Friday, July 20, 2007

The St. Louis Film Scene I

For those St. Louis readers out there, I’m going to do a couple of reviews of local film events. There isn’t as much of a scene in St. Louis as NY or LA, but I love the city and with a little bit of effort one can find plenty of interesting cinematic pleasures. With my cult film club Splice now in the hands of fresh blood at Washington University, I’ve tried to support my local community by hitting a few of the film venues and even doing some volunteering. In this post, I’ll review two recent events: “Strange Brew: Cult Films at Schafly Bottleworks” and “Trivia Night Hosted by Cinema St Louis.”

First, though, I should promote the upcoming 7th Annual St. Louis Filmmaker’s Showcase bankrolled by AT&T and organized by Cinema St. Louis. It runs July 21 to 26 with films in the four center days. It’s a great chance to see films by and support local St. Louis talent ranging from theatrically distributed features to low-budget shorts. I’ll be there.

Strange Brew: Cult Films as Schafly’s Bottleworks

Schafly Bottleworks is at 7260 Southwest Avenue in Maplewood. Yes, it is a real bottleworks and you can take a tour if your curious. The building also serves as a restaurant and bar and shows cult films (thanks to the Webster Film Series) at 8pm on the first Wednesday of every month.

Movie Selections:
Strange Brew has been around for some time, but I never got around to going because their definition of cult tended to be so accessible that they’d rarely show anything I hadn’t seen. That said, their selections are usually quite good and the credit belongs to the excellent programmers at Webster. The films tend to be American, but there is a variety of genres and time periods. I saw “Fantastic Voyage” (1966) (review coming) this July 11th. The next screening is the excellent Marx Brother’s comedy “Animal Crackers” (1930) on August 1st. Tickets are $4-$5.

Schafly’s is a big structure and so there’s plenty of room to fit the brewery, restaurant, gift shop and museum (seriously), but the screening room is relatively small and makeshift. It has a built in bar and you can order food, but the chairs and tables are the type of bulky wooden stuff dragged in from the dining portion and lacking in long-term comfort. Don’t expect any fancy sound equipment or a theater-size screen, but there tends to be enough room for everyone to squeeze in and see the screen decently.

The food is about what I imagine mountain men eat and it consists of things cooked with beer and large piles of meats like bison and timberwolf. The couple of times I’ve eaten there have been more miss then hit (I liked the Venison cheese steak). At the “Fantastic Voyage” screening I tried the Venison chili and found it to be pretty awful, but the fault was at least half mine for thinking it could be anything else.

The decor fits the burly, he-man theme and I enjoy it more on a kitsch level then in any seriousness, but it is fun. The “lively” atmosphere advertised by the film series is pretty tame. There isn’t nearly as much shouting at the screen as I find for mainstream fare at the Esquire 7, but there is plenty of good natured laughter. The upside is that you can generally make out the dialogue, a plus for first-time viewers of the films.

Parking and seating can be difficult so come at least ten minutes early. You can always peruse the excellent beer selection at the bar while you wait.

Film Trivia Night

Trivia night is an annual fundraiser run by Cinema St. Louis, who keeps quite busy around town if I might say. It has been around for years, but this was the first time it was held in Cinema St. Louis’s own digs, downtown at 3547 Olive St. The fundraiser was costs $20 per person and lasts from 7pm to 10pm (or 11pm if the year is this year). About 120 people turn out in teams of 8 and compete in 11 rounds of 10 questions each. There are prizes, raffles, auctions, beverages and popcorn.

The event itself ran pretty smoothly. Mark Bielik coordinated the event. While young, he already has experience at Cinema St. Louis and showed plenty of enthusiasm, organization and confidence. The MC, on the other hand, was a mild disaster. Slightly drunk and a bit in love with the spotlight, he dragged the film over an hour late with unfunny banter and interminable pauses.

As for the trivia, the round categories were sadly uninspired (Harry Potter, John Ford, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, romantic comedies, animated films, etc.), but the actual questions were quite good. They plotted up and down the difficulty continuum with a remarkable variety pulling from minor roles, soundtracks, biographical information, lesser known films and general pop culture with an eye for what a typical American film buff would find interesting and relevant. You can download the questions here for a limited time.


The building, The Centene Center for Arts and Education is bit inaccessible (no parking lot, one-way street) and not in the best part of town, but the interior is nice. The event had mingling room with beverages and prizes and an open 4th floor balcony. The competition took place in a nearby room that was full up, but with room to get in and out.

The atmosphere was very positive, with lots of laughter, noise, revelry and rivalry. The teams generally bring dinner items like subs and share tables where they work together on answers. I was impressed by the cinema smarts in the room. Several teams scored about 90% correct. My mental tally (from my rear wall volunteer post) placed me somewhere in the lower-middle of the rankings, but I didn’t have seven teammates to help me.

Overall, I’d recommend both events: Strange Brew for the movies, Trivia Night for the factoids.


Patti said...

I rather enjoy the vegetarian selection at Schlafly's, which is a bit more plentiful than your regular joint.

I'd always meant to go to the Bottleworks screenings, since their level of cult is about where mine is, in that I've seen a number of their choices before, but far from all. I guess I enjoy far cultier movies too, but I usually am only made aware of them via you.

The trivia night sounds like it could be fun, too, except that my knowledge of trivia is too scattered and filled with gaps (hence my relative lack of success with Scholars' Bowl).

Mad Dog said...

Too bad not enough cool film stuff happens around KC. :(

Unknown said...

Sad that I missed both. WORST GIRLFRIEND EVER

FilmWalrus said...

If KCM is envious of STL, STL is envious of CHI and don't even get me started on NYC and LAX.

I hope to keep up a decent coverage of STL film events. Mad Dog, you might actually be here for the local filmmaker festival.