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It was probably during this era when I first experienced his work. By the time I graduated Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Harvard Square in 1986, I had seen every noir worth seeing at the Brattle. I even have a projection memory from one of them, maybe The Big Sleep: staring up at the boiling, beautiful black-and-white grain of Bogart's face and being transported, not by story, not by character or idea, but by the most elemental aspect of film: shades of light, immaculately, blindingly, beautifully projected before me, with such directness it was if I was seeing the same photons that had been on set that day in 1940s Hollywood, bottled up and released by the magic of emulsion, celluloid, and projection. As much as any other, it's probably the moment I became aware of good projection as a thing unto itself, as ancillary — and as essential — to a film as an amp was to an electric guitar. And it was all coming out of David Kornfeld's booth.

Kornfeld bounced out of the profession in frustration in 2002. He was working at the Harvard Square Theatre that year. The union staged a strike over a proposal to let managers work the booth on some shifts. After a long, bitter negotiation that Kornfeld still drops F-bombs recounting, managers finally "forced this deal down the union's throat," as Kornfeld recounts. He quit on principle, he says, calling it a retirement. But he was soon to join the Somerville staff.

The place was in rough shape. "I went down to the 2 house, and we were running Phantom of the Opera, and it's out of focus. . . . So I turn the focus knob, and it goes more out of focus. And I turn the focus knob the other way, and it goes even more out of focus. And I go, 'Oh no wonder he wants me' — plus you couldn't see the image anyway because it was bloody dim. It just sucked."

The changes were gradual, but profound. Judge upgraded every aspect of the theater, with good presentation given center stage. "We are in the movie business," Judge told me. "Some theaters are in the food business; they would show you slides if you still bought food. And if you're going to be in the movie business, well, goddamnit, your movie better look good."

There was one last thing to upgrade: the movies he was showing. Judge wanted first-run. Newer movies meant more customers. With 55 to 90 percent of ticket prices going directly to the studios, that didn't translate directly to the bottom line. But it did mean more concession sales. The added beer and wine sales alone, he said, practically paid for the equipment upgrades.

A parade of studio representatives came through the door, Judge recounts: first Warner Bros., who liked what they saw and took a chance on giving The Departed to the Somerville in October of 2006 as a first-run engagement. It did great business. Then Fox offered them Borat on release day. Universal followed suit that December with The Good Shepherd. All were successes, says Judge, and soon led to the Somerville becoming the first-run house it is today. It's mostly mainstream fare, with the odd rep weekend thrown in. Judge wants to show more independent films, but he says he's being blocked by the Kendall, which claims Davis Square as its turf.

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  Topics: Features , digital age, movie features
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