- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

In addition to hosting the latest in independent films, Landmark’s E Street Cinema is also the best spot in town to partake in a midnight movie.

Since the program’s inception with “Midnight Meat Train” last Halloween, the downtown theater has played host to classics in the genre on Friday and Saturday evenings (or is that Saturday and Sunday mornings?). It’s screened “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Flesh Gordon” along with more mainstream fare such as “Ghostbusters” and “The Goonies.”

In addition to the featured pictures, managers Nick Isani and Tom Beddow and floor staff member Mike Kelly occasionally sprinkle in screenings of short films they have made based on the features. Though the trio had been joking about the idea of creating their own shorts for a while, a screening of “Fight Club” in March brought things to a head.

“When ‘Fight Club’ was approaching, we had a really great idea, and the jokes just kind of worked their way into what seemed like an awesome concept, to shoot a five-minute short that was a parody of the trailer,” Mr. Isani says. Joined by Mr. Beddow and Mr. Kelly, he put together “Fisticuffs Club,” a parody of the Brad Pitt feature that transported the action to the early 20th century, circa 1910.

“We sort of treat these as 24-hour-movies,” Mr. Isani says. “We get together, we sort of conceptualize in the matter of a couple of hours, then we shoot it and take the night to edit it so it’s ready for the weekend.”

In addition to “Fight Club,” the trio have created videos for “The Goonies,” “Ghostbusters,” “Star Trek” and “Office Space,” all of which can be found at Mr. Kelly’s YouTube page. (His user name on the video-sharing site is MACenstine).

The shorts add to the already festive atmosphere of the midnight screenings — although, as anyone who has attended a late-night screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” knows, little in the way of extra excitement is needed. The cult classic screens at the E Street once a month, complete with the trappings that have made it popular for so many years.

“During the first show, we didn’t have a cast, and we let a group of audience members that were there take it over,” Mr. Isani says of the Live Shadow Cast Sonic Transducers, as the participants came to be known.

One of the more interesting aspects of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is that audience members often act out the picture as it plays on the big screen behind them. “It came together slowly, but now they are our regular cast. They do our Internet promotion for not only that but for our entire midnight series,” Mr. Isani says.

Though Mr. Isani says “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the most successful of the theater’s midnight screenings, the E Street’s mainstream features from the 1980s and ‘90s tend to bring out the audiences as well.

“I think they definitely come to what they liked from their childhood more; for example, ‘Back to the Future’ did incredibly well,” Mr. Isani says. The audiences at these features tend toward the college-aged — no real surprise, given the start time — but that tends to put a damper on attendance during summer months.

Now, though, with the District’s college students streaming back into town, Mr. Isani thinks the screenings are about to pick up in popularity again.

“This summer has been relatively slow, being that the college kids are all back home for the summer,” he says. “But when school gets back in the next week or so, we should see it start booming. I’m hoping that ‘Reservoir Dogs’ this weekend is going to do a lot of business, especially in the wake of ‘Inglourious Basterds.’”

Along with “Reservoir Dogs,” September’s lineup includes Joss Whedon’s “Serenity,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “The Graduate,” and “Top Gun.” Tickets are available at the box office and online at landmarktheatres.com.

Sonny Bunch

AFI studies war

The Spanish Civil War — the one fought between 1936 and 1939 — inspired passions in a number of notable writers: George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Koestler, Pablo Neruda and Laurie Lee, to name just some. Its causes led big names from all over the world to travel to Spain and view the horror for themselves — and sometimes to fight along with the Spaniards.

Filmmakers also have explored the conflict, though usually working after the fact and looking at it from some distance. Their work is highlighted in September at the AFI Silver Theatre in its series “Cinema & the Spanish Civil War.”

Like writing about the conflict, this, too, is an international affair.

Mr. Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was turned in a romanticized 1943 film starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. The British director Ken Loach, whose work is informed by his politics, told the story of a young communist Brit who goes to fight in Spain in his 1995 film “Land and Freedom.” Even East Germany looked at the conflict in 1960’s “Five Cartridges.”

“The War Is Over” is French director’s Alain Resnais’ exploration of the war through the eyes of an exile. It was made in 1966, years after the war, but the Spanish government still tried — unsuccessfully — to get it withdrawn from Cannes.

You’ll notice that the Spanish entries in this festival weren’t made until after Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. Eventually, though, even the Spanish were able to deal with the terrible conflict with some humor, as in Carlos Saura’s 1990 film, “Ay, Carmela!”

Mr. Hemingway also wrote and narrated Joris Ivens’ 1937 documentary about the war, both the battles and the daily struggles. AFI is offering two free screenings of “The Spanish Earth,” on Sept. 5 and 6. Free tickets are available at the box office the day of each screening.

A full schedule is available at afi.com/silver.

Kelly Jane Torrance

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