Zefferelli at the Jewel Box

zefferrelli-at-the-jewel-box

It shouldn’t be surprising that I used to dream about my work. Probably every one does. But these dreams were the weirdest when it came to my job at Saffle’s Theater Service over on John Street in Seattle. In some respects they were like walking through an Ingmar Bergman movie.

In this particular recurring dream, the streets were empty, and I was wandering them alone. I moved in the silence, not a single person anywhere, and no vehicles either, just buildings and trees and other such landmarks. I would follow the familiar boulevard towards my workplace. But I stopped a block short, and took another street on a vector away from my goal. And then another turn brought me up a hill and over to Second Avenue. I felt awake and conscious – all was recognizable to me because it was the landscape across which I circulated for my job. And there was a deadline somehow involved in the logic of the dream, yet not binding, as time itself was slowed down.

My movements always came to an end over on a little section of Second Avenue between Bell and Wall Streets.  There all the film distributor offices were huddled together in one little section that was called “Film Row.” And there also was the focus of the “fun” part of the job, the screening rooms.

There were two main venues on film row, where the screenings for new films were scheduled. Fox was the only distributor to have their own in-house screening room. I have absolutely no recollection of this screening room (my boss must have covered the few offerings there). I have been told that it was tiny and uncomfortable, and every seat had a bad view of the screen.

The other venue was a different story. The Jewel Box was a gem. (The choice of name was a genuflection to that old favorite choice for a theater name. If you’ve seen those old theaters with the name Bijou above the marquee, you’re were looking at something akin to the same thing – ‘bijou’ is French for jewel). It was built in 1927 by B. F. Shearer as a showcase for his theater equipment company.

With only sixty seats one might say it was the size of a shoe box, (compared to the theaters of that day – not now), but it was comfortable. One center aisle divided two seating areas. At the front there were individual theater seats, but as you moved to the back there were a series of booths – bench seats with their own long tables upon which you could place your meals, ordered up from the Rendezvous restaurant next door (a side door of the theater led straight into it). One might call the arrangement with the booths an early example of stadium seating, for each pair of them had their own riser.

The summer of 1976, I spent a lot of time at the Jewel Box viewing films. Here are a few titles:

In May- Food of the Gods (AIP) Marjoe Gortner

             – Ode to Billy Joe (WB) Robby Benson

             – Eat My Dust! (Parnell) Ron Howard

              – Drive In (Col) a film made with Texas state tax incentives for the (what else) the drive in market

In June – The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (AIP) Lee Marvin

              – Special Delivery (AIP) Bo Svenson and Cybill Shepherd

               – The Outlaw Josey Wales (WB) Clint Eastwood

               – Survive (Par) about the 1972 plane crash in the Andes Mtns and cannibalism

                – Obsession (Col) Brian de Palma pulls a Hitchcock with Cliff Robertson and Genvieve Bujold

In July  – St Ives (WB) Charles Bronson

              – Squirm (AIP) man-eating worms

              – Gumball Rally (WB) Michael Sarrazin

              – Futureworld (AIP) sequel to Westworld

In August  – Moving Violation (Fox) Stephen McHattie and Kay Lenz

                – The Shootist (Par) John Wayne

                – Car Wash (UN) Richard Pryor

                – Winds of Autumn (Film Brokers) Jack Elam

                – Drum (UA) Warren Oates, Ken Norton

[These movie “dreams” may have impacted somehow my “dreamlife.”]

One night we had the Jewel Box all to ourselves or rather all to our families, mine and my wife’s. And some few choice friends. I had arranged to rent it for my wife’s birthday party. (We all had dinner at the Spaghetti Factory before coming to the Jewel Box).

But what would renting a theater be without a movie? So I arranged for that too. I contacted Joe Vigil, my Paramount rep (and friend) down in San Francisco and ordered up a film title by one of my wife’s favorite directors, Franco Zefferelli. You may be familiar with his Shakespeare films “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Along with our snacks and cake we sat down to watch “Brother Sun Sister Moon.” The film tells the story of the life of St Francis of Assisi.

I believe for a time this director’s films may have eclipsed Gone with the Wind as her favorite.

REBEL TREASURE

Rebel Treasure

I thought that after my last post (Seeing the [Upper] USA in a Chevrolet), it would be appropriate to drop this little item into the blog. I had not seen Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” back then, it came much later. And when I did see it, I loved it, especially the sequence on Mount Rushmore. So when I had an idea around which to write a sequel to National Treasure, I came up with this opening. A tribute to Hitch, mainly for his tongue-in-cheek title for NbyNW – The Man in Abraham Lincoln’s Nose.

FADE IN

EXT. SCRUB PINE FOREST – NIGHT

The athletic figure of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN GATES dashes from tree to tree, casting hurried glances over his shoulder to check for pursuers. Though his sure-footedness over the broken ground is a great asset, his most dangerous weapon is his keen mind.
Breaking into the open, Ben drops his lanky frame beside the last of the scrub pines, taking care not to jar his pack. His chest heaving with the exertion, he peers into the darkness behind him.

TRACKER (O.S.)
He’s turned this way. Fan out.

The beams of a dozen flashlights advance towards him. They bob and weave in a criss-cross pattern, as frenzied as a pack of hounds sniffing a scent.
By Ben’s calm and confident demeanor you would think that he had them just where he wanted them, rather than the reverse. He heaves himself to his feet and continues his flight. The sound of his footfalls morph from a SOFT PATTER to a RESOUNDING SLAP, as the soft earth gives place to flinty rock.
Ahead the silvery moonlight traces the rocky edge of a cliff. Ben drops down into a trench that runs straight as an arrow for the precipice.

TRACKER (O.S.)
There he goes!

Ben hauls to a stop at the edge to gain his bearings. A gravelly path winds away to the right. Without a second thought he makes a break for it.

THE CLIFF

Keeping his back to the wall, Ben rapidly traverses the cliff face on the descending trail. As he reaches the bottom of the path, his PURSUERS appear at the top.

PURSUER ONE
He’s getting away!

TRACKER
No, he isn’t. He’s trapped. It’s surrender or die.

The trail opens out onto a low dome. Ben continues to skirt around to the right, and descends into a crevass that defines the right side of the dome. Ben comes to the end of the crevass which overlooks a sixty-foot drop.
In a snap decision he sizes up the situation. Securing his pack to his chest, he wedges his shoulders against one wall and brings his feet up against the other and crabwalks to a point above the drop. Then, utilizes this chimney maneuver to descend the sixty feet to the ledge below.

MOUNT RUSHMORE

On the ledge between Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, Ben casts about for a way down. First, he checks out the area by Teddy, then shimmies over to the area under Lincoln’s beard.

PURSUER TWO (O.S.)
Where’d he go?

PURSUER ONE (O.S.)
Look! A body!

TRACKER (O.S.)
That’s only a rock. Get out of my way, I’m going down.

Ben stands frozen and still. All of a sudden, he clamps his hands over his face to stifle a sneeze. But it’s too late.

BEN
Ah-choo!

Cue Final Jeopardy music.

[This was in the first draft only. I removed it in favor of telling a story in the past which parallels the contemporary one.]