Saturday, June 25, 2016


Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words takes its title from a song found on the composer’s 1972 fusion album The Grand Wazoo, and there may be no better preparation for the Frank Zappa revealed in director Thorston Schutte’s extraordinary documentary than this command to consume, and then presumably digest and defecate out, the sort of journalistic queries Zappa routinely endured, with patience, smarts and inescapable sarcasm, throughout his career. “Being interviewed is one of the most abnormal things that you can do to somebody,” Zappa explains during a TV interview to a reporter whose expression, an uneasy mixture of intimidation and confusion, remains constant throughout their encounter.

The composer’s testy relationship with the media is one of the threads that unites Schutte’s somewhat unusual approach—there are none of the usual associates, scholars and friends on hand to tell you secondhand (at best) what a genius Zappa was, nor the typical glut of chyrons and identifiers meant to orient you as to where and when you are or to who it is other than Zappa who occasionally speaks, or even the names of the songs you’re occasionally hearing. Instead, the movie’s deft editing style conjures Zappa’s history through an assemblage of observational details—quality of film stock, fashion, the greying of hair— creating a focus which makes the most room possible for Zappa to express his own musical and political philosophy, minus the usual overt and covert cultural filtering. “I feel very strongly about my point of view,” Zappa explains at one point. “I think there are other people who might agree with it if they heard it, and I’ll do whatever I can to say my point of view wherever it can be said.” In creating a film that posthumously allows Zappa to do precisely that (the musician died in 1993 from the effects of prostate cancer), Schutte has crafted a tribute that might have gained approval even from the notoriously exacting musician himself.

(Presumably the surviving members of Zappa’s family are similarly satisfied with the results—the film was produced in conjunction with the Zappa Family Trust—even if those family members are currently at odds with each other regarding the musical and financial legacy of their father.)

Eat That Question is a gift to Zappa’s diehard fans (I count myself among their number), who will be well familiar with some of the places that Schutte’s film takes them. But even if the film proves to be more revelatory to those whose familiarity and understanding of Zappa’s music and his modus operandi registers below the line of fanaticism, it remains fascinating not only as a document of FZ’s testy relationship with the press, but also of the press’s evolving relationship with their insistently irreverent subject.

We see the fledgling avant-garde composer’s early appearance, at age 22, on The Steve Allen Show, performing “Concerto for Two Bicycles”—using two bicycles, naturally—under the comically condescending guidance of the host. In a lesser film, this clip would be framed by talking heads prompting us with perfect 20/20 hindsight to observe what an asshole Steve Allen was for not noticing or encouraging his guest’s creative impulses. But Schutte lets the archival footage speak for itself; we see not only Allen’s good-natured disregard, but also the young Zappa’s sincerity as it mixes up with his desire to play along with, and gently poke at his host’s befuddlement. (Anyone who has ever taken pride in appreciating something which causes their parents some measure of confusion or distress will recognize this impulse.)

It didn’t take long, however before that sort of give-and-take playfulness disappeared almost entirely. Interviews from around the Mothers of Invention period reveal that the musician had developed a healthy disregard of his own as his music became more and more challenging, and that disregard was now more often returned by the guardians of TV culture. At one point, after having resurrected accusations of Zappa having betraying the hippie movement—an accusation that pointedly does not inspire in Zappa the sort of defensive outrage that was intended-- the unidentified interviewer-- Mr. Obvious-- suggests, with no small portion of pity in his delivery, that “there is a deep cynicism in you.” Without hesitation, Zappa responds: “Yeah, and I wish more people would catch some of it!”  

The beauty of Schutte’s movie is that it reveals a confidence borne from an absolute conviction in the ability of its hyper-articulate, yet never hyperbolic subject to hold the room, even at his most sarcastic, employing a dead-eyed stare that could and did wilt unprepared journalists unfortunate enough to step into its focus. Zappa often responded to serious inquiry, however, with cool thoughtfulness—on the subject of whether or not his songs were largely improvised, he replied, “The structure of the songs allows for the possibility of improvisation, but they are pretty thoroughly rehearsed… I don’t like to go out on stage and slop around”.

But his outrage was perhaps more thoroughly documented. Zappa relates that attempts at censorship in his career went as far back as “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black,” a song on the We’re Only in It For the Money album which was surreptitiously edited by record executives who misinterpreted a lyric about a waitress at a restaurant (“I still remember Mama/With her apron and her pad/Feeding all the boys at Ed’s Café”) as a reference to a sanitary napkin. And it’s a thrill of a very precise sort to revisit footage of Zappa taking a cool-headed stand in the early ‘80s, in Congress and on CNN’s Crossfire program, against the almost comic paranoia of Parent Music Resource Center and their crusade against rock music filth. (His parrying with Florida Senator Paula Hawkins on the subject will put a smile on the face of every young Zappa aficionado who grew up to warp the minds of their very own children.) 

It wouldn’t be a surprise if many viewers of Eat That Question took away a dominant picture of Zappa as an angry maverick tilting at the multitudinous windmills of plasticized and processed American culture, because in many ways that’s what he was. But the movie also makes room for the sort of peculiar joy that characterized his experience too. He actively resisted being conscripted as a performing front man. (“We’ve been offered three or four times to play for the big communist party picnic in France… Fuck the communists. I don’t like those people. I do my music for people who like music.”) 

Yet he embraced, with some measure of shock and surprise, the expression of appreciation directed toward him by President Vaclav Havel and the dissident peoples of Czechoslovakia, and after visiting the country in 1990 he accepted Havel’s appointment as Special Ambassador to the West for Trade, Culture and Tourism. For Zappa, who had spent 30 years battling record companies and social institutions and governmental interference over the expression of his own musical creativity and political conviction in the land of the free and the home of the brave, it was a bittersweet moment of validation. Schutte’s film, in laying the foundation for the case for Frank Zappa as something considerably more than a freak, registers the importance of the moment and how it resonates with our own current, somewhat freakish global political climate.

