When I decided to return to my old stomping grounds in the Miami Valley for the day, my plans included going to the University of Dayton basketball game and visiting my great aunt on the farm. Out of curiosity I checked to see what downtown Dayton's arthouse theater was showing and discovered that it was playing a film that hasn't yet opened in Columbus. Catching a noontime matinee fit into my schedule, so I added it to the itinerary.
I didn't see a huge number of films at The Neon, but it was an influential place in terms of exposing me to another world of films beyond the mall and multiplex screens...or tipping off my friends to stuff that would filter its way into family room VCRs when we hung out. Whatever art movies they were showing--and I imagine some of them were nonthreatening costume dramas--to my teenage mind there was a bit of danger or subversion in what they showed. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Orlando, to name two, were not the sorts of things that would be available to you under the same roof as Waldenbooks and Camelot Records. (Come to think of it, I've still not seen either of those.) Being in the middle of the city's downtown also added to the perception of it being a place outside the safety of the suburbs.
I specifically recall seeing two drastically different films there--the gorefest Dead Alive and the urbane comedy Barcelona. Seeing that latter film was what I did on the night of my 21st birthday. Considering how much it and that director's movies would come to mean to me, I couldn't have made a better choice to spend that milestone birthday watching it.
After I'd settled in Columbus, I did go back to sample one of The Neon's Cinerama screenings in the late '90s. During one of the last Christmastimes that my parents were living in my hometown, I took my mom there to see Life is Beautiful. Late December 1998 must be the last time I'd been in this theater. Wow, it's been that long?
Revisiting the theater after all this time was a nice reminder of pleasant memories. And how's this for confirming my teenage perception of it as a place that took risks? The first two trailers--I Love You Phillip Morris and Blue Valentine-- were for films that had been candidates for the NC-17 rating.
The movie I saw, Made in Dagenham, was just okay. Regardless, I still enjoyed being in a theater that helped shape my idea of what movies could be beyond what was more readily available. Considering the difficulty in operating an independent cinema with just two houses and showing specialty films, I'm glad to see that it's still there and appears to be successful.