(Your faithful blogger is off for some R & R this week – some cultural replenishing too – and I thought it would be fun to revisit some of my favorite posts. I’ll be microblogging on Twitter in the meantime; you can follow the feed elsewhere on this page or at @joesview. See you in a week!)
Almost every year, when summer starts, my thoughts go back a few decades to one of the craziest ventures I’ve ever been involved with.
Against my better judgement, I was lured into a plan to convert a just-closed porn theater on the Delaware Coast into the state’s first art house.
But, that’s what happened right before Memorial Day 1977, when I was a very disenchanted young newspaper editor, and I got a call — out of the blue — from a real estate developer asking if I wanted to run the theater he had just bought.
A newspaper pal had interviewed this guy for a business story and told him I was the one for the job.
He knows a lot about movies, my pal claimed — Joe will know what to do with the theater.
Within a few weeks of that phone call, the XXX venue underwent a radical personality change.
A theater which had been outraging local religious leaders by showing “Deep Throat” and its “porno chic” spin-offs for five years suddenly became the home of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Francois Truffaut.
Yes, this was a wacky thing to do in the days when Lewes, Delaware, was a rather sleepy fishing village and not today’s quaint, upscale tourist mecca.
When we first opened the doors of the Lewes Cinema, the burst of positive publicity in the local papers convinced me we would be the next big thing. (you have to remember that this was in the pre-VCR, pre-DVD era when if you wanted to see a foreign movie or something American but offbeat, a theater was the only place where you could see it.)
We were the “artistic” alternative to the crass multiplex theater on the highway just outside town (where things like “Star Wars” and “Smokey and the Bandit” would play for months on end, thanks to new infusions of tourists every week).
Indeed, if it wasn’t for the theater’s porn past, we might not have had any customers the first few weeks.
I was so naively convinced of the importance of what we were doing that it took me a while to realize that some of our patrons didn’t bother to look at the marquee and assumed we were still showing porn.
The light bulb finally went on over my head the night a van pulled up a few minutes before the first show, discharging about a dozen Latino migrant laborers (from one of the vast inland corporate farms).
Who would guess that these guys would want to see Bergman’s “Face to Face,” starring Liv Ullmann, I thought, as I sold them their tickets.
Isn’t it wonderful that after a hard day’s work they would make the effort to understand a foreign language film with English subtitles!
Of course, after about 10 minutes of close-ups of Ullmann talking in Swedish about her life having no meaning, there was a great hubbub in the theater and an angry-looking group of farm workers stomped out. (Fortunately, for our meager till, they didn’t know enough English to demand refunds).
Things got a little better in our second year — believe it or not, one rainy Memorial Day weekend (as a beach merchant, you pray for rain on a holiday weekend!) we packed the house for a Lina Wertmuller double-feature.
But you can only work seven nights a week for no money for so long, and at the end of the summer of 1978 we called it quits.
It was my lowest paying job ever — I worked for 20 percent of whatever we made each night and some nights that barely paid for dinner at the local diner — but I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had taken that dumpy theater back to square one by pushing Bergman and Fellini aside for a return to Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers.