LOOSE ENDS: Let’s all go to the movies, with Bill Lockwood

Andrew Garfield (left) and Michael Shannon star in “99 Homes

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Andrew Garfield (left) and Michael Shannon star in “99 Homes

By Pam Hersh
   Watching a movie without longtime Princetonian Bill Lockwood is like eating popcorn without the melted butter and salt. His commentary always is delicious food for thought, with just the right seasoning to make the experience thoroughly enjoyable.
   I am lucky to be among the thousands of area residents over the past two decades to have been treated to the Bill Lockwood-inspired movie series, made available through the Princeton Adult School. Dubbed “Second Chance Cinema — 10 Films You Should Have Seen But Didn’t,” the series is curated and includes commentary by William W. Lockwood, Jr.
   This spring semester film course is a real treat — while having no adverse effects on your weight, unlike that buttery popcorn.
   In our mega-videoed society, when movies can be downloaded, uploaded, mega-multiplexed, Netflixed, Red-Boxed, many wonder how Second Chance has any chance at all of attracting an audience. This question is raised particularly in the Princeton area where residents have the benefits of two community theaters (the Princeton Garden Theatre and Montgomery Cinema). Second Chance is first class because of the immense knowledge, personality and perseverance of Mr. Lockwood, the 78-year-old impresario, renowned primarily for his decades-long, current job as director of special programming for McCarter Theatre. He’s held similar jobs at New York’s Lincoln Center, Newark’s NJ Performing Arts Center, and Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.
   Just reading what he has written about each movie in the Adult School catalog makes me forget momentarily my aching knees and feet, unpaid bills, Route 1 traffic, and my grandkids’ dirty diapers. When I have the good fortune to attend the movie sessions and actually listen to Bill’s introductions and see the movie, I am transported to a different world.
   Another fan, Ellen Kemp, echoed my sentiments when she told me that she and her husband have been going to the movie series for as long as she can remember.
   ”The movie descriptions are always the first thing I look for in the Spring Catalog,” she said, adding, “there is something to be said for watching a movie on a big screen,” with friends and neighbors drawn together into lively post-movie discussions.
   Even though he has found immense satisfaction in bringing live stage productions to McCarter and other stages in the tri-state region, Bill is a self-described film buff.
   One of the first things I did when I started working at McCarter more than 50 years ago was start a film series,” said, Bill, who doesn’t take a fee for his work on the Second Chance series. “I love doing this — no compensation necessary.”
   This labor of love, however, is very labor intensive. He has lived in Princeton since 1941 and has no intention of leaving, but spends most of his spare time in New York City where he “sees every new film that makes it to a screen. Hundreds of films are released every year.
   ”If the big screen eludes a film and it goes right to DVD, I try to see it on the small screen. I read every ‘New York Times’ review and ‘New York Times’ critics review everything, even the obscure films. ‘The New York Times’ deserves enormous praise for allocating the resources (in a media era of drastically shrinking resources) to cover so comprehensively the movie scene.”
   When a film makes it on “Lockwood’s List,” he sees it at least twice in order to write a credible introduction — which always involves additional scholarly research. His pieces are like mini Ph.D. theses, instead of opinionated reviews or blogs. For example, see the description in the Princeton Adult School catalog of an upcoming movie:
    Monday, April 11 at 7:30pm: TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT won every award in sight in 2014 for the Belgian brothers Luc and Jean- Pierre Dardenne (The Kid with a Bike, Lorna’s Silence, The Son) as well as an Oscar-nomination for Marion Cotillard as Sandra (who won every other Best Actress Citation but an Oscar). The Dardennes deal in cinematic realism in which the raw materials of everyday reality become the stuff of morally wrenching and fiercely unsentimental drama, usually set in and around the industrial Belgian cities of Seraing and Liege.”
    Those movies that make it to Lockwood’s List are films “that never have played, or played for a very short period of time at Montgomery or the Garden… Also, I try to include films from countries outside the United States — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Asia,” he said. “I would describe my choices as mainstream, non-experimental films but for whatever reasons (films that) have flown under the radar screens of our eyes and ears.”
   Like a movie archeologist, Bill digs up these gems from around the world and bring them to light right here in Princeton. Bill wanted the public to know that none of this would be possible without the university’s state-of the art equipment and auditorium space; the Princeton Adult School’s organization, promotion and registration; and the dedication and skill of his longtime projectionist Peter Cook, as well as the other member of the Second Chance team — Delia Viansky, the ticket-taker.
Screenings are scheduled for Mondays through April 25. Admission to individual screenings costs $8 if seating is available. For more information, go to www.princetonadultschool.org.