I moved to Nashville nearly six years ago, a few months ahead of my wife, who stayed behind to finish art school and test my worthiness from afar: was her mate capable of hunting and gathering work and shelter in a new city? I explored the city by bus, bike, and foot. One afternoon – surely before I had secured a job – I engaged in the true pastime of the unemployed: the unplanned movie.
I was made aware of the film via a rickety, spring-loaded sign that was resting on a sidewalk in Hillsboro Village: the day’s entertainments and showtimes were crammed onto the faded board in colored chalk. One title caught my eye. I checked my watch. I rechecked the sign and walked the half-block up to the box office and got my ticket for the 4:20 showing of Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Just as compelling as Banksy’s meta-documentary was the theatre itself: the seat cushions were flattened by thousands of rump-hours of fidgety pressure, and the decor was ancient. The men’s room turned the charms of a rustic cabin into pejoratives: it was spartan, cozy, and downright intimate. The concessions stand, I noted, sold alcohol in addition to buttery and chocolaty movie staples.
I had not been away from L.A. long enough to miss the grand single-screen theaters or indie multiplexes that were a stone’s throw from my last house in West L.A., so finding this place pre-emptively quenched an unrecognized thirst. Still, it felt good that I didn’t go there to satisfy the myriad well-meaning Nashvillians who I would eventually hear rave about the Belcourt – I had found it by myself, by chance.
Since that first serendipitous showing, I have attended the Belcourt often, but not often enough. It is close enough to our house that I can go on short notice. Since I am free during the days, I go alone half the time, and sometimes stay more or less alone through the whole film (the thinly attended Glenn Gould documentary Genius Within comes to mind). I have been there with Caitlyn many times (recently for Elliott Smith documentary Heaven Adores You), as well as with half of Nashville (opening night of Moonrise Kingdom). I have been there for movies so emotionally draining that they leave you speechless (Biutiful), and beer-lubed midnight movies so rollickingly hilarious that not even a screening of Biutiful could have wiped the smile off my face (The Room).
The Belcourt is the only game in town for many smaller films, so like it or not, you might run into co-workers (Sundance Short Films: 2013) there. Or Keith Urban (Birdman). The “big” indie films run for what seems like forever (Tree of Life), and those with narrower appeal (Mistaken for Strangers) might be gone after a day or so. I’ve been there to see friends (Chris Crofton in his standup act), and friends of friends (Trieste Kelly Dunn in Cold Weather). The last movie Caitlyn and I saw there was Best of Enemies.
So I got overly animated when, at a friend’s house about six weeks ago when I realized that the Stephanie I was chatting with wasn’t just any Stephanie, but Stephanie Silverman, the executive director of the Belcourt. We talked upon the theater’s upcoming multi-million dollar renovation, which will presumably expand the men’s room, but will certainly shutter the whole place until June. Our conversation veered toward wine, which I had never drunk at the theater, as I had always stuck to the sensible local beers they had on tap. Who chooses the booze at the Belcourt? I asked. Stephanie told me that they kind of choose themselves –with partisan help from sales reps.
I saw my opening. I’m a supporter, I told Stephanie – and a sommelier.
I am ecstatic to announce that I have wheedled, connived, finagled, and begged my way into a job as the sommelier of a non-profit movie theater. There will be no stopping us. We’re gonna pair Provence rosé with Pitt and Jolie. Shiraz with Crocodile Dundee. Merlot with Giamatti. Coppola with Coppola. I have never been so excited to start a part-time job.
Get ready, Nashville cine-oenophiles: The Belcourt will reopen early this summer, and the bar at the bar is being raised. I have goals. I have ambitions. I have a lead on respectable, swirl-able, cupholder-compatible wine glasses. After I get that done, everything else will just be the oily, buttery flavoring on top.
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