holden) who is taken in (and eventually trapped) by has-been movie queen, Norma Desmond (Swanson). Hollywood seems never more vicious than when turning its eye on itself, and Desmond is one of the most pitiable and disturbed embodiments of the Dream Factory ever committed to celluloid.”

The Brattle Screening Experience


“After Salome, we’ll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and all of those wonderful people out there in the dark . . . “

Gloria Swanson, as Norma Desmond, proclaims this line in her final speech in Sunset Boulevard. Her eyes sweep the screen then fix directly ahead, slowly and purposefully breaking the fourth wall as she stalks closer to the camera and to each of us in the audience.

There is a kind of intensity which comes from seeing an old film in an actual theater, a kind of focus which is so often lost when you watch something on a TV or laptop. Background details like staging and lighting grab your attention when you view them from a dark room, on the big screen.Sunset-Boulevard Poster

My own reactions to events in the movie were amplified, not only by seeing it close up but also by listening to the reactions of other people around me. I laughed along with the other audience members when Norma quipped, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small,” I applauded with them when renowned silent movie star Buster Keaton made a cameo, and I shuddered with them when Norma gave her final speech.

The Brattle Theatre does a very good job preparing the audience to slip into another era. When seating starts, 15-30 minutes before the film, music from the early- and mid-twentieth century sets the mood. Even the pre-screening notifications from the theater were written in a vintage style (the reminder to silence cell phones used the image from a poster for The Brain That Wouldn’t Die). 

The staff of the Brattle Theatre have carefully crafted an atmosphere that is rich with details from films of ages past. It is this attention to detail which ensures that screenings at the Brattle are both highly immersive and immensely entertaining.

Although the four screenings of this film for the Prime Noir series have concluded, there are plenty of reasons left to go to a classic movie screening at the Brattle Theatre. If you missed this series, I highly recommend going to the Brattle for a screening of another film, festival, or repertory series.

Read on to see what’s coming soon!

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