Campbell still will continue to choose the movies for the library's popular Friends Friday Films series, which he's been overseeing for most of his career there. By his accounting, he has selected some 1,700 films for the series, which he figures have been watched by some 300,000 viewers over the years.
To learn about Campbell's career and his taste in films, Greenwich Citizen asked him a few questions.
How did you become film librarian at the Greenwich Library?
It was in February of 1969 when I was working at the Donnell Library, part of the New York Public Library, that's across the street from the Museum of Modern Art. I had apprenticed myself to Bill Sloan who headed up the library's Film Department. I was a supreme film buff. I would go see films three or four nights a week, seeing everything I could see at the old Thalia and the New Yorker movie theaters. I was part of the film generation of Coppola and Scorsese who were making films. I had seen hundreds -- if not thousands of films -- so I was well schooled. I'd been there about 3 1/2 years when Bill Sloan told me about a job in Greenwich at the Library. I didn't know where Greenwich was except that it was a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Much to my surprise, they offered me the job on the spot to be film services coordinator -- to be head of the film department. I felt like I should pay to work here. But I never envisioned staying here long -- maybe three or four years. Every time I looked elsewhere, I couldn't find anything comparable.
What were your responsibilities and first initiatives?
Part of the job was running the Friday films. They'd been running once a month for 22 years. I expanded them to every Friday night. The secret of our success is it's burned in their brain -- there's a film every Friday night. We have a very dependable audience, and we get a lot of new people. We usually have from 160 to 180 people and occasionally 200 to 300 for a blockbuster film. For the first showings we had a room that had to be cleared to set up 250 folding chairs that after the film needed to be put back the way it was to be ready the next day! The Cole Auditorium, that arrived in 1969, made things a lot easier.
When I came here it was way before we had DVDs. We were loaning out reels of films, and we rented out projectors overnight or for the weekend. People went to a lot of effort to see movies. We were ahead of the times at Greenwich Library. Few other libraries were doing this. The Donnell Library loaned films, but no projectors. Early on, we rented out movie reels from distributors in California and New York. They'd mail them to us, and we'd mail them back. As technology changed, we would order videotapes, then turn them over to the lending library; the same with DVDs. We had schools borrowing films, both public and private -- that's perhaps another 300,000 viewers. We now have some 15,000 DVDs. You could see one a night for 300 days a year for 50 years.
Can you recall the first film you showed?
"Le Bonheur," a French film; it means happiness. It's filled with Mozart music. I think we still have it.
How did/do you go about picking the films? I'm told you choose them related to the seasons.
It has nothing to do with the seasons. The secret of my success is being eclectic, to have a little bit of everything, to be constantly changing. Some people have asked for say a month of Bette Davis films or French films. But you're turning off a lot of people that way. The way I pick them is by divine inspiration. I keep a folder of movies I've read about or that I see. A hangover from years past as a film buff is that I remember films of the 1930s. In June, I pull this list together for the fall lineup. The funny thing is that even with the greatest films there will always be people who walk out. I hate to see people leaving. I know it's a good film. It's something to do with our prices . . . I always say, like Mark Twain said about the weather in Maine, "If you don't like the weather wait a few minutes." If you don't like the film, come back next week -- it's constantly changing.
Were there any controversial choices?
Since films are mainly about sex and politics, we post ratings, because some people bring their kids. We don't seem to have really young children. It's a late hour, at 8 p.m. The demographic is an older audience.
Have you seen any effect on your audience with the arrival of so many other film outlets?
The other resources out there are amazing, such as Netflix and cable TV. But we have the same audience today as we did 10 or 15 years ago. These people like to see a film in an audience with a group of people. You get audience reactions, laughs and gasps.
What are some high moments in all these film showings?
There was the 4-hour Napoleon film we were first to show. We had to rent two projectors. I was out with appendicitis the night it was shown. We had special guests come: Frank Taylor, the producer of "The Misfits" that starred Marilyn Monroe; Frank McCue, a supporting actor at Warner Brothers who was pals with James Cagney who would visit him in Cos Cob. One night when we were showing Kubrick's film "Barry Lyndon," gas fumes starting coming in. There was a big gas station nearby that would get gas deliveries in the evening. The prevailing winds were pouring the fumes into the auditorium. Half the audience left afraid of a gas explosion.
What's your favorite film?
"Citizen Kane" (1941). It's magical always, the way Orson Welles tells the story, the acting, the editing. I tend to like films larger than life, like Fellini's. Ken Russell's "The Music Lovers," with Richard Chamberlain as Tchaikovsky. "The Tree of Life," with Brad Pitt." Any frame of that film you could blow up and put on the wall. I like films that are well-made and bold in their concept, that are visually exciting. But I don't go to movies so much. I watch Turner Classic Movies. Every day you can see what you want to see. My son, Adam, works for Pixar. He's a story board artist. My son, Crag, works for Vimeo. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Who are favorite actors and actresses? Favorite scenes?
I like Jessica Chastain. I liked James Cagney, Joan Fontaine, Jean Arthur, actors in the 1930s and '40s. Actors today surface quicker and disappear quickly. I'm more a director's kind of guy. I like snow scenes and musicals. I tend to like choreographed scenes, with the moving camera following on, like German director Max Ophuls was known for. I liked the hoedown dance in "Seven Brides and Seven Brothers." The subway sequence in "Band Wagon" with Fred Astaire. "Les Miserables" (which is on the 2013-2014 schedule) is the kind of film I like with very passionate nonstop visuals and nonstop music. I also like Woody Allen movies. He's made more than 60 films.
What's your next step -- besides keeping your hand in the Friday Film Series?
I will continue to host the Friday films and do my introductions. I give a little background with pertinent facts about the movie -- about three to five minutes worth. Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies is my role model. I have a hobby of photography. I'll expand on that. I do landscapes, abstracts, architecture, street photography. I'll sell things on eBay -- collectible illustrations, sheet music and photographic stuff. I'll finally get to play Mr. Handyman around the house. Wendy has a really long list of things to do. When you work full time, you don't have time to do these projects.
September 30 is my last work day. As they say in films, "It's a wonderful life."