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The Eclipse of Seattle’s Neptune and the Best Film Corner in America

The Eclipse of Seattle’s Neptune and the Best Film Corner in America   (photo)

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There’s been enough heartbreak over the past few days without learning that the Neptune Theatre in Seattle will be shut down as a first-run theater for films in February, which like the similarly historic (and single-screen) Clay in San Francisco has been abandoned by the Landmark Theater chain, which operated the theater since 1981. By then, it was already 60 years into its lease, with the high ceilings, stained glass and all the other movie palace opulence one would expect.

Unfortunately for me, I would only have the opportunity to go to the Neptune during this year’s Seattle Film Festival, but I strongly concur with everything Film Essent‘s Kim Voynar says in her eulogy for the theater and what it might mean for the area’s film scene as a whole; it’s the rare city where many of the theaters offer a true experience beyond the film you’re seeing. Over the course of the weekend I was in Seattle, I ran up the wave-shaped ramp that led to the film’s balcony four times — true to its name, the theater has a maritime theme.

11302010_ScarecrowVideo.jpgThis is a particularly jarring development since I came away from the Northwest believing I had found America’s closest thing to a mecca for movie lovers in Seattle’s University District, an area that included the Neptune and the unassuming street corner of 50th Street and Roosevelt Way just a few blocks away.

Sure, there are grand old theaters and certain streets that are destinations for passionate filmgoers: Hollywood Boulevard is one such obvious place, where the street isn’t just named after the dream factory, but still can claim hallowed halls like the Chinese, the El Capitan and the Egyptian as tenants, as well as the exhaustive Larry Edmunds Bookshop, with the Walk of Fame as its sidewalk; Houston Street in New York is home to arthouse landmarks, Film Forum and the Angelika, not to mention the still-relatively new kid on the block, the Sunshine; and of course in Austin, you will not only be able to snack on some queso while watching something at the Alamo Drafthouse, but they’ll also be able to clothe you in proper film geek attire at their adjoining Mondo Tees. Yet within 500 feet of each other, Scarecrow Video, the Seven Gables Theater and Cinema Books exist in perfect harmony, balancing out each other as a place to rent movies, see them on the big screen and read about them.

If there was a heavy in this relationship, it would have to be Scarecrow, a legendary video store that houses over 100,000 tapes and DVDs under its roof and is the biggest such store I’ve ever seen in the U.S., if not the world. (In nearby Portland, the equally incredible Movie Madness Video has a mere 70,000-strong collection, but compensates with an indoor gallery of props and costumes from classic movies like Norman Bates’ knife from “Psycho.”)

Of course, these are troubled times for brick-and-mortar stores, but I suspect Seattle is a weaker spot for Netflix than other places in the country. Here, it’s superfluous when the selection isn’t only bigger than the online giant, but more specific — the foreign categories aren’t limited to the usual superpowers such as Italy and China, but Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua and Slovakia, and demarcations well beyond genre constraints. Want “Bullitt”? Head to the “Vroom! Section,” comprised entirely of biker and car-chase-heavy flicks. And if a film was picked by Roger Ebert as one of the best films of the ’90s, its box will bear that distinction and an excerpt from his review. (Mostly, the well-heeled staff will offer their own – example: “Goodfellas” – “Should have won for best picture…cause it’s the best picture. OK?”)

11302010_SevenGables.jpgAcross the intersection from Scarecrow, Cinema Books sits underneath the Seven Gables Theatre, along with an Italian restaurant (Mamma Melina’s) that posts the theater’s times in its windows, so people can ensure they won’t miss their movie after the lasagna. Incidentally, the new book section at the front of Cinema Books resembled a pastrami sandwich stacked high. When I was there, Seattle native Vern’s “Yippie Ki-Yay Moviegoer” shared space with a book of Atom Egoyan interviews and Shawn Levy’s biography of Paul Newman, while a carousel of birthday cards featuring Cary Grant and a collection of film magazines from around the world stood off to the side. Unlike Scarecrow, all this was inside a store not much bigger than a shoebox, but it was nonetheless impressive.

Still, it might not have been as impressive as the Seven Gables upstairs, a place every bit as homey, literally, as the Neptune feels grand. Like the Harvard Exit on the other side of town, the Seven Gables was actually built in 1925 as a meeting hall that was converted into a theater, with the resulting theater feeling like you’ve walked into the private screening room of Hearst Castle. As one walks in from the street, it’s not entirely obvious where the actual auditorium is since there’s a huge living room off to the left filled with plush chairs and reading material, though the shaggy lobby belies a theater full of art deco touches, including boxy chandeliers that ascend into the ceiling when the curtain rises.

With the curtain falling on the Neptune – at least as a film venue since word is it’ll become a live performance venue – it’s an acknowledgment that even in places where there are enough passionate cinephiles to sustain gargantuan video stores and cinema bookstores, there’s still been an erosion of the film experience as a whole, where fewer people appreciate their theaters having as much character as what they see onscreen. I don’t live in Seattle, so I’m certainly not as qualified to talk as native Northwesterners, but this news should hit home for film fans the world over.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.