NEW YORK CITY: The curators at IFC Center are righting a kind of cinematic wrong this week, and the playwright who called it out, Annie Baker, will be there to thank them. On Thursday, Dec. 4, IFC will screen a 35mm print of Ingmar Bergman’s period epic Fanny and Alexander, and Baker will be on hand to talk about the film, one of her favorites, and about how a screening of it at IFC a few years ago unnerved her sufficiently to help inspire her Pulitzer-winning play The Flick. Baker will be signing copies of the play at IFC, too.
As she recounted in a New Yorker profile, during that first screening at IFC, Baker noticed “something weird going on with the screen,” and thought to herself, “There’s something wrong, there’s something wrong! I’m not enjoying this; something’s wrong!” She realized the film was being projected digitally, rather than in its original format.
The sense of a cherished medium fading without fanfare helped inspire The Flick‘s portrait of a group of seemingly aimless young people who work at a dying movie theatre in Worcester County, Mass.—one of the few remaining that hasn’t switched to digital projection. Among the movie theatre’s workers is a passionate young cineaste, Avery, who considers screening optical films with digital projectors “immoral,” and has taken the job at the theatre specifically because it still has a reel projector.
Unsurprisingly, he’s also the one who name-checks the Bergman film. In a phone session with his therapist, Avery recounts a dream in which he’s in the waiting room for heaven. There’s an “ISBN-type scanner” checking all the books or movies you loved; if you get a “beep beep” on the title that was a defining work for your life, you’re good to go. Avery thinks he’s got it made:
I think, okay, I’m gonna be fine. I love movies and I’ve seen all these like awesome movies, this is gonna be no problem, and I start running the scanner across the shelves. I run it across all these Yakuza movies I watched in high school, I run it across all the Truffaut movies, and the scanner isn’t beeping. It’s weird. It’s not recognizing anything. And then I run it over Pierrot le Fou and Barry Lyndon, and I’ve seen those movies like literally dozens of times, and it doesn’t beep. And we’re going past hundreds of movies. Really good movies. Movies I like really really love. And I start getting nervous. There’s only a couple shelves to go. And I run the scanner over Andrei Rublev and nothing happens. And then I run it over Fanny and Alexander and I can’t believe it, but…nothing happens. And then I think to myself: I’m going to hell.
I haven’t truly like, loved or whatever in the right way, I thought I did, but I didn’t, and I’m going to hell.
The punchline to Avery’s speech is that the film that gets him through is Honeymoon in Vegas, which he says he was obsessed when he was four years old but which he now pronounces “a really really terrible film.” We’re guessing that Baker isn’t likely to be asked to host a talkback at that film’s new Broadway musical adaptation.
To catch Baker at the IFC screening of Fanny and Alexander, click here.