People began lining up for the movie an hour before it began — not unusual for a popular film on a Friday night. However, this line began at the auditorium on the bottom floor of the Harold B. Lee Library, and the movie was over 70 years old.
The BYU Motion Picture Archives showed the classic “Cleopatra” on Feb. 8 as part of a free biweekly film series that entertains, educates and advertises for Special Collections.
James D’Arc, the film curator, is the dedicated leader who selects the films, puts together the program notes, and provides the commentary that makes each film showing a complete package.
Asked when the series might end, D’Arc put a hand on his heart and said, “Not until this does.”
Patient movie-goers were rewarded with a gallery of film stills, an old black-and-white cliffhanger short, a preview clip of the next film in the series and even some footage of the famous director, Cecille B. DeMille, introducing “Cleopatra.” D’Arc explained that “Cleopatra” solidified DeMille’s career in a time of economic uncertainty.
“He was indeed like the phoenix who rose from the ashes,” D’Arc said. “If he could do it in the Great Depression, so can we.”
D’Arc’s inspiration for the project came when the lower part of the library was under construction in the ’90s. He said the large auditorium with the projector seemed perfect for a movie theater, and using the old film reels from the Special Collections vault would be a “wonderful outreach.”
The unseen hero of these films is Peter Czerny, the projectionist who spends 10 hours per show snipping apart film and rewinding it onto the film reel.
Czerny looked fondly at the old projector from 1960. “This was kind of the Rolls-Royce of movie projectors,” he said.
Czerny is a veteran of the BYU Motion Pictures Studio. He edited favorites like “Cipher in the Snow,” “A More Perfect Union,” and even the two films seen in temples worldwide.
One dedicated regular at the series, Tommi Allen, left her hometown of Murray early enough to be in line by 6 p.m. Although she wasn’t first in line, she knew that the theater occasionally sells out.
Allen remembered enjoying the film from two weeks ago, “Who Shot Liberty Valance?” but she remained haunted by the outcome.
“I still don’t know who shot Liberty Valance,” Allen said.
Czerny said that the film series has been the most popular library event since it begin in January 2000 with a Jimmy Stewart film called “Broken Arrow.” Jimmy Stewart still graces the screen for a biannual Christmas showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
D’Arc is passionate about showing the classic films as they were meant to be shown: on the big screen, free of distractions and with an audience.
“They’re meant to get lost in,” he said.