At the Altar of the Archival

Austin Cinematheque and the essentialness of the shared moviewatching experience.

Longtime Austin serious-cine devotees all have their Texas Union Theater stories. I don't have many, unfortunately – a long-forgotten Adrienne Shelly film; a scratched print of Breathless with white subtitles that washed out completely in the white-sheet bedroom scene, leaving nothing but Belmondo and Seberg, smoking, making sexy eyes; a pre-restoration screening of Bertolucci's The Conformist that completely undid me (that dance! those dames! that wooded shootout!).

The Union shut down its film program my first semester at UT. If I remember correctly, its funding was being repurposed for the purchase of a Jumbotron. The first and only protest I ever attended at UT was the one at the West Mall, where Richard Linklater held a crowd that was both rapt and wet-eyed; we knew it was a losing battle, and what was being lost was something profound, something that went to the very core of how we defined ourselves in the world – as movie lovers.

Well, the Union's back, sort of, with a program run by the now-adolescent-stage Austin Cinematheque. It isn't university-sanctioned, of course – in fact, the Union made a big stink when the organization initially called itself the Union Cinematheque. It started when a couple of young film enthusiasts (seriously, the kids were college-aged) wanted to re-create the kind of communal worship at the altar of the archival that happened when the original (pre-fest) CinemaTexas ran in the late Seventies under the stewardship of some of the Chronicle's founding guard, like Louis Black, Nick Barbaro, Marjorie Baumgarten, and Ed Lowry.

Austin Cinematheque kicked off its spring season of shows this past Monday with L'Atalante, Jean Vigo's classic 1934 film about newlyweds navigating French shipping channels, married life, and cats. Lots of cats. I'd never seen the film before. It's marvelous – funny and touching and romantic – and the night itself, free and well-attended – was a reminder of the essentialness of the shared moviewatching experience.

Screenings happen Monday nights. Upcoming films include Lang's M and von Sternberg's Blue Angel. Go. Get some education. And talk to your fellow moviewatchers afterwards – I bet they've got some stories to tell.

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Austin Cinematheque, L'Atalante

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