Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

William E. "Bill" Hewitt, 1936-2011

On Monday, November 21st, the world lost the great William E. "Bill" Hewitt, The Senator Theatre's film projection artist, manager, technical and film expert, and the man behind the curtain at The Senator for almost 30 years. I am overdue in writing about Bill, because I couldn't figure out how to convey the importance of a man who had touched so many lives over the years, while saying so little, and being hidden from most people's view.

Bill Hewitt, the tall older man in the middle, surrounded by Friends of The Senator volunteers and his beloved grand-dogs, Natty Boh and Nipper.

Friday night was Bill's memorial service. As I sat and listened to the reminiscences of so many people who had known, loved, and respected Bill, it was clear that he had been one of a rare breed of people who truly understand the fine art of film presentation done to perfection, in all of its nuances. He was the best of the best. The world has lost something extraordinary.

This morning, I was thinking about my first film experience at The Senator, when I had first moved here. I went to see "The Illusionist," a film starring Baltimore's native son Edward Norton. I had never heard anything about this film before I saw it at The Senator. I went to the film because it was at The Senator, and I was buying a house right down the street.

The experience of seeing "The Illusionist" at The Senator was one of those transcendent film experiences that hardly ever happens: when I walked out of the theatre, I felt disoriented because I had been so drawn into the world of the film, that I was momentarily unsure if I was back in the world of reality. I had been transported through a portal into another world.

As I thought about that experience this morning, it hit me: that film is very good, but the illusion of "The Illusionist" had been made complete only because of the subtle skills of The Senator's "illusionist," Bill Hewitt.

It was due to sleight of hand trickery that you don't notice at the time: the way the projector starts just before the curtain opens even a tiny crack, the way the curtain opens, the way the print is illuminated, having been inspected, inch by inch, for any flaws, before it was even put on the screen. I'm sure there are other arcane details of perfect film presentation that I can only imagine. As it turns out, the particular print of "The Illusionist" was a special one too: an especially fine print that Bill had raved about. Bill was a connoisseur.

Bill left The Senator in June 2011. At first I thought that it was quite symbolic that only a day or two or a week after Bill had left the building, the Sun's highly respected film reviewer, Michael Sragow, went to see a film at The Senator (I believe it was "Super 8," but I can't find Sragow's blog post now), and wrote about how the lights had gone on in the auditorium during the middle of the show, and the film had broken. Bill had left the building, and things had fallen apart almost instantaneously. At first I thought it was symbolic, but then I realized - it wasn't symbolic; it was inevitable.

The world has lost a great light.

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