Now showing: 100 years at the Art

The Art Theater — the oldest existing movie house in Champaign-Urbana — turns 100 this week. To celebrate, the Art Theater Co-op will have three premiere events on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The co-op also will present a 100th anniversary late-night event, "Freaks of Cinema," at 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Nov. 14, with a matinee this Sunday.

It will feature the 1932 pre-Hollywood code classic "Freaks" as well as cult short films — "animated stuff and weird, old things," said Austin McCann, general manager of the Art Theater Co-op.

You don't have to be a member of the co-op to attend any of the centennial celebrations, which not counting "Freaks of Cinema" will come in two acts:

Act I, "From Nickel to Pixel," will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and feature the debut of the short documentary "The Art Lives," directed by Luke Boyce of the award-winning Shatterglass Studios in Champaign.

There will also be a panel discussion with the authors of the new book, "The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years" by Perry C. Morris, Joseph Muskin and Audrey Wells.

The illustrated, detailed book, which will retail for $25, will be available for purchase at a discount that evening.

Act II at 8 p.m. Tuesday will feature "Time Trip," with the Andrew Alden Ensemble, a Boston-based chamber group that composes and performs scores to silent films.

The ensemble will accompany a McCann- and Alden-curated program of silent shorts dating from cinema's earliest days in the late 1800s to experimental works of the 1960s, among them shorts by Buster Keaton, "Alice in Wonderland" and classic movie ads.

The Tuesday night events also will feature food, drinks and a costume contest: People are encouraged to dress in the style of "Old Hollywood."

As an encore, the Alden Ensemble will return to the Art at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to perform its score to Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1932 horror film "Vampyr."

The ensemble visited the Art Theater last year to perform its score to F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu." The event sold out.

Originally called the Park Theatre, the structure at 126 W. Church St., C, was the first theater built in Champaign just to show movies. Over the decades it has gone through many identities, owners and operators. (For more on the history of the Art, read Tom Kacich's News-Gazette column at http://bit.ly/19uEY1N.)

The latest: The Art became a co-op in September 2012 and so far has 1,425 owners. Shares — owners may buy one or more — are $65 each. New owners are welcome. (Disclosure: I am a charter owner.)

The Art Theater Co-op shows first-run, usually indie films, plus new releases that have not garnered a lot of attention from the public.

Those include this past week's feature "Wadjda," the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first directed by a Saudi woman, Haifaa Al Mansour. The final screenings at the Art will be today, Nov. 7.

It tells the story of a young girl in a Riyadh suburb who is determined to earn enough money to buy a bike in a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl's virtue.

"With impressive agility, 'Wadjda' finds room to maneuver between harsh realism and a more hopeful kind of storytelling," New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote.

The co-op also shows what McCann calls "repertory films" — older movies such as "Singin' in the Rain," "Eraserhead," "Taxi Driver" and "Vertigo."

The next repertory film, starting the week of Nov. 15, will be a digital restoration of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Western "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (1966), starring Clint Eastwood.

The Art Theater Co-op's late-night screenings are at 10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and the following Thursdays. Sometimes Sunday matinees of the late-night fare are offered if they appeal to older folks, McCann said.

The late screenings, planned by a committee of co-op owners, usually draw a younger crowd for the cult, sci-fi, horror and "funny, outrageous" selections, McCann said.

From time to time, the Art Theater Co-op also offers special events such as informal discussions of documentaries or political features. For those, McCann tries to bring in experts from the University of Illinois.

Among other special events the Art Theater Co-op hosted in the past year are "Words and Pictures," featuring stand-up comics and visual projections, and "Sound and Light," bands playing music along to parts of movies.

Since taking over last year, the Art Theater Co-op — billed as the only art movie house co-op in the country — has gone completely digital and is trying to establish an identity.

"The Art Theater Co-op is always trying to be deeply rooted in the past of movie-going while moving into the future and being a progressive space to try new things and to influence the way people see movies," McCann said.

If you go

What: The Art Theater Co-op celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Art Theater

When: 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesday; 8:30 p.m. Wednesday; 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and next Nov. 14, and a matinee this Sunday

Where: Art Theater Co-op, 126 W. Church St., C

Tickets: All Tuesday night events are $15 for current co-op owners and $18 for others; "Time Trip" only on Tuesday night; tickets for the "encore" Wednesday featuring "Vampyr" with an original score performed live by the Andrew Alden Ensemble are $12 for all; late-night events are $7 for all

Information: 355-0068; http://www.arttheater.coop

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