Cozy Church of Cinema

It's not -- entirely -- the redundant, simplistic and insanely loud films themselves that make going to the movies such a mind-numbing experience; it's also the theaters, with their cramped seats, terrifying floors, over-amped, unbalanced sound -- a place where the movie light and artificial darkness are a merciful kind of amnesia from the pedestrian reality of everyday life and the homogeneous, buttery, mall-like immediate surroundings.

It's like trying to get away from it all by going on a Carnival cruise. Hence, the rise of the mighty Huizenga's Blockbuster chain, the popularity of things like food channels and war, er, history channels, and the booming sales of 12 different types of microwaveable popcorn -- in other words, the advent of the home-theater experience, which could also be called hanging out in the living room.

And in a perfect world, everyone's living room would be like the Aurora Picture Show Microcinema. Clean, airy and air-conditioned, it has seating for over a hundred of your closest friends, stereo sound, a nine-by-12 video-projection screen down front, and thought-provoking or, at the very least, interesting, programming. In this decidedly less than perfect world, it's Andrea Grover and Patrick Walsh's living room, but the good part is that once a month they let the rest of us come over.

"Most film fests [or venues] like this are geared towards film. They often prejudice against video, especially any video that is generated from a computer, like a Quicktime movie or anything like that," Grover said. "We ... don't discriminate in any way [against] any format or any genre."

So while the Aurora may not run the latest Hal Hartley flick, expect video that ranges from hilarious to mind-expanding to potentially seizure-inducing, created by name artists like Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler as well as talented newcomers to the medium. "A lot of people said [after the first show], 'It inspired me. I want to make a video now,' " Walsh said. "When you go to see a [commercial] film, you're left with awe. This is an attainable medium.... A couple of people that were here opening night did borrow our video camera ... edited their piece together with two VCRs. It's super low-tech, lots of glitches, noise, but they got their point across. Nobody cared that it was low-tech."

Calling the Aurora a microcinema may also be a bit on the humble side; the nine-by-12 isn't macro, but the whole setup is a lot more comfortable than what passes for theaters at the River Oaks, for example. Built in 1924, the Church of Christ church on Aurora experienced a conversion of its own when Grover and Walsh discovered it last year, pretty much by accident. The congregation had relocated to the apparently more spiritual suburbs, the place was empty, and Grover said the idea for a picture show "evolved from the space." With the help of their friends, they spent months pulling down two drop ceilings, each with its own set of fluorescent lights, prying off the faux wood paneling on the walls, peeling up the wallpaper underneath and generally working to get the building back to its original state.

Today, the Aurora looks something like a cross between a Quaker meeting hall and the bridge of the Enterprise; beneath the barrel roof hangs a video projector the size of a sea chest, and a video screen has replaced the pulpit, but the simple oak pews remain.

"The majority of work that we've received so far ... is probably classified as video art, which would be videos made by artists that are designed to be screened in a gallery setting for an art audience," Grover said. While donations are accepted, "We don't have any funding and we don't charge any admission. What we describe this as is opening up our living room to a large group of friends."

For the first show, this translated to more people than could actually fit in the building. "Most people ignored the sign on the door that said 'No More Room' and just stood, and squeezed in. The audience actually stamped the ground when the program began. [We were] waiting for the lighters to start up," Grover said. The next show is tentatively set for August 22.

With the energy of a rock concert, fun and intelligent programs like the recent "Nuts and Bolts Show" (about gender relations) and a space that is functional, comfortable and down-right pretty, it might be time to peel yourself off the recliner. Unless, of course, you're Patrick Walsh, who has been known, when Andrea is away, to drag his La-Z-Boy between the pews and spend an afternoon channel-surfing in front of the big screen. He's even rigged up a remote control. Talk about the perfect living room.

-- Seth Hurwitz

Aurora Picture Show Microcinema: 800 Aurora in the Heights. Info: //web.wt.net/~grover/aurora.htm.

 
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