NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 7, 2013

You may be downsized, but I'm dinosaured

As I See It
Jack Garvey

---- — Yes, the Screening Room fundraiser went exceedingly well, far better than my ability to answer again and again the same question over and over night after night.

Often I wanted to glare “How is” back into patrons’ mouths before they got to “the fundraiser going,” but hostility is hardly for people happily throwing $100 checks and $20 bills at you.

Absurdity sufficed. Patrons approaching with open checkbooks and poised pens were easy and willing targets:

“Screening Room is spelled J-A-C…”

But those moments were few and far between, especially during the two-week runs of “Blue Jasmine” and “20 Feet from Stardom,” well-attended films that surely enhanced the fundraising effort.

Problem was that people — timing last-minute arrivals as many theatergoers do — were making inquiries and writing checks at the ticket counter while lines halfway to the library were waiting to get in.

Making matters worse — which, of course, means “better” for those collecting the money without having to deal, as I did, with logistics — the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival ran during the fundraiser, drawing inquiries about its tickets and times and venues and …

And I was on the verge of what years ago was called a nervous breakdown, but which today is called going ballistic.

One night a woman took her time stirring her Constant Comment Decaf — now there’s a contradiction in terms! — at the concession stand long enough to hear me say “two-thirds of the way with three weeks to go” four times.

She had to notice that I was sounding more and more like Norman Bates near the end of “Psycho.”

Amused sympathy on her face made me confide that I was considering flash cards that I could update every few days.

She suggested that I make a recording with a button to push whenever the question was asked.

Right then it dawned on me that I’m no longer a projectionist.

With the new technology, pushing buttons and throwing switches is all I will do. No more focusing, framing, splicing film, threading the projectors.

No more assembling from five to eight 15- to 20-minute reels into a pair of 40- to 60-minute magazines to mount on those projectors.

No more changing lenses, centering the projection, sizing the screen.

No more scrambling into the audience to explain a malfunction, ask for a few minutes to reset, and later, while they leave, grin at the gratitude of people who had no way of knowing I deliberately estimated more time than needed.

No more changeovers, looking for those “cigarette burns” that no one else ever notices in the upper right corners because they are watching characters doing things mid-screen very difficult not to watch.

No more writing notes about the changeovers to the other projectionists — now, like me, ex-projectionists.

We haven’t been downsized. We’ve been dinosaured.

Story of my life. I got into the business only because I’m a musician needing a “day job,” which for a street-performer must be a night-job.

When I first played Inn Street in 1982 — coincidentally just two months after the Screening Room opened on State Street — elderly people told me that I reminded them of times long past. One fellow told me, in tears, that I reminded him of pre-war Italy.

Today, none of that. Instead, I watch most people walk by, texting or talking into cellphones, some wired with ear pods, as if I’m not even there — except for the inconvenient delay caused by curious children some drag along.

And I write all about it in newspapers read less and less as people opt for their electronic devices.

In June I wrote “Play it again, Hamm” about the Screening Room’s use of CDs by local musicians before and between films, naming a dozen of them.

Only one to comment on it did so in the lobby of the Portsmouth Music Hall Loft where we both traveled to see a film that “slipped through (the Screening Room) cracks.”

Nice to join our patrons there and in Beverly’s Cabot Cinema. This happens more and more now that the Screening Room has gone from a mostly one-week to mostly two-week per film format, bringing to town just over half the films it once did.

Everything is so much easier these days.

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Jack Garvey of Plum Island can be reached at hammlynn@yahoo.com.