The Lee Art Theater: A Forgotten Cinema Treasure

As a lifelong film lover, I have fond memories of my movie-going youth in Richmond, Virginia. There were not only distinctly different neighborhood venues like The Westover Theater, the Willow Lawn and the Westhampton but also much more opulent movie palaces in the city like the Byrd, the Loew’s and three first-run hardtops, which were situated on one Broad Street block known as Richmond’s Theater Row – the State, Colonial and the National; the latter was later renovated and rebranded the Towne. B-movie double features, sword and sandal epics and English dubbed European genre films were more likely to show up at seedier theaters like The Grand and the Venus. There was even a theater that catered solely to black audiences – The Booker T – and a plethora of drive-in theaters scattered around the city like the Sunset, Rose Bowl and Twin Pines which exhibited some of the most obscure and bizarrely titled films of the period as witnessed by marque headliners Invasion of the Animal People, Daughter of the Sun God and other oddities. But the most eclectic of all was The Lee Art Theater on West Grace Theater, which often paired racy adult features (Russ Meyer’s Lorna, Paris Ooh-La-La) with serious art house dramas (The L Shaped Room, Breathless).

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Gone Missing: Bas Jan Ader

I had never heard of Bas Jan Ader, the Netherlands artist (1942-1975), until I saw Rene Daalder’s fascinating documentary, Here is Always Somewhere Else (2007). Even though Ader has attained a huge – and still growing – cult following since the early 1990s when his work began to enjoy a major reappraisal in art circles, one has to wonder if the rising popularity of his work as a conceptual/performance artist, photographer and filmmaker is partly due to his mysterious disappearance and not necessarily his surviving accomplishments. To die for your art is one thing but to vanish without a trace while you are beginning to receive critical and public recognition almost guarantees than an artist who is young, handsome and enigmatic will achieve some degree of deification. Continue reading