Berkshires After Dark: Alone at the Triplex with 'Francis Ha'
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Triplex Cinema offers a solid Tuesday deal: the $7.25 to $9 cost of regular adult tickets drops to $5 and 3D film prices dip from $10.25 to $12.50 to an old fashioned $6.50. As this brisk and drizzly Tuesday dimmed I chose to recline in a comfy seat and let some other people do the talking. It’s only a fiver, after all, and the speakers are terrific.
Downtown Great Barrington was at its most inviting at 6:30 p.m. Late Spring sightseers peppered its clean sidewalks in relaxed pairs and family units, and the town’s stepped to hastened but unhurried pace seen only during these weeks of high spring; a wave of visitors lifting the social tide before the July 4 avalanche crashes busloads of eyes, mouths, and wallets into our precious unmetered parking spots. Only two weekends and then it’s a breakneck gallop until late September.
This cycle, repeated years on end, has nurtured in me a sense of nostalgia for such moments encountered in the present; the peaceful patio of Ruby’s Café will be a battleground in no time, my 45-second search for parking will soon last a quarter hour, and Theater #3, The Triplex’s petite ground floor screening room to which the art house films with more art than house are relegated, will fuss with the chattiest of Cathies and most doubtful Thomases.
Tonight, though, the audience numbered less than fifteen, spread out such that a whole aisle was mine to squander by tossing my bag in a neighboring spot and testing my seatback’s range of flexure. These informal climes suited our entertainment; "Frances Ha," director Noah Baumbach’s black and white expose of late-twenties ambition, defeat, friendship, and confidence in contemporary New York City. Baum bach’s co-writer was the film’s 29-year-old star, Greta Gerwig, and the swiftly meandering character study brimmed with a stable of choice young actors.
I’ll let you in on a personal secret. In all my years as a film fanatic never once have I set foot into a theater alone. Friends have argued that going solo is the ideal approach to cinephalia, unfettered by the distractions of a buddy asking why he recognizes that loud-mouthed dance club manager or if the less cynical of the two starlets was the same actress from "Kids." (*Can you guess the 1998 film? Answer at bottom.)
I’ve been looking forward to "Fran ces Ha" since listening to Baumbach and Gerwig discuss their true-to-life creative process on NPR’s Fresh Air last month. Baumbach has long impressed me as one of the most consistently thoughtful and nuanced American filmmakers of the last 20 years, debuting his laughably astute treatise on privileged-beyond-repair college grads, "Kicking and Scre aming," in 1995 when the director was just 26.
The underrated romance drama "Mr. Jealousy" followed in 1997 with little fanfare, and the filmmaker lay largely dormant until 2005’s indie success "The Squid and the Whale," which earned him mainstream recognition and an Oscar nomination. He’s since released the neurotic black comedies "Margo at the Wedding" and "Greenberg."
I enjoyed "Frances Ha" precisely as much as I’d hoped to. The characters impressed me as more hopeful, in an unidealized way, than Baumbach’s prior curmudgeons. And to those of you doubting the validity of my evening’s activity, who’d suggest the solitary viewing of a contemplative film must stand a Brooklyn block from any social column, allow me to offer this. This director has demonstrated a knack for drawing talent from my scattered circles of pals.
I was tickled pink in 2004 when my lovely college classmate, Halley Feiffer (who, given the modern state of alphanumeric prioritization, was seated next to me at every university event), was picked to co-star as Jessie Eisenberg’s girlfriend in "The Squid and the Whale." Baumbach continued this party trick by plucking two actors from my fond memories for "Frances Ha," too. One of them, who brandishes the film’s most memorable outfit, is a friendly face from past summers spent here in Great Barrington.
So though alone the night wasn’t lonely. The town was still bright as Theater #3 let out. Walking to the car past populated sidewalks, I noticed Allium and Fiori’s bustilng bar scenes. A palpable jolt of possibility stirs in downtown GB at 9 p.m. in June. Remember, "After Dark" doesn’t hinge on the sun’s self-involved schedule. Sneak into the Triplex alone on some overcast Tuesday. May be you’ll spot some friends after all.
*I’m hinting at director Whit Stillman’s 1998 gem "The Last Days of Disco," the final installment of his loosely connected "Doomed bourgeoisie in love" trilogy, which began with his prodigious debut "Metropolitan" in 1990. Stillman’s work closely parallels Baumbach’s, with both directors favoring sharpened quills, aimless academic characters, and actor Eige man while dissecting liberal arts urbanite psychology. Like Baumbach, Stillman took a break from filmmaking after 1998, only reappearing in 2011 with "Damsels in Distress" starring [effective dramatic pause] Greta Gerwig.
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