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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Thursday, 08 October 2009 00:00|
"We're trying to make everyone happy and it ain't easy!" admits filmmaker, radio show host, and Mayfair Theatre programmer Lee Demarbre.
The Mayfair, a haven for cult cinema throughout the 90s, had taken a neighborhood approach to programming in recent years, screening the same mainstream Hollywood films found in any number of multiplexes around Ottawa. "The neighborhood movies weren't working," explains Demarbre. "The Mayfair was making a certain amount of money, but it wasn't enough."
When a team of investors that included Demarbre bought the theatre last January, they brought with them a new approach to scheduling films, including a return to classic cult cinema, late night screenings, family matinees, audience participation nights, live musical orchestration for silent films, and Ottawa premières.
"My idea was to reach out to not just Ottawa South, but to the rest of Ottawa as well," says Demarbre. "So now, once a week, we premiere a movie that you can't see anywhere else. That way the Mayfair gets talked about in Orleans, Kanata, and all over Ottawa. We're now a destination cinema."
The reinvigorated Mayfair may not please everyone, but even a quick glance at recent schedules is sure to excite a significant portion of the movie going public, regardless of whether you are a casual viewer taking in a matinee with the family on a Sunday afternoon, or a hardcore cinephile looking for a little midnight madness.
For our a new monthly feature, (Cult)ure spoke with Demarbre about the exciting October schedule that he has put together for Ottawa's most innovative theatre.
(Cult)ure: School is back in. That must be good for business.
Lee Demarbre: A big demographic for us are the Carleton University students. We try to reach out to that crowd with late night shows. Every Friday and Saturday night we have an eleven o'clock screening of something pretty wild. On October 9 it is Dario Argento's Deep Red. October is one of our best months yet, and I think Deep Red is the most exciting title on the new calendar. Argento is considered a master of horror and Deep Red is one of the movies that got him that credit. Saturday night is The Killer, the great John Woo movie. It's an audience participation screening, so we're hoping people bring their cap guns and go crazy.
How is the print of Deep Red?
I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard no complaints. It's an original print, so I'm pretty excited about it. We'll see how red Deep Red is come Friday night! But, you know, people really enjoy the grindhouse experience here at the Mayfair. We are showing a lot of beat up prints. One night, because someone labeled the reels wrong, we showed a movie with the reels out of sequence, and people loved that! They thought it was hilarious. There were cheers from the crowd!
Dirty Dancing plays this month. Was that booked prior Swayze's death?
Before John Hughes died, I scheduled all the Hughes films, and I felt like we killed him. We booked all his movies, and then I found out he died that afternoon. It was pretty weird. With Patrick Swayze, he died and I was, luckily, able to get Dirty Dancing.
You mentioned The Killer is an audience participation night. That's something pretty unique that you have started doing with the silent films, as well, making the screening into an event."It really makes you think about the power of the seventh art. If you love movies, you can't miss this."
I think the silent films, with the live musical orchestra, is the best new and unique thing that the Mayfair has to offer. It's mostly silent movies from the twenties, and you have probably seen them before, but every print is coming from Kino International in New York City, and every print is gorgeous. You've never seen the movies shine and look so good. Nosferatu we've done before, but this month we are showing a new print, which is glorious. Plus we have the live band. That's the best part of it. Cinemas around the world are doing live musical accompaniment to these films, but it's mostly just one person on a piano. There isn't anyone using a young and hip rock band playing original music like we are. So far we've done Metropolis, Nosferatu and The General, and they've been some of the best big screen experiences of my life. It's thrilling and really makes you think about the power of the seventh art. If you love movies, you can't miss this.
Going back to The Killer, that was my favorite thing about the Mayfair in the past. When I was growing up, they used to show The Killer here regularly. I remember people running up and down the aisles with cap guns and rolling in their seats. During the actions sequences everyone would be in there with their cap guns blowing heads off. It's really fun, and it reminds me of the old Mayfair. They used to show Russ Meyer movies, John Woo movies. We are trying to bring that back a bit.
I was thrilled that you had a midnight screening of Eraserhead to kick off the month. Seeing that film at the Mayfair as a kid changed my life. It's a favorite of mine, so I always try to see it when it screens.
Some of my favorite movies, I'd never seen on the big screen until recently. I'd never seen Smokey and the Bandit on the big screen until we showed it last Valentine's Day. I'd never seen Emmanuelle on the big screen until we showed it last year. It's fun being familiar with a film on the little screen and then seeing it here. We showed The Fly last week. I'm very familiar with it on video, and to see it on the big screen, you just think, "Oh, that's what it is supposed to look like." The Professional is the same way. It's so much better on the big screen, because they used to colour for the big screen, and things transfer different to video.
I can't wait to see Zombie for the first time here this month. I remember spending years looking for that on home video. Now I'm running a cinema and I'm showing it in two weeks. I can't believe Zombie is here! I just remember being a kid thinking that movie would never get released because it's too disgusting. It is great to remember being young and dreaming about how amazing it would be to see it someday, and now here it is. It's going to be an awesome screening.
The theme for October is obviously horror. You've got Wes Craven, John Carpenter . . . How did you go about deciding what horror flicks to screen?
