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Son of the Metro Cafe? Not if Logan Circle can help it.
Just saying the name of the former club and arts venue at 1522 14th St. NW has the same effect in the neighborhood as a dozen red capes have for a bloodied bull. Although the Metro Cafe closed back in August 2002 to make way for condo development, many of those who lived near the venue say they can still hear the echoes from night after night of such local rockers as Adam West and Lickety Split.
“People living as far as a block away, even those who’d spent thousands of dollars to soundproof their homes, still were not able to sleep at night,” says Tim Hillard, president of the Rhode Island West Neighborhood Association.
Anxieties resurfaced when Loganites spotted the name of Nick Nichols, former booking agent and promoter for the Metro Cafe, on a late-December liquor-license application. The idea was to open a new venue, Boxlife, at 1404 Rhode Island Ave. NW, featuring an assortment of theater, film, visual art, spoken word, and DJs.
The neighborhood mobilized with strike-force speed. Hillard’s organization and a half-dozen other Loganite groups—including the nearby Hotel Helix, Abdo Development, and two condo associations—have hired legal counsel to wring an agreement out of Boxlife. Among their demands: a ban on dancing there, no open hours on days without scheduled events, and sufficient parking for all the suburbanites who’ll be driving in to partake of the venue’s edgy dramatic productions.
Boxlife’s owners, though, insist they’re planning a two-level arts showcase that will present the best of the Metro Cafe’s fare—without all the bad stuff. “We’ve decided that live music was going to be out,” says Mark Zimin, a Boxlife partner and former DJ at the Metro Cafe who will manage the business end of the club. “Basically, we’re using the bar as a way to subsidize the art, to keep the theater in operation.”
The Metro Cafe hosted the plays of Cherry Red Productions for a number of years, and Zimin says Boxlife is already close to an agreement with another small D.C. theater company to take up residence in the second floor of the 1,800 square foot space. The entrance to the proposed site, which leads onto an alley, is no more than 50 feet away from Rhode Island Avenue and its forest of condominiums. That proximity—and the potential crowds—raises the hackles of neighborhood businesses as well as residents.
“We sell sleep,” says Scott Hammons, assistant general manager at the swank Hotel Helix at 1430 Rhode Island Ave. “And the alleyway is also vital to us to provide the services that we provide.”
Zimin says he’s already compromised on hours and music and is willing to be a good neighbor. But some of the community’s other proposals have him scratching his head. “No dancing—I don’t think that guarantee is possible,” he argues. “There’s no dedicated dance spaces [in the venue]. And there’s a whole culture of DJs in this city that have nothing to do with dancing. To not continue that tradition would be silly.”
The whole controversy gets taken up again on Feb. 24, when the two sides meet to hammer out the voluntary agreement. Hammons and Hillard both say the community would welcome an multiarts venue reined in by strong restrictions. But suspicion is still running high over Boxlife’s true intentions—especially because of a pop-up message on Metro Cafe’s old Web site that reads “The Metro Cafe is returning as BoxLIFE.”
“Nick Nichols’ presence was the red flag,” Hillard says. “The neighborhood would welcome a true theater that happened to serve cocktails. What the neighborhood is afraid of is a bar that happens to have theater.”
“Nick Nichols will be strictly [doing] arts programming,” counters Zimin. “It’s really not Metro Cafe.”
The American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is just now learning that you take what you can get.
The theater announced on Feb. 12 that it was canceling its screening of the 2004 Academy Award–nominated shorts, an event that had been scheduled for Feb. 20 to 26. The shorts are those live-action and animated films that the general public rarely sees and everybody votes for in their Oscar pools based purely on title.
The Silver programmers rationale for the move? They fully expected all 10 nominees, and had been told they were going to get at most five.
Except that the package was never going to contain all 10 films, according to Apollo Cinema, the L.A.-based distributor that has put together the presentation for the past four years.
“We explained to [AFI Silver] when we talked with them a month ago that we don’t know who’s nominated until the end of January,” says Corey Peterson, Apollo’s director of acquisitions and sales. “You always run into the chance every year that we might not get the program.”
