So me and Jette are doing the Alamo Downtown Blog-a-ThoÂn. The main post for this is at her site on Slackerwood (www.slackerwood.com) with links to all those participating and their stories. The communal collection of imagery can be found on Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/tags/alamoblogathon).
It certainly wasn’t the most ideal place by any stretch of the imagination one would think a movie theatre could thrive in, but the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown did. Give any other movie chain big or small the same space and I doubt it would last a month. For Tim and Karrie League, showing movies weren’t enough. They wanted to bring movie magic to audiences that packed their theatre. Continually they worked over the years to cultivate the movie going experience to be richer and more diverse. The fruits of their labor were the expansion of other theatres but more importantly an expanded movie going consciousness and renewed love of cinema in all that went through its doors throughout the years. It brought people together, gave little heard of films a chance to shine and gain new fans and most importantly provided movie going experiences of a lifetime that were simply priceless and wouldn’t work in any other setting but there in its theatre with its Austin crowds. The downtown location maybe moving but the original location on Colorado will live on in movie lore history and our movie loving hearts.
I first set foot in the downtown location years ago for QT3 (3rd QT Fest). I quickly found out that just standing in line for the night to begin was its own unique experience. You had people all around you that were quick to talk about “Pretty Maids all in a row” or you could find Harry and Moriarty arguing about the merits of “The Blair Witch Project.” Even after the film you had the unique Drafthouse experience in being in a group of 10+ people discussing the movies that just played. The kicker being this group could be filled entirely with people that had never previously met before. It was then as it was over the years a communal movie going experience I couldn’t find anywhere else, let alone find a movie theatre run by people so passionate about providing the most magical and rich movie going experience possible.
* The memory that will always stand out the most to me is the extremely special screening of Tsui Hark’s “The Blade.” The only film I can ever remember being in where when the audience realized the good and bad guy were finally going to fight, they stood up and starting loudly cheering. The place just went nuts with most at least standing to applaud and this was before they even started fighting!
* Drafthouse staff and programmers. The unique personalities of wait staff, programmers and owners made the Drafthouse Downtown location one of the most rocking spots in the world of cinema.
* The crowds. As much as it was all about the movies, it was the people that largely shaped the experience. From the audience to the people behind the scenes there was always a combined and shared experience of wanting each movie going experience to be great. To further speak on the shared experience it was one of the rare theatres as I previously mentioned where you could find yourself talking with a group of strangers you never met before at 3am or later after a night of movie screenings. This group could be filmmakers, actors, corporate workers, press… you name it and these groups had it. No one cared if the person standing next to or across from them was famous, everyone carried on about the movies themselves. In any other city or place and chances are this type of deal would be group celeb love fests. In Austin we don’t give a *#* about fame. “Your famous? So what? Tell me what you thought about the movie we just saw!”
* Screening of Stephen Chow’s “King of Beggars” where I thought a lady from Hong Kong that had flown into town just to see that movie was literally going to die from laughter she was laughing so hard while watching the film. Another QT Fest screening.
* Kung Fu Triple Bill of “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow“, “Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow” and “Dragon vs. Needles of Death.” Another QT Fest screening.
* Same Kung Fu night. Now who from that night will ever forget how amazingly Tarantino performed nearly all the various forms of animal kung fu. When he said he was going to perform them up on stage everyone sort of snickered thinking he was going to do it a bit silly. Instead Tarantino transformed himself in the blink of an eye into a serious showman of the various animal styles of kung fu. The entire audience dropped to a dead silence in shock as he performed each one. He was in a complete an absolute zone for several moments void of all the exaggerated mannerisms most might readily associate with him. So many legendary Tarantino introductions of films but this one takes the cake in my opinion.
* Austin Film Society screenings. The Drafthouse AFS screenings always were fun. At these screenings I got to see “The Old Dark House” (where I met Lars for the first time) and “Return to the 36th Chamber” (one of my favorite Shaw Brothers movies).
* To everyone in Austin still confused as to why sometimes they see people run through the downtown streets in wild masses screaming “LEEEEEEEE VVVAAAANNNNN CLEEFFFFFFFFFFF!”
* I should note somewhere in here I first met Tim while strolling up to the Drafthouse in the early years. At this time all I wanted to do was thank him for showing a “Boogie Nights” trailer the previous night.
