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Hope, Thy Name Is Cedar Lee

The Cedar Lee Theater is one of the only signs that Ohio is not completely lost.

"You know, God, I'm kinda glad you were born in a manger.  I wonder, God, if they had let Mary in the first place she stopped at, would you have been remembered tonight?"




Here's a cruel joke: ticket prices for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame have increased to $20 a pop.  It's been open more than eight years now, and for the first patrons in 1995, it cost $10.95 to check out.  You'd think that the Hall's stash would have grown since that Labor Day weekend, maybe even to the point of justifying the new rate of admission.  Well...they do have these big rockets from the Backstreet Boys' tour, but in contrast, the terribly small Neil Young collection rests on the back of an Eric Clapton display.


It is behavior like this that makes the rest of the world chuckle when they hear you're from Ohio.  Many think of the place from the bizarre film Gummo, and truth be told, they're not that far off.  Time has given Ohio a million chances to socially evolve, yet for the most part it stays in a funk, with an average lag of several decades behind the rest of U.S.


The weather sucks here, the drivers suck (on the morning of 1/28/04, for example, there were over 400 car accidents in the Cleveland area alone), and the overall atmosphere just downright sucks.  However, all hope is not lost, for in Cleveland Heights you'll find the Cedar Lee Theater, one of the only places in Ohio to enjoy a healthy dose of evolving Culture.  It is here, at the corner of Lee Road and Cedar Road, that a stronghold of Salvation rests.


Built in 1926, the Cedar Lee Theater has long been known as the top place in this state to see films all the other moviehouses ignore.  In fact, last year I ran into a group of people that had traveled there from New York to see Spun, as this was apparently the closest screening to them.  And I always complained about the hour drive it takes me to get to the theater...


Initially designed as a single-screen motion picture theater with nearly 1,100 seats, the Cedar Lee has changed a bit, stretching out to six total screens, and also adding beer to their list of concessions.  The latter was most certainly a genius plot, for that alone makes the trip worthwhile, as there's not much better than enjoying a nice lager whilst sitting in front of a good flick.  Aside from that, though, it's remained simple- a place to watch decent cinema.


Despite the apparent lack of interest in artistic ventures from the rest of Ohio, the Cedar Lee has seen business grow at a slow but steady pace over the years, according to Lisa Craig, Director of Marketing for Cleveland Cinemas.  Even though that may not have been the case with Spun, movies like Amelie, Pulp Fiction, Life Is Beautiful, Monsoon Wedding, and Billy Elliot have brought crowds back again and again, lasting for 40, 31, 29, 28, and 26 weeks, respectively.


Sure, every week you'll find at least one "big movie" playing there, but even then it will be something that's a genuine and creative Story, as opposed to the shallow and empty Blockbuster-wannabes that give movies a bad reputation.  This probably has a lot to do with the fact that the Cleveland Cinemas group runs several other theaters in the general area, and thus can take chances with one of their gems.  I for one am quite grateful they have.


Another thing the Cedar Lee is notorious for is their monthly screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which take place at midnight on every first Saturday.  A troop of maniacs who call themselves Simply His Servants (www.simplyhisservants.com) put on a show that coincides with the movie, acting out the film in its entirety throughout the theater.


The line for this event starts growing around 11pm, which is a funny sight considering that people walking out of films that screened earlier have to wade through a pool of Cleveland's weirdest.  Yeah, imagine sitting through Cold Mountain and then bumping into a pack of hyperactive transvestites in the theater lobby.  All in good fun, of course, but nonetheless not something you see every day.


Watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time is strange enough, but doing so in this environment is a little scary.  The crowd preys on the "virgins," so it's best to just go along with the flow, and act like you know what's going on.  The more obnoxious the better, for everyone who knows what's going on seems to adlib to the gala anyway.  About ten minutes into the film, I decided to test these waters, just to see if this was some advice that was right to give.  Without any reason, I yelled, "You're lying to us, you scumbag bastard!"  Sure enough, my gibberish wasn't just acceptable, it was appreciated.


And that's what this place is all about.  Not necessarily a bunch of freaks running around screaming all sorts of nonsense, but embracing the Heart of Cinema, and giving it room to grow.  As Craig says, "We intend to continue doing what we have for 27 years- that is showing a variety of independent, foreign and specialized films (and the occasional Hollywood production).  We will also continue to program more films and other entertainment available in a digital format."


Indeed, in a place seemingly void of a desire to evolve artistically, the Cedar Lee stands tall as a showcase for the growing medium of Cinema.  If only the rest of Ohio would wake up, this state might actually become as special as this wonderful theater.









©Jake McGee - Get Underground

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