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Keeping Classic Cinema Alive At The Heritage House

Curator Kris Jones discusses upcoming films at The Heritage House

Since the fall of 2012 (and before the current COVID-19 quarantine, of course), HERITAGE HOUSE ARTS & CIVIC CENTER in East Brainerd has been presenting an assortment of community activities for those with a creative sweet tooth -- from acoustic coffee house concerts to English Country Dance lessons to a monthly mixer for independent filmmakers and a film series featuring classics both Hollywoodian and foreign.

Harsh Shadows, Hard-Boiled Anti-Heroes, and Dangerous Dames

Initially launched as a film noir retrospective in August of 2012, 'The House' (as it is fondly called by its patrons) kicked off one of the latest of its ever-growing artistic offerings with a restored print screening of Edgar Ulmer's dark road movie, Detour (1945).

In what is now considered something of a textbook on masterful low-budget filmmaking, actor Tom Neal plays an out-of-work bar pianist who decides to hoof-it cross-country in order to marry his torch singer girlfriend. She has recently left him for the lights of fame in Hollywood, but unfortunately for Neal, fate has other plans . . ,

In addition to Detour, 'The House' would go on to showcase other classic 'noirs' -- films such as Kansas City Confidential (Phil Karlson, 1952) -- a major influence on Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets (1950) -- in which a New Orleans doctor and the policeman have a mere 48 hours to locate a killer (Jack Palance) infected with pneumonic plague, and a Women's History Month double-feature composed of Ida Lupino's thriller The Hitch-Hiker (1953) and social drama The Bigamist (1953).

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

In September of 2016 Heritage House was approached by Chattanooga's Russian Film Club (aka Russkie Kino Klub), which had recently outgrown the living room of their founder and were looking for a new screening venue. And thus, the International Film Series was born.

The coming years featured a wide variety of monthly offerings ranging from examples of the early days of the Russian silents (Dziga Vertov's 1929 Man With a Movie Camera was but one example) to the post-Soviet Union era -- all enjoyed on the big screen. Each of the screenings was also preceded by a potluck meet & greet where attendees could get to know their fellow film-lovers as well as learn a bit more about Russian film & culture.

Additional highlights of what came to be programmatically known as 'The Slavic Film Series' included a screening of the highly vodka-infused comedy Peculiarities of the National Hunt (something of a national institution in Russia -- it has inspired a whole host of crazy sequels), a showing of Sergei Eisenstein's highly influential Battleship Potemkin synchronized to a contemporary score by pop group the Pet Shop Boys, and a 'BackLot' filmmaker screening of Andrei Tarkovsky's cult science-fiction film, Stalker (1979).

TCM Gives the Heritage House Classic Film Series the 'Thumbs Up'

In August of 2019 the Heritage House gained the ultimate "classic movie endorsement" when Turner Classic Movies of Atlanta made the Heritage House group an authorized local chapter. The group followed suit by crowning themselves 'The Scenic City Cinephiles' as their official moniker.

Field trips to the Regal Cinema, East Ridge AMC, and Tivoli soon followed, with the group assembling to take in such immortal classics as The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994), Night of the Iguana (John Huston, 1964), Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962), and Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944).

Meanwhile, back at Heritage House -- in the interest of keeping the everyday experience of going to the movies fresh and interesting, host Kris Jones is always looking for new themes to program around and ways to spice things up . . .

A Favorite Film Genre Gets Its Day

As the Scenic City Cinephiles are longtime fans of the 1920s/30s gangster genre, Kris came up with the idea of pairing a screening of the original Howard Hawks crime film Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932) with a cameo as the host of what came to be known as 'The Vintage Gangster-Speak 101 Game Show'. In the latter, the various audience contestants try to guess the meanings of the curious phrases so common to the genre from flashcard images projected on the screen. The winners of the evening walked away with, appropriately, a deluxe blu-ray of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990).

Food? Did someone say FOOD?

And truly, there really aren't too many extremes to which Heritage House Director Chris Holley and host/series curator Kris Jones won't go to keep their guests entertained and coming back for more. Light refreshments and popcorn are always provided at each screening free of charge, and during the monthly 'BackLot' screening on the third Monday, a potluck dinner 'meet & greet' at 6 pm precedes the formal screening at 7 pm.

And speaking of "food" -- in many a year November and its traditional holiday highlight has been celebrated at Heritage House as "Cinematic Turkey Month" with the appropriate 'main course.' "Classic" turkey screenings have included big-screen showings of Robot Monster (Phil Tucker, 1953), Ed Wood's notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space (restored in 4K, no less!), Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Nicholas Webster, 1964), and this past November, Attack of the Cuban Rebel Girls (Barry Mahon, 1959) -- Errol Flynn's sad swansong of an action film paired with Voice of Cuba -- Flynn's pro-Castro documentary which he filmed concurrently.

So, on the night in question, it was only appropriate that Mr. Castro himself oversee the festivities.

'12 Nights of Bela' (October 2020)

Fast-forwarding to October of 2020, Heritage House is featuring the filmography of the screen horror legend BELA LUGOSI with five features from the actor's 25+ year career. Each of the films is preceded by a 20' episode of The Phantom Creeps cliffhanger serial at 7pm. In the 1939 episodic Lugosi plays a mad scientist intent on, well, to use his words, "Destroying the world!"

Each of the main features will be screened on consecutive Thursdays in October at 7:30 pm; with additional Phantom Creeps episodes streamed in the interim (there are 12 in all) during the week at 7 pm on the days between.

You can find the entire '12 Nights of Bela' / October schedule (as well as many additional free and 'streamable' movies you may have missed since March) by visiting the Heritage House Arts & Civic Center - MAIN site on Facebook AT:

Heritage House Director Chris Holley and Film Series Curator Kris Jones are looking very forward to welcoming back their many devoted attendees sometime in the near future, but until then, they recommend that all of their fellow creatives and cineastes simply . . .