And Zappa himself took an especially mordant glee in relating how “Bobby Brown,” the viciously satirical first-person portrayal of a sociopathic, sexually opportunistic disco-era predator from Zappa’s unusually popular 1979 Sheik Yerbouti album, was embraced by Europeans and made into a #1 hit in several countries, even though he suspected that most who loved it had no idea what the song was actually about. The image of a Norwegian disco full of young people slow-dancing to a ballad sung by a self-described “American dream” who brags about being able to “take about an hour on the tower of power, as long as I gets a little golden shower” is one of the movie’s funniest moments. What’s more, the movie inadvertently highlights the surgery done by Zappa on the song’s entitled, brutally casual protagonist (“Here I am at a famous school/I'm dressin' sharp and I'm actin' cool/I got a cheerleader here wants to help with my paper/Let her do all the work and maybe later I'll rape her”), which has a psychological resonance that is welcome, and unfortunately just as necessary in the aftermath of Brock Turner, as it was when it debuted during the age of polyester slacks and dangling coke spoons.

Eat That Question is, of course, a forum for Zappa’s documented verbiage to take center stage, and it does so, at times gloriously. So it’s curious, from of a movie so focused on words and ideas, that two specific images should have carried so much weight for me. The first is the simple sight of the ear-to-ear grin on Zappa’s face as he stands marveling at the musical invention and sheer dexterity of Ruth Underwood, his superb vibraphonist from 1966 through 1977, as she rips through one of his typically intimidating charts. Anyone who hangs on to the notion that FZ was all work and no play needs to see that grin.

The second comes at the end, our last sight of Zappa in the film, at age 52 and close to death. It’s a simple shot, part of a news program dedicated to the performance of his late-period classical music, of Zappa, bearded, gray, obviously weak, waving the baton with focus and conviction as the orchestra brings forth that signature atonal, rhythmically complex sound and fury. There’s a serenity on Zappa’s face, as if his shortened life were being fulfilled right in this moment, which is inescapably powerful.

In the US especially,” Zappa opines early on in the film, “musicians are generally regarded as useless adjuncts to the society, unless they do something creative like write a Coca-Cola jingle… So if you want to be a musician, you just have to realize that nobody is gonna care.” That’s an observation culled from a bitter realist, one made in the midst of a career marked by creative struggle and commercial indifference, and one which the movie honors. But Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words is, above all else, the empathetically realized story of Frank Zappa’s journey toward being taken seriously as a composer, and in its form and incidental testimony it reveals an appreciative truth that stretches beyond Zappa’s words. For at least 90 minutes that observation of cultural irrelevance is one that his critics, and maybe even the ghost of the great American iconoclast himself, will finally be made to dine on.


From the film, here’s Frank Zappa on…

Musical Role Models:

“I thought, ‘Boy, if anybody could make a missing like between Edgard Varese and Igor Stravinsky, that would be pretty nifty.’ Then somebody turned me on to an album of music by Anton Weburn and I said, ‘Wow, anybody who could get a missing link between Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern and Edgard Varese, that would be very spiffy.’ Then I heard what some of the stuff sounded like that I had been writing, and it was so ugly that I decided to go backwards and get into the melodic area again. Then people started telling me that my melodies were ugly.”

Nasty Language:

“There is no such thing as a dirty word. There is no word, nor any sound, that you can make with your mouth that is so powerful that it will condemn you to the lake of fire at the time when you hear it. ‘Dirty words’ is a fantasy manufactured by religious fanatics and government organizations to keep people stupid. Any word that gets the point across is a good word. If you wanna tell somebody to ‘get fucked,’ that’s the best way to tell him.”

A Riot Nearly Sparked by the Mothers in Germany in the Late ‘60s:

Zappa: “We had one very negative experience in Berlin. We arrived and we set up our equipment at the Sportpalast. Some students came over there and they said: ‘We would like to have you help us with a political action.’ They wanted to set fire to the Allied Command Center. And I said, ‘I don’t think that is good mental health.’ The minute we came on stage, about 200 students got up and they were waving red banners and they were shouting “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” and they were blowing horns, and they were throwing things on the stage, and they were calling us the Mothers of Reaction and they tried to ruin the concert. A few hundred people were coming toward the stage.

“So I increased the volume of the music. And this noise was so loud and so ugly, that it was actually pushing them back. It was like a science-fiction story. Meanwhile, there’s all the other thousands of people who were sitting there, looking around. They thought it was something that we might do in the show.”

Interviewer: “There were reports that you called these students fascists”

Zappa: “I did, because I think that there is definitively a fascistic element, not only in the left wing in Germany, but in the United States too. Any sort of political ideology that doesn’t allow for the rights, and doesn’t take into consideration the differences that people have, is wrong.”

Deficiencies in American Education:

“People are just not accustomed to excellence. When you go to school, you’re not given the criteria by which to judge between quality this or quality that. All they do is teach you just enough to be some kind of a slug in a factory to do your job, so you can take home a paycheck and consume some other stuff that somebody else makes. There’s no emphasis in schools in the United States put on preparing people to live a life that has beautiful things in it. You know, things that might bring them aesthetic enrichment. That is not a major consideration.” 

His Image in the Media:

“You don’t see me on normal television very often, you don’t hear the records on the radio very often. If you read about me in the papers, they write about me like I’m a maniac. I’m not. I’m 40 years old and I’m normal, I got four kids, a house and a mortgage. I’m an American citizen and happy to be that way.”

Presumed American Superiority:

“The thing that sets the Americans apart from the rest of the cultures in the world is we’re so fucking stupid. This country has been around for a couple of hundred years and we think we are hot shit, and they don’t even realize that other countries have thousands of years of history and culture and they are proud of it. And when we deal on an international level, with foreign policy and we’re going as this big American strong country, they must laugh up their sleeves at us because we are nothing. We are culturally nothing. We mean nothing, we are only interested in the bottom line. We have Levi’s, designer jeans, hamburgers, and Coca Cola. We have REO Speedwagon. We have Journey. (But) we also have the neutron bomb and poison gas, so maybe that makes up for it.”

The Zappa Aesthetic:

“The easiest way to sum up the aesthetic would be: Anything, anytime, anyplace, for no reason at all.”

How He Wants to Be Remembered:

Zappa: It’s not important to be remembered. The people who are worried about being 
remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush. These people want to be remembered. And they’ll spend a lot of money, and do a lot of work, to make sure that remembrance is just terrific!”

Interviewer: And for Frank Zappa?

Zappa: I don’t care!

