By Melissa Webb

The past is something we can only view through a hazy and muddled lens: torn images from yellowed photographs, fragments of black and white films, uncertain pieces from our own dreams- these all combine to create a swirl of memories from a world we never really inhabited. This desire to exist in another time or place that is realistically impossible for us to take part in, if only for an hour or two, is one of the appeals of movies. Movies tell the stories of the past. We can only experience this unattainable past through the realm of fantasy; the cinema provides just this outlet to escape one reality and enter another.

 When one thinks of the past in regards to cinema, one might for instance picture the palm-tree lined streets of L.A. from the film-noir classic: Sunset Boulevard. A man lies face-down in a pool behind a decaying mansion and we soon enter the unstable, reverie world of a once-loved silent film star, Norma Desmond. What is particularly interesting about this film and the fading glory of Norma is that it marks a transition point in history: it tells the story of the bridge between the past and the future. Silent films are being replaced with the vocalized films of today. The silent film star is nothing more than a dream, a false memory: she exists only in the minds of viewers and in the movies she once made. Her type of films no longer bring in the audience and are, therefore, dying. But Norma clings to the idea of herself as a star, and must be told to take up, that “the audience left twenty years ago." With the tides of change in what's fashionable, some movies become time capsules, sometimes like dusty paintings in the attic, longing to be revisited, waiting in desperate silence to be watched. 

While I've painted a picture that is tragic and sad, I actually mean to express the beauty that comes with the infinite, perhaps eternal, power of cinema. One needs not venture back to 1940's Los Angeles to experience a piece of the past. Right here in South Jersey exists one of the most prominent historic theaters in the country, the Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn. In fact, The Ritz Theatre has recently become a member of the National Register of Historic Places. It opened back in 1927 providing the community with entertainment ranging from vaudeville acts to films themselves. In the 1950's and 60's, it became a place of culture, broadening the horizons of audiences with an array of art and foreign films. In the 1970's, it even took a short turn as an adult theater! Since then, it's become a popular place to see live-plays and even houses an art gallery. It has been the center of all types of entertainment, always staying in touch with the needs of its audiences, but never forgetting the past. The Ritz Theatre retains its classic atmosphere by maintaining its "original decor": "The architecture is Greek revival with the auditorium walls featuring 25 foot high neo-classical canvas murals with gilt trimmed columns and velvet draped balconies enclosed by classic carved balustrades." The glittering past of cinema is eternally preserved at the Ritz.

The Reel East Film Festival, taking place this August, seeks to provide attendees with access to quality, fascinating cinema from the past and present, and even allows for a peek at the future of film. The following is just a small sampling of the many cinematic experiences that are included in the Festival. For a bit of the past, the Fest will immerse viewers in 1940's New York City with the classic All Through the Night (1942), starring the legendary Humphrey Bogart. John Sayles' Go For Sisters, in theaters as recently as 2013, will serve as a marker of contemporary drama (not to mention, the director himself will be a featured guest). To see where the future will take us, the Fest is accepting submissions of student films and will be making its final selections shortly. 

The history of cinema is a flowing mix of tragedy, comedy and everything in between. Movies are the markers of our past but, more importantly, they are the expressions of our dreams. Attend the Reel East Film Festival and remember that despite Norma Desmond's faltering sanity, she was on to something great when she said: "The stars are ageless, aren't they?" 

 


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