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Exhibiting Independence: Paul Turner's Art House

The sumptuous surrounds of the 'Av.
by Natasha Theobald

Any journey to the arthouse oasis that is the Avalon Cinema must begin with finding where it is. If you check the website, which is filled with stream of consciousness content from the mind of Avalon owner Paul Turner, the advice you will find is as follows. "Avalon Cinema is at 160 NW Jackson St. in Corvallis, Oregon. To get here, first drive to Oregon, then drive to Corvallis, then drive to Jackson Street. It's that easy!" The line may give you a chuckle, but easy doesn't begin to describe Paul's journey to the creation of a truly independent art cinema. However, to the delight of film lovers, 'difficult' doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent to this enigmatic theater-owner.

The Avalon Cinema opened in Corvallis, Oregon, on Septermber 12, 1997. It has 110 seats and, as of 2001, Dolby Surround Sound. Again, according to Paul and the website, it's "soul purpose is to exploit art films for money." If that sounds like the kind of task Sisyphus would suit up for, you may begin to understand the benefits of an easy-going nature and a good sense of humor when building an arthouse from scratch. The humor resounds throughout Turner's website and seems to be just one more part of the man shared through this, his chosen business.

Like many of us, this cinema rebel discovered his passion for movies when he was "old enough to walk into a cinema." The first dream was to make movies, but, according to Turner, schooling in that direction led him to believe his ability was not as strong as his desire. The dream of self-employment and his continued love for film led to this, his second bite at the cinematic apple. He started at age eighteen, when a friend got him a job at a drive-in, and even at that tender age, he knew he had stumbled upon something he could do and love. Years passed, as did other jobs from teaching to construction, but the little spark which never faded became flame. As "drive-ins are a little scarce" and "first-run film usually results in brain cell loss," Paul "wandered into art house land." As for how the dream of the Avalon became a reality, Paul is a bit vague, citing merely "lots of fucking hard work."

The upside? "No one works this hard for something they don't love...." The biggest reward of the work, he says, is waking up every day knowing he is going to do work he loves. That said, we often love things that are not necessarily good for us. The job is stressful, and the rewards don't often come in the form of money. The guy flipping burgers down the street probably sees more cash at the end of a given week than Paul does, added to which, he has all the usual problems of business to face. People must be paid, film companies want their rental fees, the building needs repairs, and THE SHOW MUST GO ON. While such difficulties have led to illness and divorce, Paul remains immovable. In fact, he is asking for more.

"When Carmike opened a 12-plex a few miles up the street from me and started playing product I count on to stay alive, I needed to make a choice." Paul could fold or look for another niche... or he could expand and take the big guys on directly. Thus he began construction on a second location. More screens create space for a longer run, the type of thing which tends to make the arthouse film companies pretty giddy. Paul chose to go with small auditoriums in an existing building, four forty-nine seaters to be exact. Welcome to the Darkside, "created in the spirit of the Avalon Cinema."

The Darkside found its home above a local bookseller. When it opens, in the very near future, it will show the same fare as does the Avalon, but the increased number of screens makes for more variety within the genre that audiences have responded to in growing numbers. Paint was put on the walls in December, causing eager Corvallis movie fans to salivate at the prospect of a grand opening -- soon.

How is Paul making it work? One way toward the goal is the sale of FlickClique memberships. For giving at a variety of levels, FlickClique members may enjoy benefits at the Avalon and Darkside, as well as, in some part, the Fox Theater and Motor Vu Drive-In, both independently owned in Dallas, Oregon. Benefits include reduced admission rates, snack bar credits, and your choice of super-cool Avalon/Darkside t-shirt. If you are a movie freak t-shirt lover, the choices are worth checking out and, perhaps, purchasing via e-mail. See more at http://www.corvallismovies.com.

Paul is interactive with the community of film lovers he attracts. His website claims that suggestions are welcome, from film ideas to snack bar necessities to what the staff might wear. But, the films shown are not selected solely based on the interest expressed directly to him. Paul also listens to the booker, who has some idea of what films are playing well in similar markets. Scheduling concerns are a factor, and sometimes you have to go with what is available. Too, he knows from some experience what he will like, personally, as well as what has a shot, locally, to play well. While "nothing says art house like Adam Sandler..." (just kidding) Paul is always willing to go back to what has worked before. For example, when he sees the filmmakers behind Amelie have a new project, that is likely to get booked. He also looks to Asian martial arts films and British comedies to do well. Mainstream directors dabbling in arty fare tends to bring 'em in, as well.

Now for some of the shenanigans and tomfoolery. The Avalon website is an entertaining read and not just because Paul is a witty guy. The history of the site is retold, and not only in the words written about it. The website includes answers to 'Frequently Asked Questions' dating back to the earliest days of the Avalon, which allow one to track the progression of the cinema through the questions and answers as given. Alongside those, there are many other pages of bizarro content which tend to illuminate the man that built the Avalon, and the reasons it has proved so successful. Enjoy.

From 'Slogans We've Considered and Mostly Discarded':
"We suck less."
"We've experienced the joy of a welfare Christmas."
"Where we insist on washing our hands after restroom use."
"Where we make it a point to let you know we're glad you're here... even if it involves physical violence."
"Where running with scissors is discouraged, not outlawed."
"Where if we don't have an answer, we'll make one up for you."
"Where decorating takes an evil turn down a dark and lonely road." (In response to a customer question, Paul credit Goodwill for the Avalon decor.)
"Where we have little fear of being hated for our beauty."


AND...

"Viagra for your cinematic enthusiasm."

While Paul gets the occasional question which begs to go left unanswered, (consider the customer who said, "You show art films? Like Men in Black?" or "Do you ever play movies with a bestiality theme?" from a guy out walking his dog) there are some questions and answers which bear repeating. Many an issue seems alcohol related. From the drunk man who said, "I bet if you sell beer, no one would tell," to the countless others who won't let the issue fade, Paul put the matter to rest thusly in 2001:

Q: When are you getting beer for your theater?
A: After I've ingested enough to believe it's a good idea. Still drinking....


Paul does let people bring in their own food, though, generous soul that he is. This is with the caveat that taking out your trash is essential and no smelly foods are allowed. It's also more neighborly of you if you buy something at the snack counter, as well.

More customer questions:

Q: I've come in and you've been sold out.
A: Come earlier.

Q: What's the deal with you occasionally playing first-run movies?
A: Because I love e-mails that start with "You sold out." ...

Q: Can we save seats?
A: Only if you get them to repent first.

Q: Sometimes your website calendar is wrong.
A: Until the canonization goes through, I can make mistakes. ...

Q: What's the funniest thing anyone has ever asked you?
A: When we were running the movie Pecker
, a very nice older woman came in and asked "How long is John Waters' Pecker? ...

It takes a special individual to properly deal with the general public in a way that doesn't offend, and, most days, Paul seems to handle it with aplomb. So, if you find yourself near Oregon with a couple of hours to kill and a few bucks to spend, there is a place deserving of that time and money. Just drive to Oregon, then to Corvallis, then to Jackson Street.

It's that easy!


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1304
originally posted: 01/18/05 08:43:57
last updated: 01/19/05 21:45:13
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