The projection booth in the Somerville's cavernous 890-seat House 1 is Kornfeld's masterwork. Built at a cost of $150,000 or more, it features massive twin Norelco projectors and touches like a recirculating water cooling system and $800 windows that can be easily removed for cleaning (dirty glass can kill screen brightness). Its interior is painted, to his specification, pale blue. "In terms of the picture on screen and the sound you're listening to, I would put that up against any theater you can name. Any one. And I will either equal or better them," he told me. John Quackenbush, who runs projection for both the Harvard Film Archive and the Independent Film Festival of Boston, goes to screenings in House 1 regularly. "It's very close to perfection there," he told me. "It's one of the best places to watch in the country." He puts it in the same league as personal favorites of his like the Coolidge and the State Theatre in Traverse City, Michigan.
Kornfeld says the Norelco "Double A's" in the booth are the best projectors ever made (Quackenbush takes issue — he's partial to the Harvard Film Archive's Kinotons). Designed and built in the early '60s for the esoteric and short-lived Todd-AO film format, they can run both 70mm and 35mm prints at either 24 or 30 frames per second. They are menacing steel beasts painted industrial beige and bristling with add-on tech. Perched at the very top of the steep balcony, they point almost straight down at the screen, which, seen through the port glass, is the size of a postcard. "They were manufactured to tolerances and standards that are unique in projection history," says Kornfeld. "And they will simply last forever."
Kornfeld has taken a hand in planning and programming the Somerville repertory series, and he takes particular pride in finding immaculate prints. But it's all been 35 so far. His dream is to put on a 70mm festival. It will be a massive undertaking: the 70mm cans can cost up to $1500 to ship, and he wants to show several over multiple nights.
CINEMA HISTORY At top, Davis Square and the Somerville Theatre back in the day, the Norelco “Double A” projector that David Kornfeld first fell in love with in the booth of the Astor Theatre (middle), and the Gary Theatre lighting up Stuart Street.
A DIM VIEW
As we go to press, the Somerville is making the transition to digital, installing 2K Christie DLP projectors in all five houses. But they're remaining committed to film, keeping 35 alongside digital in three houses, including House 1. Kornfeld's role will actually be expanded. Previously only part-time, he told me he will be bumped up to 40 hours per week to supervise ongoing film and digital presentation.
Judge told me they'll show first-run films on 35mm when they can find good prints. Warner Bros. sought them out, he says, to present Christopher Nolan's ones-and-zeros-free Batman trilogy finale The Dark Night Rises on 35mm. You can catch it at the moment on the Norelcos in House 1.