One risk in screening a film at St. John’s Cathedral is that the movie will be overshadowed by the setting.
And as a crowd of about 200 people gathered inside the landmark South Hill church Saturday night to see D.W. Griffith’s “Way Down East,” there were indications that the striking Gothic structure would steal the show. Heads turned this way and that. Fingers pointed at stone arches and stained-glass windows. People stared up at the celestial ceiling. And for the zillionth time, whispers spread the news.
It’s a hell of a building.
Lots of people were sort-of dressed up. A few others, such as the young guy in a T-shirt who examined a copy of The Book of Common Prayer in his pew like the ape discovering the first weapon in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” were not.
Some, perhaps those who had learned a lesson from sitting through previous silent films in the cathedral’s series, brought cushions.
The introductory remarks by the president of the sponsoring association were lost to those sitting in the back because he spoke into a dead microphone. But once the lights went down and the film began, one big question was answered. Thanks to the enormity of the portable screen, it didn’t matter that the church doesn’t have a sloped seating area. Just about everyone could see.
And for doubters who thought they were just out for a Saturday night lark, the movie itself, a 1920 morality play starring an incredibly cute Lillian Gish, offered a surprise. It was actually entertaining.
It didn’t hurt, of course, that organist Charles Bradley and pianist Kendall Feeney accompanied the picture with a perfect musical background. They managed to reflect the film’s wavering emotional pitch without being obtrusive. And when Bradley pumped out the wedding march to coincide with a nuptialsscene happy ending, the idea of watching a movie in a church seemed altogether inspired.
The audience’s applause at the end sounded happy and sincere. And when the tuxedo-clad keyboardists stepped before the screen to take a bow, the cheers were a thank-you.
Then the lights came up and everybody looked around once again. A fair number lingered, soaking up the feel of the place.
Back behind the screen, Feeney demonstrated a hand-cranked device that had been used to produce a “gale” sound-effect.
Outside, a real wind was picking up.
, DataTimes MEMO: Being There is a weekly feature that looks at gatherings in the Inland Northwest.