Friday, June 17, 2016


The delightful British comedy The Smallest Show on Earth headlines a great Saturday matinee offering from the UCLA Film and Television Archive on June 25 as their excellent series “Marquee Movies: Movies on Moviegoing” wraps up. So it seemed like a perfect time to resurrect my review of that movie, which celebrates the collective experience of seeing cinema in a darkened, and in this case dilapidated old auditorium, alongside my appreciation of my own hometown movie house, the Alger, which opened in 1940 and closed last year, one more victim of economics and the move toward digital distribution and exhibition.


“You mean to tell me my uncle actually charged people to go in there? And people actually paid?” –Matt Spenser (Bill Travers) upon first seeing the condition of the Bijou Kinema, in The Smallest Show on Earth...

In Basil Dearden’s charming and wistful 1957 British comedy The Smallest Show on Earth (also known under the far-less evocative title Big Time Operators), a young couple, played by Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, inherit a small–town cinema, the Bijou Kinema-- known to the citizenry of Sloughborough as the Flea Pit-- and decide, in order to drive up the selling price to the local cinema magnate, who wants to tear it down and build a carpark, that against all odds and common sense they’ll reopen the doors and give the business a go. 

They also inherit three elderly employees who have long been part of the Bijou’s checkered history—Mrs. Fazackalee (Margaret Rutherford), the cashier who was once also the cinema organist during the silent era; Mr. Quill (Peter Sellers), the projectionist with a more-than-slight penchant for Dewar’s White Label; and Old Tom (Bernard Miles), the janitor who only wants a uniform commensurate with his position and who dutifully provides a fiery solution when negotiations with the magnate hit a snag. These three comprise what passes for the barely beating heart of the Bijou, and if Dearden’s movie seems to end just as the third act is set to begin, it remains a sweet-tempered testament to the blinkered spirits of the Bijou staff, as well as to the fleeting pleasures of nostalgia and the long-lost palaces where past generations learned to love the movies. 

Some of the richest comic highlights of The Smallest Show on Earth come from all the technical foul-ups that come courtesy of the theater’s antiquated equipment—busted reels, focus failures, upside-down images and, of course, the image of sizzling celluloid from a frame on fire, these are as good as a cartoon and a newsreel, the expected bonuses when you buy a ticket at the Bijou. And audiences in 2016 who stumble upon this little beauty on DVD (or on Amazon Streaming Video, where it is currently available) will likely get huge laughs from the movie’s sly comment on the panicked movie industry’s attempt to stave off the deleterious effects of television through unabashed gimmickry.

Unable to afford upgrades to Cinemascope and stereophonic sound, the staff at the Bijou make do (albeit inadvertently) with the hardships imposed on them by the march of progress.  One of the factors of modernity contributing to the theater’s fall into disrepair is a railway which zooms directly past the outside of the auditorium, making the building shake from its faulty foundation to its rickety rafters. However, fortune smiles upon the Spensers as audiences react with wild abandon when the roar of the train outside is accidentally synched to a scene of a train robbery in the western on screen. The rumbling is so awful that poor Mr. Quill, recently having “taken the pledge,” is driven back to drink after throwing himself bodily on the projector to keep it from vibrating off its floor mounts. But the audience sees it as an “enhanced” experience, something they certainly couldn’t get from sitting at home in front of the tube.

Viewers taking in The Smallest Show on Earth 60 years later will think of everything from Sensurround to D-Box, technological gimmicks that, effective as they might be, still probably wouldn’t be as much fun as a well-timed passing locomotive threatening to literally bring the house down. The movie gently satirizes the raucous behavior of working-class audiences in the age of television while serving as a bridge between the rapidly changing landscape of modern entertainment and its own unapologetically nostalgic yearning for days past, when tastes were simpler and ornate palaces built to showcase flickering images of grandeur and adventure were commonplace. Whatever else you might say about them, the rowdy, television-spoiled audiences that (eventually) pack the Bijou are at least having fun, unlike their “sophisticated” modern-day counterparts, whose countenances, lit by cell phone screens, betray the desultory sense that, despite the fact that they’ve paid upwards of $17 to get in, they’d rather be anywhere else than in a theater watching a movie.

Of course, that appeal to nostalgia for days past rings slightly differently in 2016 than it did for the characters in Dearden’s film, who have seen change in the film industry, from silent to sound to color to wide-screen, but who mourn most especially for the days when the theater could be packed for every show, when the movies really were the best and only show in town. Audiences exposed to the movie today might first marvel that there were ever such huge, expansive, ornately designed, single-screen temples whose only purpose was to show movies. Modern multiplexes with 25 screens and a bounty of tentpole blockbusters to exhibit still find themselves appealing to Internet technology to stimulate ticket sales, booking live, high-definition video feeds of operas and other “special events,” and even appealing to organizations like churches to rent auditoriums, all in order to stay afloat in an age when entertainment choices are even more fragmented. Single-screen palaces for everyday exhibition really are, with a few exceptions like the historic Vista Theater in East Hollywood, things of the past. (You'll see the Vista on the big screen this summer as part of Woody Allen's vintage Hollywood-era comedy Cafe Society.)

For me, seeing The Smallest Show on Earth for the first time in 2014 provided its own sort of coincidence, like a train with the word “progress” spray-painted on its engine in in ironic quotation marks rumbling past, but without the pleasant afterglow of an enhanced experience. As I watched the efforts of the Spensers and their staff to raise the Bijou Kinema from the ashes, I couldn’t help but reflect on a couple of beloved movie palaces in my own life that are not now what they once were. In September 2014 it was announced that the New Beverly Cinema was being taken over by Oscar-winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and that long-time owner-operator Michael Torgan was out. (Torgan took over daily operation of the theater when his father Sherman, who opened the theater as a repertory cinema in 1978, died unexpectedly in 2007.) Not much more is known now about the specifics of what transpired than when the coup was announced in August 2014, other than it seems to have been precipitated by Torgan’s purchase of a digital projector, to which his notoriously 35mm-or-nothing landlord took extreme exception. In solidarity with Michael, and out of indifference to the heavily grindhouse-tilted tenor of the programming since the theater reopened one month later in October, I ended up taking about a year off from attending the New Beverly.
When I returned, for a screening of an IB Tech print of Once Upon aTime in the West, I was delighted to see Michael there, looking happy in a new managerial role that seems to have at least afforded him the occasional night off to spend away from personally running the theater 24/7. I’ve only been back one time since that night—for a Smokey and the Bandit/Convoy combo, though I regret not being able to see their recent Robert Siodmak double bill of The Suspect and Phantom Lady. The theater’s vibe is most definitely Tarantini’s now—programs like that Siodmak pairing are in the minority, ceding to schedules that continue to lean not only on grindhouse and action fare but also on unremarkable artifacts from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s (a double bill of the two Other Side of the Mountain movies were featured recently) that betray a video store geek’s zeal but far less of the well-rounded, well-schooled aura of the revival house as once defined by Sherman, and then Michael Torgan. The bottom line, however, remains that though, yes, the theater isn’t the same, at least the New Beverly is still showing films as one of several tantalizing daily options Los Angeles have at their disposal on the revival cinema scene.

