Movie Bar! - A Retrospective

Season One

It’s been six since months since the doors to the Movie Bar opened and began its effort to deliver to Belfast a programme that brought focus to the overlooked, forgotten and simply unknown corners of cinema. With these aims in mind and the idea of creating a twenty-first century grindhouse cinema, that would sit somewhere between 1970’s New York and the audiences living room ala 1980’s video nasties revolution, the first season was molded around the opening night which just so happened to be a Northern Irish premiere. Friday 17th September saw a double bill of The Human Centipede – First Sequence and a private members screening of Grotesque lovingly called DOCTORS! and proved to find the audience desired straight away. Pleasing cheers, boos and rounds of applause broke out throughout the opening feature before the mood turned dark and nervous for the Japanese torture flick. The night proved to be a wonderful success and with a sold out show straight out of the blocks promised a lot for the future of subterranian cinema.
 
The selection of a blaxploitation evening for week two was queried as a little weird by some. The implication being perhaps that the programming was all over the place but the intent was to reinvent almost immediately. To take the level of darkness and unease experienced with DOCTORS! and to match that with fun and relaxation with BLAX! featuring Coffy and Dolemite. The blaxploitation sub-genre is iconic amongst those in the know but perhaps it was a little too early in the evolution in the Movie Bar to attract the numbers that was hoped for. Still, half a house capacity and everyone involved seemed to have a genuinely wonderful time which, coupled with comparisons between the Movie Bar and some venues in New York that two patrons had experienced, is all you can really ask for.

Week three was something of a difficult one as the idea was to have an alternative ladies night. This was, at the time of programming, at the peak of the hype surrounding the simply dreadful Sex and the City 2 which brought about the idea that if that terrible cinematic atrocity could get on 20 plus screens in the city then surely we could put some actual films featuring strong ladies on one. There was two slight problems for LADIES! night. The films, The Switchblade Sisters and Inside, though both brilliant were perhaps too different to sit side-by-side with each other and the other that males outnumbered females by two (maybe three) to one. Saying that it ended on a sharper, more satisfying, note as arguably the better film ran second in the order where previously both nights led with the stronger title.
 
Eventually the Movie Bar reached Halloween and the EVIL! all nighter than saw a nineteen hour working day and four films themed around the devil and hell. After two fifty percentage houses back to back the Movie Bar returned to sold out for Embodiment of Evil, Race with the Devil, The Devil Rides Out and a mystery film ultimately revealed as Drag Me to Hell. It was almost as if the devil had been angered by not being able to attend as all ended a bit flat. After the amazing reception of Coffin Joe and then entertaining thrill rides of beautiful yet dated RWTD and TDRO the Movie Bar entered the home straight only to fall at the finishing line. Five minutes before the end of Drag Me to Hell the film stuttered…froze and then died leaving a sold out house annoyed and a little unfulfilled. This was nothing to the feeling of utter dejection felt by both myself and my fellow programmer. The sudden change of emotion associated with a personal project like the Movie Bar is something that almost can’t be described and for weeks Season Two was the last thing either of us wanted to hear or think about.

It wasn’t long before the disappointment had passed and talk turned to programming opportunities regarding Season Two. The term “difficult second album” is one passed around a lot of the time to explain or pre-empt disappointment. Difficult second programme was the perfect way to look at the Movie Bar at this point in time as every possible current title enquired about led to dead ends and closed doors and it was only a chance conversation that led to the decision to take it the other way. Rather than try and match the success of The Human Centipede it should go the other direction. A Serbian Film had been highlighted as a possible “Centipede” for season two but after viewing the one thing that prevented it’s inclusion, more than the potential heat from religious chapters for screening it, was the fact that it just wasn’t very good. Interesting yes, smart in parts but it wasn’t the film we had expected…perhaps we bottled it. Instead the direction was changed to focus purely on fun.

Season Two

ELVIS! kicked off the second term with offerings King Creole and Charro! playing to a house full of the Elvis Presley fan club and surprisingly the most enjoyable cinematic experience at the Movie Bar thus far. FILTH! was next and typical for season two not without it’s issues. The original offering of Mutliple Maniacs and Desperate Living quickly became Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living due to licensing issues and then again…finally settling on the line-up of Female Trouble and Pink Flamingos. I often wonder how the Belfast audience would have taken to Divine being sexually assaulted by a six foot lobster named Lobstora (Multiple Maniacs). The night was a complete success, sold out house filled by a healthy mix of die hard John Waters fans and fresh faced Waters virgins who were eager to see more. The bar was set even higher as FILTH! became the most fantastically pleasurable night to date at the Movie Bar.
 
Once again the Movie Bar was at the end of it’s season and again being confronted with Sam Raimi (director of Drag Me to Hell) as he served as producer to the second title in the interactive Movie Bar experience of action BINGO! This idea was something of a stretch and though most people appeared to "get it" when it was explained to them, the thought of playing bingo to Invasion U.S.A and Hard Target perhaps was one, like BLAX!, that could have been saved for a time when the Movie Bar was a little further evolved. Although it was an extremely enjoyable night, it’s always good to end with a little CCR.

It’s been one month since the Movie Bar closed it’s doors on a successful second season and the job of rebooting and coming back stronger is here. If we don’t make it to a Movie Bar Season Three I’d like to thank everyone who gave us their hard earned money to watch films that we picked purely on personal preference. I’ve never had as much fun and as much pride in something I have done professionally than I have in relation to the Movie Bar and it was made by those who attended.

Thank you.

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