Friday, December 11, 2009

Diasporic Dining: Episode IX (Art House)

Photos by Hallie Cohen

Not that all cinema isn’t art, but the true art cinema, redolent with the smell of espresso and Gauloise cigarettes—or Italian Nationali, which are no longer made—is a relic of the past. In those halcyon days, brilliance was purchased at a price. Artists set themselves on fire like Buddhist monks. Pasolini was murdered on a dangerous prowl, and Pollock’s intoxication spread from art to alcohol, leading to his untimely demise in a drunk-driving incident. There was no innocence in the art cinemas, which breathed not only the fumes of strong cigarette smoke, but of the Cedar Bar, Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and Bazin’s Cinematheque, the archetypal art house.

Across America, there were little covens of European Cinema that also played the films of Ozu, Mizoguchi and Teshigahara. The Brattle in Boston, The Bleecker Street and New Yorker in Manhattan, and the Uptown, which still proudly reigns over Minneapolis, with its worn neon sign reaching towards the heavens. With the din of the marching band and the cacophony of invading armies in the background, The Battleship Potemkin survived, along with Ikiru and Persona, Ashes and Diamonds and L'eclisse.

Lovers of Antonioni, Bergman and Kurosawa worshipped by themselves in these temples of celluloid.  Women wore black stockings when they went to see Room at the Top. The self enforced solitude was disquieting, but was also, like the smoke, what made the experience.

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