Mayor McGinn Stars, Sort of, at SIFF's Uptown Reopening

Standing outside the ticket booth, flanked by balloons, Mayor Mike McGinn was one of the demi-celebrities attending SIFF's gala reopening of the Uptown last night. SIFF even rented klieg lights to celebrate the occasion, though renovations aren't yet complete on the renamed SIFF Cinema at the Uptown. In fact, a construction crane loomed above our mayor, as workers were still fussing with the conspicuously blank marquee. McGinn looked a little nervous, as if a wrench might be dropped on his noggin. Inside, before the inaugural screening, technical issues continued to dog him . . .

McGinn, pictured at right with SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence (the fellow with beard and glasses), was probably relieved to get off the crowded sidewalk and inside the triplex, which will be showing sing-along and repertory titles during its shake-down week (details, plus a little history). The line, encouragingly, was around the block, though many were SIFF members or benefactors. (Over $20,000 has been spent on refurbishing the Uptown, which now has a nice blue paint scheme to match its new neon signage; more renovations are planned.) Before ducking in myself, I chatted with a passerby, who seemed a little unclear about SIFF's plans for the triplex. "Will they be open all year?" he asked. Yes, not just during the annual May-June film festival, which is a point Spence might've made more clear in his remarks before McGinn spoke inside.

In fact, beyond its fall calendar schedule for the Uptown, SIFF will be booking new first-run movies, not just art-house and repertory fare. The marquee, once they get the lettering in place, should be changing almost every week. And for the gala reopening of the 1926 cinema, appropriately, a film set in silent-era Hollywood was screened last night. But before The Artist, we heard from Spence, McGinn, and company.

"To see it empty was wrong," said the mayor of the Uptown, which went dark a year ago. The viaduct fiasco behind him, eager to align himself with the job-creators, McGinn then lauded "the economic value of art." Standing in a spotlight before the velvet curtain, he name-checked a few companies that are moving to Fremont and Pioneer Square. "These are the things that make us competitive" in attracting businesses, he continued. "There's arts, there's culture, there's transit."

Well, sort of. There's not much in the way of arts and culture down in Pioneer Square, where galleries are closing and storefronts remain empty. Nor is Fremont much of a draw in that department. Seattle Center certainly has more to offer; and that's where the new SIFF Film Center is also operating its single screen just a few blocks east of the Uptown. And, in fact, there's not much office space in the LQA neighborhood. But its bars and restaurants could certainly use the extra foot traffic that the SIFF Cinema at the Uptown might provide.

And then, almost by way of an editorial rebuttal to McGinn's remarks, the spotlight went out, leaving the mayor in darkness. Could this be an omen for his re-election chances? He chuckled at the indignity, and continued with his short speech. Then the spotlight went back on--a good omen? Then it went out again, so I stopped worrying about electoral symbolism.

It wasn't clear if McGinn stayed for the picture, which was well received by the full house of 500 (the other two cinemas hold 200 and 300 viewers). Set to open Nov. 23, The Artist is actually a silent movie, shot in black-and-white by French director Michel Hazanavicius, whose OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies was a favorite at SIFF '06. Jean Dujardin is again his leading man, here playing a Valentino-like star whose silent-era career is ruined by the advent of talkies. It's a deliberately sentimental comedy obviously indebted to A Star Is Born, a very affectionate period salute to Old Hollywood. Hazanavicius' wife, Bérénice Béjo (who also appeared in the first OSS 117 movie), plays the flapper whose Hollywood career takes a very different trajectory.

Cinephiles will most appreciate The Artist, though it also features a very cute, very well-trained dog; so it also may stand a chance with the family crowd come Thanksgiving. But just try explaining to your kids what a silent movie is. Or a black-and-white movie, for that matter.

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