Thursday, March 20, 2008

Build Your Own Belcourt

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 2:00 PM

This Saturday at 10 a.m., the Belcourt is holding a community meeting, offering free coffee, donuts and other goodies to anyone with an answer to the question: What do you want the theater to be? What is the theater doing right and wrong, and what would Nashville want it to be doing 10 years from now? It's the prelude to long-range plans that will cover renovation, programming, and even the appearance of the building itself. The Scene asked several local arts patrons and participants to share their thoughts. Their ideas would radically transform the Belcourt from the box office all the way to the rooftop—and they’re not all sunshine and rainbows, either. After the jump. Name withheld, television producer: It feels as if it’s being run by slacker roommates who keep the money in a “La Flor De Cuba” stogie box and who live upstairs in a windowless room with no plumbing. Not like the only place where I can see stuff before it hits Netflix. All aside, the Belcourt suffers from a less than Orpheum-class front box office. It does not feel like an avant-garde cinematheque either. It's just white stucco, arches and a canvas sign. Like the old Country Boy Waterbeds, but with subtitles! Now, have you guys thought of totally selling out and selling rights to the name? Kind of like “The Bellsouth Acuff Theater?” And using the silver pieces to improve the entrance? The Cyberdine Belcourt Theatre sounds swell. Paul Burch, musician: Music: I think some organized hootenanny—for charity, as a TV show, whatever—should occur to show off the big and small in Nashville on equal footing. I love that stage. Maybe musical acts could be asked to host a month of performers. Do it during the afternoon. Perhaps a workshop for acts to work on new material in front of an audience. Maybe filmmakers as well. Film: The only model I know is the Brattle in Cambridge, Mass. A film noir night, new movie night, classic movie night with newly struck prints. That direction seems pretty solid. Anytime people involved in the film can come is great. Love the Hitchcock, etc. Kids: Bugs Bunny on the big screen? The paper schedule: I find it hard to read. The Brattle used to print a calendar like you'd put on your fridge or office. It folded out, much easier to read. It's a bit choppy now, isn’t it? You have to open a lot of windows within the site to see what's going on. Andy van Roon, founder, Film Nashville: I have for years been suggesting two rooftop establishments on the Belcourt. An elevator and staircase structure could be constructed using one or two spaces in the theater's parking lot, and a crosswalk over the alley could convey people to a cool rooftop bar and jazz lounge above the narrower and longer theater. That bar could have a grand piano and dance floor and be surrounded on all sides by glass, so that views are enabled of Hillsboro Village below. There would be a door leading from that bar to an outdoor deck above the theatre with the stage. The deck would have cafe-style tables and chairs, a wrought-iron rail around the perimeter for safety, and a fly-wall above the stage of dimensions perfect to show outdoor cinema. A digital projector could be set up on the south side of the deck, with DVD player and controls inside the cafe next door, enabling films or at least interesting images to be projected even throughout the winter. In front of the fly-wall, a shallow riser stage could be erected, so that in spring, summer and autumn the Belcourt could have rooftop jazz pops or even string ensembles. The deck affords an even cooler view of Hillsboro Village. The side-by-side indoor/outdoor rooftop joint would fire the imagination, provide a very cool new hangout to attract customers, generate new revenue streams, and enable the Belcourt to do something brand new—so that it can afford to preserve every aspect of the theater that is historic in nature. Joe Pagetta, Nashville Public Television: There's nothing worse than going to see a subtitled film and someone sits in front of you. My neck gets a workout. And certainly a larger lobby would be great. And Antonioni films all the time. But seriously. I used to go the Angelika Film Center on Houston Street in New York a lot, and loved that it was a “center,” which meant it was more of a place to congregate than merely see a film. You could meet up for a coffee without even seeing a film. You could hang out and read about film. You're practically enveloped by film art and it's a great feeling. But that's a lot to ask, and not fair to compare any theater to the Angelika. But I like the idea of a “center,” a place to gather and see film, talk about film, and generally surround yourself with art. What the Belcourt has that the Angelika doesn't is Hillsboro Village. As much as the Angelika is on the border of Greenwich Village and Soho, it's still surrounded immediately more by commerce than art. How to tie it all together is the question. Can the art of film spill out into the immediate neighborhood and compensate for the lack of space in the theater to do so otherwise? I love the combination of new films, classics and concerts at the Belcourt. I think that wins. Can more lectures or art/educational experiences be in the mix? I wonder if the Belcourt suffers from the stigma of “independent film?” There was a great article in this past Sunday's New York Times about a theater in Omaha that had to first educate the community about film before it could succeed. Steve Taylor, director, The Second Chance: I was just reading in the Times about a new Omaha-based non-profit movie theater, and it reminded me of what we had for a few years in Denver (where I grew up). The Denver Center Cinema was part of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It opened in 1980 and ultimately closed in 1989. It was a state-of-the-art movie theater with an adjoining “small box” space with removable seats. (I remember showing my first short film there, then discussing it afterwards with a couple of local movie critics.) It was built primarily to be a revival house that showed new prints of old movies, but my recollection was that it was a fairly eclectic mix, with programs typically built around the work of directors, actors and themes. I think ultimately it probably was losing too much money, possibly due to being located downtown as opposed to being in a neighborhood like Hillsboro Village. But I loved going there, especially because it was the closest thing to the state-of-the-art experience I get when I see something at the Arclight in Hollywood. My hope for the Belcourt would be pretty much everything you mentioned: Keep (and renovate) the big room for an eclectic mix of movies, theater and music; expand the lobby (somehow), get a new façade, redesign and reconfigure the other theater into a state-of-the-art facility, and perhaps add a smaller (also state-of-the-art) room as a third screen. Ultimately, I think the non-profit model is probably the most viable. I have no idea how that works, but I'm guessing there are enough cinephiles in this city to support such a venture. Trent Summar, musician: I thought about the vibe of the Belcourt and the vibes of the other places I've been and toured along the way—bars, nightclubs, union halls, barns, places like Fitzgerald's in Chicago, The Golden Light on Route 66 in Amarillo, Lee's Liquor Lounge in Minneapolis, or the Little Theater in Murfreesboro. They all have something that make me want to go there to see a play or a band or Al Gore speak, to hang out at an opening, get a beer and talk about the things people talk about in cool hangs with other forward-thinking people (as we have a great deal of here in Nashville). Sorry...that last part may be a bit of the Obama speech I watched this morning. My point is this: if there were ever going to be any architectural restoration or interior design changes, what about a little dark backroom bar with a street entrance and maybe five, 10 stools, where people could come and hang in the neighborhood before, during, or in absence of an event? Not to turn it into a “bar,” but to have a place to spend time that evokes the vibe of the people that patronize the Belcourt already. Not sure about the logistics, etc., and I wouldn't want it to jeopardize the interior of one of the last remaining Nashville icons, but it's worth a thought. I'd rather be spending my money there and would love to help support their programs. Lord knows if I were the only guy that drank there it would stay in the black!

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