Apollo also had a scant month between nominations and ceremony to secure the films’ rights. And with two of the nominees—Pixar Animation Studio’s Boundin’ and Disney’s Destino—coming from big studios not even yet in general release, the package was always going to be a little, um, short.
Unfortunately, the Silver didn’t get that message, and heavily advertised that it would screen the whole enchilada. “Be the only one at your Oscar party to have seen EVERY nominated film,” says the AFI Silver Preview, the theater’s calendar pub.
Murray Horwitz, director of the AFI Silver, admits that the promotion was in error. He says Apollo told him it had secured rights to only two of the films, and could at best promise just five, just last week.
“It’s not a good enough program,” says Horwitz. “I would have gladly stood in front of the audience and said ‘We only have eight, and we shouldn’t have said [we’d have 10]. The real sticking point was Apollo’s lack of confidence that they could offer more than five films.”
Now, though, Apollo’s Peterson says the distributor has six of the nominated films in hand and is close to securing rights for the other available two. And he adds that none of the other 70 or so theaters that have signed up for the shorts package have pulled out.
“Everybody else knows the way it goes—at the end of the day, they know they’re going to have a feature-length program,” says Peterson. “Everybody else is happy to have the bulk of it.”
Whatever its size, you’ll be able to see the package at Visions Bar Noir in late April or May. Andrew Mensher, Visions’ film programmer, scoffs at the Silver’s assumption. “That means they didn’t pay attention to the previous bookings,” he says.
“I’m glad Visions is showing it,” says Horwitz. “But I think I would have rejected six, too.”
Who’s seen all of 24 Hour Psycho, the centerpiece of the new Douglas Gordon exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, running through May 9?
Not the Hirshhorn’s director of art and programs and chief curator, Kelly Brougher. Nor Russell Ferguson, who originally curated the exhibition at its inauguration two years ago at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. And with reason: 24 Hour Psycho takes Alfred Hitchcock’s 109-minute film Psycho and slows it down so that the work, running at just under two frames a second, now lasts a full day.
“I personally can’t stay awake for 24 hours,” jokes Ferguson, who’s now deputy director of exhibitions and programs and chief curator at the UCLA Hammer Museum. Adds Brougher: “If you’ve seen Psycho, you’ve seen 24 Hour Psycho. You’ve just seen it at the wrong speed.”
But what if Gordon—or even Hitchcock—had slipped subliminal advertising or a suddenly bared breast into the work? Brougher, who says he’s caught “bits and pieces” of 24 Hour Psycho over a series of months when he curated a show with it at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, England, isn’t worried.
“The film is literally the film—nothing in it has been altered whatsoever,” Brougher says. “Douglas came up with the piece when he was bored. He played with Psycho in his brother’s videotape machine.”
It’s not the first time Gordon has elongated a movie’s running time for art: His Five Year Drive-By, which is not showing at the Hirshhorn, stretches John Ford’s The Searchers out to five years, the length of the film’s narrative. Brougher adds that he doesn’t think Gordon, who he says “comes close” to being a conceptual artist, intends anyone to watch the film all the way through. In fact, at a Hirshhorn press conference before the show’s opening, Gordon admitted that he was still too scared even to watch The Exorcist, which he shows on opposite sides of a translucent screen with The Song of Bernadette in his 1997 piece Between Darkness and Light (After William Blake).
Still, the Hirshhorn will be offering an opportunity to knock yourself out with its “24 Hour Access: 24 Hour Psycho” extravaganza on Feb. 28 and 29. The museum will stay open all night and offer DJs, breakfast, and a culminating conversation with Gordon—just in time for the film’s credits.
Unless the museum adds benches to the exhibition room for 24 Hour Psycho, though, potential marathoners will have to stand or slump against a wall. Said Peter Mikulas, a Milwaukee resident visiting D.C. who stopped by to see the exhibition on a recent Sunday afternoon: “They really have low expectations.” —Robert Lalasz
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