Saying goodbye to cinema at the Neptune Theatre was one thing—it involved the consolation prize of the venue's rebirth as a great music venue. But last year's closing of Queen Anne's Uptown Theater was just heartbreaking. A sort of spruced-up version of the U-District's belovedly grungy Varsity Theatre, the Uptown—built in 1926—drew movie lovers to Queen Anne with a well-curated mix of blockbusters and art-house hits. Then came Netflix and the recession, and the Uptown was forced to close its doors. But this weekend, the Seattle International Film Festival reopens a refurbished Uptown as the newest and spiffiest of its movie houses, hosting a weekend of cinematic sing-alongs—Grease, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Purple Rain—followed by a week of previously-screened-at-the-Uptown classics selected by the viewing public. Among the classic delights: Annie Hall, L.A. Confidential, Citizen Kane, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And in a lovely nod to the Uptown's stature as a neighborhood cinema, admission is complimentary to those showing a same-day receipt from any Queen Anne–area business—buy a Dick's Deluxe, see a classic film for free!
In advance of SIFF Cinema at the Uptown's grand opening, Clinton McClung—the SIFF programmer who'd previously earned admiration with his crowd-pleasing tenure at Central Cinema—filled me in on the specifics of SIFF's Uptown overhaul.
What's the splashiest component of the new Uptown?
We're moving our projection and sound equipment from the McCaw Hall location, so everything will be state-of-the-art and up-to-date, presentation-wise. We're also repainting the theater inside and out and redoing the concessions area. But I think the most impressive (and visually obvious) change is the marquee, which we are completely refurbishing with new neon—replacing the marquee letter board with older-style 3-D marquee letters and branding with a fancy SIFF Cinema logo. The old Uptown sign is staying up, too—wouldn't want to change that.
How'd the chosen-by-popular-demand classics series come to be?
All the films selected were from submissions from the community, who shared stories about the movies that they remembered seeing at the Uptown. We then went through all the submissions and tried to pick one film from each decade that the Uptown has been open (except the silent era, which we're saving for a more extensive ongoing series). Of course, the '70s ended up with three films, but it's hard to resist that decade. One entry that I was particularly fond of was from someone who remembered seeing Russ Meyer's Up! at the Uptown in the '70s. That's one of my favorite Meyer films, but unfortunately, finding a film print was impossible, and it didn't quite fit the "classics" mode of the rest of the week. But I'm not going to stop looking—a full Russ Meyer series may be in the cards in the future.
Which films in the series do you think are most important to see on a big screen in a theater filled with other people?
Most people would probably say The Godfather, because it truly is made for the big screen and best seen that way. But personally, I vote for Pee-wee's Big Adventure. It is such a visual delight, and so full of irresistibly dorky humor, that it is never not fun to see with a huge crowd of people. That movie really is an experience... I also have to put a word in for The Royal Tenenbaums, which was the first film I saw at the Uptown and was my pick for the classics series. It was on my first visit to Seattle, and I spent the week visiting as many movie houses in town as I could. I remember being so excited about everything at the Uptown—the outdoor ticket booth, the marquee, the size of the main auditorium, and the feeling of history from being inside such an old theater. It was my first taste of cinema in Seattle.