Back Into the Dark. (Silent Movie Theater/Cinefamily)
Built in 1942 by John and Dorothy Hampton, The Silent Movie Theatre ran for decades as the only fully functioning silent movie theatre in the country. It has been fully restored to its original, vintage 1940s art deco design, along with a brand new screen and sound system, to help a new generation enjoy the pleasures of cinema in a beautiful theatre.
Previous owner had done some fine refurbishing of the 60-year-old facility and, with the addition of a back patio, which led to more of a rental for private functions rather than showing movies. Sammy Harkham (one of the owners of Family Books, a couple of blocks from the Silent Movie), current co–owner of the Silent Movie Theater decided to bring the movie freaks back to the screening room. Along with his brother and Hadrian Belove, they’ve put together an idea of an organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films. The Cinefamily.
“The Cinefamily’s goal is to foster a spirit of community and a sense of discovery, while reinvigorating the movie-going experience. Like campfires, sporting events and church services, we believe that movies work best as social experiences. They are more meaningful, funnier and scarier when shared with others” – is what we can read from the home page of the Silent Movie Theatres website. And it’s not hard to believe, since Hadrian Belove – manager of the Silent Movie Theatre, the home of Cinefamily project is the same whose last endeavor was the glorious West L.A. video store CineFile. “We started CineFile around the time that Blockbuster was making revenue-sharing deals with the studios, when something like 60 percent of independent video stores were going out of business. In terms of the whole industry, it was the worst time to start. But we believed in our concept.” – says Belove, currently challenging himself with a new project.
Part of the theater’s strategy is selling a membership plan in the mode of Netflix. Separate tickets are 10 bucks apiece, but for $25 a month, you get to come as often as you want (plus you get one free bucket of popcorn). Belove’s mission statement is in the calendar: “Seriously. I want you to be able to take a chance, to check something out just ‘cause you’re intrigued or bored or just really like our popcorn. That’s essential: what it says is, if you’re willing to commit to two to three tickets a month, we’re going to encourage you come as much as you like. And I’d rather have a fuller house, because you’ll enjoy the film more.”
Programming of Cinefamily project is focused on the experience of variety and surprise, for instance, Feature Fridays have an early show of some “high art” title – Francois Truffaut’s autobiographical Antoine Doinel series for example, the “low art” late shows on Friday are Home Alones (which mixes the Macaulay Culkin blockbuster with creepier titles like the incest-tinged The Cement Garden) or Sects, Drugs, & Mind Control: Cults! (Split Image, the original Wicker Man, Aliens from Spaceship Earth).
If there’s any general category that really reflects the eclecticism of Cinefamily, it’s Holyfuckingshit! Saturday nights. One of the ideas for the Saturday evening in the past was Holyfuckingshit! The Threes, including megahit Rocky III and Larry Cohen’s terrific straight-to-cable It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive. In the printed schedule, Belove makes a comment for the series: “Like the rhythm of a classic joke, be it about farmers’ daughters or religious figures, the third iteration is where things go hilariously askew. The first sets the template, the second is more of the same, but three, heavenly three, veers into the surreally unexpected.” According to one of the interviews this recontextualization (rooted in priming theory) was the only excuse to show Ninja 3: The Domination.
On February 9, 1989, a fire rendered the Travis Street location uninhabitable. The center subsequently found more spacious quarters in a 1920s cotton warehouse, which was remodeled with grants totaling $46,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cultural Arts Council of Houston, the Transco Energy Company, and individual pledges. The organization opened at its new location in the fall of 1990. In addition to gallery and performance areas, the new space includes DiverseBooks, an art bookstore, which sponsors PhoneWorks, a phone-in poetry-reading service.
One of the May/June program’s treats is the retrospection of Jerry Lewis’s works. Jerry Lewis : The Total Filmmaker is a homage to multitalented artist, best-known for his slapstick humor on stage, screen, television and radio, his singing ability in a string of music album recordings and his charity fund-raising telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Almost no talents outside of the silent era can claim as much total authorship of a film as Jerry Lewis does at the peak of his powers--as a director/producer/writer/star, he oversaw almost every aspect of production, from beginning to end. Let’s pay a bow to the King of Comedy.