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Monday, August 23, 2010

Dobie Theater: In Memoriam

Yesterday marked the passing of one of the last great arthouse cinemas in Austin. I am by no means a film buff, but I've always taken great pleasure in movies, and the Dobie housed some of my most significant film-going experiences.

I saw The Brave Little Toaster with my dad and little brother in the mid-80s in the tiny little theater's Egyptian-themed room. We spent the better part of the afternoon following the screening consoling my brother about having lost his beloved red cap in the theater, and even had the theater staff helping us crawl around the sticky floor in the hopes that it would turn up, which speaks to the dedication of the staff and the stubbornness of my then-four-year-old brother.

At age 14, I snuck into the theater to catch my first NC-17 movie, the creepfest "Kids" that launched the careers of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, and haunted me for years. I'll spare you a clip of some of the more gruesome scenes involving pre-pubescent-looking teens and their various illicit encounters, and instead share the trailer that may help explain why my 14-year-old self was so keen on getting into the Dobie for this.

Then came Hands on a Hard Body, which played at the Dobie for over a year, and was my first memorable encounter with a feature documentary. The movie is full of gems from the quirky and devoted characters desperate to win the hard body truck, and has even spawned a local Hands on an Eggplant Sub contest here in Austin.

As a senior in high school at the dawning of the Internet, the Blair Witch Project phenomenon seemed tailor-made to suck me in and terrify me. For those of you who weren't in the target demographic of suckers like me, the filmmakers created a buzz like I'd never experienced through their website, and used the teen rumor mill to successfully implant the idea that the footage in the movie was REAL and found after the three kids in the film disappeared during their search for the Blair Witch. Completely ridiculous in hindsight, my limited experience with the Internet allowed the marketers to create this alternate universe that carried us to the theater in droves to be haunted by the image of a lone young man standing in a corner facing the wall. No monster on screen terrified me as much as that parting shot in the film. I remember sitting in the front row, grabbing onto my high school sweetheart for dear life and hoping it would all be over soon. Having re-watched the movie recently, I can save you the trouble of going to rent it and tell you that while the film captured the collective teen psyche in 1998, it doesn't really have much to recommend it a decade later. The successful viral marketing of the film ushered in a new era in how media is publicized, leading to the disturbing recent attempt by the makers of "The Last Exorcism" to punish adolescent boys for using Chat Roulette in an attempt to drum up enthusiasm for their new film. Trust me, this scheme is sleazy.

Dobie, thank you for all the memories you gave me, even the ones that gave me nightmares. You will be missed.


  1. I was thinking of you and the Dobie fondly yesterday -- our "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Adventure" was so much fun! I also saw the movie "Kabluey" there; my big-screen debut as Angry Roommate! I didn't go there often, but I am quite sad to know it's gone.

  2. Mel! I'm so glad we went to that movie together, and it marked my final Dobie experience with delicious memories from the feast you graciously packed for us. I had no idea you were a screen star! I'll have to rent the flick and keep an eye out for Melicious the Angry Roommate. Hugs!

  3. I hope somebody got your little brother a new red hat he liked just as well or else . . . scarred for life.

  4. Diane, luckily he had a little red jacket with brass buttons that he loved just as much. My dad once tried to put his foot down about him wearing it at a big family dinner. We all waited inside the restaurant while they "discussed" the jacket. 10 minutes later my brother comes marching in, head held high, proudly sporting his favorite red coat.

  5. By the way, one of my fond memories of the Dobie is of a first date with Mark Hartwell spent watching "Performance" starring Mick Jagger. Guess what year that was...

  6. Carol, I love it! And I'm not about to guess the year.