Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Screen Scene in Hartford, CT

First off, happy birthday, Karen and Nadine!

Next, friends have been asking since I've moved what the moviegoing situation is like in Hartford—what's available, where I'm spending my time (and, as ever, all my money). So, at risk of boring the rest of you, I thought you might want to know that Hartford has four major moviehouses, all of which I can walk to from campus or from home, and all of which are totally creditable places to see a film. So here, in the order I experienced them...

Right square on Trinity's campus is CineStudio, a single-screen, non-profit theater that some visionary Trinity grads remolded out of an old chemistry building in the early 1970s. That description makes CineStudio sound small and desperate, neither of which it is. In fact, it houses one of the four or five biggest screens I think I've ever seen in a commercial theater, complete with a beautiful silk curtain that rises before each show and falls at the end (all very Moulin Rouge!) and a rack of iridescent stage lights, visible in this photo, to pull all the color possibilities out of the curtain and surrounding space. Trinity faculty and students pay $7, while greater Hartford pays $8—a bargain given the immaculate presentation and projection quality. Absolutely no food or drink allowed; none is even sold in the theater, so no one is chomping CaramelCorn while, say, Maggie is reminding Frankie about ol' Axel. The first movie that CineStudio ever showed was The Lion in Winter, hence the griffins, fleurs-de-lis, and maroon/gold color schemes that still prevail in the space. Scrumptuous. Seen so far at CineStudio: the pretty but exasperatingly empty Eros, the mid-50s oil opus Giant, and the thrilling blends of eccentric images and exquisite sound elements in The Holy Girl.

The other, equally sensational non-profit cinema exhibitor is RealArtWays, which houses a running program of top-line art films, as well as true independents like Face, King of the Corner, and Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. RealArtWays is also home to four units of gallery space, live music and readings, occasional performance events, and an all-day coffee shop that doubles as a concession stand at showtime: you can even bring your beer or wine into the plush theater, which has absolutely crystalline projection. On the third Thursday of every month, RealArtWays hosts its "Creative Cocktail Hour," which is free of charge to members and includes a full bar, a brand-new gallery exhibit (with the artist usually present), and a local or regional troupe of jazz, Latin, or other atmospheric music. Extra points for staying in a neighborhood without much else to call its own. Seen so far at RealArtWays: the year-topping tour-de-force The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and my new favorite Van Sant film, Last Days (which is to say, it's only a little off-putting and opaque).

Both of these theaters are single-screen enterprises limited to one or two shows a day, almost always of the same movie. The options multiply a little at Cinema City, a four-screen house for popular art films that is owned by the Crown corporation. Cinema City isn't much too look at, and it's the hardest theater to reach for this dyed-in-the-wool pedestrian; it's literally hunkered down at a dead end, behind an abandoned-looking Days Inn and across the street from a weedy, fenced-in air strip. Truth be told, along my 35-minute walk to this theater, I have to cross the airport's access road twice, and then a third time, I cross an exit ramp that carries you to Interstate 84. Not ideal. And the earliest and latest shows of the day, in the general 2:00 and 9:00 timeframes, evaporate from Monday-Thursday. Still, this Little Theater That Could keeps four movies per week coming to Hartford that might not otherwise. I saw the mordantly peppy Happy Endings and the impressively moving Murderball here, and it would have been my go-to site for 2046 and Broken Flowers, too, if I hadn't caught them already on trips to NYC.

Finally, the regular multiplex is a pretty luscious outfit in its own right. The Crown Palace & Odyssey includes 17 plus-sized screens in stadium-style formation, sound levels more reasonable than in most comparable theaters, and $6 shows before 6pm. (The last matinée for each feature, each afternoon, is reduced even further to $5.) One screen features permanent captioning for the hearing-impaired, and mothers with noisy babies are gently invited/encouraged to attend their own matinées on Wednesdays. I've had a pretty good batting average here as multiplexes usually go; I admired how much layering Hustle & Flow snuck beneath its straightforward surface, I almost died laughing at Mario Cantone's Liza Minnelli impersonation in The Aristocrats, and just today, on the bigger-than-big Odyssey screen, where I had to move to the second-to-last row just to contain the whole screen in my line of vision, I blissed out on the clever, unpretentious thrills of Red Eye.

So yep, that's 10 theater visits in 31 days of living here—and I was out of town for two of those weeks, so you do the math. Where the movies are involved, my wallet is a sieve, and a rather wide one at that. As you'll note from my new sidebar items, which not only record my most recent trips to the theater but announce what I'll soon be seeing, Cinema City will be host to my Friday afternoon double-feature of March of the Penguins and The Constant Gardener, while RealArtWays goes the way of the Grizzly Man, and the Palace & Odyssey's stock gets ready to drop with The Brothers Grimm (what if it gets nodded for Costumes and I missed it??) and The Transporter 2 (what can I say, I loved the first one). CineStudio will mostly be recycling hits I caught earlier in the summer, but come September 14-17, I'll finally get a look at Me and You and Everyone We Know and, if I play my cards right, the urban-dance documentary Rize.


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