The Senator

I drove along Northern Parkway with the rain falling down on the windshield of my rental car.  I have been back home from LA for a month (more on that later) and have done little with my film school experience since returning.  Two straight months of making short films in a week, working hard with people who have similar dreams and aspirations, and here I am back home and not doing anything.  Not writing, not editing, certainly not directing.  Part of that has been getting back into the swing of life back home, going back to work, spending time with Erin, catching up with family and friends.  Nothing in film though, nothing.

Still I drive down Northern Parkway in the rain, with spotlights pointed straight up in the distance.  Erin’s father had given me tickets to the Grand Re-Opening of the Senator Theatre, and it was sure to be a night of spectacle and film history for me.

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Now a bit of history, The Senator opened in 1939 and has been known since as an art deco palace.  Of all the movie palaces in this city, the Senator was the only one to survive.  In recent years it had fallen into disrepair, a gorgeous shell that had grown tired, and a glory that had tarnished.  Recently it was purchased by the Cusack family who run the Charles Theater, a great indie house and another old theatre in the Beaux-Art style.  The Senator has been the home of Baltimore’s premieres.  John Water’s premieres his films here, Barry Levinson as well.  If you are a filmmaker in Baltimore you want your film to screen there first, and alone I drive towards the spot lights of this palace.

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The theatre is the in the best shape I have ever seen it, a cathedral the likes of the Basilica in terms of beauty and soul.  People were excited to be there, and that’s a feeling that isn’t felt in the world of multiplexes.  It felt like the movie I took in at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, its a house not predicated on its bells and whistles but rather it’s sense of history and bravado.  It can be awe-inspiring when you find yourself in a place of history and know that you are part of the river midstream.  This isn’t a historical landmark where its history is simply a throwback to the days when the community movie theatre was a place of pride and civic joy.  It is a historical landmark that can and will consistently build for as long as the walls do stand.

The new owners spoke from the heart about the Senator, it’s place in history and what it means to them and the city in which we live.  John Waters spoke about what the Senator meant to him, and when he spoke, you knew it wasn’t lip service.  He has felt things here, a place that grows with him and grows him in turn.  The capacity crowd of Baltimore movie lovers cheered and gave standing ovations during the speeches.  They showed appreciation for where they were and what it meant to each of them.

Then something happened that usually would upset me, the movie started and the crowd enthusiastically cheered and clapped as things happened on the screen.  Loud clapping when John Waters name appeared, when Divines name appeared.  It wasn’t taking anyone out of the movie to cheer and clap these moments, it was authentic and real and people on this night in this place wanted to show appreciation for what film meant to them.  That was the moment where it all became clear to me.

As I packed and left Los Angeles, people asked me why I wanted to leave the film community there and go back to Baltimore and make my films.  It was because I love this city, just like John Water’s 1988 film was a deep-seated love letter to Baltimore.  I could live in LA, I could be happy doing so.  I could surround myself with talented craftsmen who have a fire inside to share their individual and collaborative expression with the world.  I could but I can’t leave this place.  It means too much to me and it means a lot to me to share this with the world of film.  I want people from Afghanistan to New Zealand to know how much I love the city, and how much they should love it too even if they never come.  People loudly and enthusiastically cheer for a film that shows them the love they feel.

I drove alone to the Senator tonight, following the beacon of spotlight to a place of love, a place of history, and a place of importance.  It can and will be more, because I want this audience, these people; in the seats for me.  I want to make them feel something, and I want to provide them with the medium in which to do so.  It won’t be tomorrow, and I can’t tell you when it will be, but one day I will bring a movie here with spotlights and fanfare just hoping that people fall in love.

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Next week I plan on writing the first of a three-part blog on my road trip and the time I spent in Los Angeles.  If I grow inspired I may make it more than a three parter, but at the very least you can expect that.  I know I have not been active on the blog and through the various “O” The Anthem social media, but that will change.  After all, I need to engage you guys somewhere if I ever want you to come see a premiere at the Senator right?

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