Family history

Local writer and Film Forum member Kathy Fennessy waxes nostalgic this week about independent cinema going, a family of film lovers, and the joys of arthouses near and far. . .

I inherited a love of cinema from my parents, who grew up in New York and Connecticut, where opportunities to see most every kind of film were plentiful. They weren’t film critics or scholars, just enthusiasts, but they introduced me to abiding favorites, like Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese, and Werner Herzog. They divorced in the 1960s, but I would continue to go to the movies with Mom, with whom I lived, and Dad, whom I would visit each year (he passed away in 2010).

The Fourth Avenue Theater in Anchorage.

In the 1970s, Mom and I moved to Anchorage, AK, where you had to get creative if you had any interest in non-studio fare. And we did. There was nothing like the Northwest Film Forum. Instead, we would take advantage of Mom’s student discount to see B&W classics at the University of Alaska (William Diertele’s adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame made a vivid impression), drive-in pictures at the Sundowner (I distinctly remember a double bill consisting of George Lucas’s THX 1138 and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), and the occasional art house entry at the 4th Avenue Theater (The Magic Flute represented my first exposure to Ingmar Bergman).

Also known as the Lathrop Building, the 4th Avenue shared the Neptune’s quaint-majestic art deco charm, and that’s unusual in Anchorage, where most major structures were built or rebuilt after the 1964 earthquake. But those things would come to an end: Mom got her degree, the Sundowner disappeared, and the 4th Avenue–like the Neptune–stopped showing movies altogether.

The Capri Cinema in an Anchorage strip mall.

In the 1980s, we started to frequent the Capri Cinema, a strip mall venue, for art house pictures (I remember Michael Radford’s 1984 and James Ivory’s Maurice). Most of the time, the Capri screened pornos. Then, it too, disappeared. By this time, home video had come along to pick up the slack, and that’s how I familiarized myself with the works of iconoclastic filmmakers, like David Lynch and David Cronenberg, that wouldn’t otherwise make their way to town, but I missed the big screen experience (that said, Eraserhead almost seems like it was made for the vagaries of VHS).

When I moved to Seattle in the 1980s, I was able to see these sorts of films again, but I didn’t have to go all over the city to do it. I mean, I could if I wanted to, but it was no longer a necessity. At Northwest Film Forum, I’ve been able to take advantage of the genres I enjoyed in my youth, along with those that weren’t otherwise accessible, like documentaries and experimental efforts (other than Michael Apted’s 7 Up, programmers rarely booked non-fiction films). We’re lucky to have it, and people who grew up in towns like Anchorage know that all too well, but Seattle natives sometimes take it for granted. With the loss of the Market Theater (where I first saw Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise), the Neptune, the Egyptian, and other local theaters, we need the NWFF more than ever. Treasure it, support it, tell your friends–and tell your parents, too.

Kathy Fennessy works at KCTS 9 and writes about film, music, and television for Amazon, The Stranger, and Video Librarian. She has also written for The Anchorage Times, indieWIRE, Resonance, Seattle Sound, The Seattle Weekly, and Tablet. She maintains a blog presence at AndMoreAgain and SIFFBlog.

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