I don't do an excessive amount of traveling (time, money, blah, blah, blah), but when I do, I like to see a movie in a unique or interesting theater in the city I'm visiting. I'm not talking about one of the soulless multiplexes like AMC or Cinemark. I can get that experience anywhere, and I try to avoid that even when I'm home.
My city, Dallas, offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to one-of-a-kind, eclectic theaters. There's the Inwood, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. In addition to its beautiful Art Moderne look, in 2008, the owners redesigned the main screening room. It's now a lounge experience. They replaced the standard movie seating with LoveSac couches, love seats, and chairs. It is, without a doubt, one of the most comfortable places in the whole city to see a movie.
There's also the Texas Theater. I'm obsessed with film, but I'm also a history buff. The Texas Theater, located in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, sits right in the middle of those two interests. This is the movie house where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested just minutes after he assassinated John F. Kennedy. Aside from the preservation of the theater's original design, and the eclectic mix of weird and wonderful movies the programmers schedule, there's an eerie feeling that comes over you when you realize the history that took place there.
My theater collecting started in 2005. That was the year I graduated from film school. I didn't really know what I wanted to do post-college. In the span of about five months, I quit the job I kept throughout school, got another job, hated it intensely, quit it, and decided to visit some friends who had moved out to L.A. right after graduation. I was only out there for about a week. So many theaters, so little time. I hit the Arclight; I saw Good Night, and Good Luck. I hit Grauman's Chinese Theater; I saw Doom. The Chinese is a one screen theater, and that's what was playing the week I was there. Terrible movie, but it was a blessing in disguise. Instead of paying attention to what was happening on the screen, I simply looked around at the beautiful design of the theater for 105 minutes.
I also hit the legendary New Beverly Cinema. Patton Oswalt wrote an entire book about his obsession with movies, which lasted from 1995 to 1999, called Silver Screen Fiend. The New Beverly was essentially the centerpiece of his book. I missed seeing him feeding his addiction by about six years. I also missed visiting the theater after it was bought by its new owner, a one Quentin Tarantino, by about two years. It's very possible, though, that the original owner, Sherman Torgan, whom Oswalt writes of very fondly, sold me my ticket. The New Beverly programs double features, and I witnessed a doozy on the night I went: a Kubrick double feature of A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It didn't start until 10 p.m., and I left the theater well after 2 a.m. Good times.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying I just got back from an amazing trip to Boston and Maine, and I have collected another theater. The Maine part of the trip was all about camping and hiking in Acadia National Park (another interest of mine) with my partner, and two of our friends who both happen to live in Boston. They are, in fact, my "national park friends," and all four of us are trying to visit every American national park. So, no movie theater stops while we were in Acadia.
Boston was a different story. I knew that a town so rich with history would have to have a few interesting movie theaters. I only had time for one (I already ask Rach to put up with so much on the movie front when we're home, and there was PLENTY more to see and do while in Boston), so I did some research.
The theater that caught my attention was named The Brattle. It's not technically in Boston, but is located in Cambridge, home of Harvard University. The theater has a close association with Harvard, in fact, and it is housed in a building called Brattle Hall just a few blocks from Harvard Yard (where tourists insist they need to pahk their cah). The Brattle Theater opened in 1890, when motion pictures were in their infancy, so it began life as a live-performance theatre. New owners converted it into a cinema in the 1950s, and it has a reputation for showcasing art house, independent, and cult movies.
In the late 50s, a tradition began of showing Humphrey Bogart movies during finals week at Harvard. Still today, students will blow off exam steam by taking in a Bogie classic. The tradition is known as the "Bogie Cult."
I don't necessarily care what I see on these theater collecting expeditions (see my previous description of watching Doom at the Chinese). But, my movie radar started pinging excitedly when I saw The Brattle would be in the middle of a retrospective titled "Tilda Swinton: World's Greatest Actress" while we were in town. The screening that worked best for our packed schedule was for a movie called Teknolust.
The movie, frankly, is not great. It was made in 2002, shot on digital video, and looks about as bad as you might expect something shot digitally in the early aughts to look. Swinton is the best thing about it. She plays four different roles. One is a scientist named Rosetta Stone, the other three are cyborg clones that Rosetta has created in an attempt to make the world a better place.
Despite the fact that the clones must be kept alive with regular ingestion of Y chromosome in the form of semen, Swinton is never given the opportunity to go as crazy with the performances as only she could. The highlight is a scene in which the clones dance together. Swinton gyrates threefold as the clones show their mother how hard they've been working on the dance. It's a transcendent, odd little moment in an otherwise forgettable movie.
The Brattle is anything but forgettable. It's a charming one-screen theater that holds the distinction of being one of the last to use a rear-projection system. The image is thrown onto the screen from behind it, instead of from in front of it, as is usually the case. My film geek itch got scratched quite satisfactorily by this information.
There are also a lot of little touches that make the theater feel unique. A poster featuring an admonishing Alfred Hitchcock, with finger to lips, reminds you to silence your cellphone. The restroom walls are plastered in movie posters. There are murals installed from the now-closed Casablanca restaurant, which was opened by the same people who founded the movie theater. The Brattle was also selling a "Totally Tilda" tote bag in commemoration of the retrospective.
The pictures below give you an idea of what a treasure The Brattle is. I'm glad that I was able to add it to my collection of cinema experiences. Also, see below the pictures for links to and about The Brattle.