Saturday, March 16, 2013

Frostburg's Historic Palace Theater Screens "Amour"

 By: Sarah Galvin 336.002
In this photo from IMDb, an advertising poster for "Amour" shows Trintignant as the character Georges. (AP Photo/IMDb)
On Friday, March 15, 2013, Frostburg's Palace Theater presented a screening of Austrian director Michael Haneke's "Amour," a French film staring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. The movie, having won 41 awards and collected an additional 37 nominations internationally, recently received the 2013 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. 
Huff and Donna Gerry, locals at Friday night's showing, admitted the only reason they were familiar with the film was because of the Academy Awards. Donna Gerry confessed she did not know what to expect while watching the movie. She had seen "Amour" mentioned on the Academy Awards and thought it “looked intriguing” enough to drag her husband to the Palace for an evening out. Huff Gerry shrugged complacently and grasped his wife's hand. The couple have only attended two prior viewings at the theater but agreed that it is always an enjoyable experience. Donna Gerry explained that she found the Palace's history fascinating, and Huff Gerry, balancing his soda in his lap, commented, “I miss the cup holders that other places have, but besides that, it's a nice theater.” 
As Donna Gerry mentioned, the Palace is widely appreciated across the community as a piece of local history. The theater originally opened as Dreamland in 1906, but it was forced out of business in 1981; its single projector and viewing room were not competitive with the more efficient theaters showing multiple movies at once. Several years later, members of the community united to reopen the theater, and years of local fundraisers, involving countless volunteers, were necessary before it could be re-brought. In 2002, Frostburg celebrated finally paying off the theater's mortgage. The Palace established its regular film series in 2003, and since then, classic, independent, foreign films, and documentaries have found their place in the community. 
While the vast majority of the audience on Friday was middle-aged or older, Meghan Coburn and Maura Krautner were two of a handful of attendees under the age of 40. Coburn and Krautner are seniors at Mountain Ridge High School and find the Palace just as inviting as the older generations. “It's so cool,” they both repeated. “And people don't usually text here,” added Coburn. The students, seeing "Amour" as part of their French class in school, said they have been frequent guests at the Palace since childhood. 
In this photo released by the Palace Theater, the Palace's marquee lights up Frostburg at 31 East Main Street. (AP Photo/Palace Theater)

The Palace Theater is located on Frostburg's Main Street, squeezed in amongst the small stores that line the surrounding blocks. Its vintage marquee is impressive and eye-catching from the street, yet viewers stepping into the Palace do not find overbearing grandiose. The Palace rejects mainstream commercialism, proudly boasting an artsy, retro atmosphere that is both intimate and welcoming. Audience members entering the theater on Friday were greeted by the overwhelming scent of fresh popcorn. However, the smell of the popcorn is perhaps the only similarity between a Palace Theater experience and a typical movie theater experience. The small concession stand sold an array of non-commercial and healthier versions of movie snacks, including their organic popcorn, organic candy, and all-natural sodas. 
The old-fashioned film projector draws the eye in the Palace Theater waiting room on Friday, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Sarah Galvin)

Past the initial lobby, guests paused in a small waiting room decorated with the Palace's signature red and black floral wallpaper and an old-fashioned film projector. The audience members chatted cheerfully with each other and the few workers moving between stations at the box office, concession stand, and theater entrance; the Palace seemed to be filled not with visitors and employees, but with friends. There was a strong sense of community as the group of about 60 viewers dispersed to fill a third of the theater's seats. Smooth jazz played in the background while the audience waited for the film to start. Promptly at 7:30, one of the employees, Sean Henry, bustled to the front of the room to personally introduce the previews and "Amour."

Henry spoke to the audience warmly and informally, opening with “Hopefully you're all here to see 'Amour' because that's what we're showing!” He thanked the local world language teachers who sponsored the "Amour" screening and referenced the previews for the theater's next two films: "Tabu" and "Barbara." Unfortunately, he could not confirm the Palace's exact future schedule because emergency renovations to a front lobby wall will be taking place soon after the weekend's "Amour" viewings. Until the building has been secured, the Palace's coming events are in limbo. Henry assured the audience that the Palace would be back as soon as possible and explained that everyone should be on the lookout for news updates on the renovation process. 
Right from the beginning, "Amour" had a powerful impact on the audience. The film did not have a musical score, and the striking silence during the opening credits immediately set the movie's somber tone. "Amour" follows the retired music teachers Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva) as their love faces the heart-wrenching challenge of Anne's declining health. A stroke victim, Anne becomes increasingly dependent on Georges for care, and Georges must find ways to cope with helplessly watching his wife suffer. In raw, brutal honesty, the film shows both the triumphs and pains of love and death. Although highly critically acclaimed, "Amour's" dark and mournful tale left Friday's audience impressed but somewhat uncomfortable. There was an awkward silence as viewers slowly rose to depart after the film. “I don't even know what to say,” said Coburn, sharing a deeply troubled look with Krautner. They agreed the movie was well done but were too affected to process it beyond Krautner's statement that it “puts life in perspective.” Huff and Donna Gerry had similar reactions, nodding enthusiastically to agree that "Amour" is a quality film, but they were otherwise too overwhelmed with the movie's melancholy to comment further. 
"Amour's" final showing is Saturday night at 7:30, and for anyone looking for a poignant film experience, the Palace is the place to be. The box office opens at 7 on Saturday for "Amour," and more information about the Palace Theater is available online and through their Facebook group.

No comments: