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life after death

September 15, 2010

stamm theater 10th and G

This is the Stamm Theater. If it looks a little gloomy now, it ought to.

Like the Campanil before it, it’s going through its church period. But unlike the church in the Campanil, this church– which I assume owns the building– has gutted the interior; nothing remains but the sad shell.

Imagine it at night, all lit up–the old marquee still in place, the ticket booth in the center of the tile plaza. Maybe Evelyn was working in the ticket booth; maybe Rena was inside with her flashlight, an usher. This is the theater most people in town grew up going to. In those days, we had to wait about a year for a new release to make it out here, but it just made the movies more exciting.

Inside, on the walls, were mythological paintings of fishermen, and nymphs naked to the waist. It was dark and lovely; liminal space. I don’t ever remember anyone questioning the appropriateness of the art. It was ART– everyone undertood that. Still, it said something about the theater: it was a place where you could see the full expanse of life, in a way you couldn’t quite in a small factory town.

Needless to say, the murals didn’t survive the transformation into the Antioch Apostolic Assembly. I can’t tell you how we felt, driving by and seeing the lobby doors thrown open, and the debris, and realizing the inner space was being destroyed.

There are small reproductions at the Historical Society– no compensation for the real thing.

The same family owned both the Stamm and the Campanil. I don’t think they were built more than a decade or two apart.

The last movie I saw at the Stamm was “Star Trek: First Contact,” with my friend Pam.

(The last movie I saw at the Campanil, after its brief cinematic revival, was “Holy Matrimony.” I think there was one other person in the theater; it was like a private showing. What a way to go out. If there’s ever been any excuse for that abomination, I have yet to hear it. Leonard Nimoy must have been having some kind of episode when he made that film– and after he made that beautiful documentary on the Hasidim, too! but I digress…)

The last program I saw at the Stamm was an evening of Afghan music. It started a good two hours late and I had to leave at intermission at 11:30, because I had to go to work at 6:00 the next day. I saw it advertised on Persian television, and it wasn’t till I was actually in the theater, and was watching the audience gradually stream in, that I realized I’d only seen it advertised on Persian television.

It was a fabulous show, marred only by the extreme, mind-blowing amplification– of traditional instruments. I have never in my life heard anything so loud, and I ended up having to stuff Kleenex in my ears and hold them shut. I was afraid I would offend someone, but I also wanted to leave with a little hearing left for the rest of my life.

The theater had been bought, I think, by an Afghan family. They were going to show Bollywood movies, and they had also put out a wonderful schedule of live performances. Then everything collapsed; it only lasted a few months.

It really broke my heart.

I have nothing against churches, as you well know if you know me. But a storefront would have done for this one; the Stamm deserved something better.

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