Artist Aimee Joyaux at the Quirk Hotel (photo by: Harry Kollatz Jr.)
I went to a soft opening and mid-exhibition reception on Thursday evening. The first is a near-empty space that’ll soon show motion pictures and the other is a busy public place where bright, dynamic works on paper in which nuanced messages are contained, like cryptic notes from a bottle.
First stop of the evening was at The Mark on Broad, 304 E. Broad St., resplendent in its blue trim and free of construction fences. It already houses the TheatreLab company and CodeVA. For at least the next nine months to a year, it’ll be the temporary home for the Bijou Film Center, which makes its full opening Friday, Sept. 2.
Bijou co-founder Terry Rea was recently stopped outside the building by a lady who asked, "What’s going on in there?"
“And I told her I grew up here and what I want to do is bring movies back to Broad Street. She didn’t believe me! So I showed her and explained, and she beamed, and said she thought it was wonderful.”
Rea and James Parrish are folding out the chairs (on loan from the 1708 Gallery) to get things started. The films will be shown using a digital projector purchased after seven events and a “Leap of Faith” campaign provided the Bijou with funds allowing the call, “Roll’em!”
Parrish says, “We’ll have a dose of new releases and old, about 60/40. What we want to do is get it to pay for itself, through the café bar, memberships, and grants that add value.” The theater will have 55 to 62 seats, a number of them from the upper theater of the now closed Westhampton. The screen will be stretched canvas, “Like a big painting,” Rea says.
James Parrish (left) and Terry Rea point out the details of the Bijou Film Center's projected design. (Photo by: Harry Kollatz Jr.)
Richmond’s first Bijou (it means "little jewel") opened downtown as a vaudeville house in a former luggage store in 1899, and later became the Colonial Theater, which showed movies. Parrish and Rea see the new Bijou as a latter-day inheritor of the Little Cinema Movement that began in the 1920s as a reaction to the ever increasing size of theaters and splashy Hollywood films. Thus, the art house was born. In Richmond, a city of micro-brews and farm-to-table restaurants, zines and pop-up this-and-that, perhaps it makes sense for a small movie theater with curated offerings.
The official opening is slated for Friday, Sept. 2, between 6 p.m. and approximately 10:30 p.m., with beer, wine and soft drinks for the parched cineaste. Initial subscribing members may stop in for their T-shirts and mugs. A Charlie Chaplin short will get projected (via Super 8 film, don’t you know) onto the walls. At 9 p.m., the musical part of the evening commences with the venerable Bopcats. The Bijou is asking for a $5 donation.
For the Labor Day weekend, Parrish considered starting off serious, with Barbara Kopple’s 1976 documentary account of a Kentucky coal mine strike, “Harlan County U.S.A.” But instead, he went with relevant evergreen, Charlie Chaplin's classic 1936 feature, “Modern Times,” screening Saturday, Sept. 3, at 7: 15 p.m and 9:30 p.m. ($5).
The film marked the end of Chaplin’s “Little Tramp,” now amid the Great Depression and the rise of automation. Chaplin also made the film silent when sound in film was already a decade old. “Modern Times” is a distillation of Chaplin’s observation of the world’s predicament. While borne of serious issues it’s also hilarious.
The following weekend, however, the two-time Academy Award-winning Kopple’s documentary “Miss Sharon Jones” makes its Richmond debut. Jones, the incredible soul artist, dubbed “a female James Brown,” has maintained a concert calendar since 2013 despite cancer and chemotherapy.
“We’ve seen it and it’s fantastic,” Parrish says. “It won’t play Richmond otherwise. When I emailed the distributor, he responded that he was happy Richmond was getting an art house. The responses from [distributors] Janus, Criterion, they’re excited we’ll be booking repertory titles."
In October, Parrish says, “We intend to air it out a little more. Play films more than one night, have festivals and multiple screenings, a new film might play Thursday to Sunday.”
With TheatreLab, the Coalition Theater and the Bijou lined up, joining Virginia Rep, we’re getting back a little of what was once called Theater Row.
There’s a connection between Chaplin’s questioning of his world lodged in the depths of the Great Depression and the work of Amiee Joyaux. Over on the mezzanine of the Quirk Hotel through Aug. 30 is a lively collection of 10 energetic works on paper by Joyaux. The pieces, while lush in their color and often whimsical in their abstraction, possess serious undertones.
Just how much an artist should let the world into the work — or at all — is a recurring debate.
“Art is a way to understand what it’s like to be human and to process what’s going on in the world,” she says. “I have anxieties, just like everybody else, whether it’s about comets and asteroids, all these empty buildings you see everywhere, where can there be shelter for the refugees and so on. These are difficult topics, but I’m also interested in really bright color. If I can suck you in with luscious colors and then slap you across the face with the reality of the world we live in ...” she laughs. “That’s my balance. It’s the dynamic where the artist lives. How do you process all the stuff that’s going on?”
In this work, too, she thought about the evocations of poetry and the gloom and Gothic aspects of Southern writing, freighted as it can be by history and mythology. “Sometimes the work is about beauty and it isn’t grappling. But it’s a mediation – trying to understand, come to terms and survive.”
So on your way up to Quirk’s rooftop, or on the way down, take some time for the mezzanine gallery. It might just give you something to think about.