Spectacular, Spectacular

A mighty music maker


What: Spectacular, Spectacular Film Festival/Lincoln Theatre's 90th Birthday

When: 7 pm Sat., Apr. 15

Where: Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon

Cost: 35 cents


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

When my grandfather turned 90, he proposed a celebration at which his nearest and dearest would form a circle with him at the center, and then we would all regale him with stories about himself.

If I should live to that well-seasoned age, I expect I will also have a party at which I will make demands some might consider eccentric, because I firmly believe that when you become a nonagenarian, you get to do what you want.

Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre turned 90 last year, and instead of marking their milestone by forcing the people who love them to accede to their strange desires, they celebrated by throwing a party with cake and a Buster Keaton movie, and then spent the year showing the best movies of the last nine decades.

The Lincoln will use its 91st birthday on Sat., April 15 to kick off a similar run of movies that they’ve dubbed the “Spectacular, Spectacular Film Festival.” The trio of films comes with a subtitle of “A Visually Stunning Film Series” and the related info makes clear that these are “films meant to be seen on the big screen (not on your portable device)”—and what better place to see such movies than an old-fashioned theater that was built to truly showcase cinematic works of art?

Given that it’s the series opener as well as the theater’s birthday movie, the Lincoln wanted to make their first selection count, and so they opted to show Fritz Lang’s 1926 sci-fi masterwork, Metropolis. Lang set his film 100 years in the future, and his vision of the world in 2026 is indeed best experienced on the biggest screen you can plant yourself in front of. As well, the Lincoln will show the newly restored but little-seen 2010 version, which features 30 additional minutes of futuristic dystopia and ahead-of-their-time special effects.

The other thing that will make this screening unlike any other you’ll ever see is the live score that will be played on the Lincoln’s Mighty Wurlitzer by Sharon Stearnes. If you are a person who enjoys live music (trust me, you are) and a person who loves movies (yep, you’re that too), few things are more enjoyable than watching a movie accompanied by a soundtrack played live. Some might even call it the best of all entertainment worlds.

Opportunities to partake of this music/movie full-meal deal are few and far between, but even rarer is the chance to hear the score played on an old-school pipe organ like the Mighty Wurlitzer. Less than 100 such instruments remain in their original theaters (Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre is home to another of the uncommon instruments), and the model found at the Lincoln is one of just two in existence. It not only possesses the organ and piano parts we would expect, but also features a whole sound-effect setup for silent films, with everything from chimes to castanets to glockenspiels making it into the mix.

And the theater doesn’t just save its prized instrument for special occasions such as its birthday. Thanks to a dedicated crew of talented volunteer organists, the Wurlitzer gets put through its paces for all to enjoy prior to most movies at the Lincoln.

Although the organ itself is a real show-stopper, some attention should be paid to those organists—Fred Beeks, Nick Nicolai, Harvey Rossiter, and Glen DesJardins—who are only too happy to donate their considerable musical skills in the name of entertaining the masses. Impressive though it is, the Wurlitzer more than lives up to its “mighty” moniker, and those who can master its keys, pedals and effects have put a lifetime of learning into their craft.

If the Lincoln’s Wurlitzer has one champion and advocate, it would have to be Beeks, who, along with entertaining people for free, also maintains and repairs the massive, persnickety and involved instrument, and he’s been doing so for decades. He’s put countless hours into sourcing and replacing parts, clambered up and down ladders to keep its inner workings in working order, and is widely acknowledged to be an expert when it comes to not only the Lincoln’s Wurlitzer, but also Wurlitzers in general. For Beeks, it’s a labor of love. Luckily, it’s one the rest of us get to enjoy.

Beeks’ dedication to the Lincoln extends even further than that, however. He and his wife Eva (fun fact: Fred and Eva had their first date at an organ concert and the couple once had a nearly 900-piece Wurlitzer in their home before donating it to a theater in Centralia) also act as sponsors of the Lincoln’s birthday shindig and launch of the Spectacular, Spectacular Film Festival. It’s partly because of them that the public can see Metropolis at the throwback price of 35 cents—and I hear there will be birthday cake for those in attendance as well.

Two more films remain in the Spectacular, Spectacular series—Amelie (May 20) and Lawrence of Arabia (June 20)—but Metropolis is the only one for which a live score will be played. Although you’ll have plenty of chances to see the Mighty Wurlitzer in action—as nonagenarians go, it’s only getting better with age.

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