Last Picture Show

Sometime in the late 1980s, (even he isn't sure of the precise date), Dr. H. Arthur Taussig began hosting screenings of classic films on Friday nights at the Orange County Museum of Art. The films were great, but Taussig's freewheeling discussions with the audience made the shows a county institution. Caught up in Taussig's enthusiasm, audiences cheerfully argued into the night; many attendees came back regularly for years. How many minds were broadened as they took in those great movies, many of them rarely screened elsewhere and hard to find on video? How many friendships were spawned in that decade and a half of Friday nights, and how many romances, too? How many people found a really fun way to while away what could have been a lonesome end to a busy week, and what will they do with themselves now that the museum has axed the program?

Citing rising film rental costs and a desire for programming that directly reflects current exhibits, the museum recently let Taussig go with little notice. Last Friday's show, The Sweet Smell of Success—a terrific, pitch-black morality tale starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster—turned out to be his last picture show. If the film's title seems ironic given the circumstances, let us assure you it's anything but; Taussig's run at the museum was indeed a success, and he has much to be proud of.

For Taussig, the truth is way out there. When he analyzes a movie (and he'll happily analyze just about anything), he'll uncover layers of meaning and symbolism that the filmmakers surely did not intend. At first you'll be tempted to dismiss him as a crank, but keep listening and soon he'll bring you around to his way of thinking, gathering formerly loose connections so artfully that you come away with a whole new appreciation for the subtle intricacies in pictures that any sane person would have to conclude are simple-minded crap. It's not so much that he sees stuff that's not there (although that sometimes plays a part) as that he's surprisingly adept at drawing blood from just about any cinematic stone. And when he gets a hold of a picture that's actually good, stand back: it's magic time.

Next Wednesday, the administration at Orange Coast College will meet to decide whether the college will become the new home for Taussig's screenings, and Taussig is fairly confident they will decide it is. The college is within walking distance of Taussig's home and offers good screening facilities, and Taussig is already excited about the possibilities.

Let us now cross our fingers in hopes that the college's higher-ups will see the light. Taussig retired from teaching film at Orange Coast College a while back and he stopped publishing Hi-Q film-review newsletter several years ago; it would be a cosmic injustice to leave him without a forum for his insights into the movies while Rex Reed and Gene Shalit are still sounding off to all the nation. Just once, our own happy ending, please?


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