Welcome back to the movies!

David Filipi, Layla Muchnik-Benali, & Chris Stults

Jul 12, 2021

Wexner Center Film/Video Theater

We're so excited to invite audiences to return to the Film/Video Theater after focusing on presenting films virtually for over a year. Below, Wex Film/Video Director Dave Filipi, Associate Curator Chris Stults, and Curatorial Assistant Layla Muchnik-Benali discuss the reopening, their favorite moviegoing memories, and what they're most looking forward to sharing with audiences in the weeks ahead.

Conceiving Ada

Tilda Swinton in Lynn Hershman Leeson's Conceiving Ada; image courtesy of Strand Releasing

Dave Filipi: After being closed since March of 2020, the film program at the Wexner Center for the Arts resumed in-person screenings on July 9 with Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Conceiving Ada, the first film in a series dedicated to the artist. Since March, we've learned a lot about online programming and streaming films that we’ll continue to implement moving forward, but we're very excited to be getting back to in-person screenings for a whole host of reasons. I thought we'd start with Layla, who had—I guess I’d use the word “misfortune”—to start just a couple of months before we were shutting down due to COVID-19. Layla, you certainly have the freshest pair of eyes of the three of us and I’m wondering if you have any thoughts or reflections as we've gotten ready to go back in person.

Layla Muchnik-Benali: I know, it's weird that I've worked at the Wex for a year-and-a-half now, but most of that time has been remote. I’ve been thinking about how our job at the Wex is to serve the public and be a resource for the public, and in the pandemic that has continued—we’ve done virtual programming that has reached a really wide audience across the entire world and definitely helps make our programming more accessible in general—but I really miss the feeling of connecting with the local community and seeing people who are from Columbus, or who drive from all over Ohio to come see something at the Wex. I just miss audiences, and the public, and being able to experience something in a shared way; I miss seeing a film in the theater sitting next to people! I recently went to see my first movie since the pandemic and there was one other person in the theater, and even that felt special. So I am excited for that component of moviegoing to return; that particular shared experience. That said, I also think it’s critical to keep our virtual programming going as well, since not everyone is able to come to a theater for a whole host of reasons. I'm curious what you're thinking about, Chris, in terms of a return to in-person. 

Chris Stults: I recently went to a movie theater for the first time in over a year and I'd forgotten exactly how valuable that experience is. Watching stuff at home for the past year or so kind of levels everything. It's hard to get into a dedicated mindset where everything else in the rest of your life falls away. Just being in a movie theater and focusing on a movie felt so generous. To be able to just give yourself over to a film for however long it lasts, not picking up your phone or going to get a drink or snack in the middle of the movie. I’m appreciating it more than ever even though it's always been a big part of my life. It’s the experience we try to create at the Wexner Center and I hope other people are feeling similarly, in terms of desiring that focus and shedding of distractions.

LMB: Totally agree, Chris! I am so easily distracted when I watch things on my computer, I’m really looking forward to the immersive experience of the theater again. Do you have any memorable moviegoing experiences that you still think about to this day?

CS: Two memorable movie theater experiences come to mind right away. I remember when I was a kid in the 1980s, they used to do preview screenings of a movie that hadn't come out yet, and then you could stay for something that was in current release by the same studio for free. My best friend and I went to see a preview of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and then you could stay and see National Lampoon's European Vacation. There's the scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure with Large Marge that’s pretty memorable moment and surprising. My memory is that it was all approximately 13-year-old kids in that theater and during that scene, it felt like everybody just lost their minds. One kid was running up and down the aisle and screaming in response to the movie. In my memory, it's like that scene in Gremlins when the gremlins are watching a movie and the theater it’s just chaos. That was a moment where I realized the power of watching a movie with an audience.

The Devil's Cleavage

Ainslie Pryor in George Kuchar's The Devil's Cleavage

And then another more recent and nuanced memory about the pleasure of movie-going happened at the Wexner Center a few weeks before I officially started working there.There was a Guy Maddin retrospective and Guy picked out films by other filmmakers to pair with his own features. I forget what film of his Guy showed first, but the second film was The Devil’s Cleavage by the underground filmmaker George Kuchar, which is like maybe 130 minutes of lurid dialogue and melodramatic plots. If you have the sensibility to appreciate it's a bountiful two-plus hours of delights—joyous perversion after joyous perversion. But if you're not in the mood for it, the movie is probably a very long sit. I remember, there were probably 80 people at the start of that movie and by the end of it there were, I think, just about eight of us left in the audience. I remember, those of us who stayed for the whole thing all just looked around at each other and it felt like we all went through a thing together. I was like this real bonding experience that showed you who your people were by looking around that room! 

LMB: For me, my mind goes to The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago my freshman year of college, but I ended up transferring. I distinctly remember feeling so lost and overwhelmed trying to find my feet in Chicago, just trying to process this huge life change! The Gene Siskel had a Robert Bresson retrospective and I went to see several of his films by myself, which ended up being a life raft—it really helped me cope with feeling so depressed and anxious all the time. His films often rely on long takes and slow, meditative scenes—there was something almost spiritual in his films. They really gave me something to hang on to, something to ground me. I remember leaving the theater and seeing Chicago and my environment in a different light. You know, that feeling when you leave the theater and you're still kind of in it--you're still seeing the world as if it was in that film. I’m curious about your memorable moviegoing experiences, Dave, anything come to mind? 

DF: Well, Chris mentioning Pee Wee’s Big Adventure reminded me of a film I saw in my little hometown in northern Minnesota of 2000 people. When I was probably about nine or 10 years old, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown came to our theater, and it was a completely full house. I'm not sure what happened, but it was just complete chaos. Our projectionist’s name was Woody, and he had a little projectionist porthole, and we would always try to throw ice cubes through the hole and stuff like that. But it was exponentially worse, this time—to the point that our little weekly hometown newspaper had letters to the editor about the hooligans in our town, how terrible it was at the movies that night!

Car Wash

Otis Day, Antonio Fargas and Darrow Igus in Michael Schultz’s Car Wash; image courtesy of Universal Pictures

DF: OK, one last question: Of the films that we have on the schedule between July and the end of the year, which one are you looking forward to the most?

LMB: I think Daughters of the Dust for me. I've never seen it in a theater, I've only seen it on my computer, and when I watched it on my computer I thought, I need to see this in a theater. It actually showed in Philly after I moved away, so I texted all my friends and told them to go see this movie because it's really amazing! And they did manage to go see it, and I was so glad that they did. So I’m excited for that one! What about you, Dave?

DF: We’re showing Car Wash in October as part of a Michael Schultz retrospective, and that was a film that really stuck out to me in my childhood. I think I saw it at least two times and maybe three at my hometown’s theater. I haven't seen it since--sometimes it would come on TV once in a while, but I haven’t really sat down and watched it. So I just re-watched it again in order to prepare for the Schultz retrospective and I just loved it. I can’t wait to see it big with the sound cranked up, because it has such a fantastic Motown soundtrack. I’m excited to see it with an audience. You know, it mostly got lukewarm reviews when it opened in the US, but it also played overseas, and it got terrific reviews in other countries that zeroed in on some of the class-based and racial themes that were going on in the film that American critics didn't talk about whatsoever. So it’ll be interesting to see if that film ever got a grander reconsideration.


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