Bethel Cinema closure leads Reel Dad to reflect
It has been, for so many in Fairfield County, the place to savor independent film.
And how sad to hear from Pam Karpen and Ken Karlan, owners of the Bethel Cinema located on Greenwood Avenue, that this iconic movie house is closing as a result of COVD-19. For so many years, this theater has been the place to see movies beyond the mainstream.
With delicious popcorn, and other tasty treats, the theater sustained its commitment to showcase independent film. For us, it was the port in a movie storm of endless sequels and comic-book movies because, at Bethel, we could always count on seeing a movie.
Here are eight of the favorites we savored at Bethel Cinema over the years.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Before independent movies could stream to audiences online, these films relied on theaters like Bethel Cinema to provide a showcase. This intense look at the challenges of a transgender man needed such a specialty house to find its audience. Fortunately, the film got a lot of attention at the New York Film Festival, before playing to appreciative audiences at Bethel Cinema. And, at Oscar time, Hilary Swank won her first Academy Award.
For years, Ed Harris had dreamed about exploring the life of artist Jackson Pollock on film. But it took him ten years to raise the limited budget to shoot this movie in only 50 days. At Oscar time, Harris was nominated for Best Actor for playing the lead while Marcia Gay Harden was a surprise Best Supporting Actress victor. And, at Bethel Cinema, the movie played “in the big theater” to adoring audiences. It was just the right kind of movie for Bethel to show.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
As one of the movies I best remember seeing at Bethel Cinema, this David Lynch creation would never have felt at home at a conventional multi-plex. Naomi Watts stars in a film that may not be quite sure what it wants to be but sure has a lot of fun trying all the alternatives. With a collection of unusual sequences - including a bizarre cameo by Broadway and movie legend Ann Miller - the movie takes a long drive to nowhere. But it sure is fun.
Far from Heaven (2002)
Now and then, Bethel Cinema got to house a perfect film. This brilliant interpretation of the classic movie dramas by Douglas Sirk in the 1950s was the best film in a year when Oscar looked the other way. Todd Haynes masterfully recreates the look and feel of Sirk’s “Magnificent Obsession” and “All That Heaven Allows” to frame a story filled with contemporary issues of deceit and disappointment within a troubled marriage. Simple cinema perfection.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Over the years, as Bethel Cinema would showcase some blockbusters, it sustained a sense of mission to showcase movies that needed extra care. It was the perfect place to see Ang Lee’s breathtaking look at a complex love affair between two men. While this film may have been too daring for Oscar - who, instead, gave the Best Picture award to the conventional drama “Crash” - it was made for the relaxed atmosphere of Greenwood Avenue.
That same year, Bethel Cinema hosted local showings of this detailed look at the life and writings of Truman Capote, specifically the months surrounding his development of “In Cold Blood” in the 1960s. Taking time to examine the author, his fears and disappointments, director Bennett Miller creates a thriller about what happens in someone’s mind as he tries to interpret what happened in someone’s house.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Bethel Cinema used to love quirky comedies that, today, might need to look to Netflix for a home. In this delight, Abigail Breslin, who would go on to be nominated for an Oscar, plays a little girl who simply wants to be in a beauty pageant. What’s so difficult about that? Well, in this dysfunctional family, nothing comes easily. Alan Arkin, who did win an Academy Award, shines as a grandfather who sees it all and still comes back for more.
In what may be my favorite experience of seeing a movie at Bethel Cinema, Richard Linklater’s tribute to the quirks of East Texas struck a chord with the audience at one Saturday matinee. All of a sudden, a crowd filled with people from Connecticut found themselves at home in the piney woods of that special part of the world as Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine recreated a most unusual friendship. I even remember hearing a few people in the theater try to twang.
Oh, how I’ll miss Bethel Cinema.
It just doesn’t seem fair that a place with such a purpose could find itself with so few choices. But little right now may seem fair.
Thank you, Pam and Ken, for making us feel so at home with so many types of movies.