Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on January 1, 2012
After the movie, the lights come on. I’m sitting in a very comfortable chair stuffed with memory foam. On the walls are murals by Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975). During the film you can’t see the murals on either side because curtains automatically cover them during the show, so as to not distract viewers with any peripheral glare. The side speakers are also out of sight – they’re hidden within the elegant and long chandelier lights that hang like Japanese lanterns next to the walls of this very spacious and recently renovated theater. I walk up the carpeted hall and meet Manny Knowles, the Assistant Director for Cinema Systems/Operations. We walk into the lobby and from there we take an elevator up a couple floors and the doors open directly into the projection booth, one outfitted with what I would guess to be about two million dollars worth of equipment. 4K, 2K, 3D, 35mm, 16mm, projectors for all these formats are comfortably spaced out in an immaculately clean booth where you can see white gloves hanging from the rewind bench. I am presented with the hard-drive that contained that night’s movie (Melancholia). A small square you could hide in a purse. Next to me are 35mm canisters for Night Train to Terror. It was obtained thanks to the kind permission of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, which I think is fascinating because I didn’t even know they had a film archive, much less one that contained such fun titles as Night Train to Terror (or Café Flesh, or The Stewardesses, which also screened here).
The list of marvels I experienced during my visit to the Indiana University Cinema in Bloomington goes on; from the programming content (an impressive array of varying thematic clusters covering all genres), to promotions (a glossy brochure with 82 pages full of beautiful color and black-and-white images that accompany informative reviews, a great website, and an impressive roster of visiting guests (which for the Fall season alone included filmmakers John Sayles, Pedro Costa, and Charles Burnett, to name a few). To say I was jealous would be an understatement. If a were to compare the IU Cinema program to a boat, this is what it would look like:
Bloomington, Indiana is a sleepy college town with about 80,000 people. When I think of movies shot in Bloomington, the only one that comes to mind is Breaking Away – a favorite of mine, which I’ve blogged about in the past (link at bottom). I program a film series in Boulder, Colorado, which is similar to the one in Bloomington in many ways. Boulder is also a college town. It’s also a similar size (if a bit bigger, at over 100,000 people). And Boulder also has a connection to Breaking Away: screenwriter Steve Tesich took part of his inspiration for that film from his experiences with Boulder’s Red Zinger Bicycle Classic.
So, yes, there are some similarities between Boulder and Bloomington. But I’ll tell you what Boulder doesn’t have that Bloomington has. It doesn’t have this:
Instead, it has this:
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit rough on myself. The film series I program has been around since 1941 and does manage to bring in over 100 rare, cool, obscure, fun, unusual, beautiful, and interesting films every year, as well as some special guests. But when Boulder’s flagship single-screen film venue, The Flatirons Theater (seen below), closed down in the late nineties, did the University step up to buy this huge edifice adjoining the campus? No. That once grand building with over 1000 seats has been gutted and partitioned into a liquor store and a marijuana dispensary. Unsurprisingly, C.U. Boulder’s top ranking in the nation as a party school for drinking and pot-smoking continues unabated.
Indiana University can truthfully boast of having “a world-class facility and a program dedicated to the scholarly study of film in both its traditional and modern forms.” When IU says it is committed “to excellence in the arts, research, and teaching” the beautiful and renovated IU Cinema provides stunning and physical proof of that. It provides this proof on a regular basis to all its students, faculty, staff, the community at large, and to all the attending artists that visit.
Here at the University of Colorado, Boulder, there are two new buildings that were made with the visual arts in mind. The building meant to champion multi-media integration (where my current office resides) is called ATLAS and it has a tiny film theater that was specifically dedicated to small academic film classes. During the planning stages when I suggested a larger space that might be opened up to the general paying public with proper signage and a space to sell tickets for nightly events, I was shown the door. So much for cap-and-gown. In the adjoining Visual Arts Complex, which was recently completed to the tune of $27 million dollars, there is one big -sized auditorium with 200 seats that was built to accommodate a projection booth and large-screen film projection (shown below at right). During the planning stage I made many suggestions, most of which were ignored. Later I was stunned to find out that the architects did not even elevate the projection booth. IU Cinema’s projection booth is on the left, the Visual Arts Complex Auditorium projection booth is on the right. Can you spot the difference in elevation? No elevator needed, that’s for sure. Notice also how the light spills in from the entrance doors at the upper right. Even though there are double doors, some genius decided to put a huge circular light that can’t be dimmed between the double-doors so that light spills into the auditorium when late-comers arrive. It’s also hidden in the basement. And there are no signs to guide you there.
