Monday, July 30, 2007
Report from the Clutterbuck House
Sunday night at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica was a Mods and Rockers double bill of Blake Edwards’ THE PARTY and the Otto Preminger anti-classic SKIDOO. I got there very early and had a chance to walk around Montana Avenue, breathing in the ocean air that was strongly present as the sun was setting. There was a wonderful feel in the air, the sort that maybe you only get in Southern California in July.
Blake Edwards, who turned 85 last Thursday, was scheduled to attend, but a sign posted outside announced that he had unfortunately canceled. Considering his age, this was disappointing but not totally surprising. They were adjusting the marquee to read that his daughter Jennifer Edwards would be attending instead. The theater was already filling up fast when I entered. The Aero isn’t huge, but it is a nicely-sized neighborhood venue with a giant screen, ideal for the Scope images I knew we’d be seeing.
Jennifer Edwards, a familiar face from several of her father’s films, did indeed appear before the movie, apologizing for his absence due to minor surgery as he had very much wanted to attend. She described the making of THE PARTY, which she visited the set of when she was nine years old, as “a magical time” and said she felt it was one of the best films her father had made with Peter Sellers as “they still got along then.” Somewhere, she said, there are outtakes of Sellers and her father in uncontrollable hysterics as they made this film.
I have no problem with saying that a viewing of THE PARTY is enough to make me glad the movies were invented. I’ve seen the mostly improvised film numerous times before, but another viewing in a theater allows me to pick up new things. Various details of the remarkable set of the house continue to jump out at me. I again notice how many of the minor characters seem fully formed even with just incidental dialogue. I gaze at how amazing the Scope compositions are and how so much of the film is purely, simply visual. Peter Sellers is brilliant as Hrundi V. Bakshi and there are always new elements of his performance to appreciate. Claudine Longet is absolutely beautiful and I actually find the burgeoning relationship between Bakshi and her Michele Monet rather touching. The Henry Mancini score, always twinkling away in the background, is absolutely beautiful. And no matter how many times I’ve seen it much of the film sends me into absolute hysterics.
The movie played great with the packed house and ended to a wave of applause as the credits rolled. When the lights went up, Mods and Rockers host Martin Lewis raced up to the front before anyone could go anywhere, grabbed a mike and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, at the back of the theater, please acknowledge the genius who made this film, Blake Edwards.” Everyone turned to see Blake Edwards, in a wheelchair, at the rear of the theatre. And the audience gave him the longest standing ovation that I’ve ever been witness to in this town.
Martin Lewis explained that he wasn’t there to speak, he just wanted to make an appearance and see the movie with us. I made the decision to bail on much of the pre-SKIDOO screening discussion with John Phillip Law (hey, we all make choices) and went to the lobby where people were paying their respects to Edwards. I’d seen him in person a few times back in the 90s but it was very clear how frail he is right now, seeming considerably older than he appeared in his Oscar appearance several years ago. But he seemed very happy to be there. Someone said to him, “Your films will live forever,” and Edwards replied, “I wish I could say the same about me.” I knelt down and said a few things to him, about how THE PARTY is a favorite of mine, how several of his films are favorites of mine. Nothing too revelatory, but I did want to tell the man that I consider him a master. I also made it a point to express this feeling to his daughter standing nearby (I also told her how terrific she is in S.O.B.) and she seemed very touched by this, adding, “He’s a good father too.”
There’s no way I could have expressed all I wanted to say to them, but it doesn’t really matter. Being there at that moment when everyone in the theater rose to their feet was something that I found unaccountably moving. I may never be able to express or even fully understand why it meant so much for me to be there, but it's a moment that I won't soon forget.