by Tim Gilmore, 9/1/2016
Dorothy Fletcher went searching for the child she once was. When she stepped into the theatre, she didn’t recognize it right away. A handpainted Creature from the Black Lagoon, with his love interest draped across his arms, stared down at her from the wall of the lobby. The monster from the 1971 b-movie Zaat, also known as The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, Attack of the Swamp Creatures, and Hydra watched from near the concession.
But then, she writes, “I met my younger self near the stairs leading to the balcony.” That younger self was excited to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Dot’s chapter on the Five Points Theatre / Riverside Theater / Sun-Ray Cinema in her 2015 book Historic Jacksonville Theatre Palaces, Drive-Ins and Movie Houses is succinct and layered with the changes the theatre has undergone since 1927.
If Dot wants to see 2001 again in the same space, she can do so on Tuesday, Sept. 20, or Saturday, Sept. 24. Tim Massett and Shana David-Massett, owners of today’s Sun-Ray Cinema, are showing every Kubrick film twice over the next six weeks.
Anytime she hears the opening to Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz, Dot’s back in the Five Points Theatre watching 2001 again in 1968.
In that tall anchor building that centers the main block of Riverside’s Five Points and houses Sun-Ray, I watched Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Robert Eggers’s The Witch and Jennifer Kent’s Babadook.
In November 2013, I watched the silent Japanese vampire film Sanguivorous accompanied by live music by the percussionist and “acoustic sound artist” Tatsuya Nakatani.
Virginia lived in almost 20 places across Riverside throughout her life. She was a daily sight, marching forward across the city. She chronicled Jacksonville in a gloriously unreadable book called Interesting Facts about Leading People and Families of Duval County; Also, Where Progress Has Changed a Lot of Homes and Buildings.
She printed several editions of the book, beginning in 1968. Her final edition was never printed, but stretches in binders across a whole shelf in the Jacksonville Historical Society’s archives. It numbers 8,448 pages.
In her handwritten notes, no. 6,006 says, “A group of people in Texas in July, 1980 bought the Medical Arts Bldg., 1022 Park St., the 5 Points Theatre, and four stores on the street floor.”
In 1981, she says, “Jones College,” which had operated in Jacksonville since 1918, opened a branch in the building.
Virginia says the Medical Arts Building was leased for most of the 1970s to the Florida Welfare Department. In 1980, she concludes vaguely, the owner “sold it to this group of people in Texas.”
Tim and Shana first met when they were working together at the San Marco Theatre, an Art Deco theatre designed by architect Roy Benjamin a decade later than the Five Points Theatre.
Tim had worked for the Jacksonville Film Festival and had run The Pit, a squat 1926 concrete-block and stucco building in Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood, where bearded and tattooed people brought their own beer to watch cheap and esoteric films.
Then he and Shana moved to Duluth, where Tim oversaw the conversion of the basement of a downtown renovation project into a theatre.
When the Massetts returned to Jacksonville in 2007, a renovation was under way for the Five Points Theatre as well. They opened Sun-Ray in 2011.
Decades of white plaster came off the façade of the building to reveal the yellow brick beneath. Along with that plaster came the iconic three-story red “5” that rose up the center from the doorway.
Though the Massetts tell me there are hidden and walled-off dressing rooms and rehearsal rooms in the theatre that haven’t been accessed for seven or eight decades, neither of them feels a deep and ghostly sense of history in the place.
“Not until older women come in and tell us they used to make out in the theatre when they were young,” Shana says.
“Besides,” she points out, “It’s odd how people don’t pay much attention to their surroundings when they go to the movies.”
Moviegoers enter the building to sit before a screen that serves as a portal to some entirely different world. People enter a movie theatre in order to leave it, as soon as they can, through the screen.
Dorothy Fletcher traces the history of cinema through the history of this building.
When the Riverside Theater first opened, on March 12, 1927, it showed silent films. Talkies were on the way, but the theatre’s first film was the silent Night of Love. Technologies came and went quickly. By the end of the year, sound had emerged, and the Riverside Theater showed Al Jolson wearing blackface in The Jazz Singer. There was little dialogue, but Jolson saying “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet” out loud to an audience in Five Points heralded the next century of cinema.
