Thursday, February 25, 2010

Five Movies I Saw at the Uptown

This week I'm working hard and playing hard, and tonight's recreation will be the 7:10 screening of Shutter Island at Washington's legendary Uptown Theater. The Uptown, which first opened in 1936, is the last of Washington's great movie palaces, and the best place I know to see a movie. Over the past 27 years I have seen dozens of movies there, and the truth is that I've never seen a bad movie at the Uptown. It's not possible to see a bad movie at the Uptown, because the experience itself makes bad movies good.

In fact, the Uptown makes everything good. In the early 1990s, I wasted months on Mr. Wrong for little reason other than that our first date was a revival screening of Blade Runner at the Uptown, and that colored my view of him.

So I expect Shutter Island to be awesome, and am glad to be sharing that experience with Claire, Zach and Elizabeth. These are five movies I particularly remember having seen at the Uptown.

1. Gandhi (1983). My first Uptown experience was this Oscar-winning epic, which I saw on Super Bowl Sunday with a young man I was recklessly and unfortunately in love with. I was a college freshman, he was a couple of years older, and I felt almost impossibly grown-up to be taking the Metro uptown and seeing this high-brow movie when the whole rest of the city was watching the Redskins. It's a dazzling film, and the soundtrack impressed me so much that I bought the album (on vinyl, of course, though I didn't even own a record player at the time). I have never watched the whole movie since, and might find it painful to do so.

2. Dune (1984). The unreliability of memory: I know I saw this movie at a weekend matinee with a group of friends from my college theater group. I think we saw it the weekend it opened — but IMDb says it opened in December 1984, which would have put it smack in the middle of finals. Did we really take a field trip to Cleveland Park in the middle of finals? If anyone checks in who remembers this excursion, can you confirm or deny? We might not have gone until January, when we were all back early from the holidays for whatever show we were working on. Either way, we saw it before the reviews told us it was one of the worst movies ever made. I did not share that point of view, because the spectacle on the Uptown's screen was mindboggling. I still have fond memories of this movie, because I saw it at the Uptown.

3. Silverado (1985). This one I know I saw during the summer between my junior and senior years of college, and it was not only a perfect summer movie but damn close to a perfect Western. I can't understand why more people don't remember this movie, and why it never seems to be mentioned in discussions of the modern Western. For one thing, everybody's in this movie: Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, John Cleese, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt . . . and it's two solid hours of quality entertainment. In fact, I'd love to see this movie again, although it couldn't be as good on TV as it was at the Uptown.

4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). Another fuzzy memory. I saw this movie twice in the movie theater — once with my sister Peggy, once with my brand-new boss, who became a lifelong friend. I think I saw it with Peggy first, and I don't think that was at the Uptown. The Uptown viewing was an early bonding experience with Doyle, my new boss, who suggested that we sneak out of work for a matinee on a slow day during a Congressional recess. Doyle would be the first to admit that he was a bad influence on me. Years later, I played hooky with my own assistant for a matinee screening of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, just to advance the tradition. Anyway, if you never saw this movie on a big screen, you missed out.

5. Dances With Wolves (1991). This movie ran at the Uptown for months; it premiered in Washington, DC in October 1990, opened wide over Thanksgiving weekend, and I know I saw a matinee on a federal holiday, which might have been Martin Luther King Day in January but I'm almost certain was Presidents' Day. Certainly I was one of the last people in my circle of friends to see it, and I wound up at the theater that afternoon for want of anything better to do; I'd wanted to go to the zoo, but it was too cold. I expected to find the movie corny and tedious, and was instead utterly dazzled and charmed. I still have no idea whether this is a good movie; that's the power of the Uptown.


Kieran Shea said...

always a choice spot. remember seeing JFK there and a fight broke out.

Anonymous said...

You know, we never made it to the Uptown when we lived in DC. I remember talking about it a lot, but it ended there. A MUST on our next visit.