A Toast to Cinephilia!

Thursday night, during my third and final flight of the day, I sat next to one more stranger and attempted to explain, once again, why I was flying from East Tennessee to Toronto.

“Well, see, there’s this Portuguese filmmaker I really like, and the Cinematheque Ontario has pulled together all of his films, several of which are really difficult to see, and they’re also showing this other film that’s even more rare, and I’m thinking about contributing a chapter about this filmmaker to a friend’s book. And have you ever heard of Johnny Guitar? It’s a great old Western with Joan Crawford that’s never been released on DVD, and I’ve always wanted to see it on film. Plus, Toronto’s just a great city, and I’m meeting a friend there. We always go to the big festival in September, but that’s still three months off, and we’re both jonesing for some great movies and conversation and urban excitement, because we both live in the suburbs. And . . .”

And the more I talked, the crazier it all sounded.

In my defense, much of my incoherence can be attributed directly to desperate exhaustion. I’d just spent nine hours in the Detroit airport, after all, waiting and waiting for the Northwest Airlines mechanics to repair whatever ailed the plane that was supposed to take me to Toronto. I waited and waited until the flight was officially cancelled, at which point I immediately rebooked, only to end up waiting some more. Eventually, I boarded a plane headed toward Cleveland, which proved to be the shortest flight of my life — and thank God for that, because after we landed I still had one more layover. That third and final flight took off, finally, around 7:30; I checked into my hotel room almost exactly three hours later, just as the Cinematheque’s screening of Straub and Huillet’s rare Sicilia! (1999) ended.

So, that’s the bad news. The good news is that within the hour, I’d met up with Girish at the hotel bar, where we proceded to drain several pints of Upper Canada Dark (on empty stomaches, I should add) and chat about films and music. (The Beer Cellar at the Days Inn downtown pipes in surprisingly good Muzac.) And Girish had more good news. What I remember of his story (through the Upper Canada haze) was later confirmed by two other witnesses of the event, but I’m paraphrasing:

“So, Darren, I ran into James Quandt at the screenings. I’d told him about you last week, about how you were flying up for the Costa films. When I mentioned tonight that you’d become trapped in Detroit, he excused himself and walked back to the projection booth. When he returned, he told me that, rather than mailing the prints back tomorrow as they’d planned, they’re instead going to hold onto them for a few more days. He asked me to tell you to be at Jackman Hall at 4:30 on Saturday. They’re going to have a special screening of Sicilia! for you.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why Cinematheque Ontario is Mecca for cinephiles. Frankly, if Girish had given me the news after the second round of beers instead of midway through the first, I probably would have cried. A total trainwreck of a day had suddenly been redeemed by a simple act of kindness — or acts of kindness, as, first, Girish was looking out for me and then other members of the Cinematheque staff (projectionist Alexi Manis most of all) were, I’m sure, inconvenienced by the sudden change of plans.

Consider this post a valentine to the good people of the Cinematheque and to the good work they do. I can’t thank them enough. And consider it a toast to cinephilia, too. Raise your glass and let the drunken sentimentalizing begin!