Long before video and DVD and IFC, the coolest of the cool wore black turtlenecks and let their bangs grow long into their eyes. They smoked Gauloises and remained fashionably pale from spending hours in dank movie theaters, checking out how to hold that French cigarette between their lips like Belmondo. They taped the local art-house film calendar to their empty refrigerators. Those calendars guided their cosmopolitan lives.
Then everything changed. Blockbusters such as Jaws and Star Wars gave birth to the multiplex and devoured the art houses whole. Then Blockbuster -- and other video outlets -- gave everyone the option of watching a movie on the sofa instead of putting on the paunch-revealing turtleneck and going out to that rank art-house theater. Cable emerged, with all kinds of movies showing all the time. The no-longer-cool stayed home and plugged in their VCRs and watched IFC and chewed Nicorette.
But nothing really dies -- or, as the art critic Dave Hickey has said, "the beauties never go away." In the wake of Jaws and Star Wars, the indie movement rose. Small, sexy, offbeat films with "no stars, just talent" -- as a producer in Robert Altman's The Player crows -- such as Sex, Lies & Videotape, became hits. Even a foreign film with subtitles, Cinema Paradiso, turned a profit.
The rise, fall and resurrection of the art house can be seen in various ways locally. The Webster Film Series remains stellar and has ventured downtown with the Cinema in the City series at the City Museum. The St. Louis International Film Festival continues to attract greater audiences, and better films, each year.
The Tivoli turned derelict, closed and then reopened in one of Joe Edwards' Delmar Loop renovations. "As far as film lovers go," says the Tivoli's house manager, Dale Sweet, "St. Louis isn't such a bad town." And now the Tivoli is bringing back its calendar series.
The Tivoli hasn't had a film calendar in years, yet veteran cineastes still ask for it, Sweet says: "People ask constantly, 'Now, you guys used to have these printed schedules that had all the show times on them. What happened to that?'"
You'd think people had enough things magneted to their refrigerators, but apparently not.
At the end of August, the Tivoli launches its calendar series. Soon Sweet and Tivoli manager/marketer Laura Resnick will be receiving 52,000 colorful, suitable-for-the-refrigerator fliers to distribute to St. Louis film lovers.
Landmark, the largest theater chain specializing in independent and foreign films, has already revived the calendar format in markets such as San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago. Resnick has been lobbying for St. Louis to be included since coming here to work for Landmark four years ago. The Plaza Frontenac, the Hi-Pointe and the Tivoli are part of the Landmark chain.
"The customers want it, and that's what we've been asking for," says Resnick. "We've seen it happen in other markets. Now that we have ten screens in St. Louis, there's no reason not to do it."
The success of the Tivoli's midnight programming encouraged Landmark to give the calendar series a shot here. The midnight screenings "have been wonderful," says Sweet. "The typical midnight audience has always been the sixteen- to twenty-one-year-old, but we've had a lot of success with middle-aged and older people."
Sweet and Resnick have also come up with innovative marketing strategies for the late shows, such as a sushi night for Japanese animation films.
Whether the cinephile is resurrected -- or whether people just have a hankering for late-night sushi and a movie -- is yet to be seen. A lot more movies are available, quality films that slide under the film lover's radar because those films' studios have zilch in terms of advertising budgets. Low budgets can also mean few prints for distributors to send out into the market, which means a film gets shipped to another city before it has time to attract an audience.
"There are so many films available that are not being screened," says Resnick, "not huge moneymakers but absolutely worth opening." A film such as Beijing Bicycle, for instance, with a meager advertising budget and limited distribution, disappears before it can find its audience.
The trick with a calendar series is unearthing films that can fill the theater for at least a week. That's the job of Ruth Hayler, one of those people who, in Pauline Kael's words, "lost it at the movies."
"I know my way around geographically by whether there's a movie theater I've been to there," says Hayler. "I have rather limited social-conversation skills."
Full-time film buyer for Landmark, Hayler has been in the business since the '70s. She works out of the Seven Gables theaters in Seattle.
Hayler isn't quite ready to pronounce the rebirth of the cinephile. "It's been a tough haul," she sighs. "We've certainly got our finger on the pulse of the audience, and it's been getting older. So we're out there looking for films such as Run Lola Run that will pick up some of the younger audience and get them to realize that they don't have to be allergic to something with subtitles."
Hayler booked the most recent late-night series at the Tivoli, but she admits she's still working to get a feel for the St. Louis audience, finding those films "with about a week's worth of business in them."
The inaugural series combines flicks about music (24 Hour Party People, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Down From the Mountain, Standing in the Shadows of Motown), queer-as-folk tales (The Notorious C.H.O., The Cockettes, Sordid Lives) and international selections with those annoying subtitles (Happy Times, Secret Ballot, Les Destinées, In Praise of Love). The series opens with a nasty little British flick about hoodlums in 1960s London with Malcolm McDowell and David Thewlis, Gangster No. 1 (August 30-September 5). Think of it as an antidote to Austin Powers.
Hayler's favorites include 24 Hour Party People (September 13-19), Michael Winterbottom's re-creation of the Manchester punk and post-punk scene, depicting the rise and fall of New Order, Factory Records, the Hacienda club and Cambridge-educated entrepreneur Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan).
Sordid Lives (November 8-14) has developed an enormous following in -- of all places -- Las Vegas and Palm Springs, where it's in its 40th week. Sordid Lives has fabulously eccentric Southerners reconciling with their gay children. Says Hayler, "It gets a gay crowd and their grandmothers."
She's also high on The Cockettes (October 25-31), which the Advocate recently praised as one of the only decent gay-themed films out there this year: "It is a documentary about this trashy theater troupe that started performing in the same theater that was playing John Waters midnight shows in San Francisco.
"This is Haight-Ashbury period San Francisco, late '60s-early '70s. It got famous very briefly, but more than the actual group, which is very colorful and has lots of funny stories about it, it's a lost time capsule back to the freedom of the late '60s. I got nostalgic for it."
Plenty of folks around here are still nostalgic for the Uncle Tupelo days. For those who remember when they sweated in the old Cicero's basement with Jeff and Jay -- and for those who say, "Get over it!" -- there's the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (October 11-17), in which Tweedy makes good.
Down From the Mountain shows for one night only after the film festival concludes, on November 26. To bring people into the theater who may have already seen the bluegrass-concert movie at Webster or on video or on PBS, the Tivoli will present live music with washboard strummer B.J. Soloy and his band Shoe Revival Story. Resnick says she's trying to bring in cloggers from the mountains of Virginia as well.
Punkers, gays and their grandmothers, cloggers and a few hipsters in black turtlenecks muttering about Jean Luc-Godard's In Praise of Love (November 1-7) -- the Tivoli turns retro-cool.
Falling down: Joe Edwards says he was just contemplating sitting in the new David Slay restaurant on Delmar, imagining himself looking out from the second floor at the Pageant while eating his meal.
That all changed when the building Edwards was renovating collapsed. There's a big hole there now, and the disaster means Edwards is changing his plans for another renovation. The former Olivet Missionary Baptist Church was to be razed for the new Loop Theatre, but Edwards now says, "I'm not going to take down another old building." He says he's meeting with the theater board soon to discuss a renovation of the church. "I hope and think the theater still can happen," Edwards says.