I attended the fanciest cinema I’ve ever been in last night. It was the Villagio Cinemas in North Tampa, Fla. You walk into the place and it looks like the square of a Mediterranean village. In fact it seems a faux of a faux. The downtown Tampa Theatre, a legendary 1920s building from the heyday of great theatres, is the only theatre of its era I’ve seen with a painstaking recreation of a village - again of the Mediterranean variety - with towering plaster walls set in low light to capture a twilight scene. But the Villagio almost looks more like a restaurant with its bar and rows of dining tables. The theatres themselves seem an afterthought, off to the sides. But what theatres they are. Every seat is like a lush leather Laz-E-Boy reclining and with foot rests. Each comes with a tray, and you can order your meal and drinks with staff delivering to your numbered seat even during the film.
The reason for my attendance? To take in Félix and Meira (Maxime Giroux, 2014), on the schedule of the 19th annual Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival (www.tbjff.org). Ironically, the film is set in the dead of a cold Montreal winter. And it was in the mid-80s yesterday here in Tampa. That being said the film, nuanced and beautifully shot in muted tones, is the story of a young Hasidic mother (Hadas Yaron as Meira) in Montreal’s Orthodox community who is rebelling against the strictures of her religion. Félix (Martin Dubreuil) is not of the community but lives in the same Mile End neighbourhood and the two often pass each other on the street. Félix is recovering from his father’s death. They strike up a friendship which leads to romance. It’s all well and good but the film doesn’t sufficiently demonstrate why the two are attracted to one another but simply outlines the allure. And I couldn’t believe it when I heard the opening guitar notes of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, a Montreal cliché if ever there was one. The film, nonethlesss, won Best Canadian Feature at last year’s TIFF.
This was the only film I attended at the TBJJF festival but it made me think of a number of events recently that are bothering from a general arts perspective. The problem: virtually everybody in attendance was an insider - they were all from the same community. There were hardly anyone else and this in a major metropolitan area. On a couple of other occasions recently it was the same. Last weekend I attended a contemporary dance performance in St. Petersburg in a fantastic small arts space and gallery. About 25 people attended and they all seemed to know the performer personally. And in a classically influenced new music performance at a funky arts space in St. Pete’s warehouse district last month, three-quarters of those attending seemed to know one another. It’s like all these niche arts performances serve one community and one community only. The public at large is nowhere to be found. Even arts aficionados who may attend other independent films, dance and classical recitals, would be scarce at these events.
Finally back home very late I switched on TCM and caught only part of William Wyler’s 1937 Dead End starring Humphrey Bogart and Joel McCrae. Fascinating on two counts. First in an exploration of gentrification decades before the term came into parlance. Second it appears to be shot in and around the same area where Woody Allen’s 1979 Manhattan’s iconic scene of Allen and Diane Keaton are sitting on a park bench with the 59th St. Bridge in the background. The location: Sutton Square at the end of 58th St. Sure enough Dead End was filmed in and around the area. Says Wikipedia: “The actual Dead End was the corner of East 53rd Street and the East River. Sutton Place South runs north from East 53rd Street at that corner...the pier and tenements are gone and the Dead End is now part of Sutton Place Park.”