More pointedly, however, 2014 was the year that the movie palace of my own childhood finally closed its doors for what looks like the last time. I saw my very first movie in a theater at the tender age of three. It was Gay Purr-ee (1963), the Abe Levitow-directed animated feature (co-written by Chuck Jones) about cats in the French countryside making their way to the big city, and I saw it at the Marius Theater in beautiful downtown Lakeview, Oregon. The Marius, built in the early 1930s, wasn’t the first movie theater in town—there was a tiny silent theater operating in the early 1900s that introduced the industrial age wonder of the movies to the Irish immigrants and cowpokes who first populated my hometown. (Writer Bob Barry commemorated the theater, whose name I can’t recall—the Rex, maybe?—in his book of local history From Shamrocks to Sagebrush.) But the Marius was my first. I don’t remember a thing about it, and without the help of some photographs I doubt I’d even be able to recall what the exterior looked like—it was closed and remodeled into an office building during the years in the mid-60's when my family briefly moved to California. By the time we returned in 1968, the Marius was gone-- though the remnants of the theater stage are still discernible in the basement of that remodeled building, known since the theater’s closing as the Marius Building, there's no other indication that a movie theater ever stood there.

By the time I returned to Lakeview in 1968, I’d been infected by the movie virus in a serious way. My parents took us to movies at the big theaters near the outskirts of Sacramento—the Tower and the Roseville in downtown Roseville, and the Citrus Heights Drive-in in the bedroom community of Citrus Heights, where we lived—and when we moved back to the rural splendor of Lakeview, I took as full advantage as I could of the opportunity to go to the movies by myself or with friends—something we weren’t allowed to do in the big city. And the Alger Theater, at the edge of downtown Lakeview, just a mile from my house, became my refuge, my oasis, my home away from home. Those were the days of double features, Saturday matinees (with reduced prices!), of driving into town and thrilling to see the lights of the marquee turned on before sundown, beckoning, promising a peek into a world well beyond the limits of what could be offered by my little burg. I dreamt of that place often, the yellow bulb lights dotting the undercarriage of the marquee, glowing and playing off the pale green trim of the theater frontage—it was glamorous, the only glamour my town had to offer, and it was irresistible.

My dad’s side of the family, the Italians, were dutiful Catholics, and as such were well acquainted with Bob and Norene Alger, visible participants in local Catholic culture who owned and operated the Alger Theater and the Circle JM Drive-in Theater on the north end of town—they had owned the Marius as well. Being the son (and grandson) of family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Alger always made me feel welcome. I can remember filing out of many matinees and evening shows and being greeted by Mrs. Alger with a hug, which many of my friends and peers thought was strange because she was rarely any more than standoffish—and sometimes downright cranky—to most of them. She also came down into the auditorium to personally check on me the night I first saw Blazing Saddles, apparently fearing from my relentless laughter that I was in danger of respiratory failure or full-on hysteria. And the very first review I ever wrote, at the tender age of 12, came at the behest of Mr. Alger, who offered me free admittance to the Saturday night showing of Young Winston (1972) if I would provide him a written review of it after mass the following morning. I have no idea why he wanted me to write about it, but when I delivered my little essay, he accepted it with that slightly inscrutable half-smile, which could be easily misinterpreted (or correctly interpreted, I suppose) as a frown and which rarely left his face. I never heard another word about the review, and he never asked me to do it again.    

Though they were overseers of one of the two primary communal entertainment options available to Lakeview back in the day, Bob and Norene felt no need to worry about competing with television. Which was a good thing, because the Algers were anything but show people. They ran the theater with an increasing sense of begrudging duty, and not without a sense— definitely noticed by the general populace— that they were too socially sophisticated for the audience they served. And they didn’t go in for gimmicks or promotions either. The only bonuses offered by the theater came on Christmas Eve (an annual canned food drive matinee which didn’t survive the early ‘70's-- see Dear Brigitte on the calendar to the left); Independence Day (a bare-bones fireworks show for which several pals, including the Algers' son David and I, comprised the mortar crew when I was a teenager); and, best of all, one-night horror shows for New Year’s Eve, Halloween and whenever a Friday the 13th would roll around. The Alger booked a terrific array of Hammer, Amicus and American-International titles for my formative years, allowing me to see films like Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Rasputin the Mad Monk, The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Green Slime, Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, The House That Dripped Blood, Count Yorga, Vampire and countless others that stand as favorites to this day, all projected to a crowd of very enthusiastic screamers.

Audiences at the Alger weren’t far removed from the hijinks of those rowdy delinquents inside the Spensers’ Bijou either. One of the apocryphal Bob Alger stories for me and my buddies came as a result of a Halloween night screening of Tales from the Crypt during which the audience, comprised mostly of high school kids like myself who, unlike myself, were there to do anything but watch the movie, got well out of control. The din started before the opening curtain and continued to increase. And when some sort of projectile flew out of the crowd and landed very close to the screen, it wasn’t long before Mr. Alger marched slowly, deliberately, to the front of the theater, the lights came up, the movie stopped and everyone went silent. “What I have before me, on the floor of the auditorium,” he intoned ominously, as fearsome as Sir Ralph Richardson's cryptkeeper, “is a fresh egg.” He berated the audience for their behavior and threatened to shut the screening down entirely, with no refunds, if decorum wasn’t restored immediately. He even yelled out at one poor bastard who was still cutting up during his speech—“You! In the balcony! I know it was you who threw it!” Even though I wasn’t causing trouble myself, I was terrified (I could only laugh about it later), but I was also secretly glad because, goddamn it, I couldn’t hear the movie, and the last thing I would have wanted was for the Algers to pull the plug on these horror holiday special shows, which I considered a major perk and a significant antidote to the doldrums of Lakeview citizenship.