* The demented Shirley Temple cannibal short Harry screened at a BNAT.
* Moriarty screaming like he was about to die during the crash sequence of “Vanilla Sky.”
* David Carradine and Quentin Tarantino after a film screening spending over five minutes exchanging their favorite quotes (word for word) from P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia.”
* Leaving the Drafthouse several nights in a row and seeing Dan from the Portland Grindhouse Film Fest standing outside with RZA movie geeking out over Shaw Brothers films.
* A collective gasp of shock from the entire audience when a possible scenario suddenly erupted towards the end of “Little Cigars.”
* Those damn wonderful stairs. Ah, nothing like walking up or down the stairs at the downtown location.
* Ant’s glorious mind $* trailer-thons! The “Lady in a Cage” and “Thriller” trailer will forever be locked in my minds memories.
* All the crazy and brilliant promotional items or movie going tie-ins the Drafthouse added to screenings throughout the years.
* The projector room (see a pic I took of one of its walls here). No other place in the Drafthouse Downtown location quite spoke so eloquently about its diverse and amazing journey throughout the years. One walk in this area and you found flyers and all sorts of items from past screenings that had every inch of space covered with some form of nostalgia from past screenings.
* All the unsuitable to print things I witnessed over the years.
* The SXSW screening of “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.” Outside of the Sitges screening of “Adam’s Apples” last year at the Prado, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more pumped up film festival screening ever. What a rush that midnight screening was. One of those special nights where several people that were at the Drafthouse for the first time said afterwards, “Ohhhh so that’s why people love this place so much!”
* “The French Connection” Q&A with William Friedkin.
* “If you’re gonna be cool, you gotta swim with the school!” Or else the audience behind you will lynch you after the movie 😉
* Eli Roth getting flogged and beaten before “Hostel 2.”
* Archival screening of the original “King Kong” at BNAT. Good lord! I never thought I would get to see the original Kong on the big screen, let alone via one of the most amazing prints I’ve ever seen of it.
* The group of crazy UT girls that prided themselves and told everyone they met at Drafthouse audiences they worshipped Billy Corgan and stole his mail.
* Watching a Lee Van Cleef movie scored to trance music courtesy of the uncaring nightclub next door.
* Every movie event that caused me to be there all night and get thrown out into the daylight hours after a night or day(s) of screenings.
* The pre-movie trailers. You never knew what you were going to get but always knew it was going to be good.
* The blonde haired waitress Carrie. Anytime I sat near a row she was serving I watched in amazement as every male on those rows ordered as much food and refills as possible. I’ve rarely seen people so transfixed with a waitress that they kept ordering or getting refills just to see them again. If this were a Wes Anderson movie based on her popularity she would be the mayor of Austin and the first waitress to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize for her craft.
* Richard Rush discussing the classic film “The Stunt Man” with Lars.
* Weird Wednesdays! There is rarely any other movie theatre out there that gets midnight screenings like Lars does. Most cities that have midnight screenings somewhere typically have the uninspired and lackadaisical programming of theatres like Landmark’s Inwood in Dallas. At Weird Wednesdays you never saw the same 15 films played over and over again. The programming always defied expectations and took those that followed it on one hell of a movie going journey. We need a statue of Lars somewhere in Austin with him pointing ahead with his left hand and holding a reel of “Psycho from Texas” (1975) in the other.
* R. Kelly Trapped in a Closet sing-a-long.
* STUNT ROCKKKKEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
* “What movie did you see yesterday?”… “Oh I saw Salome!”
* Seeing Tim burst from anywhere in the audience like a fireman frantically trying to save a life from a burning building but in this case to re-focus the film or fix a technical issue. When a technical issue ever surfaced when a film screened at the Drafthouse you would literally see people like Tim doing the run you see in movies where characters have a giant fireball erupting behind them and they have to haul ass or be burned alive.
* Last but not least I’ll never forget seeing Lars break down Hollywood for an as yet to be released documentary they were making for QT Fest.
The Drafthouse Downtown story isn’t over by any means. The current move is just a new chapter in its story. Now instead of saying “Let’s go to McDonald’s” lets try and get used to saying “Let’s go to the Ritz!”