We tried to do all John Carpenter at first, but we're limited. Not all the studios in Canada still have all these prints. Many prints get sent back to the United States: Escape From New York, Assault in Precinct 13 . . . it's amazing what movies aren't in Canada. Gremlins! Goonies! They get sent back to Hollywood for the vaults and never come back to Canada. Sometimes I'm really lucky to find a rare print. You have to be really creative. You have to track down the distributor. It's fun."When a print fades a bit and gets grimy & scratchy, something about it is so genuine. People get it. People love it."
Cinemas are moving towards digital video projection. Soon you'll be able to show whatever you want on DVD and it will look great, but you know what is really fun? Finding these prints. It's really special to come to the Mayfair, watch Eraserhead, and know that's the original print. That's not some DVD manufactured in a warehouse in Singapore. That print was made from the original negative that was in David Lynch's camera the day he shot that image. It's like being in a museum; like going to the Louve and seeing the Mona Lisa. Honest to god, seeing original prints of these movies, that's what it makes me feel like.
Do you think it's strictly nostalgia value, or is there a specific aesthetics to those original prints?
Both. I get nostalgic. Just now, before you called, in came Shocker. In came The Serpent and the Rainbow. I touched the cans like they were museum pieces because those are the original prints in the original cans.
Aesthetically, looking at celluloid is so much better than looking at projected video pixels. Film is a science. The technology hasn't changed much in a hundred years. Filmmakers were scientists at the start of the century. Directors and producers wore lab coats to the set. Films are shot 24 frames a second because a scientist measured how the human brain tells your eye to read images, and with video they changed it to 29.97 frames for some reason. There is something about celluloid on the big screen that seems so real and immediate. When that print fades a bit and gets grimy and scratchy, something about it is so genuine. People get it. People love it. Distributors keep not wanting to send me a movie because it has got scratches on it, and I'm like, "Are you freaking kidding?"The last Saturday of every month we host a free screening for members, and I found a print of this old exploitation film, Double Agent 73. The star of the movie, Chesty Morgan, has a bust line of 73 inches, which is the largest bust line ever in a movie! She plays a secret agent very much like James Bond. She goes around and kung-fus people with her breasts. I can't wait to see it. It's going to be the ultimate grindhouse experience watching an old beat up print of that. People are going to love it.
That said, you've also got new films this month, including Park Chan-Wook's Thirst.
With the reputation the Mayfair had when we took over, I don't think we could have gotten a film like Thirst. The distributors hated the Mayfair because we were doing two movies for one price. Basically, one ticket for their movie was $2.50, so why would they care about us? We've now proven ourselves. We want to show new movies. We want to open big. We are getting the media attention the movies deserve, so I can now go to Alliance and get a film like Thirst, and I'm so happy that we got it. That's a big deal. We've been showing the trailer as many times as we can. Anyone who sees that trailer is going to want to see the movie.
What other films really stick out for you this month?
Deep Red is very exciting. Zombie has got to be number two. The Halloween triple bill! We have an original print of the original Halloween movie, but I'm actually more excited about part three, Season of the Witch. That movie really scared me as a kid. When I watch it today, I can't believe how violent and cruel that movie is. It will be fun to see it late the night before Halloween. Big Trouble in Little China is a must. The Dracula/Frankenstein double bill on Halloween day is the original Dracula staring Bela Lugosi and the original Frankenstein staring Boris Karloff in 35 mm prints. I've got friends from Toronto who are coming to Ottawa to see it. American Werewolf in London and The Thing, everyone seems to be really excited about that night too. The Stand By Me matinee will also be great, and Dead Snow is going to be awesome. Nazis. Zombies. Snow. It's like a dream come true. If Nazis are good for one thing, it's making great zombies!
Beside all the horror, you've also got some great family movies this month."It's not like watching it at home. It's die hard fans going balls to the walls."
There's The Adams Family double bill, and this weekend we are showing Go Bots, a 35 mm animated feature length film from Tonka Toys. Tonka got really pissed off when Transformers came out because everyone was buying truck toys that weren't Tonka, so they made their own version of Transformers and called them Go Bots! That's showing Saturday afternoon, and Sunday we are showing a He-Man animated film. He-Man and She-Ra team up. I don't know if I want to call it a classic, but it will definitely bring a smile to peoples faces. Two weeks ago we had a screening of the Last Unicorn and people got a kick out of that. People seem to really like bad big budget 80s animation.
We talked about getting away from the double bill, but you still have some great double bills in there this month.
How do you show A Nightmare on Elmstreet 4 and 5 separately? People would light the cinema on fire! (laughs) It's cool to do those little double bills once and a while. Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz was a big success last week.
Of course, October at the Mayfair, as always, culminates with The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween night.
We are the only cinema in Ottawa that does it. No matter how many times we show it, it sells out. We're doing three screenings on Halloween night: 7:00, 9:20, and 11:45, and they will all sell out. Rocky Horror is an institution here. In fact, 20th Century Fox Canada have a few prints, and they make sure we always get the best one, even though cinemas in Toronto and the rest of Canada are showing it, because we do better with it than any other cinema in the country. For some reason, in Ottawa, people stop what they are doing Halloween night and go see Rocky Horror at the Mayfair. When we took over the theatre, we got the keys the day after it played, and it looked like Nagasaki in here! It's monstrous, but a lot of fun. It's not like watching it at home. It's die hard fans going balls to the walls.