I moved to Bloomington about a decade ago and although I had never lived in such a small town, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that most of the things I needed or wanted existed here. You don’t always have a dozen choices as you would in a big city, but there’s usually one or two of whatever you’re looking for — decent Japanese restaurant, good rock club, nice bar, etc. OK, some of the shopping (for clothes say) is pretty limited, but you can always go to Indianapolis now and then.
For me, the one single biggest absence has always been a good independent movie theater. I grew up going to the Brattle and Orson Welles Theaters in Cambridge, and one of my favorite things about living in NYC was access to places like the fantastic MOMA theater and the Angelica, etc. Cambridge still has the Harvard Film Archive and the Kendall Square Theater. You might be hard-pressed to buy a pair of tube socks, say, in Hyde Park in Chicago (it never used to have a Target or anything, that may have changed), but you can see amazing movies every night at Doc Films. In Bloomington, though, it’s always been the suburban mall experience of Kerasotes (now AMC) or bust, basically. Yes, there’s the Ryder but I never enjoyed sitting in the uncomfortable seats in the classroom auditorium, it felt too much like school for me. So, sadly, I focused my cinephilia on Netflix. All this is to say that the opening of the IU Cinema is maybe the single biggest improvement to my quality of life in Bloomington since I moved here. Can’t say how good it felt to sit with my daughters, waiting for John Ford’s Rio Grande (the final film in his “cavalry trilogy”) to begin, and watch the theater curtain rise as the two smaller curtains fell over the Thomas Hart Benton “Indiana Murals” (originally created for the 1933 World’s Fair). I’d also seen Stagecoach a few days earlier, and watching both movies, I was strongly aware of the film as projected light. One example– the amazingly beautiful scenes early in Rio Grande when John Wayne interviews his long-lost son in his candle-lit camp tent: shadows play on the tent as they talk in what seems an implicit allegory for the surface light effects of cinema itself, creating a Plato’s Cave-like effect.
The girls did pretty well with the movie, which is maybe pitched a bit above the 7-y.o. attention span. Throughout, I tried to whisper basic explanations of the Civil War context which explains the John Wayne’s character’s estrangement from his wife (played by Maureen O’Hara), etc. Celie commented that she liked the fact that the movie “really paid attention to the horses. Usually when horses are in movies they’re just there for riding, but in this movie they really paid attention to them.” Her example was the discussion over the theft of John Wayne’s own favorite horse. There’s some fun stunt-riding, too (standing up on two horses at once).
Stagecoach is fantastic, of course. One moment I especially liked: the prostitute Dallas looks over at the town’s priggish society ladies and comments, “there’s some things worse than Apaches:” the movie ponders different forces of violence, including the social violence of shaming and ostracizing. Dallas asks, “Haven’t I any right to live? What have I done?” and the alcoholic doctor replies, “We’re the victims of a foul disease called social prejudice, my child.” Of course, it’s hard not to think about the question of the “right to live” of the Apaches who enter the film only as nameless, savage antagonists to civilization.
In both movies, the mowing down of the Indians (and their horses) is a bit hard to take. Politics aside, just watching all the horses fall over (I assume) trip wires is kind of brutal — did they routinely break their legs?
So far, each film I’ve seen at the IU theater has ended in audience applause, which I think is partly sustained appreciation for the existence of the theater.