The New Cinephiles
Never mind Netflix. Forget cable. Barry Kryshka is luring the next generation of film fans out of their living rooms and into the communal dark.
BARRY KRYSHKA SITS QUIETLY on the steps leading to the projection booth, waiting for patrons to file into his theater. He should be lucky to fill half the seats. It’s a frigid February night. He’s showing Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in U.S.A., a rarely screened artifact of the 1960s French New Wave. And the Trylon theater itself, which Kryshka opened last year, is so nondescript as to be inconspicuous. It’s small, featuring just 50 red-cushioned rocker seats stuffed into the back of a one-story office building in south Minneapolis. Kryshka calls it a microcinema. ¶ The scent of fresh popcorn and classic candies wafts into the booth. Kryshka, in his late thirties, with a receding hairline, black-framed glasses, and the diffident manner of film geeks everywhere, has worked in such an atmosphere for most of his professional life. For about a decade, he worked at the Oak Street Cinema, selling tickets, cleaning up—“never doing anything dreadfully important,” he says. Throughout most of that pre-Netflix era, the Oak Street thrived as the area’s primary art-house cinema, attracting crowds with a blend of foreign, indie, and classic movies. By 2005, however, things had taken a turn. The organization was no longer very organized, and movies were becoming as easy to watch at home as clicking on a computer. Kryshka left the Oak Street just before it suffered a series of temporary closures and finally fell on its celluloid sword late last year.
Now Kryshka runs Take-Up Productions, which consists of himself and a squadron of volunteers. They screen films at the gorgeously retro Heights Theatre in northeast Minneapolis (complete with red-velvet curtains and pipe organ), occasionally other local cinemas, and now the Trylon. Kryshka opened his cinema several months before the Oak Street closed.
“I think much of my own motivation was actually pretty selfish,” he says. “I just wanted a venue where I could see films with other people.”
Kryshka had little idea how widely shared his simple desire was. He is as surprised as anyone that show after show either sells out or comes close, from film noir classics to cult favorites to just about anything else he throws onscreen. Not that he isn’t growing more confident about his business plan—and winning support in unlikely corners.
“Kryshka’s work has been a positive force in this town, and I’m glad he’s doing it,” says former Oak Street Cinema director Bob Cowgill, now a professor at Augsburg College. “A new audience for classic cinema is always waiting to be conjured and then cultivated, even if the audience doesn’t know it. But it takes enterprising people, who have faith in cinema’s power, to conjure them.”
The seats are full now, despite the circumstances, filled with a mix of sneakered indie-rock types in their twenties and bearded culture vultures in their fifties. Kryshka allows himself a smile before dimming the lights.
A NATIVE OF QUEENS, NEW YORK, Kryshka moved to St. Paul in 1989 to attend Macalester College. Shortly after graduation, he took the Oak Street job and soon fell in with the film buffs who worked or volunteered at the theater. Many of them, seeing the writing on the wall, jumped at the chance to help Kryshka when he formed Take-Up Productions in 2006.
In short order, Take-Up was organizing a flood of events in Minneapolis, including the local leg of the touring Bicycle Film Fest and screenings at the Riverview Theater, the Bell Auditorium at the University of Minnesota, and the Soap Factory gallery. Eventually, Kryshka added the Parkway Theater and the Heights to Take-Up’s venues, such that he is now the Twin Cities’ dominant purveyor of non-first-run films, with screenings several nights a week.
Kryshka doesn’t believe he has created demand so much as tapped it. “There have been so many accusations that Netflix—or DVDs, or VHS, or color TV—is going to be the end of repertory cinema,” he says. “This ‘end of cinema’ talk has come around many times, but it hasn’t really happened. The social aspect matters.”
Yet if Kryshka has revived the revival house concept in the Twin Cities, it’s not only because he’s fed a hungry audience but expanded it, augmenting the usual Hollywood classics with silent films accompanied by a hip local band, cultish B-movies of the sort that Mystery Science Theater 3000 used to mock, and, most notably, a steady diet of pop-cinema titles, such as the string of Bill Murray comedies slated for May.
Kryshka claims the lineup is less calculated than it appears. “My personal taste is a significant piece of it, about 50 percent,” he says. “I have my list of titles that I want to get around to and they wander all over—they’re not connected in any way.” Kryshka’s diverse style, it seems, simply—and serendipitously—mirrors that of a new generation of cinephiles: the channel-surfing, playlist-shuffling Gen-Y.
Kryshka’s feat, however, of pulling Caddyshack fans off their sofas and into the cinema, seems a hollow victory to some cinephiles, particularly as smaller, more obscure films have increasingly fewer big-screen outlets. These film fans instead gravitate to Minnesota Film Arts (MFA), the former programmer of the Oak Street, now screening films at the St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis. MFA’s headier style is reflected in its curation of the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Film Festival, which typically offers some 200 screenings of films from more than 60 countries.
“We take more risks,” says Ryan Oestreich, the MFA’s programming coordinator. “We’re bringing films to the theater that are not available in this country. You’re never going get them on DVD. You just can’t find them anywhere else.”
Kryshka sees Take-Up’s role differently. “I don’t think there’s a high artistic mission,” he says. “There are organizations that think it’s important to show people what’s good. We’re more interested in showing them things they’ll enjoy, not necessarily what’s good.”
The reason, Kryshka says, is that he believes the cinema is just as much about the sensation of watching movies in the dark together as it is about who or what is flickering across the screen. “There’s something about the immediacy of having an experience that you can’t stop or pause,” he says. “It focuses your attention in a way that the home [movie-watching] experience never does.” He pauses before offering his favorite analogy: “You can drink liquor at home, but that doesn’t mean the bars are going to go out of business.”
J. Diers is a Minneapolis writer and musician.
A peek at the April lineup from Take-Up Productions
With just one B-movie on the slate, the sci-fi Cherry 2000 at the Trylon on April 28, Take-Up is focusing this month on an Alfred Hitchcock retrospective. It’s not the first time anyone has done this in town—the master of suspense is a staple of repertory cinema—but Take-Up has leavened the classics with some of his stranger stuff. Here’s a sampling.
» Psycho (1960), April 5, Riverview Theater. “Mother’s not quite herself today.” No kidding.
» Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), April 16 and 17, Trylon. Hitch made a screwball comedy? Dangerously funny.
» Marnie (1964), April 19, Riverview Theater. What’s Sean Connery doing in a Hitchcock flick? Having a ball, per usual.
» Lifeboat (1944), April 26, Riverview Theater. Hitchcock’s camera never moves outside the eponymous dinghy full of eccentrics.
For the full calendar and locations, see take-up.org.