Great week of films ahead at Dryden

05:00 AM, Mar 07, 2013

Guests in the newly renovated Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House Saturday. (Nick Brandreth)/

Written By Jack Garner

One of Rochester’s true gems, the Dryden Theatre, has resurfaced after a three-month hiatus, and boy, has this gem been given a sparkling sheen and an artful new setting.

With the first major developments since James Card opened the theater 62 years ago, The Dryden finally has new and more comfortable seats, carpeting, appropriately placed balcony hand rails and a lovely new light system to greatly improve the look of the theater while you’re waiting for the lights to dim.

The color scheme has been described as purple and red, which admittedly sounds weird. In truth, it’s a burgundy wine color, brightened just a bit by the red of the plush theater seats. Veteran Dryden-goers will be thrilled to know the facility’s famous, slow-rising theater curtain is still in place (and generated applause when it was raised at the restored theater’s opening night Saturday.)

The darker walls and altered lighting mean a greatly increased darkness when the lights go down. True movie buffs want to be in the dark — it makes for a clearer, sharper, more engaging film image.

These elements, however, are just the setting. Even greater are the technical improvements, including a versatile new screen and masking system, and, in the projection booth, equipment to show nearly every film format from 16 and 35 mm to digital, while maintaining Dryden’s status as one of only four theaters in America that can project nitrate film (the original stuff of much early cinema, and a key element in the Eastman archive.)

If you missed the opening, check the Dryden schedule (at Note a few big winners: Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil at 8 p.m. Thursday (March 7), Walt Disney’s charming Lady and the Tramp at 8 p.m. Friday (March 8) and 2 p.m. Sunday (March 10), and Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest, Rear Window, at 8 p.m. Saturday (March 9). The Dryden is back in business!

BOOK IT. After seeing Geva’s very funny The Book Club Play, I’ll never view my book club in the same light. Oh, I don’t anticipate kissing anyone but my wife, nor can I envision any of our members “coming out.” But, hey, you can never figure on the inspiration of certain books, whether it’s Moby Dick, The Da Vinci Code or Twilight!

The play is a lot of fun, a flat-out comedy about folks who gather to discuss a book, and end up talking about all sorts of things, and interacting in ways even they could not have foreseen.

Director Sean Daniels demonstrates a sure hand as his ensemble cast of six displays the most effective balance between physical and verbal humor. A clever aspect of the play’s structure is the addition of an unseen camera crew, supposedly making a documentary about the book club.

There’s nothing heavy here (worry not, there’s no in-depth discussion of Moby Dick), just a bit of robust situation comedy. The Book Club Play is a most welcome winter-season laugher. It’s at Geva and has been extended through March 23.

A CONTENDER? YES. I’m often asked to list my all-time favorite movie. I used to offer two. Not surprisingly, they’re Citizen Kane and Casablanca. But when you’ve seen thousands upon thousands of movies, it’s tough to funnel them down to one or two. A third film — Elia Kazan’s brilliant, tough-nosed and gritty On the Waterfront — lines up right alongside Kane and Casablanca.

Why Waterfront? Well, I have lots of reasons, including Budd Schulberg’s taut script (based on real-life newspaper stories about the crime-ridden New York and New Jersey harbors of the ’50s), plus the fascinating subtext in which Kazan makes a hero out of a guy in the film who testifies, just as the filmmaker is under heavy criticism for testifying in the Joe McCarthy Communist witch hunt trials. I also love Leonard Bernstein’s incredibly evocative music score, and regret deeply that he never composed another score for a film drama.

But mostly, it’s because of Marlon Brando’s incredible performance as Terry Malloy, the ex-boxer who tries to escape his entanglement with the mob that’s taken over the longshoreman’s union. It’s the greatest performance by an actor in the entire span of the movies. It’s incredibly emotive, real and wrenching, and riveting. But it’s also a breakthrough portrayal, the piece of acting that changed forever the way actors ply their trade.

I’m praising On the Waterfront because I just got the new Blu-ray edition by the Criterion Collection (the Roll Royce of films on disc). It’s a stunning, crystal-clear print; the film has never looked better.

The extras are fabulous — a feature-length profile of Kazan and new interviews with Martin Scorsese on the profound influence of the film and with Brando’s co-star Eva Marie Saint, who won an Oscar, as did Brando, the film, and its writer and director.

Whether you want to treasure this film as the masterpiece you know it to be, or want to see it for the first time, Criterion’s On the Waterfront is the best you’ll ever experience it.