2010, issue 55
Image copyright Patrick Jewell, 2010, all
rights reserved. From the BCLMC promotional poster series.
Summer Movie Memory:
Ninotchka in New
Ninotchka was on tv the
other night. I first saw the Ernst
Lubitsch film Ninotchka
during my first summer in New York, the summer
of 1992. I was a student in Pratt Institute's MFA program, and as
such, I enjoyed the benefits of membership to the Museum of Modern Art, the chief
benefit being free admission whenever the museum was open.
So on hot summer
days it was great, one of the cheapest ways to enjoy air conditioning
-- the price of a couple subway tokens and a slice for lunch. Besides
the Matisses, Pollocks, de Koonings, Cezannes, Seurats, Picassos,
Mondrians, and the rest, The Modern also has movies. Free movies for
a money-challenged grad student. An even better way to escape the
I found myself
at the Modern one afternoon when Ninotchka was playing. I knew nothing
about it. I'd heard of Greta
Garbo, at least, but had never seen one of her movies. The blurb
in the museum guide said this was the one where 'Garbo laughs!' Good
enough for me. I found a seat in the auditorium, which was filling
with a mix of older movie fans and young students like me.
first, I loved the movie for the same reasons everybody does -- funny,
sophisticated, satirical, elegant, sparkling. And then there's Garbo.
What I really remember most clearly about watching it that first time,
was not the movie, but the reaction of the moviegoers when Garbo came
on screen for the first time. The three Soviet envoys are at the train
station in Paris looking for
the new emissary from the USSR. They expect
a man. But it is Greta Garbo. She stands stiffly, in drab Soviet clothes,
with a plain hat, but of course the camera holds on her for a couple
beats, a shot of her stern but luminous face.
And the New York crowd applauds.
Long and hard, the crowd applauds. For an actress in a movie! An actress
who's dead! (An actress, it must be said, who was a New Yorker herself.)
And the crowd applauds as if this is the Ziegfeld Theatre and we have
Garbo up on stage alive and in the flesh and doing a buck and wing.
Well, I've never forgotten that moment to this day. New York is a lot of
things, one of which is a pretty damn serious movie town.
reprinted from P. Jewell's weblog,
originally written 8/13/08)