The Senator is a marquee theater

FILM

One of 10 selected by entertainment magazine

August 05, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

If run-of-the-mill multiplex management is part of the problem of declines in moviegoing, deluxe single-screen presentation like that of Baltimore's own movie palace, the Senator, may be part of the solution - at least according to Entertainment Weekly, which names the Senator one of America's 10 best theaters in the issue that hits the stands on Monday.

After calling the Senator "a glitzy marqueed movie hall" and noting its selection by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the magazine says, "The real reason we love it: No children under 5 allowed. Ever. No joke. Call us miserable child haters, but admit it, you like this idea and wish more places did the same."

`The Apu Trilogy'

On the one hand, it's impossible to summarize the achievement of Indian moviemaker Satyajit Ray in a few words. On the other, it's easy: "Great, great, GREAT!" For the next three Wednesday nights, at 7, Baltimore movie-lovers will have a rare chance to take in his crowning achievement, The Apu Trilogy, in the Parish Center of the St. Thomas Aquinas Church (37th Street and Roland Avenue).

Near the start of 1959's The World of Apu (Aug. 24), the third part of the trilogy, the hero, now a struggling writer in Calcutta, delivers an astonishing speech, describing the plot-line of his autobiographical first novel. He says it's about a poor village boy: "The father is a priest, and he dies. The boy comes to the city. He will not be a priest, he will study. He is ambitious. Through his education, his struggle, we see him shedding his old superstitions, his orthodoxy. He must use his intellect. He cannot accept anything blindly. But he has imagination. He is sensitive. Little things move him, give him joy. ... He does nothing great. He remains poor, in want. But in spite of that, he never turns away from life. He doesn't run away, he doesn't escape. He wants to live. He says that the act of living is in itself a fulfillment, in it lies happiness. He wants to live!"

It's the equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield and knocking one out of the park. In a single stroke, Ray summarizes what happened in 1955's Pather Panchali (Wednesday) and 1956's Aparajito (Aug. 17) and dares to forecast the outcome of The World of Apu: that despite the further tests that face Apu (the death of his wife in childbirth, a difficult rapprochement with his son), he - and the audience - will realize anew that life "is in itself a fulfillment."

Pather Panchali, a work of genius when it comes to describing both the freedom and constrictions of rural life, is also one of the most piercing examinations of sibling love, childhood loss and family discord. From the beginning, Ray had the ability to throw emotional and physical light on his subjects simultaneously. The shared yearnings and antagonisms of Apu and his sister and their mother, their absent father, and a maddening, ancient aunt, are expressed in images that go straight from the eye to the heart: not just eloquent portraiture or landscape art but real movie stuff - two barefoot youngsters racing toward a distant railroad train that symbolizes release and escape, or finding an old woman sitting strangely motionless by a stream.

Aparajito is a thrilling revelation of what it's like to be a student in a colonial culture. But it's also about the universal challenge of shedding childish things; there's no more rending or inspiring moment in movies than Apu, newly orphaned, declaring that he'll perform his sacred rites back in the city and still do what it takes to get his degree. And in The World of Apu, Ray transports his hero's saga to a magical realm, with a fairy-tale wedding, a soul-shriveling twist of fate, and a final act of faith that makes life seem worth living again, and movies worth seeing again.

Father George, of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, gives a talk before each film and provides program guides. He can be reached for further details at 410-366-4488. (Admission free; offering accepted.)

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