I went to see everything I could at the Alger. I wanted to see everything I could. But for the general audiences, who during the early ‘70s came out to see just about anything the theater showed—I remember a half full house for Robert Altman’s box-office bomb Buffalo Bill and the Indians, for crying out loud, a phenomenon probably attributable to the cowboy community assuming they were in for a run-of-the-mill western—I don’t think the movies themselves mattered nearly as much as the chance to get out and do something, anything.

And when that movie was done, it was done—there was no going out and talking about it afterward, because movies were rarely seen as anything more than simple diversion. Sometimes the movie was done before it was done. One of the funniest moments in The Smallest Show on Earth comes as a B-western is beginning to wrap up. It’s the last scene in the movie, and the audience, sensing that the meat of the action has finished, jumps up and bolts for the exits before “The End” even has a chance to pop up and cue them that it’s time to leave. The audiences at the Alger were similarly inclined to get on with life rather than savor the cinematic experience they’d just had. I’ll never forget coming home from college and seeing Star Wars with the hometown crowd. As soon as the Death Star exploded, at least 40 people in the packed house grabbed their coats and scooted out of the theater.
For all its deficiencies—the inept projection, the frequently misspelled marquee (it was always “Pual” Newman in something or other, and I’ll never forget “Ward Bond 007” in The Man with the Golden Gun), the uncomfortable seats, the indifferent management—the Alger was where I really fell in love with the movies. That love would be deepened elsewhere, but the Alger's lights always seemed to be visible to me from the dark quiet of Southern Oregon nights long after I’d left the town, a glowing reminder of where it all began. 

The Algers closed the drive-in in 1981 after a winter storm ripped the screen in half like a piece of wet paper. They kept the indoor theater open for a couple years after that, but soon retired, and it sat dark for a few months during the early ‘80s, when local folks were finally getting into the swing of the VCR era. It eventually reopened under new ownership in the mid-80s, and competition to keep pace with an ever-shrinking window between theatrical release and home video debut forced the theater to begin picking up releases much more quickly than it ever did under the guidance of Bob Alger. In those days, it wasn’t unusual to have to wait 6-9 months after its national release for a movie to bow at the Alger—Jaws (1975) played at the Circle JM Drive-in during the summer… of 1976. But the video-age Alger was facing a much-changed exhibition landscape. I remember being completely shocked to open up the pages of the local weekly newspaper, the Lake County Examiner, 15 years ago and seeing a tiny ad for the week’s offering at the Alger, Scream 3, which was opening at the Alger the very same night it opened on 3,000 or so other screens across the nation, an unthinkable scenario even five years before then.

(These photos of the Alger Theater date from about one to two years after its opening. Above, Gene Autry in Sierra Sue and All-American Coed were both released in 1941, and despite the "1938" notation on the lower photo, given the release date of Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur, the feature advertised on the marquee, the date of this photo is likely sometime after 1942.)

The theater, under new management now twice removed from Bob and Norene Alger, more or less limped into the digital age. Shows were now weekends only, and the theater, which opened in 1940 (see photos above), was beginning to show the effects of a lack of cosmetic upkeep. A ghastly stage had been installed in the mid ‘80s, ostensibly in a move to establish a community theater presence which never took hold, obliterating the first four or five rows of original seats. What seats remained were the original 1940 editions and as butt-numbing as ever; the marquee lights were spotty, every other bulb either burnt out or screwed into a socket that had long since failed to carry current; the façade of the theater was tattered and badly in need of a paint job; and the marquee itself was warped, rickety and weather-beaten, its ability to hold up plastic letters routinely challenged by a stiff breeze. With the cost of keeping the theater open for just three days a week becoming increasingly indomitable, it seemed the writing was on the wall, and it probably had been for at least the first 10 years of the 21st century.  

Much like how the storm that destroyed the drive-in screen in 1981 had presented the Algers a convenient exeunt from the drive-in business, big studio threats to stop providing 35mm prints to theaters, thus forcing small-town operations like the Alger to upgrade to digital equipment in order to stay in business, were the rationale current management needed to call theatrical exhibition in Lakeview, Oregon a permanent day. After several attempts to communicate with the current owners and brainstorm ideas for keeping the theater alive—a theater in nearby Alturas, California, had successfully navigated a crowd-funding campaign to upgrade their theater and make it a community-operated business—I stopped receiving replies to my e-mails, and it became clear that, in response to deteriorating attendance, the owners weren’t really interested in rallying an effort to come up with the money to keep the doors open.

So, in March 2014 the reels of the Alger Theater’s 35mm platter projection system spun their last. The theater, much like Hollywood itself, had long since ceded any attempt to appeal to any other audience beyond the PG/PG-13 market, the only folks left in town who could be counted on to occasionally show up for a movie. It’s grimly appropriate that the last picture show would not be a landmark like Red River (the current Alger management likely being unaware of that movie, or The Last Picture Show, for that matter), or even an adult-oriented audience-pleaser like the recent Oscar-winner Argo. Instead, it was the generic animated movie The Nut Job, and a sadder, more ignominious finale for my beloved theater I couldn’t possibly imagine. According to a report filed by my niece, who was very upset about the theater closing and tried herself to generate some local interest in preserving it, the last show was just as nondescript and lacking in fanfare as one might expect. The end credits playing before an empty auditorium, what there was of the audience having already listlessly filed out, the marquee lights went dark over South F Street, the main drag on which the Alger held dominance for 74 years, and save for one special screening-- author Cheryl Strayed brought the movie version of Wild to town, Lakeview being one of the stops she walked through on her epic journey along the Pacific Crest Trail-- those marquee lights haven’t been back on since. It’s not clear as yet whether the township of Lakeview has even noticed.

Last year I got a message from a friend still living in Oregon who said she’d heard that the Alger was about to be purchased by a new owner, given a digital upgrade and a paint job, and reopened. Did I dream this? If it were true, it would be an unlikely deus ex machina, given the history of this theater, and given the economic straits in which the town is currently mired. It’s the sort of dream of the past and its familiar faces that I wake up from all the time. But no, I didn’t dream it. The message was real. And whether or not the resurrection of the Alger makes the transition from rumor to reality—and the town’s active interest in making it happen cannot be overemphasized-- is a story I have been following closely and will continue to keep my eye on.

