FILMxFIVE: My Top Five Oriental Theatre Memories
by Tom Fuchs, Digital Media Manager
A very happy belated 93rd birthday to our beloved Oriental Theatre! While the doors are currently shut, this anniversary is the perfect time to reflect on what a gift to our community this theater continues to be, and look forward to its bright future (can’t wait for you all to take advantage of these current construction updates)! Without further ado, and in chronological of my experiencing them, my top five OT memories:
1. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
(Dir. Zacharias Kunuk | Canada | 2001)
- I came to my cinephilia late in high school (the time before that was spent re-watching my VHS of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that you got as part of the Burger King Kids Club), and I do not come from a family with an abiding love of cinema, so the very first Oriental Theatre experience I can recall is this one! What made 17-year old Tom so keen on seeing Atanarjuat on the big screen? It ticked off all my nascent ‘art house experience’ boxes:
1. A runtime that would be described as ‘thicc’ in the modern vernacular (174 minutes)
2. Subtitles/Unique perspective (the first film to be directed, written, and performed entirely in the Inuktitut language)
3. Tasteful nudity (much like Sonic the Hedgehog, Atanarjuat does his running in the buff)
Thus began a nearly two-decade, torrid love affair between myself and the OT.
2. The Triplets of Belleville
(Dir. Sylvain Chomet | France/Belgium/Canada/UK | 2003)
Back in my college days, I was courting a young lady of far too high a caliber for me. An art/English double major (I was busy making short films about a world where George Wendt is suddenly erased from time called Ash Wendtsday to give you an idea of the quality discrepancy between us), I saw an opportunity to speak to her art history courses via the Salvador Dali/Disney collabo short film (Destino!) that was playing in front of The Triplets of Belleville. One chaste kiss on the cheek at the end of the evening, seventeen years, and one beautiful nearly three(!!!)-year-old later, this evening was the hinge on which my entire future swung! Helps that the movie was delightful.
3. The Human Centipede
(Dir. Tom Six | Netherlands | 2009)
Once upon a time, friends would congregate in group settings, or ‘hangs’, where they would drink adult beverages, make each other laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. One such example of this was an evening spent in the thrall of a film that triumphantly thumbs its nose at social distancing in The Human Centipede. Fully prepared for a disgusting cinematic experience, I was surprised by how tame this movie actually is (playing on the pictures your mind will conjure in the best horror tradition) by my standards. We went on to draw a detailed schematic of the titular experiment on our scoring sheet next door at Landmark Lanes afterward. A true night to remember.
(Dir. David Wnendt | Germany | 2013)
- It was really hard to try and narrow down my myriad Milwaukee Film Festival experiences within the Oriental Theatre into a single entry, especially when one takes into consideration the copious special guests, live musical accompaniment, and assorted other bells and whistles that have allowed for a cavalcade of unforgettable screenings. So I went in the opposite direction and chose a warm festival memory. Once upon a time, in the mystical “pre-child” realm, I would frequently attend midnight screenings, and what’s more, be awake, alert, and actively processing the information conveyed during such screenings! At these midnight screenings, you could count on something subversive or otherwise NSFW being presented to a crowd entirely open to the experience. Wetlands is one such experience, a coming-of-age drama willing to embrace hygienic and societal taboos over its runtime, while reaching a genuine emotional catharsis. It’s exactly what you go to the movie theater (and film festivals) for – a group of disparate people having a powerful shared experience!
5. Barry Lyndon (in 35mm)
(Dir. Stanley Kubrick | UK/USA | 1975)
- Hard to quantify just how excited I was to be a part of the group taking the reigns of the Oriental Theatre into the ‘20s. And while the process has been full of surprises (way more contagious disease than I had bargained for at the outset), there was still a litany of incredible experiences in our first two years of stewardship. But I want to go back to our first month operating this beautiful for a truly sublime 35mm showing of Barry Lyndon. A packed lower house only intensified how lovely an experience this was (my first with this particular Kubrick). It was the dragon cinemagoers chase in perpetuity, a reverent and engaged audience enjoying a gorgeous film print together. I can’t wait to be back in the dark with all of you again, so we can make a whole new set of Oriental Theatre memories!