(c) New Yorker, 1980.
program this fall is a staple diet of films
by Hitchcock, Teshigahara, Eisenstein,
Vertov, Blue, Vigo, Clair, Bresson, and
Renoir. And you'll be glad to know, if
you haven't been there lately, the director chairs have been replaced by ordinary
theater seats except for the first six rows.
So get there early.
Experimental films make one lonely
appearance on the Rice scene via Wille
Varela, an independent Super 8 artist
currently working in El Paso. He considers himself to be a "lover of film." Of
his work he comments: "My films are
there to help us see the world in a way we
haven't seen before."
Over at the Greenway you get everything from pasta to borscht. They show
almost entirely foreign films which don't
cessful because it had been nominated for
an Academy Award and it had Ingrid
Bergman." says Buck. The Tin Drum,
nominated for best foreign film last year,
just finished a 12-week run.
"We had a film called Northern Lights,
I thought it was a very good film. It was
the true story of the formation of a
labour progressive party in North Dakota.
We had to pull it after one week," recalls
Buck. "La Cage aux Folles has been running 48 weeks, so I'd say it's the most
popular film we've ever had here. It
touches people, it's a good cross between
comedy and pathos. It's a very funny
movie and people need something to
laugh at nowadays. It really draws on
"It is ridiculous that La Cage has been
The museum film series is the most adventurous because it
is the least commercially dependent."—Eric Gerber
get a lot of exposure in Houston. Milburn
hates going underground to see a film.
"It's like exploring a cave," he says.
But "our attendance has been incredible," boasts Steve Buck, manager of the
Greenway. "I think it's a growth in taste.
There was a time in Houston when
foreign movies meant dirty movies, sex
How does Buck decide what films to
order? "I have a well-used ouija board,"
he laughs. "What I book is based on how
it opens in New York. If it's a smash hit
in New York, then there's a good chance
it will take off in Houston." Buck finds
that the audience here is attracted to
films with a pedigree. "Bergman's Autumn Sonata, a very heavy film, was suc-
tying up one screen for 12 months. And
since they have three screens," asks Mil-
burn, "why not change one every day?"
Buck has his reasons for the long haul:
"We are doing so well with La Cage that
economically we cannot justify taking it
off. In our contract with the distributors
we have a hold-over clause. If a film
grosses such and such a figure we are obligated to continue running it. Success
breeds this," he says matter-of-factly.
"I feel a sense of responsibility as a
contributor to film culture in Houston,"
says Buck. "And right now I can bring in
what I want. We've built up a real trust
with a group of regulars, and we have customers suggesting films for us to screen
here," says Buck of the present-day situ
ation at his theatre. "But," he continues,
"We're getting to a point where the
theatre is so profitable that we won't be
able to afford to take risks with obscure
"Houston is changing," says Gerber.
"Years ago the Greenway was losing
money. In desperation they decided to
fill the gap left by the Alray, an avant-
garde film house that had gone out of
business. Their success was a surprise to
everyone. But don't look to the Greenway 3 or River Oaks for adventurous
programming. Thev've staked out their
territory, they cater lo the aopetite of an
"The first year the River Oaks was
open I went there a lot," recalls Milburn.
"But now they tend to repeat themselves
and are not exploring any new horizons.
Occasionally, they do, and when they do
explore it is worthwhile, but they have
found the formula to draw an audience
and they follow it."
For a large number of Houstonians the
formula must work. Even on a Monday
night the place is packed; the lobby
crowded with chic T-shirted singles, and
every movie seat filled. The film fare
ranges from pure box office, Animal
House, to serious inquiry, Our Hitler;
from cult films like Pink Flamingoes, to
classic works by Fellini, Bergman, Altman,
"The River Oaks usually runs double
features and pairs them together in terms
of directors, actors, and sequels, like Godfather 1 and 2," says Tom Packlick. He's
an avid River Oaks fan and explains why:
"I prefer spending my three dollars on
double features, and the theatre is within
walking distance of my house."
A real problem with the programming
is that most films run for only one day.
It takes real devotion to rush across and
see Bogie on Tuesday at 7:35 or Aguirre
on Thursday at 9:40. Or is it the other
way around? If you lose yb\,
with the schedule on it, you're5]
lost. The River Oaks doesn't adver?.^
the dailies (except for the listing o>
today's show) and their information
number is likely to be busy. So tape it
securely on your refrigerator.
Downtown Houston, like most commuter towns, is deserted at night. On any
given summer evening the only people to
be found downtown are perched in lonely
offices, walled-in at the library, asleep on
the sidewalk, or over at the Alley Theatre
"Our attendance was growing until the
River Oaks moved in," says Bob Feingold,
manager of the Summer Film Program at
"I hate to lead people," says Feingold.
"We schedule films that people might
want to see rather than films they should
see. There's a camaraderie among audience members who have turned out to see
a particular movie," says Feingold. "The
Fred Astaire films are like that."
The Alley can be counted on for
refries. Says Feingold, "One year I ran an
experimental short, along with Betty
Boop cartoons. It was a lot of hassle, I
don't think it added anything."
The Alley film repertoire includes
many old favorites. The "most well-
attended films" according to Feingold
have been: Women in Love, Rebecca, A
Night at the Opera, The Big Sleep, Casablanca, Shanghai Express, and Flash
Gordon's Trip to Mars.
There's something in Houston for
most everybody's taste buds. All except
those craving a few experimental shorts
every now or then. So, for those of you
with well-worn copies of The Expanded
Cinema at your bedside, keep reading.
There's no place for seeing.
But for the rest of you, see you at the