The larger half of Corvallis sees this town as an idyllic landscape painted by the love-child of Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, and Frida Kahlo. Others see it as more Dali-esque with Francis Bacon undertones. I live in the grey area between these two camps which allows me to coexist with people who feel free to indulge in selfies while holding up the coffee line, and the indigenous hipster 20-something with his man-bun. People who embrace fads the way I eschew them means fad-ers can melt into a fluid smugness, eddying about the cause du jour. This smugness was not something I found remarkable during the first half of my almost two-decade tenure as a Corvallian. I knew it was there, but assumed not needing to rest my self-esteem on my ability to impress others with my open-mindedness and spiritual loftiness left me immune. This notion was dispelled a decade past when the twilight sky of the Avalon Cinema was turning from orange to midnight blue. After ten years of bringing movies to Corvallis, the Avalon was being transformed a few blocks up and a couple blocks over into a new place on the Darkside.
When the Avalon was comfortably into its sunset days my near-pathological need to keep people moving through its lobby was dimmed by, well, knowing it really didn’t matter any more. Not that it ever did. On a nondescript afternoon a rather tight knot of us talked and laughed and talked some more in the Avalon lobby. A rather brusque woman of considerable unhappiness swooped down upon us. She Mosesed (Yes, a biblical character as a verb. You’re welcome.) her way through the affable and glared at me over the counter. Leaning in like a cop or conspirator, she growled, “I'm leaving this place and leaving you to your smug little hamlet!” She looked at me like she had just given me some sort of password and I was supposed to provide her microfilm or self-illuminating briefcase. Upon realizing she was getting nothing more than my best Wow-You’re-An-Idiot pokerface, she fled with the same gusto in which she arrived. In typical Corvallis fashion, many of the people in the lobby wondered if she was in need of aid or was just having a bad day, the poor dear. My internal dialog was somewhat less charitable.
In my inner musings I searched for any reason she would have said such a thing. I didn’t know her—or so my colander of a memory insisted. I had no recollection of her ever coming to a show. Yet, somehow I was iconic enough in her Corvallis experience that it was necessary to say goodbye to me with a solid bridge-torching. I had become a Citizen of Corvallis, and a public one at that. Ten years ago when this encounter took place, selfies were not epidemic and men tying their long hair into ballerina buns on the top of their heads was mercifully rare. Just as scarce was my awareness of my place in this town—a purveyor of films that many saw as smug as my opinion of the lowest denominator of photography and male fashion. Thus, I was becoming recognizable as a Corvallis citizen. At the time, I didn’t see that this was something I needed to consider beyond not using the F-word when speaking publicly. How wrong I was.
Something I’m right about is that the Darkside is not in danger of closing soon. But, there are changes coming. The landscape of this business has changed since our time as the Avalon and competition is not just coming from the other end of 9th Street, it’s coming from across the street and down the block. For most of 20 years the Avalon/Darkside has been making a place in our town for local and global issues to be explored cinematically. This has been our only job. A couple decades ago the Avalon Cinema took over from Oregon State University the task of providing international movies to the community. From there we have taken on hosting international film festivals and events around such topics as sexuality, the environment, and health care. We are nationally recognized as a cinema willing to take a chance with important though less profitable movies, no matter how far the topic veers from the comfortable mainstream. Remarkable and well-known filmmakers from across the land have visited and premiered their work at the Darkside Cinema. This is not the kind of thing that happens in mixed venues. This is the kind of thing that happens when a group of people dedicate their lives to one thing: Cinema. We’re not in it for the money. Please. We are in it so there's a place in Corvallis for people to gather to experience important film.
Every Tuesday we do a community movie night. Ygal puts together a playlist with a couple of news reels and cartoons before an old feature movie. We charge no admission, and quietly suggest donations. Every so often some musicians will drop in and play along with a silent film. It’s great. We’ve been doing this for over a year and frankly, there is no money left to keep doing it. Almost every week I swear it is the last week. Then I find myself on the street watching our Tuesday regulars arrive. These are not the pretty people populating our finest restaurants and bars. Many of these people look forward to Tuesday night all week. They dress up and meet with friends and slowly make their way up the sidewalk. They sit in the lobby after the movie and talk, because frankly a few of them have nowhere else to go. Not only do we provide movies that some people find uncomfortable, we provide movies for people some find uncomfortable to be around. This is what we do and this is who we are. So, I guess we’ll give it another week and see if the money shows up.
The Darkside is the extension of the experiment known as the Avalon Cinema. With my youthful arrogance and the help of many good people, the Avalon grew into something bigger than just a tiny theater run by some character who could never hold down a real job. The Darkside is an extension of that labor of love and it is the love of the community that fuels it. So with the advent of selfie-sticks and man-buns, we can see that times, they are a changin’. We have to make some decisions that will assure the Darkside will remain part of the Corvallis cultural landscape long after I’ve ridden off into the sunset on my Vespa, leaving others to run the show.
All of us at the Darkside are invested in what the Darkside has become and will be. These days I’m not the only one charting the future of the Darkside. You know the other people because they are part of the Darkside and Corvallis community. We will likely be making hard decisions that will piss off some people. We will likely be forced by self-preservation to protect what we have been doing in the community. We will be engaging in partnerships that some may question. Unlike that arrogant prick I was when I opened the Avalon, I and my partners in crime really take the position of the Darkside Cinema in the community very seriously and will be making sure those who have loved and supported us for so long will have their voices heard as the future unfolds. I may still give you my Wow-You’re-An-Idiot pokerface, but you’d be disappointed if I didn’t.