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Library Cinema returns with upgraded projection and sound systems

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times
Jon Busch in the Wheeler Opera House projection booth in 2007.
Aspen Times file

Lights, projection, action!

While old-school libraries were all about the shhh! factor, these days, multimedia takes center stage, especially at Pitkin County Library. With its brand new 4K projector and Dolby Atmos surround-sound system, the Pitkin Library launches a new season of Library Cinema this weekend.

Its new Satellite MLS 4K projector “presents a brilliant image with rich colors that rival that of commercial movie houses,” said Charlie Blackmer, programming and publicity librarian at Pitkin County Library.



Plus, its surround sound technology, developed by Dolby Laboratories, “expands on existing surround sound systems by adding height channels, allowing sounds to be interpreted as three-dimensional objects,” she said. “It seriously sounds like you are in a movie theater. It’s wonderful — a very all-encompassing sound experience.”

The Library Cinema came to a screeching halt last summer after the library’s projector broke down; the last film played in July. Now, “the most affordable option in the valley for film-goers,” as Blackmer describes it, is back in action.




Library Cinema kicks off Saturday and Sunday with Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time. The documentary recounts the life of Vonnegut and his 25-year friendship with the filmmaker who documented it. The project began 39 years ago when then-struggling filmmaker Robert Weide (of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth) wrote a letter to his literary idol proposing a documentary. Shooting began in 1988. In addition to being a biography of the American author, it examines the impact of a writer’s legacy on a filmmaker’s life.

The feature film, the first of its kind on Vonnegut, is timely, as Nov. 10 was the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth. It takes a deep dive into his upbringing and creative output, spanning his childhood in Indianapolis, his experience as a prisoner of war in World War II, his marriage, family, and divorce, his early careers as a publicist for General Electric and a car salesman, and his long years as a struggling writer, which ultimately led to stardom with the 1969 publication of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Naturally, Slaughterhouse-Five follows this documentary Nov. 18-19. Vonnegut’s groundbreaking novel quickly became a movie, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It follows an optometrist, Billy, kidnapped by aliens but living comfortably with his assigned mate, a B-movie starlet. As Billy experiences his life events in random order, from being a prisoner of war to a humdrum middle-class life to his future as a zoo curiosity on the planet Tralfamadore, the film takes audiences on an off-beat, wild journey through time.

The man behind the series

Cinephile and Aspen Hall of Famer Jon Busch chooses the films, trying to tie them in with local issues or the region.

Jon Busch hosted and programmed films at the Wheeler Opera House from 1972 until 2014. He was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 2019.
Aspen TImes file

“Jon always provides rich commentary about the filmmakers, historical context, and the impact of the featured films on filmmaking and culture,” Blackmer said.

He selected The Mission, which became famous for its score, showcasing Ennio Morricone at his height, to play Nov. 25-26 because it ties into Rifle’s Symphony in the Valley, which performed excerpts from Morricone’s score for the movie last fall.

“It will sound great on our new Atmos sound system,” Busch said. “The tie-in is further amplified by the fact that Morricone did the musical score for Cinema Paradiso (playing Dec. 2-3). Some people jokingly, and maybe seriously, say I must be like the little boy in Cinema Paradiso because I was involved in movie theaters as a child, as in the case of the lead boy in Cinema Paradiso.

Indeed, Busch’s love for presenting movies began as a kid, when he used to change the sign outside the neighborhood theater every Tuesday and Sunday night, then started helping a projectionist, whom his grandfather knew, at another theater.

“The projectionist, who was half of the owner team, had coke-bottle glasses, so he asked me to focus the picture because he couldn’t see well enough to do it,” Busch said, explaining how he learned to run a 35 mm movie projector. “There are a lot of parallels in my life to Cinema Paradiso.

As Busch presents Cinema Paradiso, he said he’ll briefly talk about how his interest in movies developed.

“I’m into presentation,” he said. “I’ve always introduced movies, going back to my days at the Wheeler. I like to put on a show and a smooth presentation.”

Jon Busch
Courtesy photo

The remainder of December brings A Love Song (Dec. 9-10), The Nightmare Before Christmas (Dec. 16-17) and the 2019 release of Little Women (Dec. 27).

He chose A Love Song for its theme of late-blooming love and “star” actors who “never had an opportunity for a starring role (afterward, like) Dale Dickey. She got rave reviews for her performance in this film, but then she played supportive, small roles,” he said.

Nightmare Before Christmas is library assistant Sierra Fransen’s favorite holiday movie, so he chose that because he was looking for something “different.” And, Little Women is the book club’s December book of the month.

“I try to play new films, along with classics and movies that have great reviews or are politically savvy,” Busch said.

If you go…

What: Library Cinema Series

When: 7:30 p.m. (see specific dates below)

Cost: $10 (covers costs to obtain screening rights)

More info: pitcolib.org

Lineup:
Nov. 12-13: Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, NR (see story for summary)

Nov. 18-19: Slaughterhouse-Five — rated R (see story for summary)

Nov. 25-26: The Mission — rated PG. Jesuit priest Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) enters the Guarani lands in South America with the purpose of converting the natives to Christianity. He builds a mission and is joined by Robert De Niro, a reformed slave trader seeking redemption. The Portuguese government wants to capture the natives for slave labor. Winner of the Palme Dór Cannes 1986.

Dec. 2-3: Cinema Paradiso — rated PG. Young Salvatore Di Vita (Salvatore Cascio) discovers the perfect escape from life in his war-torn Sicilian village: the Cinema Paradiso movie house, where projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) instills in the boy a deep love of films. When Salvatore grows up, falls in love with a beautiful local girl (Agnese Nano) and takes over as the Paradiso’s projectionist, Alfredo must convince Salvatore to leave his small town and pursue his passion for filmmaking.

Dec. 9-10: A Love Song — rated PG. “This miraculously radiant first feature from writer-director Max Walker-Silverman tells a Western romance amid constellations and birds, delayed letters and brief encounters and the worthwhile sorrow of loving and yearning to be loved. Placid in her self-sufficient lifestyle, lonely widow Faye (Dale Dickey) eagerly awaits the arrival of an important guest in the mountainous vastness of the Colorado terrain,” wrote The Wrap in a partial review at the Sundance premier.

Dec. 16-17: The Nightmare Before Christmas — rated PG. The film follows the misadventures of Jack Skellington, Halloweentown’s beloved pumpkin king, who has become bored with the same annual routine of frightening people in the “real world.” When Jack accidentally stumbles on Christmastown, all bright colors and warm spirits, he gets a new lease on life, and he plots to bring Christmas under his control by kidnapping Santa Claus and taking over the role. But Jack soon  discovers even the best-laid plans of mice and skeleton men can go seriously awry.

Dec. 27: Little Women (2019), rated PG. Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel has been adapted for the screen at least nine times, the first one dating from 1917. This film presents the March sisters’ lives in a more contemporary manner while remaining true to Alcott’s story.