The Old Greenbelt Theatre has exciting plans for this year.
First, in mid-April, it will screen a new work, “Young Picasso,” a much-anticipated biography of the famous artist and Cubist master. Second, there is a showing of the classic Hitchcock film “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in early May. Third, the building itself will be renovated and expanded to facilitate an increasing emphasis on film education.
We begin first with a review of “Young Picasso.” Many biographies of Picasso focus on his later years and influence. This documentary takes a different path, looking at his early years and detailing, for example, the artist’s monochromatic “Blue” and “Rose” periods before his participation in the Cubist movement. We also learn how his Spanish origins figure into his later art.
The film is both panoramic and well-edited, making use of the resources of three major Picasso Museums located in Barcelona, Malaga and Paris. For art aficionados, the film provides analyses of selected Picasso works, but the film also has a broader interest by introducing the culture of different regions of Spain at the time of the country’s late 19th century decline as a world power. Would-be viewers should note that this 2019 film runs only two days (April 14 and 15).
On May 6 at 1:00 p.m., the Old Greenbelt Theatre is screening “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” a film auteur-director Alfred Hitchcock made twice! Appropriate to the Old Greenbelt’s wide CinemaScope screen, the later 1956 version is being shown, with its higher-budget theatrics and exotic international locales.
In the film, an American couple (played by James Stewart and Doris Day) becomes involved in political intrigue which begins in Morocco and leads to a suspenseful climax in London’s Royal Albert Hall.
It is portrayed in a musical scene lasting more than ten minutes without dialogue, the “Storm Clouds Cantata” (written especially for the earlier 1934 film version and here conducted by the composer and frequent Hitchcock musical collaborator Bernard Herrmann) is performed with full orchestra and chorus. During a musical crescendo as cymbals clash, a gun is to be fired unnoticed in an attempted political assassination.
The film is also notable as it contains an impressive acting performance by singer and musical actress Doris Day, now 96-years-old.
Here she stars as a distraught mother whose young son has been kidnapped.
In this remake of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” she also introduces her mega-hit Academy Award-winning song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” which would follow her throughout her career and become the theme song for her television series “The Doris Day Show.”
Why come to the Old Greenbelt Theatre to see a film which is currently available on DVD? First of all, admission for this showing is free! More importantly, however, it is also an opportunity to experience this motion picture in a wide-screen format as audiences did in the 1950s.
During this time, television was proving a serious and important rival to the cinema.
Movie studios responded by showing films in ever-wider screen formats and better production values and sound quality. “The Man Who Knew Too Much” was filmed in VistaVision, allowing a greater feeling of verisimilitude, as if one were actually attending a concert at the Royal Albert Hall while being thrilled as a pointed gun emerges through the curtains.
Such 1950s wide-screen formats, however, were of different sizes, thus creating a challenge for theaters showing these features, including the Old Greenbelt Theatre with its CinemaScope screen.
The Theatre’s management told this reviewer, “We’ll adjust the screen masking accordingly. It’s the same with all films; we adjust our side-masking to accommodate all films from Academy (1.33 – 1.37) to Scope 2.39.” (“Masking” refers to a film’s aspect ratio or the ratio of a picture’s width relative to its height. If this sounds confusing, the Old Greenbelt’s enhanced mission of film education may be for you!)
The Old Greenbelt Theatre has major renovation plans beginning this summer. It is difficult for a single-screen movie theatre to survive today, and the Old Greenbelt Theatre is heavily reliant on donations to keep in operation. Fortunately, this historic theatre’s solution will preserve its current Art Deco building.
Kelly McLaughlin, Director of Marketing and Development of the Old Greenbelt Theatre, explains: “We’ve developed a partnership with our neighboring nonprofit entity. (Sharing space with them) will allow us to install a temporary ‘pop-up’ cinema (with 40 seats) to continue programming through our closure. That ‘pop-up’ will continue in operation through spring 2020 so that the Old Greenbelt Theatre will effectively become a two-screen theatre beginning in the 2019-2020 Oscar season. After that, we will (renovate) the secondary space into a state-of-the-art Screening Room and Media Arts Literacy Lab to offer more classes, workshops and another educational programming to the community.”
I look forward to seeing the results of this rejuvenation and the creation of the 2020 screening room and media lab, heartened to know that the Old Greenbelt Theatre will continue to be a vital artistic presence in Prince George’s County well into the twenty-first century.