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Homily to Mr. Jackson…

It’s Tuesday night, 11:30 pm and we are in line at Loews. “Frodo”, “Shire”, “Nazgul”, “Gandalf” and veritable litany is heard in the air. Unruly pilgrims at the gates, the theater uncomfortably warm, suspicion and envy snake around the double-backed line. People snap at each other like reptiles fighting for position on a seaside rock. Disbelief that tonight is actually here.

It’s now Wednesday morning, 12:25 am and the fussing, tense complaining and neck straining continues. There are lines out doors, outside theater lobbies, out in streets and the noise is a hushed, desperate rumble. Some stand silent while many chatter in nervous tones, and the attempt at nonchalance has been abandoned to outright visual pleas at the theater staff, who themselves look cornered and still maintain their occupational defiance.

The doors open.


Then incredible rush to seats saved by a smarter member of our crew who came earlier and persistently sought entry. PERFECT SEATS! Center, for the IMAX screen, for the THX, for the vortex of emotion that will follow. Our small band’s first joint statement of joy and gratitude.

As the theater settles into whispers, shouts, guffaws, yelps, squeals, sighs, and gulps, the wordless mumbling wavers like a landscape of sonic pure anticipation. And then the theater manager calls for silence. Never have I heard such a sudden suction of noise pulled back into its source. The physical weight and speed of the silence humbled me.

The theater manager does not chide, warn or cajole us into good behavior. He instead thrills us with these words:

“We will be having a speaker before the film tonight. We have a very special guest, one of the stars of this amazing film, Sir Ian McKellen.”

SUCH A ROAR! Finally the joy of being in the theater and this unexpected treat explodes into exuberant jubilation. GANDALF IS IN THE THEATER!

He speaks. We do not really absorb what he is saying because for once the pretensions of New York savvy and cool have fallen to the wayside and we are in sway with hero worship. He is no longer the man of many films; he is Gandalf in the flesh, here, speaking to us.

He recognizes our deaf attentiveness and keeps his speech short. He makes a joke about lighting, mentions the history and relevance of the screenings around the world, (the first in South Africa, Tolkien’s birthplace, in England and New Zealand’s red carpeted streets for a premier). We laugh automatically at his jokes, we nod and gape and stare at him openly. Sir Ian McKellen raises his hands to wave us goodbye as he leaves. Standing ovation.

Gandalf has left the building…

Rumblings again. We are all amazed. These terms I use are in the purest meanings – amazement: state of extreme surprise or wonder; astonishment.

Darkness falls…previews tease and we try to be truly interested.

Then the vortex swallows all sound and the theater darkens even more…Galadriel speaks and it begins…

Here I cannot say more. It would be profane to list the effects, surprises, bents on the story and characters. I was moved, awed: a mixed emotion of reverence, respect, dread, and wonder inspired by authority, genius, great beauty, sublimity, or might.

Peter Jackson created what every aspiring filmmaker desires to do – a complex and completely balanced method of storytelling. Everything in the film belonged to the story. Never was there an extraneous moment, an exaggeration or vacuous lapse most Hollywood films have and we the film going public have accepted as standard practice. The dense, rich nature of the film, the palette, the world created was perfect. He is a master of restraint.

The film met the book and succeeded in what I never believed could be possible. This film is about depth, layers, what is seen, not seen, suspected, shown, revealed, created in the crucible of unfair experience. Could a more inspiring piece of work be shown now? Without harping on local history, the events of the fall put all New Yorkers through a crucible of loss, horror and extreme feelings of despair and inequity of circumstance. This film was brilliant in its trueness to the story. But I cannot say more. It would be blasphemy.

Do I need to expound on why this film has to be seen, more than once, and must not be missed? No, my reverence I suspect is enough. And I can only say one more thing:

I wept.

-- Melissa Ulto


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[email protected] | December 2001 | Issue 21
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