Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Lights out

It was one of those emails you don’t see coming.

No, not the one from Nigeria promising riches if I turn over my bank information. I see those all the time. Ditto the one about increasing my, er, um, manhood.

No, I’m talking about the kind of email that just shows up in your inbox one morning and unexpectedly announces the passing of an era.

I got one of those emails in June. It was from my old friend Michael or, as he calls himself, in the adopted Spanglish patois of us native Southwesterners, Miguel. The subject line said it all: “Bummer! Seattle’s Egyptian Theater to close.”

I quickly scanned the message and reassured myself. It linked to an article on the KING 5 news website, telling how Landmark Theatres, the operator of the Egyptian, had not been able to come to terms on a new lease with Seattle Central Community College, the building’s owner.

Ha, I said to myself. They’re just negotiating in the press. They’ll arrive at a deal at the last minute. Or maybe after the last minute. Maybe after the theater has been closed for a week or so and everybody has had a chance to fully realize what a bad idea this is. There is no way they’ll let the Egyptian close.

But it’s been a month and a half now, and it looks like the Egyptian is really closed. Wa-a-a-ah!!!

But what’s it matter to me? I’m 4,458 miles away from the Egyptian (as the 747 flies). It’s not as though I would be popping in to see any films there anyway, right? But it does matter. I needed to know that the Egyptian was there, that I could go back to it someday. Like I need to know that my favorite Mexican restaurant in Redmond is still there or the world’s best chocolate place on Broadway is still there. I have lost that sense of security forever.

For those who don’t know it, the Egyptian Theatre is a 98-year-old landmark on East Pine Street near Broadway on Capitol Hill. It was originally a Masonic temple, but it has been a cinema for years. In 1980 Dan Ireland and Darryl MacDonald turned it into a movie theater and gave it the Egyptian theme. Four years earlier the pair had founded the Seattle International Film Festival, which was originally held at the Moore Egyptian Theatre in Belltown. Landmark Theatres took over the Egytpian in 1989, and the Masons sold the building to SCCC in the early 1990s.

“Lots of great memories of time spent in that old theater,” wrote Miguel, adding, “Not to mention standing in line waiting for midnight SIFF movies or Secret Festival showings, etc. I’ll always have a fond memory of Kate Beckinsale, Rufus Sewell, and ‘something nasty in the woodshed.’ … Or being the last person admitted for a second full-house showing of Bubba Ho Tep. Or …”

Miguel mentioned that after seeing Beckinsale and Sewell in John Schlesinger’s Cold Comfort Farm, he actually got mistaken for Rufus Sewell afterward at the Closing Night party. I had never heard that story before and it had never occurred to me that the two looked anything alike. But now I see it. And to think, if not for the Egyptian, he would not have had that great anecdote to share—even if it was 18 years later.

Here is what I wrote back: “This news brought a flood of memories to me too. Some of the prominent ones: Trying to stay awake at 1:00 in the morning on a week night with only two other people in the audience at a three-hour Chantal Akerman film with no plot. Working up the courage to ask Monique van de Ven a question from the audience. Making eye contact with Anthony Perkins in a crowded lobby and having him give me a really creepy look. Watching Gonin with Darlene and agreeing that it was the best don’t-f**k-with-the-Yakuza movie ever. But mostly lots of queuing for Craig Cappuccino’s delicious double lattes and brownies in an effort to stay awake for one more movie.”

Michael wrote back, “Yeah, this made me very sad. Some would say absurdly sad—but then, they probably never stood in a line that wrapped around to Pike Street, with rain running down the backs of their necks because they forgot their umbrellas at the last show at the Harvard Exit—all just to see a movie that nobody knew anything about.”

That pretty much captures the spirit of SIFF in the 1980s, particularly at the Egyptian which was truly the festival’s heart and soul. My fondest memories are of the years when the entire festival was contained within the Egyptian’s bricked walls—and maybe at one other venue like the Market Cinema in the Pike Place Market.

“If I get started on the stroll down memory lane,” Miguel continued, “I could probably be typing for the rest of the day: sitting right behind Victoria Abril and Rossy de Palma for a screening of Almodóvar’s Kika; John Sayles’ mesmerizing early AM Q&A after a much-delayed premiere showing of Lone Star; Stephen Fry’s entertaining and witty Q&A after Wilde; Ken Russell’s hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, one-sentence introduction to Salome’s Last Dance (‘This movie should be taken very, very seriously!’).”

I am sure we could have kept the reminiscing going for days, but it was in neither of our hearts to draw out the wallowing to obscene lengths.

I suppose all is not lost. The building is not going to be demolished or anything. There has been chatter and speculation about SIFF taking over operations of the theater similarly to what it did with the Uptown Theatres on lower Queen Anne after that cinema ceased operations. We shall see.

In the meantime, I will continue my own personal wallow in nostalgia. Miguel said he was going to mark the June 30 closing date on his calendar and have a toast on the final day. I think I’ll do him one better and drink to the Egyptian every single night until it starts showing movies again. Martini, anyone?

-S.L., 14 August 2013

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