Maybe the Alger Theater doesn’t mean the same thing to the current citizenry of Lakeview that it does to me. Maybe it never did. However the general population may have felt, it’s difficult for me to discount the importance such a tiny blip on American culture as the Alger had on the forming of my mind and my desire to see more than what could be offered on the dusty, muddy streets passing outside its doors. If they’re lucky, everyone reading this will have a place like it nestled in their memories, a place where love for what the movies could show us, could inspire in us, the emotions they could stir, was instilled and made foundation for the appreciation of what movies could be that we had yet to understand.

When I see the empty shell of that theater, standing abandoned and ignored at the edge of my hometown, I don’t feel like a piece of me is lost. No, I know right where that piece is at. It’s still inside those doors, in communion with the dusty old red curtain, the forever dimmed house lights running the edges of the auditorium at the ceiling level, the mysterious projection room, from whence all those amazing sights and sounds emerged, the tidy confines of the snack bar, watched over by the old Thornton’s Drug clock on the wall, its timekeeping partner, the one bearing the Lincecum Signs ad, still perched in the auditorium above the door to the back of the screen, stage left. Yep, I’m still in there, sitting in those worn-down seats, waiting for the next movie to start. By a great stroke of fortune, maybe someday it will.


Saturday, June 11, 2016


In one of those strange confluences of life, death and documentary art, last week the world lost Muhammad Ali, humanitarian, devout Muslim and near inarguably the greatest boxer of all time (even if that assignation was initially self-proclaimed), just at the moment when the discussion about the life of yet another celebrity athlete, O.J. Simpson, is about to heat up yet again. Tonight ABC airs the first of the five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America, a seven-and-a-half hour undertaking commissioned for ESPN’s 30-For-30 series that truly fulfills the expansive definition of an epic, and filmmaker Ezra Edelman makes every one of his documentary’s 450 minutes count.

The first two hours of O.J.: Made in America are devoted not just to Simpson’s formative life in the San Francisco projects and his rise to football stardom at USC, but also to painting a vivid picture of African-American life in Los Angeles in the days leading up to the Watts Riots of 1965, a detailed, frustrating and often agonizing portrait of a racial history that provides one aspect of the vast context in which the persona of O.J. Simpson was shaped. Edelman illuminates a crucial contrast between Simpson, the popular USC running back living it up on a primarily white, moneyed campus, and the reality of the more typical African-American experience in Los Angeles in the 1960s which was taking place only a few blocks from where Simpson was being groomed for NFL stardom. Economic and racial prejudice, police brutality during the William H. Parker era of the Los Angeles Police Department, and the scramble simply to maintain a modicum of dignity in the face of a dominant white social structure which regularly, violently insisted that none was deserved, was the reality faced by those who couldn’t gracefully scramble down a field and rack up record yardage for a storied university football program. (One of the saddest threads that emerges early on in the film is in accounting the degree to which African-Americans eagerly moved from strife-plagued areas of the South in the ‘50s and ‘60s to Los Angeles in search of the sort of racial and economic equanimity that eluded them in their home states, and how quickly that optimism was snuffed out.)

Yet O.J. Simpson emerged from being surrounded by it all (and deftly protected from it all), early on largely achieving acceptance in the (white) world of celebrity. He was the first African-American advertising spokesman for a major company—Hertz rental cars—who was perceived as being effective not just with blacks but across the racial board. And he was liked by just about everybody he encountered, black or white, all of which was, of course, the underlying presumptive goal of his personal socio-philosophic mantra: “I’m not black, I’m not white. I’m O.J.” 

One of the most unsettling accounts of Simpson’s perspective occurs early on in the film, recalled on camera by New York Times sports reporter Robert Lipsyte, who remembers Simpson, not yet 22 and waiting to sign his rookie pro contract after leaving USC, hanging out in a Manhattan bar waiting to meet up with one of its owners, Joe Namath, the hero of the most recent Super Bowl.  Lipsyte was one of a large entourage surrounding Simpson that night and talked to Simpson about his plans, including his negotiations with the Buffalo Bills, his upcoming entrance into the advertising world and his hopes for the TV and movie roles that would come as a result of his career as a football pro. At one point, in talking about the things he’d so far achieved in his young career, Simpson offered up with pride, “I was at a wedding, my wife and a few friends were the only Negroes there, and I overheard a lady say, ‘Look, there’s O.J. Simpson and some niggers.’” Lipsyte takes a breath on camera and says, “I knew right then he was fucked.”

The early sections of O.J.: Made in America make it clear just how separate Simpson intended to be from the black community which took such pride in his acceptance and achievements, and that separation went beyond securing a life of fame and riches with Hollywood always foremost in mind. Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be conscripted into the Vietnam War, and the nimbly articulated reasoning he offered, which was grounded deeply in not only his racial but also his religious experience (“The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality”), provides an illuminating contrast to Simpson’s refusal to politicize his image. While Ali took his controversial stand, which resulted in his arrest and conviction for draft evasion, the rescinding of his Olympic gold medal, the stripping of the heavyweight title he won by defeating Sonny Liston in 1964 and a three-year ban from professional fighting, Simpson refused to join other black athletes such as Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown in public support of Ali’s decision. While he professed to understand the importance of Ali’s position and the need to provide support for everyone in the black community, Simpson continued to make it clear that their fight was not necessarily his fight: “What I’m doing is not for principles or for black people. I’m dealing first for O.J. Simpson, his wife and his baby.”

That, having heard such a philosophy expressed openly, blacks could have remained as supportive of O.J. Simpson as his life took an infamously surreal turn into ugly violence in Brentwood, California in June 1994, is one aspect of the mystery of O.J. Simpson upon which Edelman’s film, with its grounding in the racial inequity and violence at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department, sheds plenty of welcome light. However obvious the evidence may have been against him, however bungled by prosecution the apparently slam-dunk case ended up being, the Simpson verdict was perceived by many blacks across the nation, according to the evidence and testimony accrued in Edelman’s film, as a huge emotional release, payback to a system that repeatedly failed to provide justice for the likes of Eula Love, Latasha Harlins and Rodney King.

