Film is dead. Well, the movies are, anyway.
Earlier this week, Joshua Blevins Peck (you may recognize him as a film reviewer for Urban Tulsa) opened an exhibit at Circle Cinema's art gallery, 12 S. Lewis Ave., that displays his two foremost passions: film and history.
A project 20 years in the making, Dead Cinema is a collection of photographs of 15 shuttered small-town movies theaters. The exhibit attempts "to link the bittersweet remembrance of what once was by exposing the harsh, unforgiving neglect of a beloved cultural institution: the movie theater," Peck wrote in his artist's statement.
"The movie theater has had a glorious past," Peck said. "Unfortunately, in this 21st century world of the oversized, concrete box mentality of exhibiting movies, all the charm, style, grace and whimsy has been replaced by the pursuit of multiple screens and massive parking lots. Whether in a small town or city neighborhood, when it comes to movie theaters, it used to be very different."
Peck first began photographing old movie theaters, in various states of disrepair, as a hobby. He loved the architecture of them, he said, and he spent his weekends driving around rural Oklahoma in search of them. As a graduate student at the University of Tulsa, Peck enrolled in a photography class for fun and made shooting movie theaters of yore his project. Now, six years later, he's displaying that work -- along with some new -- at Circle Cinema, where he also works part time (he's also an archivist at the Tulsa Historical Society, but not for long; in a couple of weeks, he's on his way to Los Angeles).
Peck correlates the dilapidation of mom-and-pop movie shops with the deterioration of small-town life. He observed, while shooting the theaters, that the cities -- regardless of how big or small -- with a working movie theater were still thriving, while the ones where the theater was closed were not.
Peck himself hails from Pryor, where the theater has been running, uninterrupted, since the 1930s. And though we big-city folks might turn our noses up at a place like Pryor, for a small town, it's bustling.
And that theater instilled in Peck an enthusiastic and lifelong love of film. He spent his summers at the movie theater, watching film after film after film -- whatever was playing, he said.
"I think older people remember what it was like to see movies in a one-screen theater or two-screen or small-town theater," Peck told UTW. "Younger people just know multiplexes, with no marquees, no neon signs. My hope is for people who've experienced these theaters to feel a nostalgic longing for those times, and for people too young to experience that to think, 'Dang, these were awesome. They should have been cherished more, appreciated more. They shouldn't be sitting there empty or falling down."
Peck said he is hopeful for the rebirth of small-town theaters, at least in some towns. As he was re-shooting some of the theaters for this exhibit, he found that some of his subjects -- empty and decrepit when he first came upon them -- were being remodeled. One was undergoing renovation; another was having its marquee redone; and another was being converted into a community theater playhouse. Better than being demolished, which is often the fate of these old buildings.
"Even in the gap of six years (since first shooting the theaters), maybe some towns said, 'Gee, we have this structure that people tie into Americana and is part of the community. Let's do something with it,'" Peck said. "These theaters really are community places. So, I think some people may be seeing the benefit in fixing these things up and using them in some way. So that made me hopeful."
Here in Tulsa, the Circle Cinema has undergone a major transformation in the last six or so years. Once a dilapidated brick structure, the Circle is now a thriving theater that shows independent, local and foreign films and also hosts frequent lecturers and artists. Renovations are still under way.
Peck shot his images using analog cameras and didn't do any retouching in post-production.
"Film has an immediacy and warmth of tone that I still believe in," he said. "There is no color correction, cropping or digital manipulation in any of the images."
The photographs have been recreated from the negatives of the originals and printed as 20-inch square images. A limited run -- 20 of each photograph -- will be available for purchase. The exhibit will hang through October and can be viewed during Circle Cinema's business hours.
Also at the galleries
Beginning Oct. 1, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center gallery, 110 E. Second St., will host Anke Dodson for an exhibit titled Woods and Prairies. The exhibit features a series of landscapes painted in watercolor.
"The subtle beauty of the prairie in the change of seasons and the sculptural quality of trees are irresistible subjects to me," Dodson said. "Watercolors on a variety of surfaces and monotypes with their endless possibilities for texture lend themselves well to both subjects."
Dodson is a native of Germany who has been a naturalized citizen of the U.S. since 1968. She has loved to paint and draw since she was a child and through the years has studied watercolor and pastel in workshops with nationally known artists and instructors.
Her work has been exhibited in galleries since 1986. Her paintings are presently being shown at Eva Reynolds Fine Arts in Kansas City, and her work is included in many corporate and private collections.
The PAC gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5:30pm and during Chapman Music Hall events. The exhibit will hang through Oct. 30.
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