What this illustrates is how far down the ladder our Film Studies Department lies in the the pecking order of things. Our administrators got so focused on “making it, first-and-foremost a classroom,” that they forget that if they designed it, instead, first-and-foremost, as a world-class theater, one that keeps the general public in mind, then they’d also have a world-class classroom, like IU now has. If you were a parent or donor coming to watch the films made by campus students, of these two auditoriums which one do you think will make a bigger impression? I forgot to mention that IU film students are also making, and projecting, 3D movies. Meanwhile, our film program doesn’t even have the money to install a proper Digital Cinema Package system that most movie theaters will have installed by this year of 2012.
Well, as I often tell the three people on my staff and my four part-time employees, “we do a lot with little.”
As the captain of a leaky rowboat, I had a chance to meet the captain of the Spanish Galleon that is the I.U. Cinema – director Jon Vickers. At this point I will have to admit to being so envious of the I.U. Cinema, the venue, their equipment, their program, their budget, the size of their staff, and the absolutely amazing amount of both community and university support that clearly all came together to make it happen, that I kind of wanted to hate the guy. No such luck.
When they hand out “nicest-guy-on-the-planet-awards” Jon Vickers will be somewhere in that line and within waving distance. He’s also one of those people who works nights and weekends and somehow still manages to have a life, with a wife, and three kids – whom he goes skateboarding with. Here I am, about the same age, in a similar job, and I can barely keep alive two cats. And if I’m going to win any awards they’ll mostly fall under the “most-apt-to-put-foot-in-mouth” category. Which is why I had no problems asking Jon all kinds of rude and detailed questions about IU Cinema’s budget – which Jon politely deflected. But he did reveal one thing that explains a lot: the president of IU, Michael McRobbie, is a huge movie buff. Even better: he loves foreign and independent cinema and has great taste. McRobbie came to IU in 1997 and clearly made the construction of a state-of-the-art cinema a priority – and he hit it out of the park.
Turning to page 60 of the IU Cinema program are two pages dedicated to films picked by McRobbie, and they include reviews and pictures for films by Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. McRobbie knows his stuff. Even more impressive is the fact that his passion was clearly instrumental in funding and remodeling a historic building that will help keep that fire alive for any and every cinephile, not just those in Bloomington, but near and far. It’s worth the visit, no matter where you are.
Shira Segal (My main reason for visiting Bloomington.)
Manny Knowles (His amazing depth and breadth of knowledge related to all aspects of projection were barely tapped by this particular “film-hugger” – to use his term. I concede that it’s an apt and concise way to refer to that shrinking group of cinephiles who treasure celluloid warmth over digital clarity.)
Jon Vickers (For taking the time to join me for a pint at the Upland Brewing Company and to exchange exhibitor stories.)
Andy Uhrich (For use of his car, and for guiding us on other adventures that might pop up in future posts.)
P.S. – Dear University of Colorado, Boulder. There is a vacant property adjoining your campus with a cinematic connection (see below). It is the First Christian Church that was featured in Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt. It’s for sale. Please take a moment to peruse the IU Cinema website to see how the renovation of a historic building can be turned into a major arts and culture hub. The church location is at the entrance to Boulder, literally across the street from your campus, very visible, has plenty of parking, is surrounded by student housing and apartments, and comes with two separate buildings that can be used for lectures and meetings. It is an iconic building that resembles a large whale with stunningly-colored stained glass teeth that stretch out to devour the Rocky Mountains. It’s beautiful. It could be used for movies, concerts, visiting artist lectures, and much more. It could be a crown jewel.
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