And it’s to Edelman’s credit that a conclusion like that one has its place in the context of the larger conversation O.J.: Made in America engenders, neither summarily dismissed nor thoughtlessly endorsed but instead woven into the expressive, reverberating fabric of this unusually evocative, angering and enlightening work. If the movie never finds as much room for contextualizing Nicole Brown Simpson as someone other than a victim of an inevitable tide of domestic abuse in the way that Los Angeles’ racial history does for Simpson himself, then the humanizing empathy Edelman displays for her certainly suffices. (The awful finality of her fate and that of Ronald Goldman is displayed here in horrific crime scene photographs I’d spent 22 years avoiding.) O.J.: Made in America unfolds with masterful certainty and illuminating power, delineating the mind-boggling path toward a third act in the life of a man who many, even some of his staunchest supporters and friends, now believe must have commit those heinous murders, a third act which surreally nose-dives into Vegas decadence, petty crime and, yes, even perhaps one more dose of payback for crimes left unpunished.

Though it was conceived as a TV series, with the remaining four parts airing on ESPN after tonight’s bow on ABC, I think of O.J.: Made in America as a movie because that’s the way I saw it. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the very last theatrical screening of a week-long, Oscar-qualifying engagement in Santa Monica a couple of weeks ago, and seeing it that way was one of the great movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. The auditorium where I saw it, with a capacity of 27 people, was about half full, and during the film’s two intermissions there was a palpable need for us all—the 14 or so of us in attendance were pretty closely divided between black and white-- to turn to each other and discuss what it was we were absorbing. (By the end of the movie’s second section, that screening had begun to take on the quality of a very lively town hall meeting.)

Sometime during the first hour, immersed in the sort of rich detail and intelligent commentary that would be a hallmark of Edelman’s film, I felt energized, excited, relieved to be in the hands of a documentary so dedicated to taking its time and creating the proper context for understanding how the phenomenon, and then the tragedy of O.J. Simpson could have happened in the first place. Seeing it in one go in a theater was not unlike the way people now routinely binge-watch programming, documentary or otherwise, on Netflix or DVD in the media-saturated 21st century, only with fresh popcorn and the company of strangers, which definitely helped ameliorate the desperate sense of a hopelessly fragmented society that the film pointedly examines. If you can stand the wait and have the technology available, I recommend recording the entirety of the series over the next couple of weeks and saving it for a weekend afternoon when you can watch it all at once. But either taken all in one sitting or seen in segments, O.J.: Made in America is made to overwhelm you and invigorate you. It’s going to be hard to top this one for movie of the year, in whatever form it is seen.


Friday, June 10, 2016


“We used to go to the movies.  Now we want the movies to come to us, on our televisions, tablets and phones, as streams running into an increasingly unnavigable ocean of media. The dispersal of movie watching across technologies and contexts follows the multiplexing of movie theaters, itself a fragmenting of the single screen theater where movie love was first concentrated and consecrated.  (But even in the “good old days,” movies were often only part of an evening’s entertainment that came complete with vaudeville acts and bank nights). For all this, moviegoing still means what it always meant, joining a community, forming an audience and participating in a collective dream.” 

From the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s programming notes for its current series, “Marquee Movies: Movies on Moviegoing”

Currently under way at the Billy Wilder Theater inside the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood, the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s far-reaching and fascinating series “Marquee Movies: Movies on Moviegoing” takes sharp aim at an overview of how the movies themselves have portrayed the act of going out to see movies during these years of seismic change in the way we see them. What’s best about the collection of films curated for the series is its scope, which sweeps along from the anything-goes exhibition of the silent era, on through an examination of the opulent era of grandiose movie palaces and post-war audience predilection for exploitation pictures, and straight into an era—ours—of a certain nostalgia for the ways we used to exclusively gather in dark places to watch visions jump out at us from the big screen. (That nostalgia, as it turns out, is often colored by a rear-view perspective on the times which contextualizes it and sometimes gives it a bitter tinge.) As the program notes for the Marquee Movies series puts it, whether you’re an American moviegoer or one from France, Italy, Argentina or Taiwan, “the current sense of loss at the passing of an exhibition era takes its place in the ongoing history of cultural and industrial transformation reflected in these films.”

The series took its inaugural bow last Friday night with a rare 35mm screening of Matinee (1993), director Joe Dante and screenwriter Charlie Haas’s vividly imagined tribute to movie love during a time in US history which lazy writers frequently like to describe as “the point when America lost its innocence” or some other such silliness. For Americans, and for a whole lot of other people the world over, those days in 1962 during what would come to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis felt more like days when something a whole lot more tangible than “innocence” was about to be lost, what with the US and Russia being on the brink of nuclear confrontation and all. The movie lays down this undercurrent of fear and uncertainty as the foundation which tints its main action, that of the arrival of exploitation movie impresario Laurence Woolsey (John Goodman, channeling producer and gimmick maestro William Castle) to Key West, Florida, to promote his latest shock show, Mant!, on the very weekend that American troops set to sea, ready to fire on Russian missile installments a mere 90 miles away in Cuba.

Woolsey’s hardly worried that his potential audience will be distracted the specter of annihilation; in fact, he’s energized by it, convinced that the free-floating anxiety will translate into box office dollars contributed by nervous kids and adults looking for a safe and scary good time, a disposal cinematic depository for all their worst fears. And it certainly doesn’t matter that Woolsey’s movie is a corny sci-fi absurdity-- all the better for his particular brand of enhancements. Mant!, a lovingly sculpted mash-up of 1950s hits like The Fly and Them!, benefits from “Atomo-vision,” which incorporates variants of Castle innovations like Emergo and Percepto, as well as “Rumble-rama,” a very crude precursor to Universal’s Oscar-winning Sensurround system. The movie’s Saturday afternoon screening is where Dante and Haas really let loose their tickled and twisted imaginations, with the help of Woolsey’s theatrical enhancements.