Dot writes about how the theatre struggled financially for years. It closed during the Depression, then re-opened as a “second-run movie house,” then closed again just after World War II.
In the fall of 1949, the Riverside Theater reopened as the Five Points Theatre, swapping the standard American spelling “theater” for the rest of the world’s “theatre,” with 900 seats and a “smoking lounge.” Adults paid 50 cents and children 14 cents. The original Art Deco design was toned down and torn out, and the redesign featured a marbled façade and an interior aquatic theme.
Inside were 40 X 20-foot black-light murals titled “Fantasia of Florida.” The murals glowed fluorescent 20 years before the black-light poster craze of the 1970s.
In the late 1970s, the Five Points Theatre fell victim to suburbanization, just as any other inner-city neighborhood and business of the time. Dot quotes late ’70s sources describing “excessive cutthroat competition from suburban multi-screened theatres.”
The theatre crawled into the ’80s like a penitente. On the website 5pointsjax.com, a photograph shows the marquee advertising the 1980 Rodney Dangerfield film Caddyshack.
In 1984, River City Playhouse moved into the slumming theatre space. At other times, the theatre company operated from old retail space in Arlington and Murray Hill. In Five Points, Dot writes, River City Playhouse put on ambitious productions of Amadeus and Sweeney Todd.
Dorothy Fletcher doesn’t give much time to the theatre’s seedy 1990s when it housed Club 5. The three-story red “5” that centered the façade instantly identified the dance club.
While hundreds of DJs and industrial metal acts made music in Club 5, it attracted most attention, beginning in 1998, by hosting “Saturday Night Seduction.”
In the ’90s in Riverside, young people rediscovered a district their parents and grandparents had fled for the suburbs 30 and 50 years before. The houses here looked different. There were small strange alleys with odd angles. There were urban legends and alternative histories. Kids growing up in the ’80s and ’90s who found the suburbs stiflingly uniform and dull found imagination in Riverside. The fact that the three mile district was so often seedy and seemed slightly unsafe increased the allure.
Since 1990, Club 5 had been one of the city’s most frequented dance clubs. You could go and have a few drinks and dance and deafen yourself for the night and not be one of the addled sleepless people snorting coke in the bathroom.
But maybe, given all these elements, Saturday Night Seduction was inevitable.
Frequently more than a thousand revelers poured in on Saturday night. They lined up at the stage and across the club to be submissives in live S&M acts. In the spirit of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, or the extreme masochist performance artist Bob Flanagan, people lay on beds of nails or hammered nails into gender-bending submissives.
Other Saturdays held to themes. One night everyone in the club dressed all in white while a spaceship descended toward and hovered over the stage. Extraterrestrials would suck up the revelers for their own wild sexual fetishes. The club called it Seduction Abduction.
Tim Massett and Shana David-Massett may not believe in ghosts, and I may not believe in ghosts, but history haunts us.
And art is ghostly.
The Los Angeles performance artist Bob Flanagan is dead. What drove him while he lived still hammers away at us. His two sisters died early of cystic fibrosis, one at age 21 and one right after birth, but he lived with cystic fibrosis until he was 43. He faced extreme pain and lived with death by turning it into performance art. While he sang, “If I Had a Hammer,” he hammered a nail through his penis.
Art is ghostly.
For the next six weeks, Sun-Ray Cinema is showing every Stanley Kubrick film twice. If Dorothy Fletcher wants to see 2001 in 2016 in the same place she saw it in 1968, she can do so this September.
Art is ghostly.
The theatre is an echo chamber for Al Jolson singing “Mammy” in blackface in 1927 and live Sweeney Todd in 1985 and Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate in 1967 and S&M performers Blixx and Ravynn in 2000 and Babadook in 2015.
Art is ghostly.
“If it’s in a word, / Or it’s in a look, / You can’t get rid of the Babadook. / If you’re a really clever one / And know just what to see, / Then you can be friends with a special one, / A friend of you and me. / His name is Mister Babadook / And this is his book.”