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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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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