Leading up to the fearful and farcical unleashing of Mant!, Dante stages a beautifully understated sequence that moved me to tears when I saw it with my daughters last Friday night at the Billy Wilder Theater. Matinee is seen primarily through the eyes of young Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton), a military kid whose dad is among those waiting it out on nuclear-armed boats pointed in the direction of Cuba. Gene is a monster-movie nerd (and a clear stand-in for Dante, Haas and just about anybody—like me—whose primary biblical text was provided not by that fella in the burning bush but instead by Forrest J. Ackerman within the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland), and he manages to worm his way into Woolsey’s good graces as the producer prepares the local theater to show his picture. At one point he walks down the street in the company of the larger-than-life producer, who starts talking about his inspirations and why he makes the sort of movies he does:

“A zillion years ago, a guy’s living in a cave,” Woolsey expounds. “He goes out one day—Bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now, he’s scared to death, but he gets away. And when it’s all over with, he feels great.”

Gene, eager to believe but also to understand, responds quizzically-- “Well, yeah, ‘cause he’s still living.”

“Yeah, but he knows he is, and he feels it,” Woolsey counters. “So he goes home, back to the cave. First thing he does, he does a drawing of a mammoth.” (At this point the brick wall which the two of them are passing becomes a blank screen onto which Woolsey conjures an animated behemoth that entrances Gene and us.) Woolsey continues:

“He thinks, ‘People are coming to see this. Let’s make it good. Let’s make the teeth real long and the eyes real mean.’ Boom! The first monster movie. That’s probably why I still do it. You make the teeth as big as you want, then you kill it off, everything’s okay, the lights come up,” Woolsey concludes, ending his illustrative fantasy with a sigh.

But that’s not all, folks. At this point, Dante cuts to a Steadicam shot as it moves into the lobby hall of that Key West theater, past posters of Hatari!, Lonely are the Brave, Six Black Horses and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. The tracking shot continues up the stairs, letting us get a really close look at the worn, perhaps pungent carpet, most likely the same rug that was laid down when the theater opened 30 or so years earlier, into the snack bar area, then glides over to the closed swinging doors leading into the auditorium, while Woolsey continues:

“You see, the people come into your cave with the 200-year-old carpet, the guy tears your ticket in half—it’s too late to turn back now. The water fountain’s all booby-trapped and ready, the stuff laid out on the candy counter. Then you come over here to where it’s dark-- there could be anything in there—and you say, ‘Here I am. What have you got for me?’”

Forget nostalgia for a style of moviegoing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more compact, evocative and heartfelt tribute to the space in which we used to see movies than those couple of minutes in Matinee. The shot and the narration work so vividly together that I swear I could whiff the must underlying that carpet, papered over lovingly with the smell of popcorn wafting through the confined space of that tiny snack bar, just as if I was a kid again myself, wandering into the friendly confines of the Alger Theater in Lakeview, Oregon (More on that place next week.)

Dante’s movie is a romp, no doubt, but its nostalgia is a heartier variety than what we usually get, and it leaves us with an undercurrent of uneasiness that is unusual for a genre most often content enough to look back through amber. Woolsey’s words resonate for every youngster who has searched for reasons to explain their attraction to the scary side of cinema and memories of the places where those images were first encountered, but in Matinee there’s another terror with which to contend, one not so easily held at bay.

Of course the real world monster of the movie— the bomb— was also, during that weekend in 1962 and in Matinee’s representation of the missile crisis, “killed off,” making “everything okay.” But Dante makes us understand that while calm has been momentarily restored, something deeper has been forever disturbed. The movie acknowledges the societal disarray which was already under way in Vietnam, and the American South, and only months away from spilling out from Dallas and onto the greater American landscape in a way so much less containable than even the radiative effects of a single cataclysmic event. That awareness leaves Matinee with a sorrowful aftertaste that is hard to shake. The movie’s last images, of our two main characters gathered on the beach, greeting helicopters that are flying home from having hovered at the precipice of nuclear destruction, is one of relief for familial unity restored—Gene is, after all, getting his dad back. But it’s also one of foreboding. Dante leaves us with an extreme close-up of a copter looming into frame, absent even the context of the sky, bearing down on us like a real-life mutant creature, an eerie bellwether of political and societal chaos yet to come as a stout companion to the movie’s general air of celebratory remembrance.


The “Marquee Movies” series has already seen Matinee (last Friday night), Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) paired with Polish director Wojciech Marczewski’s 1990 Escape from Liberty Island (last Saturday night), and Ettore Scola’s masterful Splendor (1989), which screened last Sunday night.

But there’s plenty more to come. Sunday, June 12, the archive series unveils a double bill of Lloyd Bacon’s Footlight Parade (1933) with the less well-known This Way, Please (1937), a terrific tale of a star-struck movie theater usherette with dreams of singing and dancing just like the stars she idolizes, starring Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Betty Grable, Jim Jordan, Marian Jordan and the brilliantly grizzled Ned Sparks.

Wednesday, June 15, you can see Uruguay’s A Useful Life (2010), in which a movie theater manager in Montevideo faces up the fact that the days of his beloved movie theater are numbered, paired up with Luc Moullet’s droll account of the feud between the French film journals Cahiers du Cinema and Positif, entitled The Seats of the Alcazar (1989).

One of my favorites, Tsai Ming-liang’s haunting Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) gets a rare projection at the Wilder on Sunday, June 19, along with Lisandsro Alonzo’s Fantasma (2006), described by the archive as “a hypnotic commentary on cinematic rituals and presence.”

Friday, June 24, you can see, if you dare, Lamberto Bava’s gory meta-horror film Demons (1985) and then stay for Bigas Luna’s similarly twisted treatise on the movies and voyeurism, 1987’s Anguish.

Saturday afternoon, June 25, “Marquee Movies” presents a rare screening of Gregory La Cava’s hilarious slapstick spoof of rural moviegoing, His Nibs (1921), paired up with what I consider, alongside Matinee and Goodbye, Dragon Inn, one of the real jewels of the series, Basil Dearden’s marvelously funny The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), all about what happens when a newlywed couple inherits a rundown cinema populated by a staff of eccentrics that include Margaret Rutherford and Peter Sellers. (More on that one next week.)

And the series concludes on Sunday, June 26, with a screening of the original 174-minute director’s cut of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988).

(Each program also features a variety of moviegoing-oriented shorts, trailers and other surprises. Click the individual links for details and show times.)


(Next week: My review of The Smallest Show on Earth and a remembrance of my own hometown movie theater, which closed in 2015.)