One of Minnesota’s finest art museums provides an ever-changing global repertoire of avant-garde work and cherished classics. For generations, the Art Deco Uptown Theatre has been the hottest ticket and coolest movie marathon in town. To celebrate the beginning of its second century the Uptown throws its 100th anniversary party this week.
Since World War I, it has appealed to moving-picture fans even when the heating and cooling fans became museum pieces of their own. Before admissions were sold online, visitors stood outside the box office in the kinds of long queues that ticket scalpers hope for. Even with a 1939 conflagration that closed it for repair, and later grousing about parking shortages and worn seating, it drew devotees decade after decade.
If it doesn’t bring up happy memories, take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Do I really love movies?”
A single-screen movie house needs to offer more than fresh popcorn to win that kind of following. The Uptown Theatre has become an entertainment icon with an almost unending stream of must-see film programming. It brings to the Twin Cities the brand of indie and international fare that never travels deep into the heartland.
Since 1978 it has been operated by Landmark Theatres, the largest national theater chain focused on independent film, curating its schedule with exquisite care. Since it was richly refurbished in 2012, retaining the old school aesthetics, grumps have largely run out of nits to pick.
What remains consistent is how much there is to enjoy. While most Minnesota multiplexes offer programming as diverse and enticing as a lutefisk sampler, the Uptown serves audiences with the creative skill set that creates stars on “Top Chef.” It lets viewers encounter tastes we’ve never sampled before, deepening our palates and making our area one of the country’s top markets for art films.
If exclusive runs of new films aren’t enough, it offers weekend midnight showings of great ’70s, ’80s and ’90s throwbacks. Young Turk, have you wondered what seeing “Jaws” on a big screen would be like? Here is where you can find out that it’s amazing. And when the midnight cult classic is a rated-XXX 3-D oddity, well, there are different films for different crowds.
That’s a lot to celebrate, and the Uptown observes the occasion with a jubilee of great movies. The festivities open Friday with matinee and evening showings of George Cukor’s witty proto-feminist “The Women,” especially apt because that’s the first film the theater showed after its 1939 blaze. At midnight it’s the original 1933 “King Kong,” the tragic tale of a building-sized gorilla who can’t realize his love for a cute blonde.
Saturday it’s daytime and nighttime screenings of “The Wizard of Oz,” starring Minnesota’s own Judy Garland, and Orson Welles’ deep-focus, non-linear narrative masterpiece “Citizen Kane.” The midnight show is Germany’s surreal spook show “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” which demonstrates how ghoulish a black and white silent can be.
Sunday, there’s Akira Kurosawa’s violent epic “Seven Samurai,” arguably one of the most important and expertly made films ever made in any country, at least where the dude audience is concerned. Monday has the anguished James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” the 1955 youth movie milestone examining sexual subtexts with unspoken themes that feel much easier to focus 60 years later.
Tuesday, Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” pushes the cowboy revenge genre as high as it can go, with elaborate sets, flawless scenic detail, eerie theme music, against-type performances by Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson, and seamlessly executed action sequences. And I mean executed.
Wednesday, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” reworks the idea of mob bosses, with Marlon Brando giving notes of gravitas and affection to his role as a murderous Mafia chieftain, and Al Pacino forcing us to pray for his darkening heir’s soul.
The finale comes Thursday with the wonderfully warm and sentimental “Cinema Paradiso,” part of every film lover’s core collection. Giuseppe Tornatore’s love letter to a small-town theater in Sicily is a parable of art and life and love, and how even projected fantasy images can make a town a good place.
I wonder where the Uptown management got that idea?